We meet the model turned musician based outta New York.
Shirt ZANDER XHOU, belt JOHN LAWRENCE SULLIVAN, trousers EMPORIO ARMANI, glasses TOM DAVIES
His CV is a non-exhaustive list of campaign appearances – including Saint Laurent, Abercrombie & Fitch, AllSaints and J. Crew – his indie rock quartet Drowners have released two acclaimed albums thus far (and are currently working on the third), and he’s amassing an ever-growing fan following, all desperate to be a part of his impressive social circle.
But when we meet Matthew Hitt on a humid afternoon in east London, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a mate you’d been dossing about with for years; enjoying a chilled beer as we discuss his impending trip to Glastonbury – before declaring his love for the new Lorde album (“Liability” is a tune, apparently) – lols are shared when we attempt to cool him down using a plant watering device.
Yet, despite his down to earth nature, there’s still a level of reservedness about Hitt that goes for the most part unexplained until we sit down for our interview post-shoot, in which we chat managing self-consciousness, NYC and the shift from modelling to music.
Jacket JOHN LAWRENCE SULLIVAN, jacket (worn underneath) DSQUARED2, shirt ARKET, trousers DIOR HOMME, belt (worn as tie) EMPORIO ARMANI
You went to America for modelling, but then ended up starting a band, Drowners. How did this progression from modelling to music happen?
Well, it wasn’t really a progression because they were both sort of happening simultaneously. Basically I got bored of living here [in the UK], got a visa for America, wrote a bunch of songs, and then moved there with the songs, so it kind of happened at the same time. So I was paying my rent doing this [modelling] stuff and then rehearsing and writing the rest of the time.
And how have things changed since you moved Stateside?
I think my naivety about living there has been reduced, now it feels like home more which is the main change. Before I felt like I was on holiday all the time.
What about in terms of modelling and music, has one now taken a priority or do you still focus on both equally?
I just do music whenever I’m not working. It works out quite easily, it’s not like I work every day. I have a lot of free time so it’s not really like a juggling act, it all sort of works out.
And you released an album last year. When can we expect to hear new music?
Yeah, it’s kind of half written. We toured last year and then come the new year I just wanted to get another one out as soon as possible so I started writing that.
Why did you feel like you wanted to get another one out so quick?
Because we finished recording the last one like two christmases ago, it already feels old. It just didn’t come out for like 10 months or something due to the bureaucracy of record labels.
Talk to us about record labels. Do you still feel like you have artistic license?
Yeah, we’re lucky. We got signed to this label French Kiss, that basically gives us money to record and then lets us do everything ourselves, as we want to, like our artwork and videos and stuff like that. They kind of let us get on with it because we’ve got better taste than they have! Except for their music taste which is obviously exquisite for them to sign us.
In terms of touring, how do you find being on stage? Is there any similarity with being in front of the camera?
It’s a lot easier being on stage because it’s sort of like presenting something that you’ve created, whereas you are part of someone else’s vision when you’re modelling. Not to say that you then relinquish all responsibility when you’re modelling, you partake in it, but it still seems like more of a performance than playing on stage because you didn’t create the thing that everyone is going for.
I became a model by accident, and I like getting paid for it and not working very often, because it gives me time to do all the other stuff. I respect what it has done for me, but I wouldn’t say that I enjoy it because I still feel self-conscious.
How does that self-consciousness manifest?
What I’ve learned to do is just zombify my brain while I’m doing it so I don’t have a panic attack.
Presumably that crosses over to the stage too?
Yeah, but again, I feel like I put myself in that position on stage. There’s something weird about it.
You feel like you’re in more control of it?
Yeah. It’s not like every time I do a cartwheel on stage or something – I have my back to the audience a lot of the time.
How does the New York music scene compare to that of London?
I never felt like I was part of a London one because I don’t feel like I knew the right people to be part of it. And then even in New York, it’s such like a transitional city, it feels like people are constantly moving there or leaving.
Whenever I see a band play in New York, even if I don’t like their music, I have respect that they were able to pay for a really expensive rental place and organise for people to leave the pub in order to write music together! It’s very easy to sink in New York because of the vast number of people playing music.
Can you ever see yourself moving back from New York?
Not right now no. I’m still nowhere near sick of it, I still love it. Anywhere else I go feels like a bit of a shitter version of it. There are things that I love about other places, but in terms of living, it took me six years to find my community of friends, so it feels like I’ve only just started here.
So what are your immediate plans, beyond today?
I guess just writing new stuff. We’ve got a new member in the band who toured with us last year and I’m excited about having that extra voice and opinion. I’m just going to try and work through the summer because I don’t like the New York heat, so I’m just going to stay inside in an air-conditioned room and write; that’s my general plan.
I just turned 30, and when I was 20 my aim was to put out an album, and I’ve done two! So before I’m 40 I want to put out another one! I don’t know, I don’t like to plan the future! Any major thing in my adult life has been chance, luck or accident. But then there’s that argument that you put yourself in the places to be lucky. I didn’t think when I was 20 that I’d have lived in New York for six years. Hopefully there will be some other happy accidents, not sad ones!