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Interview: Drowners' Matt Hitt on their new album, 'On Desire'.

Interview: Drowners' Matt Hitt on their new album, 'On Desire'.

Drowners burst onto the indie-rock scene in early 2013, quickly attracting attention with their classic sound and charismatic line-up. Since the release of their debut album the following year, we’ve not heard much from the New York-based foursome. Luckily for us, that’s all about to change.

The release of Drowners’ second album sees an upheaval in the band’s sound and influences, resulting in a seismic shift from comfortable indie-rock to broody post-punk. We recently chatted to frontman Matt Hitt about how the band’s progression has come about, and why he feels it’s more representative of the band as a whole. He had plenty to fill us in on, including (but not limited to) doppelgängers, fan tattoos, and the somewhat NSFW thing the Welsh and the Kiwis have in common.

"...after the Sex Pistols' punk movement there was a lot more intellectual thought about songwriting, but a punk attitude. I think that’s what we want to do with this record, and the live shows will have that punk attitude to them, because I think it’s instilled in us as a collective..."

COUP DE MAIN: How’s it going?
MATT HITT: Not bad, I’m just at my apartment, doing nothing.

CDM: Sorry to interrupt your very busy day, but your new album, ‘On Desire’, is out soon. How are you feeling about that?
MATT: We finished recording it on Christmas Eve last year, so it feels like an age that we’ve been sitting on it. We’ll all be relieved when it’s finally released.

CDM: How do you feel your sound has developed between this album and your debut?
MATT: I think the first album happened by fluke; the first batch of songs I’ve ever written. After touring that we all realised that our tastes had changed, so we started writing together instead of just me. I think it’s probably a truer reflection of what we should’ve sounded like the first time around. The first record, we wanted like a live record. This one we took six weeks [to record], so a hell of a lot more consideration has gone into it.

CDM: The video for ‘Cruel Ways’ simply shows a live performance from the band. As someone who has been to several of your shows, I know they’re a really intense experience. Is live performance still important to you?
MATT: Yeah, that video we sort of planned on a Sunday night and filmed on the Monday, so it was a rush to get it done! Touring the first record we reflected on it and realised everything was very fast and difficult to dance to, so we took tempo into consideration a lot more on this one! I think it’s going to be better to perform live, and that’s always an important part of our band anyway. I was talking the other day about post-punk, and how after the Sex Pistols' punk movement there was a lot more intellectual thought about songwriting, but a punk attitude. I think that’s what we want to do with this record, and the live shows will have that punk attitude to them, because I think it’s instilled in us as a collective.

CDM: You mentioned the Sex Pistols there, but my Dad once commented that you sound ‘like The Smiths, but without that mopey Morrissey bloke’. What other bands would you compare your sound to?
MATT: I guess The Smiths is a fair one, because I’ve been obsessed with Johnny Marr and his guitar-playing for about fifteen years. It’s hard collectively, because if I say a band, someone else in the band will disagree with me. We took a lot of influence from Echo and The Bunnymen this time around - the sounds of their records, the atmosphere in them, was something we wanted to put into our own stuff. I guess that sort of British post-punk bands are the main influence, and that’s what’s bled into the music.

 

A photo posted by Drowners (@drownersband) on

CDM: Are there any current bands who you are finding particularly exciting or inspirational?
MATT: We played South by [Southwest, Texas music festival], so we had a chance to see a bunch of bands that we’d been meaning to for a while. The two that I really liked were, this band Yak - I dunno where in England they’re from but they’re English. I really liked them - I think the guy that produced and mixed our record mixed their new record, that’s how I found out about them. Also, we saw Eliot Sumner, she’s amazing - I think we went to see her about three times that week. She ended up coming to a couple of our shows, she’s really awesome. I remember [her first album] coming out, but I don’t remember listening to it. I went [to see her play] on a whim last year, and I was like, "Fucking hell, this is the dark sort of new-wave shit that floats our boat."

CDM: ‘Cruel Ways’ also features a killer guitar solo, something that seems to be getting less and less common these days. What is it about a guitar solo that makes a good song great?
MATT: I don’t think we had any guitar solos on the first record - if we did they were about two bars long. We chopped everything out that we deemed unnecessary. On this one, maybe we just got better at shredding? <laughs> I think a good guitar solo is one that can be sung. With a lot of solo stuff I’d sing it over the chords and then work out the notes I was singing. I think those are the most successful ones, that you can sing along to.

CDM: ‘Cruel Ways’ is one of your broodiest tracks so far, does the rest of the album follow in this vibe?
MATT: I think there was only one song in a minor key on the first record, and now there’s only one song in a major key on this one. We couldn’t stay away from A minor.
CDM: That’s going to make for an interesting setlist, when you’re trying to balance the two.
MATT: We were trying to work that one out, because it sounded a bit cut and paste when we we initially tried it, but I think we’ve sussed a few tricks to make it a bit more cohesive. I guess we could just do a happy half, and a sad half.
CDM: You’ve got to do it the other way around though, so people leave on a high!
MATT: Yeah, rather than sloping out!

 

A photo posted by Drowners (@drownersband) on

CDM: ‘Human Remains’ seems like a pretty dark track name – can you tell us more about the song?
MATT: A couple of the songs on the record, our drummer and bass-player wrote whilst we were recording. We did a day at Electric Lady [Studios] to track the drums and bass for that song and another song. This is a really wanky thing to admit, but I read something about when you see the ghost of a living person, which is a weird juxtaposition. You know when you think you see someone, and it’s not actually them? Then I was reading the doppelgänger Wikipedia page and there was a book about seeing the apparition of someone who was still alive and it was called ‘Human Remains’ so I pinched it from that. It’s also the name of a great British comedy series from the mid 2000’s.

CDM: The mysterious girl on the cover of your first album generated a lot of interest, but this time you’ve gone for something more abstract. How did the cover for this album come about?
MATT: It was photographed by our bass-player. I saw these sketches of a really close-up nude drawing, and I wanted to do a photo where it merged a landscape onto a human body. We wanted to get away from putting a face on the cover of the album, so we put a back on instead. <laughs>

CDM: ‘R.I.P. Bad Times’ seems to be a bit of a band mantra, and has featured on some of your merch in the past. How did that come about?
MATT: That came about because we used to practice in this horrible basement, and Jack [Ridley III, lead guitarist] spray-painted it on the wall. In one of our first band photos we were standing in front of it, and then Jack made these t-shirts and brought some of them on tour. They seemed to sell as well as the Drowners t-shirts, so we adopted it. I’m not sure if it will make an appearance [in future] - I guess if we make more t-shirts it will. Still, just a general life mantra. I’ve seen a few people with tattoos of it, which is slightly alarming, but also commendable. I’ve definitely seen lyrics written on the back of denim jackets, which is probably a little safer than inking your body with the chorus of ‘Long Hair’.

CDM: Coup De Main is based in New Zealand, do you have any future plans to bring Drowners over there?
MATT: I know we have Australian distribution, so I guess if we make it to Australia we could go over to New Zealand at the same time. I don’t know, but I hope so! I think the Welsh and New Zealanders have a lot in common, mainly because I think they’re the two countries in the world that have more sheep than people. It would be nice to visit and maybe we can bond over being called ‘sheep-shaggers’!

 

A photo posted by Drowners (@drownersband) on

Drowners’ new album ‘On Desire’ is out now - click here to purchase.

Watch the ‘Cruel Ways’ music video below…

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