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Aqualung Bakes a Fruitier Cake


Interview: Heather Metherell

IT'S been an incredible year for Matt Hales – a musician who seemed to appear from no-where.

Plucked out of obscurity, branded rather vaguely with the name Aqualung, and thrown out to entertain the masses with his soulful, delicate, haunting songs. It’s a musician's dream come true; write a tune, get it played over a commercial and, hey presto – instant success.

But that’s not even half of Hales’ story. A lifetime of composition that began at only four years of age carried him through bands at school and a music scholarship and degree. Then, over the past ten years, more bands, a lot of hard work and a fair deal of heartache.

"There were endless moments in the back of a transit van with bands that never quite got off the ground and tried so hard to break through; tried so hard to get to that fictional ‘next level’ where everything’s going to be good," says Hales. "It’s kind of weird and quite tough if you decide you want to make a life out of making music.

"It’s not the easiest thing in the world to pull off, but I just think you have to live for it, to want it so much that you’ll do anything, 'cos that’s the only way you can really survive."

It is Hales’ sheer determination and passion that has put him where he is today - that and an endless compulsion to write music.

"I kind of write pretty much constantly and kind of collect up songs like diary entries."

A process he never seems to tire of: "I actually found that four months away touring and that kept me away from the piano for a long time. But when I came back it was all I could do to remember to eat.

"It was like I’d been away from my child, and I had to rush back and remind the piano that daddy was home, you know?" he says, laughing.

And for Hales, today is filled with promoting his second album, Still Life - something he’s feeling pretty happy about it.

"For me it feels like it’s come out just as I hoped it would, and, as the person responsible for it, that’s all you can do isn’t it?

"I’m sure some people will think it’s good and some people will think it’s pure shit. I guess we’ll find out."

Discovering how his music is received is what Hales has spent the past year doing.

The months after the sudden success of his debut album, Strange and Beautiful, were spent touring England and Europe, an experience that he found cathartic and inspirational.

"I think, in a way, you can put down the difference between the first album and Still Life to the experience of playing live for a year.

"It showed me that there was a different way of presenting this kind of material - that you didn't have to be quite a softly spoken and perhaps that it would work just as well, or even better, with a bit more muscle."

And that’s what Still Life is. Aqualung with a bit more muscle, or as Hales describes it, 'a fruitier cake', than the last album. Maybe this is down to working in a recording studio with other people? As opposed to the solitary, windowless corridor in which his debut was recorded.

"Well, apart from anything else, it just makes it a more sociable experience, and just the fact that you’re actually interacting with other musicians, other producers and having more people’s experience and opinions to bear - you get a kind of richer, broader end result.

"But I think also just these songs kind of felt like they were going to work best in a kind of bolder format anyway, they just felt a bit more for singing out loud and playing with a bit more… oomph!"

Hales and his band may find that a little extra oomph is just what they need when they support Feeder on their upcoming gigs over Christmas.

This will be no mean feat considering they have made a point of choosing smaller venues and theatres to compliment their music’s fragile sound.

Hales will have to go some way to change people’s perceptions of how his music comes across.

"I think the environment you’re in makes quite a lot of difference to how you go approach listening to something.

"You walk into the Astoria, you kind of feel a certain way about what you’re going to hear - you have expectations. But I think you’d walk into a place like the Playhouse Theatre, where not many people had been before to hear music, and people don’t have any particular expectations."

However, Hales hopes the bolder sound of this new album may just fill Wembley Arena, one of the venues on the Feeder tour.

"The first album is music which is designed to be listened to. It’s not like you’re going to slam it on and pogo round your front room," he says laughing. "I think this new stuff might just even rock a little bit - you never know."

For those who are worrying that Hales’ new material will see him donning a leopard skin cat suit and rocking out like Justin from the Darkness needn’t worry.

Still Life is just as reflective and thoughtful as Aqualung's debut – just a little more optimistic in tone. Hales is certainly keen to keep making moving, affecting music.

"It is an emotional language. I’ve always had a weird kind of sensitivity to music.

"I’ve been easily moved and caught up in certain kinds of music and that’s why I’ve always been drawn to sweeping grand emotional music that would make a person burst into tears or scream with joy. Music has the capacity to overwhelm people."

Whether or not Still Life will overwhelm remains to be seen, but you can be sure that as long as he can, Hales will keep on writing.

"Being a successful musician is not the easiest thing in the world to pull off, but I just think you have to want it - to live for it.

"To want it so much that you’ll do anything because that’s the only way you can really survive."

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