Ahead of their hotly anticipated jaunt to London next month as part of their ‘Morning Sun / Learn Yourself’ anniversary tour, we asked The Beautiful Girls’ frontman Mat McHugh to reflect on the origins and evolution of one of Australia’s most celebrated roots ‘n’ reggae troupes.
The Beautiful Girls @ Islington Academy, London
Thursday, 05 October
Book your tickets, here
Q: When did you realize that you had something as a band?
Ha! There were a few moments pretty early in the band’s career where it was pretty clear that it had gone way beyond what we were prepared for at the time.
One of the first festivals that booked us in Oz put us on one of their side stages. Most of the bands throughout the day were drawing modest crowds and we were super nervous that nobody was going to show up.
When we walked on stage the entire Festival crowd had shown up and there must have been 10 thousand people in a space designed to cope with a quarter of that number.
The crowd sang the songs so loud that we couldn’t hear a single thing onstage the whole show. I remember feeling a strange mix of elation and sheer, stone cold, terror.
Q: Have you ever messed with the formula so much that the tapes were erased?
I think I’ve been guilty of pushing things way past where people were willing to go at times. In retrospect, each album probably should have been put out under a different band name.
Q: Reggae, dub and roots progressed consistently from the mid-50s to the 90s. Where do you see the music style going now?
That’s an interesting question because, honestly, my favourite era was a long time ago. There was an interesting transition period between the late 70s heavy roots vibe and the early 80s digital dancehall.
I like when art is rudimentary and raw. When people experiment with simple tools and squeeze things out of them that they weren’t designed to do.
I think the future is going back to the past. More performance based, in the mixing and playing, and more punk rock in spirit. Computers kind of stole a lot of beautiful things about music. The messed up, crucial, imperfect moments were sacrificed to convenience.
I try and set things up to have to go the long way around. Clunky old samplers and drum machines, analogue synths, thick strings on the guitar, that kind of thing.
Q: What’s your London knowledge like? Anywhere you go for a good feed and a good pint?
I would say that our London knowledge is terrible. We always get straight in and straight out. It’s too far from the beach.
Q: How does it feel looking back – did the music reach your audience the way you’d hoped?
To be honest, it feels like looking back at somebody else’s life. The thing that’s important to understand is that none of us thought, or hoped, we’d reach an audience at all.
We had no career plans to be musicians. That isn’t even on the radar where I grew up. We just wanted to make some music that would sound good playing at the local skate park or someone’s house party by the beach.
The whole thing was a bit of an accident. A radio DJ got our first demo and started playing it on air. Pretty soon all these people started showing up.
I think we really kind of sucked at the start. Some of the early songs I wrote I still like but I don’t think we were a great band. We had good hearts thought, and I think we’ve gotten better.
In a weird way, I’m happy that we sucked. It’s real. Straight out of the garage. Everything that comes out today is so perfect already. I don’t trust it… smells like a rat.
Q: Who’s the worst house trained bandmate on tour?
We’ve all toured enough to have learned respect and manners towards our fellow travel companions. Anyone acts like an idiot, they get left taped to a pole at a petrol station somewhere.
Q: This one’s for the writers: How many songs do you think you’ve sat on? Whether they are not your style or lost dogs looking for a home, do you think they’ll ever see the light of day?
Well, I write all the stuff and most of the songs I write usually find their way somewhere. I’ve always got a few different projects that I release music under.
There’s a bunch of half-finished ideas, or initial inspirations, that I put into spare parts piles which I revisit and develop from time to time when I’m bored.
Q: The music’s sonic quality increases a lot over the years. Which album had the best sound to your ears?
The first couple were done super-fast and cheap. Morning Sun cost us $300 and 3 hours. For me they’re hard to listen to because they are extra raw. I guess that has its charm but I’m too close to it.
My favourite, at time of writing, is We’re Already Gone because it’s the darkest sounding of the lot. It’s heavy and bluesy. It was a total heartbreak album and nearly killed me writing it.
I don’t want to go back and revisit the state of mind I was in but I like listening to it from a distance. After that, things got more experimental but I’m starting to swing back to being more interested in being scrappy again.
Q: How much collaboration with other artists goes on?
As far as writing songs for The Beautiful Girls, zero. There have been a couple of remixes and guest verses here and there but, for me, the process of songwriting is private.
I’m not ever trying to design some kind of hit song. It’s just only ever trying to express a feeling so that I feel better afterwards.
I would collaborate with Fiona Apple though.
Q: Can you tell us a little about The Yums Yums?
They are a German electronic collective that have done some remixes of some Mat McHugh tracks I put out. They are super talented and great friends of mine. I get inspired by what they do.
I studied design when I left school and the way they approach what they do is very conceptual which I enjoy participating in.
Plus, I get bored as hell sitting home strumming the guitar sometimes.
Q: What’s next for The Beautiful Girls?
For the next six months we’re going around playing songs from the early albums and indulging ourselves in the process of keeping it as raw as we possibly can.
It’s a fun time hanging out together and just getting to enjoy playing music with friends.
There will be new music coming out, but there are no current plans for releasing it under The Beautiful Girls name.
You probably should, however, take everything I say with a grain of salt because whenever I read old interviews none of the stuff I predict ever happens.
I just basically make it all up because talking about ourselves seems silly.
Catch The Beautiful Girls live @ O2 Academy Islington, London
With special guests: Echotape
Thursday 05 October, 2017
Doors 7:00pm – Tickets: £17.40 (including Facility Fee and Service Fee)
TOP IMAGE: Courtesy MatMcHughMusic.com