Close on 16 years ago The Beautiful Girls made their debut release with Morning Sun, a melting pot of sunny surf sounds and refreshing reggae undertones. Audiences went nuts for them.
Particularly here in Byron, where their sound had people packing into venues fro the get go. For Matt McHugh, Byron is still a bit special.
‘Byron is one of the highlights; it’s the first spot on the entire planet where we had a proper big sold-out show. It just went nuts and I remember thinking we are in Byron Bay, we might as well be on Mars! It was like the birthing ground for this band. Weirdly the sense of it all isn’t lost on us.’
The Anniversary Tour looks back to the albums that kicked it off for TBG.
‘The tour is to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the fist two records,’ says Matt. ‘There will be a bunch of songs from them, but not in chronological order – it’s not our style. The most important thing is we are getting back to the spirit of how they are made – it’s guitar, bass and drums. The sound is raw.’
McHugh believes that in the search for bigger and better sounds, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what you have. Particularly when it comes to recording.
‘It takes some perspective to say that; it’s not so much, it’s a mix of proving yourself,’ he says of making things more complicated and layered in the studio. ‘I can make this more complex and more harmonically interesting, so you start layering and all of a sudden there are a million things on there that have to be reproduced in live performance, and when you face a creative fork in the road, a lot of creative people add another idea to it; they think, I’ll just add something else. Instead of honing down on three or four and making them special you make more noise. I only understand that practice doing this tour; there’s something satisfying in stripping it back.’
McHugh is thoughtful about how he approaches his music these days.
‘As a guitar player I find spaces and pockets to fill in and have atmosphere rather than turn on the distortion and go that way. You have to be more creative; you can’t just sit back and let everyone do everything. There are moments getting this new set list together before we went to Europe when I wasn’t confident. But now I realise it’s energising, and there’s something very special about it.’
What McHugh loves most, is the power of three, and how much just three musicians can achieve on a stage.
‘My favourite bands are the Police or Jimmy Hendrix or Sublime – they are all three-piece, and so is Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath; so many just have guitar, bass and drums. I don’t know why you would need to be more powerful than that!’
McHugh is a big advocate of keeping things simple. ‘As I am growing older,’ he says, ‘I am all about exactly that. Simplifying my life. It’s what makes me happy. And not having any desires for a bunch of bullshit that seems exciting when you are 20. I feel that there is a real alignment of that principle in everything I am doing at the moment.’
McHugh credits his quiet ability to just follow his own path to the fact that being a musician wasn’t really what he set out to be.
‘I had a blessing in that I grew up playing music but didn’t grow up wanting to be a musician. I wanted to be an artist or designer when I left school; it just kind of happened we got stuff on the radio and because I didn’t have stars in my eyes, it was a bit of a joke. It was a mix of terror actually. I thought people will find out this band sucks! I made a clear decision put the music first because I love music. I know how to say No to things that don’t align, and because of that it hasn’t been easy. Every record you push the parameters out and it’s a battle with your fans and the perception of what you do and you have to be prepared to go out and stand up for yourself.
‘In the music industry people don’t really put the music first. Money is what is important. But you can tell when people do what they love doing. You can tell when someone is legit.
‘I was just a baby when my dad used to listen to a lot of outlaw country such as Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. My first love was Willie Nelson. He was probably only about 40 but to me he was like a wizard. Ever since I was a kid I though that was who was cool. I never thought pop stars were cool. I have always thought that in my head. How you can manoeuvre into that position with a body of work, not based on how cool you are or what you look like but by your legitimate contribution.’
Although he became known for mellow acoustic music, McHugh says he grew up playing punk rock. ‘I still think Fuck them,’ he laughs when he reflects on the industry and his place in the sun.
Matt McHugh brings The Beautiful Girls to the Hotel Great Northern on Friday 5 January.