Sipping Martinis With Sultry Singer Neon Hitch

Even in the darkened confines of The Vinatta Project, an elegant bespoke cocktail bar in New York’s Meatpacking District, there’s no missing Neon Hitch. The 25-year-old British singer’s bright red hair frames her delicate face. Her fingerless lace gloves accentuate her jet-black nails. She wears a tasseled crop-top. The product of a wildly eclectic and electric upbringing, Hitch’s father was a lighting technician (Neon is her real name), but after the family house burned down, Hitch toured Britain in a traveling circus caravan with her mom. Now, she is a bona fide pop star, with her debut album Beg, Borrow, and Steal, due out late this summer on Warner Bros., and a raunchy new single, Fuck U Betta, already 
on its way to becoming a strip-club anthem. Obviously, she’s a good woman with whom to drink.

Hitch and I are at 
Vinatta to experience 
variations on the 
martini—a cocktail so 
iconic its very silhouette 
suggests a party. Jasper
 Soffer, a bartender with 
a gift for creating sublime, perfectly balanced cocktails out
 of disparate ingredients, offers us a produce-aisle worth of mixers: ginger, honey, pineapple, and cucumber. Neon Hitch and I say yes to all of the above.

There’s so much going on in your life these days.
Always, there’s always a lot going on. There’s never a boring day in my life.

What do you tap into when you write club bangers that also have an emotional component to them?
I’m a Gemini, so there’s two sides to me, and I can be a bit of an emotional wreck. I have been through some seriously tough times, so that emotion comes out at the appropriate times, in songs. “Poisoned With Love”—yeah, I can cry my heart out to that one, but other times you just want to have fun, so I’m like, “Fuck U Betta.” It depends on where I am, but I can get a little dark.

Fuck U Betta” is quite a track. I’m thinking it’s going to be the strip club anthem of 2012.
I’ve actually heard it in a strip club!

Were you thinking strip club when you wrote it, like it could be between “Don’t Cha” and “Girls Girls Girls”?
I wasn’t, no, but it’s kind of perfect now. Let’s see where the night takes us. We might end up in a strip club, dancing to “Fuck U Betta.” It’s going to be number one on the playlist of strip clubs.

When’s your album coming out?
I think late summer is what we’re shooting for. Maybe put another single out after “Fuck U Betta” and then the album.

You’re going to the NBA All-Star Game?
Yeah, it’s fantastic. I really know nothing about sports, it’s all kind of new to me doing the sport thing. It’s a lot of fun. I did the Super Bowl as well. That was crazy, very intense.

Did you get to hang out with Nicki Minaj and Madonna?
No, I never met them. It’s a shame, I would love to.

They’ll open for you some day.
No, we need to form something together, come together with girl power.

How long have you lived in New York?
I’ve lived here for a few years now, on and off, but I decided to really settle here a year or two ago. I love it here. It feels like home. I’ve never really had a home, I lived in a bunk my whole life, so my home is where I lay my hat, or headdress, or whatever you want to call it.

So how exaggerated is the Wikipedia entry on you? Such an eclectic background.
Not exaggerated at all. I wish I was lying but I’m not.

With a background like that, you’d have to wind up either doing something amazingly creative or be totally repressed.
I don’t know what else I would do. I tried to have a waitressing job once, and it lasted one day. They fired me. They were like Get out of here, this ain’t a catwalk. I was like ah shit, I guess I have to do something creative.

You were first signed by Mike Skinner?
I was. I was signed to 679, which was the same label as Mike Skinner, and then he put me onto The Beats, which was his label. And that was great, we all toured together: me, him, Professor Green, Example, and they’re all blowing up now, which is fantastic. Here come the cocktails!

Bartender Jasper Soffer: So here we have your first two, your classics. This is your very simple gin martini. Three ounces of gin. I suggest a good London dry. What I used in this one that I think is very nice is Beefeater 24, got some nice grapefruit and citrus notes. Then I put in three-quarters of an ounce of dry vermouth. That’s the vodka one.

[Neon Hitch has the vodka martini] Cheers. This is very refreshing.

JS: That’s a classic New York vodka martini. Which is basically vodka, three ounces, shaken the shit out of. They say that when you put in vermouth it bruises it, so I rinsed the glass, so the vermouth still stays intact. And I went with a nice lemon twist instead of an olive because that’s the more classic.

[Neon Hitch tastes my gin martini] This reminds me of licking an old man’s body. I’m serious, and I don’t dislike that. Mine is very refreshing. It’s clean, it’s not X-rated. I actually prefer yours.

You prefer gin? You like the old man?
It’s sexy, I like the old man. Vodka is too innocent. I need to try the old man again. Wow. Honestly, I definitely taste wrinkles. I’m not saying, like, real flavors, but it really tastes like first base with an old man.

So what do you think of the vodka martini?
Very fresh, very innocent, tastes like summer. I would drink this in the park with the sun shining. It’s a very daytime drink.

JS: So here we’ve got the Vesper, which is a modern classic. It was created in the James Bond movie Casino Royale.Gin, vodka, a splash of Lillet.

So this is the ultimate James Bond cocktail? I’m going to turn into a sexy man.

JS: It would be nice to have Stoli in this, it’s typically made with a Russian vodka, but Belvedere is equally good. For gin I used Bombay Sapphire. What’s nice about this is the ounce of vodka that goes in there for people who don’t like gin such as yourself. It evens it out a bit, kind of the best of both worlds.

It smells good. It’s got a serious kick, but Bond’s a strong man, it’s what he’d like. It would go well with something very manly. Definitely driving a swanky car. I’d be pullin’ bitches. Tastes like it’s going to put hairs on my chest for sure. Too much of a kick for me. It smells great though.

Which is funny because you like the straight gin one. It’s the Lillet I think. So when are you going to Orlando?
I leave Saturday. I’m doing the pregame show. I’m doing “Ass Back Home” with Gym Class Heroes.

What do you drink when you’re on your own?
Generally whiskey, straight or on the rocks. Scotch. It’s very warming. I love whiskey. I keep trying to drink other things but I keep falling back to whiskey.

Have you been gigging a lot lately?
I’ve been doing a lot of one-offs. The Super Bowl. Jingle Balls.

JS: We’re a bespoke cocktail bar, and this is our play on a dirty martini. It’s vodka with three muddled olives, some muddled red bell pepper, a little bit of thyme and rosemary, and a little bit of Lillet because it’s sweet, to round it all out. We call this the Oh No You Don’t, because when you’re about to order a dirty martini, we’re like, Oh No You Don’t. You can do better than that, be more creative. It’s for your dirty martini liker.

Ooh, it smells very peppery. Wow. It’s kind of like a martini version of a bloody mary. It’s more refreshing than a bloody mary. It’s amazing. I feel like this would cure a hangover. This is my thing, but still the old man is my favorite. I want to lick that sweaty body.

So you don’t like it too sweet?
I don’t like it too sweet, I don’t like it too feminine. It’s got to be a bit ballsy. I find the sweet ones give you a headache. So what’s this?

JS: We’re going back to the old school stuff. This could be the original martini. Two parts sweet vermouth, one part gin, and a dash of bitters and some maraschino. This is the Martinez, which could be the first martini, could be the original. And this could be its son or grandson, which is 50/50 gin and vermouth with 2 dashes orange bitters.

Let’s do the Martinez. I love the smell. Oh wow. So beautiful.

JS: That’s more or less a manhattan. It’s got bitters, it’s got sweet vermouth, it’s very Manhattan.

It’s quite syrupy.

JS: That’s the sweet vermouth. We use a rich sweet vermouth called Carpana Antica.

Kind of has a little tiny coffee taste. That is rich like Richard Branson. That’s amazing. Taste a little coffee essence in there. Richard Branson drinks this on a yacht. It’s a dusk drink, a little dusky. He’s got some chest hair out.

JS: Next one, this is a Prohibition-style drink. It’s half-and-half, with a couple of dashes of orange bitters. In the vesper family, not too potent, light and gentle. Like a martini, but you’d say I’d like a martini but I want it 50/50. It’s gin and vermouth.

It’s fresh but it’s very sharp. It wakes you up. This one you’re chillin’ on a yacht, enjoying life, that one is like Hello taste buds! There’s no lie, no hiding it. It’s like I am really drinking alcohol. I guess it’s the safest drink to go with. In the other ones the flavor is disguising how much alcohol is in it. But I’m getting there, I’m crossing into the world of martinis.

JS: Is that your round, that’s six.

Neon Hitch: Let’s have one more. Give me your sexiest cocktail.

JS: Do you want the passion fruit in there?

Yeah, let’s do that. I usually have a bottle of Jameson in my dressing room. It’s on my rider. I love to make hot toddies. Whiskey, hot water, honey, lemon. The rich like Richard Branson drink is dirty and full flavored. It tastes like dirt, but good dirt. Very relaxing.

JS: This is your passion fruit, Thai chili, tequila, little bit of nice pear brandy.

Neon Hitch: It smells so good. It’s tart. Here we go. This is definitely the "Fuck You Betta" drink. This is sexual, just like I asked for. It’s tangy. This is definitely a party girl drink. It’s sophisticated but sexual. Sophisticated people do have sex. It’s more feminine than the others. I would probably end up giving someone a lap dance at the end of the night if I carried on with that one. I love that one.

Where do you like to hang out in New York? What bars?
I love to go to Le Bain. I love having a nice view while I’m having a drink. I love Cabin Down Below. It’s such a cool space. And I love dive bars. I live on Mott and Bleecker. There’s a bar on Houston and Mott—great bar, great energy, I always have fun there. I love dive bars, and I love this place. I think I’ll be coming back here.

What’s it like being on the verge of superstardom? Do you feel the tension, that sense of in-betweenness?
If you’re in it, you don’t see the change. I’m in my life every day. It’s been very gradual. I’ve worked very hard. I don’t go Oh my god my life is so crazy. I get up early, I work out, I do a lot of phone calls. I like to keep busy. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Is it surreal to be at the Super Bowl? Do you ever have those moments where you’re like How did I get here?
I have recently been having some of those moments. I do meditate before every show. I can take myself out of my body and see myself from an outside perspective. I was raised Buddhist. I’m not religious. But then I’m like, Wow, I’ve come so far. I used to be homeless. If I had those kinds of realizations every day I’d be crazy. You should never take anything for granted. It’s important to be thankful. It’s friction. A few martinis would help that. I like living in a local community lifestyle. That’s the way I was raised, all of us in our caravans. We’d have breakfast together. In Soho you kind of can do that. You’ve got your Tiki place. Artistic life. New York is good for that.  It’s great. I get to see these people every day. My coffee man every day is like, “Morning, Neon, same again?” I go to my laundromat, you know they’re going to see your knickers. I’m like, how do you fold this?

When’s the last time you were on a trapeze? 
When I performed at the Rolling Stone party at the Super Bowl. Fox News was doing an interview with somebody and I saw the trapeze and I pushed people out of the way. It’s how I grew up. My mom was dating someone, a guy in the freak show. He was just a handsome dude who kind of ran the show. Freakishly handsome. There were these dwarfs on site, a woman with a beard, and the meat man. My mom would get a hundred pounds a minute to be chased by the meat man with a chainsaw. I was four years old and started swinging clubs, and eventually I got into swinging fire, and then I got into trapeze and stilt walking. It was just me and my mom for a while. We toured in the circus in the freak show. I’ve always been a performer. I’m a showgirl.

Do you incorporate that into your live act?
I have, in my last tour. I would love to do fire on stage, but I’m not allowed. I’d love to breathe fire. I actually tried to breathe fire in the “Fuck U Betta” video but the label wouldn’t let me. Thank you, Warner Bros! Boring! You guys are boring! I will breathe fire soon, in public. Watch this space. I go all out for my performances. I will do anything. If it hurts, that’s fine, I’ll take the pain.

What’s the origin of “Fuck U Betta”?
I wrote that song in bed, where I write most of my best songs. It was about an ex-boyfriend who was dating models and stuff. And I was like, well, that’s great, she’s obviously prettier than I’ll ever be, but at the end of the day, can she love you like I can? Not really. Does she have a butt like mine? I don’t think so. The message of the song is that it’s not really about looks. If you’ve got chemistry—whether it be emotional, sexual, or spiritual—that’s all that matters. That’s what the song is about.

I assume you’ve gotten over this guy?
Oh I’m totally over him. Now he comes back trying to call me. It’s over. But I can fuck him better. Now I’m really happy being single. Being single is fantastic. I’m spending a lot of time with my sisters now. They live in England but I’m being a good big sister and flying them out here.

I can’t stay late because I’ve got to go get my kids.
You’ve got kids? What are their names?

I have two boys. Zachary is five and the baby is Sebastian.
You have names like I’m going to call my children. Here are my future children’s names. I’ve got my whole life planned out. My boy is called Ziggy, and my girl is called Cleopatra. If I have another boy, he’s King. King, Ziggy, and Cleopatra. King Hitch. Holla! I’m going to get married, but I’m going to keep my name.

Recipes

Classic Gin Martini
Combine 3 oz Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin and 3/4 oz Dry Vermouth in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Lemon Twist.
 
Modern Day Vodka Martini
Pour 3 oz Belvedere Vodka into an ice-filled shaker. Rinse cocktail glass with vermouth and discard. Shake vigorously and strain into glass. Garnish with a Lemon Twist.
 
Vesper
Combine 3 oz Beefeater Gin, 1 oz Stoli Vodka, and 1/4 oz Lillet Blanc in an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Lemon Twist.
 
Oh No You Don’t!
Muddle 1 olive, 3 slices red bell pepper, and 1 sprig fresh thyme in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, 2 oz Grey Goose Vodka, and 1/4 oz Lillet Blanc. Shake and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an Olive. 
 
Martinez
Combine 2 oz Carpana Antica Sweet Vermouth, 1 oz Beefeater London Dry Gin, 1 dash Angostura Bitters, and 1 barspoon Maraschino Liqueur in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Lemon Twist.
 
Fifty-Fifty Martini
Combine 1 1/2 oz Tanqueray London Dry Gin, 1 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth, and 2 dashes Orange Bitters in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Lemon Twist.
 
Neon Hitch’s Fuck You Betta Martini
Combine 2 oz Tequila, 1 oz Passion Fruit Liqueur, 1 ounce Pear Brandy in an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Thai Chili. 
 
[Photo: Sheryl Nields]