The Beautiful Girls

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The Beautiful Girls


“That’s certainly one thing we have not done,” he admits, laughing over the phone from Sydney. “I’m excited; I love animals! Depending on the zoo, most of them tend to treat their animals pretty well, so I’m hoping Melbourne’s is pretty amazing. I’m definitely going to try to spend as much time there as possible, checking everything out.”

This will be a solid return to The Beautiful Girls duties, as McHugh spent much of last year touring for his 2009 solo record Separatista! which was an entirely different beast from his dealings with his regular band. McHugh says that Separatista! was centred on the theme of “separatism” – something he wanted to do outside the “mother-ship.”

How did that experience work out? “Oh man, for me personally, I loved it,” he gushes. “You have everyone on the business side of things nagging me, ‘When you gonna come back and do some shows?’ because obviously, Beautiful Girls shows are much bigger than my solo ones. A lot of the smaller shows were pretty intimate – just me and an acoustic guitar. It was completely fulfilling and romantic…just the idea of travelling around with a guitar and no smoke and mirrors and all that stuff. You know, when I think of music, that’s the idea I had when I first got into music. I was thinking [of] Bob Dylan and that classic kind of troubadour mode is my favourite thing, so I was able to do that for a year and it was awesome!”

I ask McHugh whether releasing Separatista! between 2007’s Ziggurats and the most recent Girls’ album, 2010’s Spooks, affected his recording process. “Yeah, Separatista! was done really off the cuff,” he admits. “The Beautiful Girls had a break, and I just wanted to head into the studio; I had some songs, I wanted to get in there with some friends…and it took like three days, with a lot of stuff done on the first go. It was easy and simple and enjoyable. Spooks was the polar opposite.

“[Spooks] was laboured over an insane amount. I put that record together in the basement of my house and it took me a year, ten hours a day. I played everything, but ended up chopping most of it up and rearranging it and approaching it like an electronic or a dance or a hip hop producer would have done. I love the end result, but it was insane! There were moments where I was like a molecule away from insanity. It was just overwhelming, and I needed a breather after that, which is why this last year’s just been: take an acoustic guitar to a stage and plug it in and away you go.”

Sounds to me almost as if McHugh, given his druthers, would prefer to record under his own name more often. He agrees. However, he admits, “The Beautiful Girls has been the name I’ve been releasing all my music under, so I’m being encouraged to stick with that. It’s all semantics as far as I’m concerned; it’s just letters on a piece of paper or on a CD cover – it’s all music, and however it gets to people most effectively is how I’m going to do it. I do like the name The Beautiful Girls, too – it’s kind of catchy!”

He mentions that he’d originally chosen the name to take the piss out of his fellow surfers growing up in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney. He laughs at the memory, regaling me with some of the outrageously macho and violent monikers of his contemporaries. “I just wanted to have a laugh,” he reminisces.

Looks like he’s had the last laugh, I note. He takes a deep breath. “The whole thing’s weird, you know,” he confides. “Every day I wake up in a sweat, waiting for people to tell me that it’s all just one big joke. Like, [mocking tone] ‘Ha ha, we let you believe you were in a band and you played music for a living.’ I didn’t grow up that way, you know. I grew up just being a surfer, and always played music just as something fun; I never had a career aspiration – opportunities just represented themselves. I always just did the best I could at each point in time and it’s still kind of rolling along, you know? So if I’m having the last laugh, it’s kind of a nervous one. A nervous giggle!

“But I definitely enjoy it,” he continues. “It’s just music as a vehicle to live an interesting and exciting kind of life! And not to just sit in some ivory tower and think I’m more special than the next person because I get to play music – I think that’s ridiculous. So I see it for what it is and I believe I’m happy, and it’s been a great ride so far and if it ended tomorrow, then it still would have been a great ride!”