In The Name Of The Father

28 May 2012 | 10:36 am | Michael Smith

“I came back from that and I was like, ‘Man, you know what?’ The reaction from the shows and how I personally felt about them was just on a different level than I’d felt about music for a long time. It took me back to when I had started writing these songs and playing and, yeah, just made me think I’m going to do this record.

When he takes our call, Mat McHugh is sitting at an Italian restaurant in Sao Paolo, Brazil, midway through a tour with The Beautiful Girls, sponsored by an airline. So, it seems, despite the suggestions, on the release of his second solo album, Love Come Save Me, to the contrary, The Beautiful Girls continue to be a going concern.

“Well,” McHugh begins, cautiously, “it kind of is, you know, but I don't know for how much longer. I dunno, it's like a brand – and I hate using the word 'brand' but that's the reality of the situation – it's a brand I've been putting my music out under for a long time, for a decade. And a lot of work's gone into it, so it's kind of at a certain level that's very hard to walk away from because that pays my rent, and at the same time I'm trying to leverage it and get my own name out there and kind of transfer it over, which is basically exactly the same thing, just a different set of letters on the front cover. So there are Beautiful Girls shows happening but the future, as they say in the movies, is uncertain.”

At last count, the entirely independent Beautiful Girls had sold more than 285,000 albums, their last album, 2010's Spooks, achieving #1 in the Australian Independent Chart and a respectable #18 in the ARIA mainstream Album Chart.

“It was weird, you know,” he ponders. “The album before, [2007's] Ziggurats, probably had more of a profile because we had a song [I Thought About You] that got commercial airplay, which was a first for the band, and I kind of wanted to react against that with Spooks and get a bit more dubby and weird, but it still did really good, you know? Probably like, I think by virtue of being around so long and grinding away at building a fanbase – each subsequent release the fanbase got bigger – so it came out and it ticked all the boxes as far as getting on the top of the independent charts and all that kind of stuff. I mean it wasn't this huge, surprising revelation – it was more kind of a validation of a long time of work, I guess.”

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Spooks also managed to make it to #7 in the US Billboard Reggae Chart, prompting yet another and even more successful tour of the US.

“We'd just been touring America relentlessly for like eight years as a band, and as a band meaning that, you know, I would get an offer of a tour and then have to figure out in my head whether I can afford to pay the band, which is what I do, and have them come on the road. And we pull decent numbers in America now but it still costs money. We got to the end of this tour and what had happened was I had my appendix taken out and I had to cancel the last seven shows – I basically got rushed off stage and went straight to hospital and got the appendix ripped out – and there was just this point where I was like, 'Right, that's it, we're not coming to America anymore. I can't spend any more money here. Regardless, a thousand people turn up at a show, I just can't do it. I'm away from home, this that and the other, it's done – I'm done coming here.' And then, literally got home after all that and got this offer to come back to America and play with John Butler. But I said, 'Look, we don't want to do it as The Beautiful Girls, but I'll do it solo.' I don't even know why I said that 'cause I'd never done any solo touring before with just literally me on stage, and he said, 'Yeah'.”

And it was that tour that finally convinced McHugh that he could do it on his own. Even when he took his previous solo album, Seperatista!, out on the road, he'd done it with a band. His only previous solo performing experience had been busking in the streets of New York years back in the day, but opening for John Butler before significantly bigger crowds was a new experience. Though, as he says, “I fell in love with it,” and the process of writing the songs that would end up on Love Come Save Me began.

“I came back from that and I was like, 'Man, you know what?' The reaction from the shows and how I personally felt about them was just on a different level than I'd felt about music for a long time. It took me back to when I had started writing these songs and playing and, yeah, just made me think I'm going to do this record. I had a bunch of events kind of happen, you know, like my partner and I got pregnant and we had a baby in this whole period following up after that, so it was this whole crazy shift of everything, like every kind of reality that I had moved a little bit.

“That was definitely the start of it and then I started writing songs based on that, and then they continued being written based around the fact that I had a pregnant partner and I'd be playing acoustic songs around the house and singing to her ever-expanding belly. And then I had a baby and I was playing more kind of peaceful quiet songs around him, and then it all was wrapped up in the idea that now I have someone where I have a legacy, you know? So I want to make him something that's my name - something my son can say, 'Look what my dad did.'

“And I wanted to start it off and give it away, you know, and just share and put love out into the world. I really want to leave behind something worthwhile on the planet, if it's only just for him. Giving the music away is just a way of me kind of really giving back to music, 'cause it's given me so much.”