The devolution of Mat McHugh. That’s what we’re talking about. Bands get bigger over time. Music gets louder. Everything evolves, there is nothing which doesn’t change over time. Some artists keep trying to find bigger mountains to climb, others make a conscious effort to crawl back into the sea.
In 2002 the frontman and creative force behind The Beautiful Girls began riding the wave as the band’s Morning Sun EP became the radio hit of the Australian Summer. In 2010, after 12 world tours, eight records and 285,000 album sales, the wave reached a musical highwater mark with the critically acclaimed Spooks – a dub tour de force which peaked at number 6 on the US Billboard Reggae Charts and debuted at number one on the Australian Independent charts. The album won over critics around the world and took McHugh to the US for two national tours in the one year. The first with his band to see the old fans, the second to the church of John Butler with nothing but an acoustic guitar between him and a new cast of thousands.
The latter was a watershed moment – and now the tide has receded to reveal a new world of inspiration for one of Australia’s best-loved songwriters.
“Spending a year of my life working on Spooks was an amazing journey and it’s a brilliant record, but The John Butler tour was as influential to me as anything in my musical career so far. It was such a grounding, emotionally-fulfilling experience. I’m used to playing in a band to a few thousand people who are having a party, but playing solo to two or three thousand people, I felt connected. Music, for me, has always been about communication. It was a turning point as far as working out what I was going to do next – and that’s what 2011 is about,” Mat muses.
The result is devolution. Mat McHugh’s first album as a naked, raw solo artist. After a decade of striving to get bigger, better, louder and more colourful, the focus is on being transparent. Simple. Honest. Intimate.
This is a roots record in every sense of the word. No computers. No auto-tune. Nothing but guitar, bass and drums. It’s back to where it all began, albeit through the eyes of a man who has spent three quarters of the last decade sampling beats from around the globe and melting them down in his own brand of earthenware.
Devolution isn’t about fashion. It isn’t about what everyone else is doing. It isn’t about trends. Devolution isn’t about a marketing plan and guest appearances. Devolution is about music at its purest.
“I want to contribute to the musical landscape in 2011 by making something more about feelings and emotions than it is about musical cleverness,” McHugh says.
“My favourite records, whether they’re Johnny Cash or Nick Drake sound like they could have been made in 2011 or 1960. There’s nothing added, it’s a simple formula. They’re just a little statement of what the people who created them believed to be inherent truths and that’s all I’m trying to do on this record.”