2012 is about to get a lot brighter thanks to singer-songwriter Neon Hitch, and not just because she possesses fire-swinging abilities. The former trapeze artist who grew up on a school bus (yes, you read that correctly) has already lit up the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her magnetic vocals on the Gym Class Heroes hit "Ass Back Home." Now she's commanding attention on her own with the sassy single "Fu*k U Betta." (Or "Love U Betta" if you're more comfortable with the radio-friendly version.)
Deserving of "household name status" according to Spin, Neon was signed to Warner Bros. Records by American Idol and Platinum Hit's Kara DioGuardi, the label's Senior Vice President of A&R. Neon's debut album, Beg, Borrow and Steal was produced by hit-maker Benny Blanco (Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Wiz Khalifa, Britney Spears). It also tells a fascinating story.
"Lyrically it's inspired by my upbringing," says Neon. "So there's a lot of stories that sound fictional but they're actually real. I've had a very unconventional upbringing."
Slight understatement! Even Neon's birth story sounds like something the most talented Hollywood screenwriters couldn't make up. While her mother was in labor in a London hospital, Neon's father called with news, bad and good: "The house burnt down. But I'm alive!" Homeless from day one, Neon spent her early days in abodes that idled or wobbled: A boat, a truck, teepees, tents. At age five, she moved into a school bus that her mother, a "wild hippy" gymnast named Irene, gutted and renovated to resemble an apartment. The bus was to be Neon's longest permanent residence, though it rarely stayed still. The family was always on the go, pulling up at carnivals and festivals around the UK where Neon would perform as a trapeze artist.
While the gypsy lifestyle helped Neon hone valuable skills as a performer, occasional stays with her father offered an early glimpse at the music business. Divorced from Irene shortly after Neon was born, Gary is a lighting technician who has illuminated stages for David Bowie, Sting, Annie Lenox and Duran Duran. He's also responsible for Neon's quirky name.
When Neon reached her teens, life on the bus started to unravel. The family was expanding but their mobile home was not. Frequent police raids were terrifying, and an abusive step-dad pushed her over the edge. At age fifteen, Neon ran away. Her destination was London and the date was no ordinary one: September 11th, 2001. As the world came to grips with the terror attacks in New York, Neon was forced to deal with her own uncertain reality. "I had to be a warrior," she says.
Homelessness was a consistent theme for the restless, rebellious Neon as she bounced between her dad's place in London, Europe and India. She did, however, find companionship in a boyfriend who as fate would have it, heard something special when Neon started singing in the backseat of a car one day. He introduced her to singer Neneh Cherry of "7 Seconds" fame, whose husband helped Neon make a demo.
British rapper Mike Skinner (aka The Streets) signed Neon to his record label The Beats Recordings in 2007 and the burgeoning singer started to live the dream, touring as an opening act for Skinner. She also opened for rapper 50 Cent alongside British rapper Professor Green. But when the label folded later that year, Neon found herself broke and roofless again, performing at squat parties in derelict buildings on the outskirts of London, crashing on couches - at one point she roomed with Amy Winehouse.
But it was when Benny Blanco flew Neon to New York for a meeting that Neon's career took a pivotal turn. They clicked. Furthermore, Blanco picked up on Neon's knack for writing song lyrics. Neon co-wrote Ke$ha's top ten hit "Blah Blah Blah" from the artist's No. 1 debut album Animal. She's also written alongside Imogen Heap, Sia, Jason Derulo and Bruno Mars. And it was during a writing session with Kara DioGuardi, that DioGuardi decided Neon should be signed to WBR stat.
"Neon has a point of view and something to say," says DioGuardi. "She also knows how to write hit songs which is the cornerstone of any successful artist's music career."
In contrast to a dark-tinged past, Neon's world now swirls in vibrant color. With flame-red hair, glowing green eyes (not to mention a fun, upbeat attitude) she brings a sense of magic and mystery to the room. Her modest one-bed apartment in New York - her "Gypsy palace" - is an eclectic mix of ornaments collected from her travels, including headdresses, capes and feathered bras. Not that she's there much. She's been on the go with Gym Class Heroes, performing at Madison Square Garden, on The Today Show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, as well as at VH1's "Pepsi Superbowl Fan Jam."
Beg, Borrow and Steal delivers an exotic mix of electro-pop, hip-hop and honeyed melodies. "Fu*k U Betta," points out that even though your ex is now dating a supermodel, a special connection with him trumps all. "Looks aren't everything," says Neon, looking absolutely gorgeous. "Gold" is a dance-pop track co-written by Bruno Mars that's so infectious there's likely something wrong with you if you're not humming it all day. Then there's "Black and Blue" which confronts the issue of child abuse. "That song means a lot to me," says Neon.
"It feels a bit phony singing what someone else has written. I don't think anyone can tell my story better than I can so I think I'm best to just write my own songs. I have a lot that I need to say."
Go for it, Neon. We're listening.