“I was homeless, and my only hope in life at that time was MySpace. One day I was contacted by this manager, and he loved one of the songs that I wrote over this instrumental track. The next thing I knew, I was in New York, living a completely different life.” – Neon Hitch
It wasn’t always easy for Neon Hitch. Neon’s family home in Nottingham, United Kingdom burned down when she was very young, and from then on her family lived a gypsy caravan lifestyle. “Our lifestyle was illegal, so we were constantly moving. So when we would get to stay, we were very creative. We would be making jewelry or clothes. I would hang my trapeze up in a tree and practice. All this very creative stuff, because we didn’t have a television.” Neon began writing poetry that eventually turned to song lyrics, all the while honing her stage presence as a circus performer. “My mom was in the circus, and at one point we traveled with a freak show, which was very interesting. Trapeze was my main thing, but I’d stilt walk, swing fire – I can even breathe fire.”
NEON HITCH BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO – THE #GIRLPOWER ISSUE 8
Photography and Video Direction by Indira Cesarine
She was inspired by former flatmate Amy Winehouse to pursue her dreams with music. Signed by the age of seventeen to The Beats Recordings, she eventually moved to New York, where she began working with Warner Brothers Music on her debut album, Beg, Borrow, and Steal. Throughout the process, she released a string of hits as well as two mix-tapes, 301 to Paradise and Happy Neon. Unfortunately her label continued to delay the release of the full-length. She decided to take things into her own hands, parted ways with Warner Brothers and began working on an entirely new project, “Eleutheromaniac,” set to be released this year. True to form, she’s trying something new and unique with this independent release concept, preparing to distribute and market “Eleutheromaniac“ through an original idea she calls “Fan Label,” an innovative approach to harnessing the conversation between artist and fans. “Basically, we have taken the idea of A&R at a label, and replaced all those people with fans. I know that we’ll be working toward the same vision and the same goal, and I know that whatever my fans come up with is going to be on brand, because they understand me, sometimes more than I understand myself.”
With the conclusion of her Yard Sale Tour, inspired by her nomadic childhood, Neon is focused on what her future may hold, and has in the meanwhile dropped two singles off the forthcoming album, title track, “Eleutheromaniac” and “Sparks”. She also recently lent her sultry vocals to a power-pop collaboration by Cash Cash, also featuring artists Busta Rhymes and B.o.B titled “Devil”. Possessed of a modern fairy tale for a life story, Neon proves sometimes it’s the gifts that we were once ashamed of that ultimately lead to self-fulfillment. “I always wanted to be normal when I was younger. Now I appreciate my past, but back then I wanted to change my name to Melanie. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to live in a house. Every kid just wants to fit in, and I wanted to be like all the other kids. But it wasn’t happening, however hard I tried.”
Indira Cesarine: What was it like growing up as a gypsy? Tell me about your childhood, because it’s obviously very colorful and influences your sound and music quite a bit!
Neon Hitch: Yeah, well for me it’s normal. I guess for everybody else it’s not normal, but it definitely shapes me as an artist. It also prepared me for life on tour, because that’s where I feel most at home funnily enough. The different places that I’ve seen and the alternative lifestyle that I lead inspired my lyrics.
IC: What would an average day be like when you were young?
NH: Every day would be different. Usually we would get “moved on,” which basically means you would get evicted from a site. We would just park up at the side of the road sometimes, because there was nowhere else to go. Our lifestyle was illegal, so we were constantly moving. We would get settled somewhere and then in the morning get woken up by the police raiding us and moving us on. So when we would get to stay, we were very creative. We would be making jewelry or clothes. I would hang my trapeze up in a tree and practice. All this very creative stuff, because we didn’t have a television.
IC: Oh wow. And what was it like performing with a circus?
NH: That was so fun. I guess that trained me to be a performer. My mom was in the circus, and at one point we traveled with a freak show, which was very interesting. Trapeze was my main thing, but I’d stilt walk, swing fire – I can breathe fire – so I’ve always been doing performing of some kind.
IC: That’s so cool. It’s a very unique education, that’s for sure.
NH: Right, exactly. It’s a form of education.
IC: Oh, absolutely. You probably were far more savvy than the average kid that just went to normal school! I heard that the BBC did a documentary on your family and their experiences. What was that all about?
NH: That was about the Criminal Justice Act. BBC covered the subject, and they chose me to be the main focus. It was just kind of an introduction to my way of life, and my family, and how we lived; how all six of us lived on one bus, and how we would always have to keep moving on. It was an amazing experience. They paid me 100 pounds from it, which I used to buy my very first caravan.
IC: Did you ever feel like you were missing out by not going to school, or was it not even a part of your reality?
NH: I always wanted to be normal when I was younger. Now I appreciate my past, but yeah back then I wanted to change my name to Melanie; I wanted to go to school; I wanted to live in a house. Every kid just wants to fit in, and I wanted to be like all the other kids. But it wasn’t happening, however hard I tried! I did go to a few different schools, but it was so short lived, because we’d always have to keep moving. It just didn’t work with our lifestyle, so I was home-educated.
IC: How did all of this transition into performing music?
NH: I didn’t actually find my voice until I was 16. I’ve always loved the stage and loved putting on a show, but when I was 16, I just kind of started singing, and I was like ‘Agh, I think I can sing!’ I worked on it, and it’s just been building every day. It wasn’t something that I possessed forever, It just arrived.
IC: Do you remember your first live performance?
NH: It’s funny, I didn’t actually remember it, but my dad just showed me this video of it! I was embarrassed to watch it, but then I was like, ‘no it’s actually really good’. Little baby Neon.
IC: That’s so funny. How old were you in the video?
NH: I was 16. But I look so young.
IC: What sort of music did you sing when you first started?
NH: I would go buy a CD of the instrumentals of songs that were popular at the time, and then I would write over them. So they were original songs of mine, but over other instrumentals.
IC: I understand that you were discovered on Myspace, by Benny Blanco?
NH: Yeah! I was homeless, and my only hope in life at that time was Myspace. I would go over to my friend’s place and check Myspace. One day I was contacted by this manager, and he loved one of the songs that I wrote over this instrumental track. He was like, ‘I want to fly you out, and I want you to work with this producer.’ And I was like, ‘Great, I have no money, you’ve got to pay for everything.’ And he was like, ‘Done!’ The next thing I knew, I was in New York, living a completely different life. It was quite surreal.
IC: That’s pretty amazing. And you guys made an album, Beg, Borrow & Steal?
NH: Yeah, so we worked on an album. It was extremely delayed by Warner Brothers. I guess it just wasn’t the right time to be releasing it. Then eventually, I was just like, ‘I’ve evolved as an artist, like everybody, you know, we grow’. So I created a whole new album.
IC: You mentioned that you were homeless. Can you fill me in about that gap between discovering your voice at 16, and being discovered on Myspace?
NH: A lot happened. I went through a very sad and lonely time in my life where I was living in squats, and I didn’t have any friends because I didn’t know anybody in London. So I was just staying in empty buildings, wherever I could. In Brighton I had a friend, but when I was living in London, I was homeless. It was a really tough time, but I’ve always had this vision of the light. I’ve always had a hope. I’ve never given up, even during the worst times. So somehow I managed to survive.
IC: You were good friends with Amy Winehouse. Was that around that time frame?
NH: Yeah, we knew each other because our boyfriends were friends. We lost touch, and then reconnected at a party after bumping into each other. I was like ‘yeah, you know…homeless, dadada, what’s going on, how’s it going?’ and she was like, ‘what? no way! You’re moving in with me.’ She took me under her wing. I’ve always been very lucky to have people who have taken good care of me.
IC: Who are your favorite musicians?
NH: Well, we didn’t really have television or radio or anything like that growing up, so the music that I was listening to was actual folk music by the fire, played by my mom and my family. But then my dad, he introduced me to Madonna and Michael Jackson. He was like, this is all you need to know. So I’ve always had the pop influences. I love the Beatles. I would say they’re probably my number one favorite. I love Edward Sharpe‘s recent sound. I love what Macklemore is doing. I love people that make music with a message. So I guess [my musical style] has that gypsy influence, but pop sensibility.
IC: And how would you describe your sound in your own words?
NH: I’m calling my genre Gypsy Pop. I feel like that covers everything. It has a world element.
IC: I think you’re probably the only rightful musician to be able to say that! So you’ve collaborated with a lot of musicians over the years. Are there any in particular that you’ve really enjoyed working with?
NH: It’s been amazing. I’ve had so many different experiences with so many different people. It was really amazing to work with Sia, because I’ve been such a big fan of hers for years. Imogen Heap was one of my favorite sessions that we did. It was very interesting, we were making the beats out of weeing in the toilet, and slamming the door. She loves all these organic sounds that are great, it’s so fun. But yeah, so many different people, it’s been amazing.
IC: And what inspires your songwriting?
NH: Yes. I’m never short of something to write about, because I have experienced a lot of different things. Usually, I feel like the pain that I’ve experienced is my biggest inspiration. Even if it’s not an emotional song, to have that feeling really puts the power behind the lyrics and the way that I project, especially with the new music that I’ve been making. So yeah, all personal experiences.
IC: Can you tell me about your single, “Yard Sale,” and what that song means to you? In the video you’re throwing stuff away. Can you tell me about that?
NH: So I guess it’s like emotional cleansing. Everybody has some kind of emotional baggage, and I just wanted to cleanse myself through my music, and visually in the video as well. So I was like, ‘what’s the best way to get rid of the old shit? Oh, have a yard sale!’ So that’s the story.
IC: And you had a mixtape, 301 To Paradise. Can you tell me about that?
NH: Yes! I made a mixtape with Kinetics & One Love. They’re amazing. They’re like little mini albums. I wasn’t releasing an album at the time, and I was like,’I need to just put music out now’. I’m always making music, and I needed to just put it out for free. So that’s what I did for Happy Neon and 301 To Paradise. I’m always creating, so I need to always be releasing. I have a choice of releasing three of the singles [off the album], and it’s hard to pick which ones. I’m going to start working on all three video concepts, which will come out very soon, followed by my album, Eleutheromaniac, which I’m just finishing up, tying up all the loose ends. I’m really excited about this music. It’s really true to myself, and very passionate. It’s just me. It tells my story.
IC: And how will Eleutheromaniac differ from your previous work? Will it be more personal? What can we expect from that?
NH: It’s definitely more personal, yeah. I feel like through listening to this, people are going to understand me as a person more.
IC: You recently left Warner Brothers, this year right?
IC: You’re releasing your album independently. Do you feel like that’s going to be a challenge?
NH: Well, I’m not a stranger to challenges, so a challenge doesn’t scare me. I like a challenge. I’ve come up with the a concept, “Fan Label,” and that is how we are releasing the album. Basically, we have taken the idea of A&R at a label, and replaced all those people with fans. So the fans are my label, and we’re going to have organizers for each department. It’s going to essentially be run like a label, but everybody working for this label is my fan. I know that we’ll be working toward the same vision and the same goal, and I know that whatever my fans come up with is going to be on brand, because they understand me, sometimes more than I understand myself. So I’m very excited about this.
IC: That’s a really unique alternative way to create your own label. Are your fans literally going to be coming in and assisting with the release?
NH: My fans are already working. They’ve already designed the album art cover, the lyric video, coming up with concepts, it’s already in action. If you just go to the website, WeRNeon.com you can sign up and pick a department that works for you, you know everybody has a different skill. You can submit your ideas. So it’s really creative, and it’s engaging the fans and giving them power, like the way they give power to the artist. So essentially cutting out the middle man. It’s the artist and the fans.
IC: Can you tell me about the tracks and videos that you’re releasing?
NH: One of them I’m really excited about is called “Airstream.” It’s got kind of an urban feel. It’s definitely club friendly. I love Airstream caravans, so it’s kind of funny. Did you see the Airstream caravan in the “Yard Sale” video?
IC: Oh yeah, absolutely.
NH: Yeah, so it’s those. We have a really fun video concept for that one. The three singles we’re releasing are very different. “Airstream” is more clubby, and it’s a bit funny and more urban. Then the one that I’m really excited about, “Sparks,” I’ve been working on with this crew from Norway who are incredible, called Dsign. They’re a really great team. The track is just really beautiful. It focuses on the vocals, and it’s got a little bit of a Kate Bush-y vibe. Which I love. So they’re all very different, but they’re tied together. There’s many sides to Neon.
IC: So have you been touring? I understand you have been doing a lot of performances lately.
NH: Yeah, so I just finished my first ever own headlining tour. It was called the Yard Sale Tour, and I was like, ‘God-damn, how am I going to pull this together!?’ But I always do, I always make it work. So the story is that I was in Venice, in LA in a taxi and we drove by this amazing hippie bus that I had seen the year before and took a photo in front of. I was like, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ I got out, and I knocked on the door of this bus. And I was like, ‘Hello, I’m Neon.’ And there was this guy Shiloka, and I was like ‘Um, I need a bus for my tour. Do you want to be the tour bus? Do you want to come on tour?’ And he was like, ‘yeah, sure!’ So I managed to hustle a tour bus, which was amazing. I spent a month of my life living on it with my band. We traveled across America. It was pretty magical.
IC: That must have evoked your days being a gypsy, in the sense that you’re going from one city to another on a tour bus.
NH: It really did. Absolutely.
IC: Did you kit it out, caravan style?
NH: Absolutely. I was sticking pictures of unicorns on the roof and dangling my scarves and jewelry. It wasn’t like your standard tour bus by any means. It was just like the kind of thing I grew up in. So I felt very at home.
IC: Is there anything that we should look out for from you in 2015?
NH: Yes. 2015, I’m very excited about. First of all, I have my freedom, which is a beautiful thing. And I’ll be releasing my album, Eleutheromaniac and my singles, and building and expanding on Fan Label. Essentially not only helping my own position, but the position of other artists as well. So I’m really excited about that.
IC: Well it sounds like it’s an adventure that will be constantly evolving. I think it’s great that you are taking it and going for it. There’s no reason not to.
IC: I love it. Well I really appreciate the interview. You have such a unique story, and I think that it’s very inspirational for a lot of people who maybe have had challenges or haven’t really had it as easy as others, to be able to find their own creative spirit.
NH: Yeah, I live to inspire. Even when I don’t feel strong, personally, I like to be strong to inspire other people. And I hope that I can make my fans feel strong.
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
NH: God, I have a lot. I would just say, Believe. Always, just Believe!
Interview and photography by Indira Cesarine
for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Fashion Editor: Indira Cesarine
Make-up by Renee Garnes
Hair by Anthony Joseph Hernandez
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015).