For almost 15 years now Mat McHugh and his band, The Beautiful Girls, have been making music together. They have four studio albums under their belts and a fifth, "Dancehall Days," in the works. McHugh grew up in the hard scrabble Northern Beaches of Sydney, where he learned to both play music and surf. And so as he plans his next album, he's taking a very surfer-type approach. Rather than go to a record label, the band is crowd funding on PledgeMusic.com. And should they reach their goal, they're looking to kick some of the extra cash to pro surfer turned humanitarian Jon Rose's organization that brings access to clean water to people around the world. X Games Surfing caught up with McHugh to get the whole story.
X Games Surfing: Lets start at the beginning. When did you officially become a surfer?
McHugh: I grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Basically, if you didn't surf, you had no friends. So from the age of around eight years old, it was every day before and after school and all weekend. Every waking hour that I could be in the ocean, I would be.
And what was your local?
The beach where I started surfing and learned to surf is called Dee Why. It used to be full of public housing and was kind of the ghetto of the Northern Beaches. My mum, my sister and I had to move there when my father passed away. My mum scraped together enough for us to move into a little beach shack overlooking the water. I liked growing up there. I always had friends around and there were plenty of good waves, including a heavy, barreling point break.
You're a musician with fans, but when it comes to surfing, who are you a fan of?
Before I even entered into my teens I started keeping a scrap book of photos of Tom Curren. I would study every VHS I could get that had a few of his waves. I still think he is the greatest, most stylish surfer that has lived. I was also a fan of Brad Gerlach, and like everyone, when Kelly [Slater] exploded on the scene I was pretty blown away. In more modern times, the standouts have been Andy [Irons] and Dane [Reynolds].
How did music enter the equation?
My dad always played guitar and sang songs, so it was always a pretty natural thing. Music never came with any aspirations or pressure. I just thought it was pretty fun. I've played for as long as I can remember, as long as I could walk. I never really wanted a career in music, but when the opportunity presented itself, I considered it my duty to give it my best. I'm sure my dad would be pretty proud.
Sounds like music and surfing were part of you from a young age. What's that relationship mean to you?
Well, they're both just a part of me. I can't imagine myself without either. Those two things, and my family, are the most important things in my life. Music and surfing are things I've always done and will continue to do whether anybody is watching or not. They are both just really pure forms of expression, I guess. They're a good way to tap into the vibration of the Universe or something [laughs].
You and The Beautiful Girls have a new album you're working on called "Dancehall Days," but you're not funding it through a label, you're raising money online. Talk a little bit about the new album and how you came up with the pledge idea?
I've always released all my albums independently. The last one I gave away as a free download. If it was up to me, I would give all of them away, but the reality is that the money needs to come from somewhere for the album to be made. I've always been in a lucky position where we've had strong support from our peeps, but I thought it would be interesting to do something different and get people involved from the start of the whole thing rather than when the album is on the shelves.
How's the recording process for this album differ from past projects?
No different really. All of my albums, whether I release them under my name or as The Beautiful Girls, are made by me laying down the parts and recording all the music myself. Then it gets taken to my friend and bandmate, Ian Pritchett, for mixing and tweaking and some overdubs. When I have an idea for a song in my brain, I hear the whole thing. The bass, the drums, the keys, the horns. Then all I have to do is learn how to play it and hit record.
And you've said that if you go over the target pledge amount, you'll donate a chunk of the extra money to the clean water organization that former pro surfer Jon Rose founded.
To me it's important to contribute positively to the planet in the time that I am allocated here. I've always had strong connections to surf-based charities and have worked closely with several over the years. I know that access to clean water is a massive issue in many, many countries and admire the work Jon Rose has undertaken. I want to do whatever I can to help.
Rose recently did a big project in Brazil during World Cup with soccer star Neymar Jr., and you've said that you'd also like to dedicate your resources towards the issue of access to clean water in Brazil. Why Brazil?
Brazil is like a second home to me. We tour there all the time. I love the country and I love the people. Like a lot of places, the allocation of the country's wealth doesn't always get distributed amongst everyone evenly. When I'm there, I see people who have more money than they could ever need and others who can't get a glass of clean water. The Brazil that was presented to the world during the World Cup is only a small part of the real Brazil. There is enough money in the world, I think, to provide everyone access to the basic necessities of human existence: food, water, and shelter. Brazil and it's people have given me a lot and I would like to give back to them too.
Anything else we need to touch on?
I think we all need to love and respect each other. That's all.