Growing up with a single parent in a low-income suburb on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Mat McHugh was enveloped by a constant cacophony of sounds coming from all directions. From the late night skaters blasting punk rock and ‘80’s hip hop from their ghetto boxes, the rockers in the beach carpark with their windows down and the music blaring through the shimmering summer air, to the Islander community throwing their weekly parties soundtracked by sweet bass heavy dub and roots reggae. The vibration was thick, and hard to miss.
Beginning as a musical collective that started out playing ‘guerrilla gigs’ - jacking open the power box at their local skate bowl – as a vehicle for Mat’s songs, the road for The Beautiful Girls (named to irk all their ‘punk rocker tough guy’ friends) would lead from open-mic nights to #1 albums, glowing reviews, tours, international travel, meetings with heroes, dalliances with villains and an exploration of what was important as artists, musicians and human beings.
The recording career kicked off in 2002 with a debut EP, Morning Sun recorded in 3 hours for $300 as a demo and handed out to friends. The track Periscopes became a Triple J radio hit that summer and the Goodtimes EP, followed that same year.
In 2003, The Beautiful Girls released their debut album, Learn Yourself then another EP, The Weight Of The World in 2004. Three more albums followed, We’re Already Gone (2005), Water (2006) and Ziggurats (2007). Ziggurats’ main single, I Thought About You, was nominated for Blues & Roots Work of the Year at the 2008 APRA Awards. The album Spooks released in 2010, peaked at number 18 on the ARIA charts, debuted at #1 in the Australian Independent Chart and number 7 in the US Billboard Reggae Albums Chart. Spooks, which McHugh recorded with longtime co-producer Ian Pritchett, was described as ‘a majestic production where stylistic threads run deep’ which showcased Mat’s ever-solid song writing and his skill as a player of many instruments and producer.
In the eight years to 2010, Mat and the collective that comprised the live version of The Beautiful Girls, chalked up a dozen world tours, travelling to Japan, Europe, Canada, the United States and South America. Fans of the music span the globe.
In 2010, McHugh rested The Beautiful Girls while he encountered the joys of fatherhood for the first time, not sure whether that moniker would be used again. He released a free download solo album, Love Come Save Me in January 2012 then toured the USA and his beloved South America in 2013 for a series of solo live performances, all the while holding his past work close to him.
This creative period culminated in 2014 with the release of the critically acclaimed Dancehall Days album which had started as a McHugh solo project but morphed into a TBG album as more people from the musical collective contributed. The album was a potent nod to the formative influences on Mat’s music and the stylistic boundaries were stretched further than ever before. In it’s own way it’s a private, devotional, affair.
Since then The Beautiful Girls have been invited to appear at festivals and special events around the globe. While the band only plays a limited number of shows each year, this is where the depth of the songs, the interaction with the audience and the “spooky, dubby, digital dancehall tinged, rootsy, punky, reggae” music of The Beautiful Girls is at its best.
It’s a sound that The Beautiful Girls invented and none do it better.
And as Mat says, when once asked what message he wants to put across with his songs: ‘As long as there is love there, everything will be okay’ ...