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. Its a musician's dream come true;
write a tune, get it played over a commercial and, hey presto
But thats 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 everythings going to be good," says
Hales. "Its kind of weird and quite tough if you decide
you want to make a life out of making music.
"Its 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
youll do anything, 'cos thats the only way you can
It is Hales sheer determination and passion that has put
him where he is today - that and an endless compulsion to write
"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 Id 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 hes feeling pretty happy about
"For me it feels like its come out just as I hoped
it would, and, as the person responsible for it, thats all
you can do isnt it?
"Im sure some people will think its good and
some people will think its pure shit. I guess well
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 thats 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 youre actually
interacting with other musicians, other producers and having more
peoples 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
Hales and his band may find that a little extra oomph is just
what they need when they support Feeder on their upcoming gigs
This will be no mean feat considering they have made a point
of choosing smaller venues and theatres to compliment their musics
Hales will have to go some way to change peoples perceptions
of how his music comes across.
"I think the environment youre 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 youre going to hear - you have expectations.
But I think youd walk into a place like the Playhouse
Theatre, where not many people had been before to hear music,
and people dont 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. Its not like youre 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 neednt 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. Ive always had a weird
kind of sensitivity to music.
"Ive been easily moved and caught up in certain kinds
of music and thats why Ive 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
"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 youll do anything because
thats the only way you can really survive."