Get to Know Drowners, The Band Injecting Brains into Punk
In New York City, where Brooklyn based sculptors are practically indistinguishable from the F train’s resident homeless man, and artisanal mustard is a fully fledged, respected, and sometimes even encouraged vocation, it’s always nice to meet someone who doesn’t wreak of forgery. And Monday night, at Night of Joy in Williamsburg, we had the pleasure of meeting not just one, but four such people. Matt Hitt, Erik Lee Snyder, Jack Ridley III, and Daniel Jacobs—who, collectively, comprise the band Drowners—are among the few truly authentic, not-entirely-ego-driven musicians and songwriters left in the city.
Dipped in a svelte, ’80s glam-rock sound and outfitted in the perfectly distressed but tailored clothes that at least one of your exes used to wear, Drowners has become one of the New York music scene’s most prominent indie-rock bands. “Post-punk” is how they describe their sound—a disarming mix of punk and brains—and it’s the sound they’ve been pumping out since their inception in 2011. And though they’ve amassed an ample fanbase over the past couple years, they’ve remained humble in a way that their punk forefathers would be proud of.
After releasing their self-titled debut album back in 2014, they’ve finally returned with renewed passion and a more refined sound. On the heels of their second studio album, On Desire, and ahead of their show this weekend at Lollapalooza, we sat down with them over a couple beer to talk band names, the meaning of post-punk, and their most chilling New York moment (it involves brunch).
You’ve talked about how London crowds are a bit better than New York crowds. What makes them so different?
Jack Ridley: New York crowds don’t let loose as much. In London, people get fucking wasted and lose their inhibitions, whereas here, I feel like people try to maintain their composure.
“At the Baby’s All Right show, there was a handful of people who’d been waiting outside since 10AM. Maybe they thought the new iPhone was coming out.”
What’s the wildest experience you’ve ever had with a fan?
Erik Lee Snyder: I plead the fifth.
Matt Hitt: Not that they did anything crazy, but I thought it was crazy that at the Baby’s All Right show, there was a handful of people who’d been waiting outside since 10AM. Maybe they thought the new iPhone was coming out.
How’d you come up with the name Drowners?
MH: We basically booked a show without a name and needed a name within an afternoon and it was the least shit suggestion in the group chat.
What was the most shit suggestion?
MH: I wanted to call us The Paisleys, but… nobody else did.
What bands have influenced your sound?
MH: Mainly British bands on that cusp of synth world.
Daniel Jacobs: We’re kind of post-punk.
How would you define post-punk as a genre?
DJ: Just a druggier, artier version of punk.
MH: I feel like punk was shocking, and then you add intelligence to it.
How do you think you guys add intelligence to it?
DJ: We’re still writing songs, but [punk] is in there because we all grew up playing in alternative bands.
MH: I think because there’s thought put into the chord progressions and intervals.
Do you guys write at all on the side?
DJ: Bit of diary writing. [Laughs]
ELS: I’ve had times in my life when I’ve had journals, for sure, and I’m happy I don’t have one right now.
MH: In my parents’ house, I hid them, but I have continuous journals from the ages of 16 to 19. It’s sick, it’s like daily. When I go home for Christmas I read them back and I’m like, fucking hell I was a nob.
What’s been the wildest thing to happen at a show?
MH: We played in Brazil a couple of years ago, and it was like people waiting at the airport for us. They found out what hotel we were staying at and then they would wait outside the hotel. And then at the shows, the people who weren’t old enough to get in were like waiting outside when we showed up to sound check. So we, like, led them all in to sound check to give them all t-shirts.
So nice of you. Is Brazil your favorite place you guys have travelled to?
JR: As a band, yes.
ELS: I think it’s hard to say “favorite,” but it’s totally an amazing [place].
MH: I think it was just—as opposed to a place we’ve toured before—it felt special going there. To the point where it felt like a holiday.
I’m sure you guys felt like The Beatles.
MH: It did sort of feel like winning a competition to see what that would’ve felt like.
JR: And mainlining Jack Daniels for days because it was sponsored by them and was at every fucking thing we did.
Have you gotten any cool or creepy gifts from fans?
MH: The best one I ever got was this girl in London gave me this original Smiths photobook from, like, 1985. And I was like, “Are you sure?” She was like, “I saw this and bought it for you.” It was like a Kevin Cummins weird fan photobook.
When was the last time you guys cried?
MH: I watched The Notebook again recently.
Have you guys ever released a song that you were nervous about because the lyrics were so personal?
MH: I think they’re all appropriately masked or not even about myself. I have a couple of friends who have offered me lyrical suggestions that I’ve taken and then written a song based on the story of that suggestion. Or they’re from overhearing other people arguing, or—that’s why New York’s good.
JR: You do—you pick up [on a lot]. I love a good argument, so entertaining. Especially like a brunch gone wrong.
Stay tuned to Milk for more of our favorite New York bands.
Photos by Rachel Hodin.