Heâ€™s the backbone of The Beautiful Girls with a humility that many in the music biz no longer possess. Refusing to let his life slip by on a tour bus, he spent a year in solitude composing the bandâ€™s latest record â€˜Spooksâ€™, finding inspiration and comfort in the small things in life â€“ a sense of family and home. Ladies and gents, I give you Mat McHugh.
â€œBeing at home you kind of look inward, itâ€™s a deeper level than just touring around and giving your viewpoint on the world as you see it through the window of a tour van. â€˜Spooksâ€™ was a bit more centred around a sense of family and home which I always knew were important, but the more time you spend around it the more important you realise they are.â€
The Beautiful Girls - now consisting of Mat, Paulie Bromley and Bruce Braybrooke â€“ formed in 2000, appearing at a handful of open mic nights in their hometown Sydney before releasing their first EP in 2002.
It was what Mat calls an â€œaccidental beginningâ€. He had studied design after leaving school, spending a year in India and New York where he could be seen busking on the streets. His plans to return to NYC after recording the demo were sidelined by its instant success.
â€œThe demo cost $300 to make and sold 100,000 copies. Iâ€™m prepared at every second for it to end, I just wanna do stuff that comes from my heart so Iâ€™ve never gotten back to New York apart from the odd tour.â€
Since those humble beginnings, The Beautiful Girls have gone from strength to strength, releasing four stellar records and establishing a loyal following both in Australia and around the world.
The bandâ€™s fans are always a consideration for Mat during the songwriting process. While he sees no point in churning out the same old sound, he tries to avoid alienating his fans by creating something too different.
â€œYou have to stay faithful to what people know you for because theyâ€™re the people that at the end of the day are coming to shows and paying the bills. I feel like I owe our fans everything really because theyâ€™ve allowed me to have this life.â€
His passion for music, particularly songwriting, was instilled in him by his late father.
â€œDad was big into music and it was a bit of a pain in the arse really but he passed away when I was ten and I started getting more into it in a way because it was a connection between him and myself and I guess that was the reason I started connecting with it more.â€
This yearâ€™s stint as a solo artist has seen Mat perform alongside the John Butler Trio at the historical Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, where the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley have performed.
â€œWe were playing 2,000 to 3,000-seat venues and I was playing onstage just by myself with a loop pedal and a guitar and standing up there naked pretty much. I was freaking when I first started that tour because Iâ€™d never done that and so to do that and kinda get comfortable in doing that I feel very proud doing that.â€
Mat fitted his first solo album in the months between tours with the band, describing it as â€œjust a little breatherâ€ he had.
â€œI didnâ€™t want any expectations; I didnâ€™t want to push it out ... I didnâ€™t want to do any of the hard work we always do with Beautiful Girls stuff. I just wanted to put it out and see if people liked it and just go on a really mellow tour with my friends.
â€œThe process of making that solo record was probably the most fun Iâ€™ve ever had making a record just because it was super easy and fun, no pressure. It was the opposite of the last Beautiful Girls record which we slaved over; the solo record was done in about three days.â€
On the rare occasions Matâ€™s not playing music, youâ€™ll find him hanging out at his home in Sydney or catching a few sets at the beach (heâ€™s been surfing since he could walk). He dreams of one day getting a dog but for the time being is content with a summer tour with The Beautiful Girls next year followed by a solo tour of America in February, and then perhaps another solo record.
â€œItâ€™s an absolutely blessed life.â€
THE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS PERFORM AT THE GREAT NORTHERN, BYRON, JAN. 12-13, COOLANGATTA HOTEL JAN. 14, THE HI-FI JAN. 15 AND KINGS BEACH TAVERN, CALOUNDRA, JAN. 16.