WHO: Mat McHugh, of the Beautiful Girls
WHEN: Sunday, July 10
Mat McHugh may be releasing music under his own name for the first time but, in effect, he's been a solo artist since he started in the music business.
He began releasing albums under the moniker The Beautiful Girls 11 years ago when the roots-reggae act was still paying open mic nights. He was uncomfortable performing under his own name at the time so he named the project the Beautiful Girls.
Music was something he did for fun then, but as the Australian readership may already know, the BGs unexpectedly blew up and suddenly McHugh and Co. were selling out venues around the country. McHugh admits it was a total fluke.
"I was bemused. That's the best way to describe it. I never intended to have a career in music, I just played it because I thought it was fun," he says.
That changed almost over night and for the last decade the Beautiful Girls have toured with The Cat Empire, Silverchair and Mason Jennings.
They've found international success - far more than McHugh ever intended or expected - and it's been for all intents and purposes a singer/songwriter project. McHugh's written all the songs, played all instruments on the last two albums, 2010's Spooks and 2007's Ziggurats , and it's his cash that pays for all the tours and recordings.
All that time, he'd wanted to release music under his own name but the machine that the Beautiful Girls had become - selling out concert halls in Australia, Brazil and Japan while charting regular singles on Australian radio stations - prevented him from ever doing so.
He released one solo album, 2008's Seperastista but now he's at a place in life where he can disassemble the Beautiful Girls machine and be Mat McHugh full-time.
The future of Beautiful Girls is now up in the air as he focuses on touring and recording his second full-length album.
"I'm not sure when and if the Beautiful Girls will start up in the full momentum again. Probably not for a while in North America, that's for sure," he says.
"I'm a grown man now, compared to when I started the band. I spin my songs, I play all the songs on the albums - I don't see why I wouldn't call it my own name."
He released an EP, Go Don't Stop, which features a more stripped down and introspective take on the roots-reggae that Beautiful Girls is known for. His current tour across the Americas reflects this new change of pace, playing solo shows with an acoustic guitar and an mp3 sampler backing him up for drum beats.
He's speaking to Pique from a stop-over in Boulder, Co., the first day of a four-day break from touring. It's a much-needed rest from a grinding tour across the Americas, which he split in two so he could fly back to Sydney to visit his newborn son. He's been travelling across America for the last few weeks in a country he's not particularly fond of, missing the first few months of his firstborn's life.
But such is the life of an independent recording artist - he has to pay the bills somehow.
"It's hard. It's definitely hard. I get on Skype with him everyday, see him and talk to him for an hour at least. It's difficult but like anything, you have to manage what you do and you have to get it done," he says.
As for the U.S., well, success has eluded the Beautiful Girls in the American markets. They've had moderately more success in Canada but he says the band is still "another small fish in a big pond."
"Some days (it's frustrating) but I understand why. The bands that I know personally that have found success have found success through 10 years of hard work. They've worked so hard on the road - harder than I ever had - and that's kind of what you have to do in the situation we're in."
But the shows he's played in the U.S. so far have been among the most positive and well-received he's experienced on this side of the ocean. At the very least, he's still a firmly established entity back home, with or without the shroud of The Beautiful Girls.
Not bad for a man who only wanted to play music to have a bit of fun