The Beautiful Girls are paying tribute to their roots heading on the road for a fifteen year anniversary tour of the early releases Learn Yourself and Morning Sun. They are bringing their beaches of Sydney sound back to festivals and venues around Australia with a massive twenty one date tour in November through to late January. Mat McHugh had an honest chat with Hi-Fi Way Pop Chronicles about creative minds, what to expect from the upcoming tour as well as the ongoing struggle of living in the moment and not disconnecting with life.
Hi Mat, Kay Cann here. I am going to be really up front and honest with you, you are my first interview… You are popping my interview cherry as they say, I hope that’s ok with you.
Here you go, I am going to say some weird shit then, it’s going to be so weird that the next will be less weird from here.
Well, so I don’t screw this up what is your least favourite interview question?
Ummmm, nah I don’t know, I don’t discriminate in such a fashion (ah come on, surely there is something). Well, people assuming they should know everything about myself, that would be arrogant, you know, it’s like how could you ask me that question but no, I don’t assume any of that stuff, I try and answer the best I can.
Favourite interview question?
Ha, I am yet to hear it, maybe you’ll ask it.
Anniversary tours seem to be a bit of a thing at the moment. Whose idea was it for The Beautiful Girls to do this tour?
(Laughing) How can you ask me that fuckin’, haha, that is the worst question I’ve ever heard.What is this, what is this? Is this an interview? Haha.
Nah it wasn’t my idea. I think the idea had been kind of floated around I think on the tenth anniversary of those records. I am not really super nostalgic as a person, I think I kind of allow myself to get nostalgic from time to time but I think as a creative person I don’t want to wallow in it because I think it’s important just to be current and so I write a song about where I am now instead of trying to be a version of where I was previously if that makes sense. I just didn’t ever really see the point (in anniversary tours). I was like that’s lame, why would you do that you know? I mean, I’m still making records, I still play the old songs, so why would I, you know concede to such a thing? I forget who suggested it in the end but I floated the idea with a bunch of friends and family and they kind of made me see the good side to it. I think it’s an honour to have a couple of records that people have allowed into their lives and still like them. Then to have the ability to go and share some kind of memories with people is never a thing that you want to be grumpy about. You know, it’s not like argh that sucks. People want to come and hear these records, so no, I think it’s lucky, like it’s really lucky. So I want to have fun in that sentiment for a little bit and then just get on with being in the present if that make sense.
Well for me, I’m a photographer and looking back at old photos is just something I do from time to time and I just absolutely adore it whenever I do. It’s such an awesome trip down memory lane so yeah, I get it.
Yeah but do you look at them though and can you view them like that or do you look at them in a technical way and try and think oh maybe I should have composed that better or even, no, I would never do that now?
Nah, absolutely for what it is at the time, and for me it’s more the memory that’s behind it rather than the technical aspect. I really love candid photos and in the moment raw photos so for me, if it all comes together and it’s technically beautiful then that’s a plus but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, that’s just my style I guess, or the style that speaks to me. When I can get into that headspace like I am highly literal that that’s the headspace to be in. So yeah when I think of the other way I struggle a bit. I don’t really want to go back and revisit the stuff I did because I think I do it better now and I feel like I should just be in this moment now and not even worry about what happened before, but yeah, when I look at it in the way you just said I kind of think about the memories and those times. The times everyone shared and when the albums came out and when they were toured back then was cool, that’s a cool feeling! It’s like man, I am so lucky to have those memories and then be able to go and kind of relive them in a way. It is pretty cool, so yeah, I came around. I was first against it, but now I’m cool with it.
So Periscopes was the first song you actually had that was picked up by the J’s so I read, do you have those weird feelings now looking back at that song?
Actually it wasn’t, yeah, I think it might have been included in a Bio we had or something but technically no, everyone thinks it was but I don’t think it ever got played but Morning Sun was on there, Music was on there, a bunch were on there but the two kind of biggest Beautiful Girls tracks La Mar and Periscopes were never on the radio. I don’t know how that came about. Everyone is like, you had that big hit Periscopes and I wish we did but we never did haha.
Either way, I think it’s pretty cool you did a demo and it was picked up so well, if it wasn’t for that where do you think you might be? Well at the time I was studying design so I just really wanted to be a designer, like a graphic designer or some kind of art director or creative pursuit. I love, love, love being at home writing songs and recording songs. I love the moments of being creative, I love being on stage and I love when you can kind of react in the moment and just be, you know, like play a new section or version of a song and you don’t know whats going to happen. Those are the moments I live for. I struggle with the kind of discipline of this is exactly how this song goes and this is exactly how you play it. I feel like my ambition was that I was supposed to design or something and the whole music thing was a bit of an accident. I feel it’s a super lucky accident and I try to do the best with it. I had a clear picture of where I was going and I didn’t actually throw any eggs in the music basket it just kind of happened. When I was at school I did work experience with News Limited, I actually did photography as well and wanted to do something with photography or design or whatever, creative stuff, I just wanted to do something creative.
If I don’t pick up a camera and see live music at least once a week, I go into freak out mode, for me it feeds my soul and I adore it.
Yeah I don’t think we are alone, I think there are a lot of creative people that feel like that. That’s the fun thing about music you know. It’s so creative. It’s funny when you’re on tour there is actually very little time in the day to be creative, you are constantly in transit and your playing the same songs over and over again. You have to find ways of kind of have to stretch out on stage and do stuff that’s interesting.
Are there any songs you don’t like playing anymore?
No, not really. Fortunately I still like them, there’s a couple of songs off the earlier records we never really played, even when the records were made. So that has been a challenge to learn and play a couple of those on this upcoming tour. Fortunately they have held up which is lucky.
So you have been noted as pioneering Australia’s Surf Roots Reggae sound, what is your take on that?
Haha, yeah that massive famous surf reggae scene of Australia. I don’t even know if there is any surf reggae in Australia… well I don’t know if I have heard much of it anyway. All we tried to do, even when the band started writing songs was to sound like whatever it sounded like for us growing up, right. So where I was growing up on the beach all my friends and older guys were always playing out the back of their cars and wherever. There was always this punk rock and dub music and all of these different sounds that I associated with growing up on the beach. So when it was time for me to write songs I tried to mash all those sounds up into a bunch of songs that kind of had the same feeling. I never wanted to pretend to be like Manchester or London or New York City because I just can’t. I grew up on the beach in Sydney, just one street away from the sand. I had to try and represent that sound and that culture as best that I could. There wasn’t really any Aussie act doing much of that then. Maybe there are other acts doing it now, I don’t really know. I don’t know if there are any designs of being part of any kind of scene. I think it was probably the opposite. It was like, it didn’t feel like there was a scene for me so I felt like I just kind of had to make my own scene.
For me your sound and your songs just seem pure. They seem real like they are not written for the sake of writing them and well that comes across to me.
Well thank you, wow, well that is the idea you know and that’s the main goal. Every time I want to write a song, I sit down and I think do I like need to? Like what am I actually writing about? I don’t just want to try and manufacture something to get on the radio. I just feel like if I have a feeling about something like if I want to talk to my friend about it, I will call my friend and talk about something. It’s the same feeling as when your writing a song. It’s like hey, I feel this way about something I am just going to write a song about it, that’s it. And then a song happens and then because there’s a reason for the song to be alive then the song does become genuine. You see these things on the internet where it’s like “how do you write a hit song?” or you know, “how does Ed Sheeran do it?” or “how does whoever do it?” and it’s like man, if your watching those kind of things and your trying to write a song by watching those things then your getting it wrong man. You’ve just got to be yourself you know, do your thing, live your life and everything you’ve ever seen or read that have influenced you, put that into what you do. Try to find your own thing and write a song about your own life and talk in the song, talk to your friend, talk to your girlfriend or boyfriend, or talk to your parents. You know, like make the lyrics be like a conversation you have and not some kind of pretend narrative that you think makes you look cool. That stuff sucks, there is enough of that music as it is. Don’t contribute to it, be genuine.
I’m really looking forward to catching you on this tour, I am heading to the Gov show.
Yeah the Gov is just such a fun place, it’s a super fun venue, we love The Gov so looking forward to that as well. The Gov is definitely one of my favourite Adelaide venues, I love the circular stage and the general vibe. Yeah that’s the best part. I don’t think there is any other stage in Australia like that when you are on stage and people are all around not just in front, it is super cool it’s like a little ampitheatre, it’s awesome.
You are playing festival shows and you are also playing a few hotel shows on this particular tour. Is there any particular favourite that you have? As in do you prefer the Festival vibe or do you prefer the more intimate style?
Ah, well there is plus’s for both. The sheer size of festivals is pretty exciting but at the same time, you don’t really have sound check and you only get a limited time. There are also so many acts on. It’s like you are on now and you get off then and you have to be like military, you can’t muck around. But when you play your own shows, stuff can stretch out, you never know where it’s going to go. So songs can be longer, the audience can get more or less involved. Something might get thrown into the mix in the moment and those are the things where I really believe that’s where the magic can happen. Like nobody knew that is what was going to happen when we started and that is amazing you know. I feel like that happens in pub shows. I don’t ever remember that really happening at a festival but they are great for big sing-a-longs and for looking out and thinking wow there’s a lot of people. For those really musically magical moments I think headline shows are always going to turn out better that way. They are both great though and it’s really lucky to be able to do both.
With Headline shows the people that are there are there specifically to see you. They are not there for just the overall festival vibe or to see mainly specific acts. They are actually there to see you so there’s a different element that they are expecting from you as a performer as well.
That’s true, and I think that also like everything in life it can also go both way because, sometimes when it’s your own crowd there is some kind of expectation that comes with it. So it’s like “Ah, I’ve seen this band before and they did this” and if you don’t do that then they are kind of bummed you know, because you did it once and didn’t do it again or there is a level of expectation to be met and that’s healthy as well but at a festival when it’s people who don’t really know you maybe, I think we’ve always kind of thrived on that you know because its like ok, we’ll show you, you know, you’re standing there and we are going to prove ourselves and give you the best show we can. That’s cool as well, trying to win over new crowds. They are both great.
Reaching a new audience is always exciting too i’m sure.
Yeah definitely. Being in an independent band and not having a label or having anything to really rely on to spread the word other than whatever shows we have put on it’s been important to do that. If we are given an opportunity to play a festival then you know, let’s try and play the best show we can so that people will remember us. That has been a part of our growing. I still think that when I’m doing solo shows, any show I do I think that. I always assume there are people there that have never seen us and I try and leave them with a good time so when they leave the show they will remember it. At the same time when people have seen a bunch of the shows I get a bit more nervous you know, like shit, I always want to make the show better than any show they have seen before.
I’ve not actually thought of that you know, the pressure on artists themselves performing or outperforming previous shows.
Yeah, and it’s especially important when you do an album tour. The standard way of thinking is that people kind of know your older stuff so they come, and maybe some people are really excited for the new stuff. This has happened with every record we have done and they are often not really super ready for new songs or into the songs yet just because they don’t know them. So it’s always a bit of a battle as an artist finding the balance. So we want to try and be better than we were last time and we also want you to open your minds to these new songs. I feel like every show is a new opportunity. No-one is giving us a million dollars, we have to earn peoples respect and appreciation. Every show is vital because if you start playing shows that suck then you don’t get to play shows anymore and it’s all over you know, so it’s something than none of us have taken too lightly. People have paid their money, and they care enough to actually get out of the house to turn up here. They could have been anywhere in their city on that night but they chose to be in here with us so let’s do it. Let’s give them the best we can and that’s how we approach every show.
From a personal perspective, those punters who point their mobile phone at you for some of or all of their show, how do you feel about that?
Yeah, i’m not a huge fan, i’m not a super huge fan of it. I’ve only really recently been thinking a lot about social media and thinking about how weird it is and how much time people are on it. I mean I don’t spend a whole lot of time on it myself but even I think man if I spend twenty minutes on it then that’s twenty minutes I’ll never get back. I am always trying to constantly remind myself to just be in the moment because that twenty minutes I could have been living my life instead of looking at someone else through at some prism of someone else’s life. That is really apparent at some shows. I have been to shows and been in the audience, I’ve watched shows where people are just looking through their phones or on instagram and it’s like what? This is a moment of your life man, you’re alive, you’re in a room full of people who by all accounts have the same mindset and your all here because you have something in common, there’s a band on stage really being amazing and your looking at your phone on instagram and it’s like man snap out of it, the only one that’s going to miss out here is you. You’re going to look back and all those memories are going to be blurred.
When I see that, and I’m onstage my goal is to be totally present, be there and enjoy those very things, we are all here together and this is such a blessing and then I see someone where they have their phones out I actually feel kind of weird and sorry for them, I mean, your missing out you know, we are here to connect, let’s all connect with each other. Don’t look at someone else life hundreds kilometres away on a little tiny screen, like just leave that for a minute you know. It’s a bit of an illness that’s kind of gripped us all. I mean you walk down the street and everyone is looking at their phones, you go into a restaurant and everyone is looking at their phones and it’s like man, it’s cool but you know put a fence around it and regain some of your life.
I have to say that sadly I have been guilty of it too. I actually saw CAKE a few years ago and one vivid memory I have of them was at the start of the show to not get their cameras out and make sure their phones were off and just live in the moment and enjoy the show and take it for what it is rather than staring at the show through a little screen not enjoying it. That has always stuck to me, Do you think you will encourage people to put their phones away?
What did the crowd do? Did they actually put their phones away?
Not one person to my knowledge took their phone out, they actually had signs up and everything and stated you would be removed from the venue if you did. it was awesome. I am not telling you to do that but do you certainly encourage that?
Yeah right, I have thought about it and maybe I will and maybe I won’t. Mostly I feel that it’s not it’s my place to say, I mean, you payed your money, you’re here, your responsibility to interact with life is your responsibility and I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. If you want to pull your phone out and as long as it’s not blocking someone else and you’re not ruining it for someone else then you do whatever you want man. Like I said, I feel a bit weirdly sorry for someone who has their head in their phone the whole time because it’s a gift you know. Every moment is a gift and the only thing that’s truly precious is time and if your going to spend your time looking at false reality then that’s time wasted you are never going to get back. Use your time wisely, that’s what I think.
I couldn’t agree with you more yet speaking of time I have gone over time and don’t want to get me or you in trouble so I am going to have to call it although I feel we could talk for hours. I am really looking forward to catching you at the Gov.
Interview by Kay Cann
Catch The Beautiful Girls on the following dates…