The Beautiful Girls

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The Beautiful Girls

“I had a strange childhood, we didn’t have much money and my father passed away when I was pretty young. My connection to him was music. We played together when I was a little kid and so I continued to play as I got older – it was my connection to him and the genesis of my life in music.” Man of the moment, Mat McHugh, opened a window into his inner psyche on the eve of The Beautiful Girls’ long-awaited fifth LP, Dancehall Days.
“Music became my father figure, my best friend – just about everything to me. Growing up, the artists I loved and listened to helped to form my view of the world. The importance of music is certainly not lost on me.” Nor is it lost on the hundreds of thousands of people who have bought and cherished a Beautiful Girls (or Mat McHugh) album in the last decade – many of them returning the favour via their wildly successful PledgeMusic campaign.
“All of my records, whether they’re under my name or The Beautiful Girls, have been made in exactly the same way. We’ve always been independent. We will always choose that path. The people at PledgeMusic have just given it a name now and taken it up a notch.
“We love it when people get involved. This way we can offer an insider’s view and share in the process of making a record as it’s happening, not just at the end, which we’ve never done before. It’s been fun – really interesting actually,” he smiled.
From the outset of the interview I can tell that McHugh is genuine, almost to a fault – there’s no bullshit coming from him, just honesty and (I’d like to think) mutual respect.
“I’ve never looked at making music as commerce, a way to make money. If I can pay rent from it cool, but if not, that’s cool too. I’m never going to stop playing. I owe music everything and so all my decisions are based on that, you know?
“Music is my escape from the burden of being human. As humans we deal with rough times and everybody finds their escape somewhere. Some people play sports, some take drugs and some just wanna dance!”
If you are the latter, I’m guessing you’ll be a fan of McHugh’s latest offering Dancehall Days (out now through MGM distribution). But just as we begin to chat about the direction his music has taken in 2014, together we take a little trip down memory lane while discussing The Beautiful Girls’ debut LP Learn Yourself. I can’t help but mention that it came out the day before my 21st birthday, to which McHugh replies: “What year was that? That album was 2003. It’s exactly eleven years later – wow! I was about fifteen when I made that record!” he joked. “That’s trippy!
“Well, it’s definitely not Learn Yourself,” McHugh explained when the subject turns to ‘Dancehall Days’ once again. “There’s actually no acoustic guitar on there whatsoever. I made this record purely because I wanted to make something that would be incredibly fun to play live and has really strong rhythms throughout,” he continued passionately. “I’m a huge fan of hip hop, I always have been, and I love dub and dancehall music. I love the rhythms and baselines you can dance to, that have a groove, you know? And this is a strong-sounding record – I can’t wait to play it for everyone live.”
Although The Beautiful Girls’ sound may have altered over the years, McHugh is quick to point out that his conviction remains rock-steady. “The message in our music has always been constant. We sing about positivity, love and the fact that we’re all the same. The heart and soul behind it is no different than it was around the time of Learn Yourself.”
Within Dancehall Days’ dubbed-out, dancehall and reggae-style beats, McHugh says he is reclaiming his musical identity. Though now, more than ever, it’s hard to ignore the eerie similarities (in singing style and tone) between McHugh and the late, great Bradley Nowell.
“Honestly, that’s of the hugest compliments I could get – he’s one of my musical heroes!” McHugh gushed. “In America we share management – the people that managed Sublime manage us. Jon Phillips [Silverback Professional Artist Management] and his business partner discovered Sublime, got them their first record deal and managed them throughout their whole career – and he said the same thing to me! It was a firsthand compliment. He’s seen both of us, so I can only put that down to the fact that I’m such a huge fan. We [Nowell and I] probably listened to a lot of stuff growing up, and Sublime were a huge influence on me.”
“When I first heard Sublime it was like a religious experience because they mashed up everything that I loved – punk rock, reggae and hip hop music. They did it in a ratty, raw way. I think about them all the time when I’m making music. They represented their culture, they were real and they were from the heart. It’s always good to remind yourself of the people you admire. It helps you to stay on track.”
Another artist McHugh holds in high esteem is Forte favourite, Briggs: “His album [ShepLife, 2014] is right at the top of the heap for me, in terms of the best hip hop coming out of Australia at the moment. I’ve already reached out to him about doing something together. We’ve been talking about doing a remix, throwing some vocals over a track that’s already in existence, but who knows?
“People in the past have asked if I’m going to collaborate with Xavier Rudd or John Butler, but I don’t find anything interesting about two dudes playing the guitar and singing together. I feel like people should complement each other’s strengths. Briggs is a rapper whose delivery, intelligence and representation of where he comes from is so strong, I could never get close to touching it – but I could bring my own thing and it could become bigger than the sum of its parts. That would be interesting.”
When&Where: Barwon Heads Hotel, Barwon Heads – October 25
By Natalie Rogers