Mat McHugh Beautiful Girls

The Beautiful Girls: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Endless Summers, perfect sunrise barrels, a guitar around the campfire. The Beautiful Girls have been evoking these images with their distinctive brand of laid back surf roots for almost two decades.

In the lead up to their huge show at the the Tanks Arts Centre this Saturday (February 8th), founding member, Mat McHugh reflects on being an independent artist, the changing face of music and a beautiful journey that started in Sydney back in 2001.

With this year marking the 20th anniversary of the music collective they’re marking the occasion with a national tour and the double vinyl release of compilation album, Seaside Highlife (Greatest Hits Vol. 1).

Armed with a six piece band, including horn section, The Beautiful Girls will be performing the double album in its entirety. And at the halfway point of the tour, McHugh is keen to hit the stage at the Tanks, where The Beautiful Girls have performed numerous times to sell out crowds.

“We’re covering a lot of songs, so its pretty massive. Musically, its the best its ever been.”

“(The Tanks) is amazing, for the the size venue that it is, it’s arguable the best venue that we’ve played. It looks amazing, it sounds amazing, the people who operate it and curate it, they’re are all amazing, they all care. And that is indicative of the community there. You can’t have that without community support.”

“You walk in to that place and you know its gonna be good. We love coming there, its a beautiful place.”

Releasing a greatest hits compilation at this point seemed like a natural progression for McHugh, and with fans selling out the vinyl pre order it seems he hit the nail on the head.

“I thought it was a really good time to put a bow around that era… I thought it would be really good to have a kind of introductory package that really gives a good idea of what we sound and feel like as a band”

The choice to press the double album on vinyl is another way The Beautiful Girls are harking back to their roots.

“Having a vinyl from an artist that you love is a great thing, it’s also a way of supporting the artists that you love too by buying in. It’s a show of support and you get to imbibe the art that they put in to the world.”

“As far as ours went, it’s not cheap pressing a double vinyl in Europe and shipping it back, so we did a online pre-order and that pre-order instantly sold out which was very surprising. So we doubled it and we just got the shipment back a few days also so it’s going great guns!”

There’s a certain nostalgia to purchasing an album on vinyl and the romance isn’t lost on McHugh, who over the last 20 years has watched the changing face of music from the front seat.

“There is a chasm opening up in the middle, there was all this physical media; tapes and CDs, everyone was trying to figure out a medium and we have arrived at the place of streaming, which is super convenient and super direct and easy but what you miss is the tactile experience, the actual devotional music experience.”

“Vinyl is rising, sales of vinyl are radically going up and while I don’t think it will ever compete with streaming, there is a large group of people out there that still want that experience, they value the cover art, they value opening up a new piece of music and putting in in their system and hitting play.”

McHugh and co have always been masters of their own musical destiny, and could easily be the poster children for independent artistry.

Laughing wryly, McHugh has a lot to say about the glamorous  but potentially poisoned chalice of record deals, big business and falsely promised dreams.

“I could write a novel about that.”

“I think you gotta understand the game you’re getting into. If you sign on the dotted line for a record label they have the money to put in upfront and they will spend it. Depending on the value they think you will return to them, they will spend it in droves. But it’s your money they’re spending, and when you allow them to do that you also allow them to have ownership and control of your music and control of your career”

McHugh is rightly protective of his music and his myriad of musical projects have flourished with the freedom that comes with remaining independent.

“I’m a musician, I like playing music, and I like writing music that I believe in. I think all the things that I have a lot of respect for and bring a lot of value to my life, don’t really exist in that highly commercial world. So its a balancing act to try to exist as an independent operator. But my rewards aren’t just dollars and cents.”

There’s a slow burning intensity to Mat McHugh that belies the easy going vibe of The Beautiful Girls, and he has lost no fervour for music in the intervening years.

“I just think songs are important to people still, I have this old fashioned romantic belief that a good song is just a good song. It can be recorded cheaply or quickly. A good song, hits you in the heart and it stays with you for your life. I feel like a few of our songs have been received that way by people and they still love them.”

“When we play shows and people sing the songs word for word, that’s the biggest achievement for me”

Stacey Brown

See The Beautiful Girls perform their double album Seaside Highlife (Greatest Hits Vol.1) at The Tanks Arts Centre this Saturday 8th February.

Tickets available through Ticketlink

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