Almost twenty years ago, a Sydney roots band The Beautiful Girls—also known as Mat McHugh to most— took Australia’s indie music scene by storm. Best described as a melting pot of sunny surf sounds and refreshing reggae undertones, their debut EP Morning Sun quickly became an instant hit with music lovers and surged The Beautiful Girls into the indie music spotlight.
Originally recorded in three hours for $300, it was pressed as a ‘demo’ and something to ‘hand out to friends’, and now said to be one which established the band’s unique aesthetic. The Goodtimes EP (a collection of early live favourites) followed that same year.
This was followed by the band’s first full-length album, Learn Yourself, which went on to become a ground-breaking success, with both albums having gained critical acclaim and now being Gold Certified.
With a knack for creating heart-on-the-sleeve songs and well on the way to a constant worldwide journey, The Beautiful Girls went on to release EP The Weight Of The World in 2004, and four more albums: We’re Already Gone (2005), Ziggurats (2007), Spooks (2010) and Dancehall Days (2014).
It’s clear The Beautiful Girls have had a colourful career; and to celebrate almost two decades of drawing in crowds with a sound often compared to like-minded artists as Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, and Mason Jennings, he’s decided to pull together his favourite tracks from the band’s large, critically acclaimed body of work. Embracing the classic pre-CD model of a hits record, Seaside Highlife: Greatest Hits, Volume 1 distills the band’s five studio albums, as well as the debut EP, down to a tight 22 tracks, including an acoustic version of 2018 single, ‘Beautiful World’.
While some best of’s can somehow manage to ignore a band’s actual appeal, throwing in big-selling hits and ignoring the rest, the best (and most authentic) greatest hits collections capture the true essence of the artist. With the likes of ‘Periscopes’, ‘Morning Sun’, ‘Let’s Take The Long Way Home’, and ‘Until My Kingdom Comes’ making the cut for McHugh, the reflective selection of tracks successfully stand on their own as a complete album.
“Seaside Highlife is representative of a particular era of the band,” McHugh explains, “and a stepping-off point for the next one. That’s why we put Volume One in the title. It was like, ‘okay, let’s put a stamp on this one and then let’s see what happens in the next 20 years, and see what kind of records we make there. The band’s still touring, there’s still music being made. It’s definitely not like a bookend; it’s just a really nice memento of a nice era.
“If you listen to the first track and all the way through, there’s a big artistic growth in there, in all regards. But it doesn’t discount the early songs either. They’re simple, but they’re cool too. It doesn’t all sound the same. It’s not like all of our records sounded like each other.”
Conscious of selecting tracks from each record, McHugh found the balance between including both well-known songs, as well as songs he felt held artistic weight, as well as allowing his fans to have their say while reflecting on the first part of a monumental career.
“I wanted to include everyone’s favourite and my favourites too,” McHugh says. “There was a lot more work in that than I thought there would be. It was very tricky. And there’s still some that are left off that I still feel like I should have put in there.”
Not only will the Seaside Highlife compilation represent the music of The Beautiful Girls at its best, but it also stands as their first official album release on vinyl. The dreamy vinyl double-LP will be available for pre-order on album release day, December 5, and will be with fans in the flesh early 2020.
“Since I was a teenager, I collected vinyl of a lot of my favourite acts and I loved the artwork and I love the experience of it. And often I would just collect it and I might not even listen to it. You know, I just wanted to have it as a souvenir of the band and look at it and on special occasions, I’d get it out and play it. It really is a memento of something that you love and it’s very physical and it’s cool. It’s art, you know, it’s a piece of art.
“It just felt like a nice time because people are always asking for vinyl and wanting that physical connection to music,” McHugh continues. “The people that love music, they really still want that connection. So it seems like vinyl is just the best candidate, and I feel like it’s not always easy, being independent, to get all of our records everywhere physically, you know? So I feel like, if you’re in a record store and there’s only going to be one record in there, the one to go for would be some form of compilation.
“I’m not opposed to the idea of just going back and remastering and putting all the back catalogue out on vinyl as well. This is kind of just the start of that phase I think.”
For a band celebrating a good 20 years in the industry, The Beautiful Girls are just as relevant now as they ever were – and to prove it, they’re hitting the road this Summer for 19 dates across the country.
“It’s a bit of a summer tradition to have The Beautiful Girls go out on the road. We did a summer tour last year for the release of a new single, and then the one before we did a kind of Learn Yourself anniversary tour, playing that record,” McHugh explains. “It’s all been pretty stripped back in recent times, it’s just been light and easy, and I just thought the pressure was mounting with people asking for vinyl, and all the reasons I’ve mentioned why it’d be good to do a greatest hits, I thought we should tour that, because that’s too good of a thing not to get behind.”
Taking to a number of coastal venues, McHugh going the whole nine yards with this tour and bringing out an expanded six-piece lineup – guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, horn section to perform the complete album in order, as well as adding in some songs of other records every night.
“I really wanted to do it in a proper way. You know, I wanted to take the big extended lineup and have horns and keys because there’s a lot of detail in the records, particularly as they get on in our history. And I didn’t just want to do stripped back versions of those songs. I wanted to do them as close to the recorded versions as we could,” McHugh explains.
“We’ve all played these songs before on the respective tours, but the songs change over time into their own little things. What I want to do is kind of really get it back to how the recorded versions were,” McHugh explains. “So everyone’s doing their homework; we’re listening and writing notes and then we’re just going to go hard in rehearsals for a while, and then the tour spans over a couple of months. It’s going to be monstrous – it’s going to be like a travelling circus,” he laughs.
Spreading the love to the surf coast, The Beautiful Girls will be bringing their laid-back and spacious folk-rock into The Torquay Hotel on Saturday, January 11, taking to the very same stage they performed to a sold-out crowd last summer.
“We love it, it’s a summer staple for us,” McHugh smiles. “Any town near the beach where there are waves and surfers and skaters and beach rats, it’s kind of home turf, you know? Like there’s a lot of international touring all year, but it just feels like home. You get down there and it’s just a completely natural environment.
“It’ll be perfect.”
You can purchase tickets via Eventbrite.
Release: The dreamy vinyl double-LP Seaside Highlife: Greatest Hits Volume I (Die! Boredom/MGM) is available now.