Newly signed to Warner Bros. Records, British singer and songwriter Neon Hitch may not have begun recording her debut album yet, but she already has the perfect title all figured out. “I’m calling it Beg, Borrow, and Steal,” she says, “because quite frankly, I have done everything to get where I am now. The stories I could tell you …” she trails off before adding: “I have a lot of emotion about the things I’ve been through, and I’ve channeled it into music, because that’s my outlet for expressing myself.”
The emotion is palpable in Hitch’s soulful, jazz-inflected vocals, which are deployed to striking effect atop a rich, organic backdrop of eclectic pop melodies and hip-hop-tinged beats crafted by her executive producer Benny Blanco (Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Britney Spears). Along the way, songs like “Black and Blues,” “More Than A Friend,” “Piece of Shit,” and “Black Sunshine” weave a captivating tale of a life hard-lived and a happiness hard-won.
Neon (her real name given to her by her lighting technician father) was born in London to hippy parents in May 1986. “The day I was born, our house burned down, so we were homeless as soon as my mum gave birth,” Hitch says. Her parents broke up soon after and Hitch and her mother Irene set out to travel the world in a caravan. “We were gypsies,” Hitch says. “I know that has a different connotation in the States than it does in Britain. We weren’t thieves, we were traveling street performers.” By the age of four, Hitch was performing with the alternative, theatrical circus Archaos, and training to be a trapeze artist, fire swinger, and stilt walker. Her sister Pema was born five years later, and Irene and her two daughters traveled from festival to festival around Europe earning a living from street performing and making and selling jewelry and clothing. At age 10, Hitch began writing poetry, which led to her writing lyrics.
Her family, which by now included two more siblings, lived in a bus that didn’t have electricity, running water, central heating, or television, so Hitch had little knowledge of pop culture, but her father, who had worked and toured with David Bowie, Duran Duran, Sting, and Annie Lennox, brought her Madonna and Michael Jackson cassettes as gifts. “He said, ‘These are the only two artists you need to know about,’” she recalls. Over the next few years, Hitch found herself alternating between traveling with friends all over Europe and living in squats in London. At 16, she followed a boyfriend to India where she spent two years looking after a group of street kids. “It was amazing, but I didn’t feel fulfilled in life so I went back to London to try to pursue my singing career.” She supported herself and Pema by rummaging for items they found in the trash and selling them at London’s various outdoor markets. “I’ve done so many things to make money,” Hitch says. “I used to push a shopping trolley up this huge hill to the market at 5 a.m. in the freezing rain. We’d just sell crap and make 10 pounds.”
But Hitch never gave up on her dream. Her boyfriend at the time introduced her to his friend, pop singer Neneh Cherry (“Buffalo Stance”), whose husband, Cameron McVey, wound up managing Hitch and introducing her to various producers. After singing on several tracks for British dancehall/reggae label Greensleeves Records, Hitch signed to The Streets’ Mike Skinner’s indie label The Beats Recordings (a subsidiary of Atlantic’s 679 Recordings) and went on tour with Skinner. She performed her first major show opening for rapper 50 Cent at England’s Nottingham Arena before the label shut down in 2007. “Everything crumbled, but I didn’t let it stop me,” Hitch says. Shortly after, she received a MySpace message from Benny Blanco’s manager James Johnson, of Pilot Creative, who encouraged her to fly out to New York to meet him, but Hitch was pretty much homeless and had no money. It was around this time that she bumped into an old friend, singer Amy Winehouse, whom she knew when their boyfriends were friends. Winehouse invited her to move in. “I love that girl like my own sister,” Hitch says.
In 2008, James flew Hitch out to NYC for a meeting, signed on as her manager, and landed her a publishing deal with EMI. Hitch co-wrote “Stupid Love Letter,” off the Friday Nights Boys’ album Off The Deep End, and the hit single “Blah Blah Blah,” off newly minted pop star Ke$ha’s No. 1 album Animal. She has also worked with Miike Snow (appearing on Blanco’s remix of “Burial”), Sky Ferreira, The Darkness, and Mike Posner. A song she wrote with 3OH!3, “Follow Me Down,” will appear on the soundtrack to the new Tim Burton film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Last summer James and Blanco introduced Hitch to Warner Bros. Records’ Senior Vice President of A&R and American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi who signed her to a recording deal.
“For the last two years, I’ve been trying to figure out my sound,” Hitch says, “and I’ve decided to just be myself because my life up till now is enough to fill 10 albums’ worth of songs.” This year, Hitch will go into the studio with executive producer Blanco and a host of top-notch producers, including Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue), Jimmy Harry (Pink, Kelly Clarkson), Toby Gad (Beyoncé, Fergie), Kevin Rudolf (Lil Wayne, Cobra Starship), Claude Kelly (Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears), Savan (Carrie Underwood, Allison Iraheta), and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal (Pink, Gwen Stefani).
“I want to be the kind of artist that people feel like they can relate to,” Hitch says. “Maybe my music will make them feel a bit less lonely. They may not be able to relate to my story, but they’ll be able to relate to me as a person. The album is going to be me, inside and out, because I’m a very honest person. I’ve been through so many bad patches, but having the opportunity to do this makes it seem like it all happened for a reason. I want people to know that, yeah, times are tough, but you know what? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m living proof.”