What a better way to kick off the new site with a great sit down interview with Matt Hales of Aqualung….have a look.
Breathing Underwater – by Joe Long
photography by Willis Photo Art
Matt Hales is Aqualung, or at least the most vital part of the English based band now touring the states. It has been the â€œyear of Americaâ€ for the Matt and his four-piece band as they have been traveling around the country for the better part of 2005.
Mattâ€™s introduction to music started at a very early age, his parents owned a music store and he took up the piano by the age of 5. He began writing and playing and along with his brother Ben, developed acts and later bands they would play in together. Their current act is certainly the most successful, former acts such as Ruth and the 45â€™s had their moments but ultimately were not able to stand the test of time.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Matt recently and we chatted about songwriting, the classic rock obsessed USA, and whatâ€™s next for Aqualungâ€¦â€¦â€¦..
ENS- So, how often do you get the Jethro Tull- Aqualung reference thrown at you?
Matt- â€œActually, that wasnâ€™t part of the naming of the project at all. I was totally unaware of that. However it became glaringly apparent upon entering this â€œclassic rock obsessedâ€ country. (laughs) â€œThe real answer is, it was a word that seemed to suit the atmosphere of what I was doing, it seemed to have a slow paced, kind of monochrome, half lit tone to it. It seemed under wateryâ€
ENS- You may be a new commodity to many in the US, but youâ€™ve been around the block musically, talk about your previous projects and what the difference is now with Aqualung.
Matt- â€œWell apart from some obvious musical differences. Its really philosophical, Ruth and the 45â€™s were all about adrenaline and getting the chicks, but when I formed Aqualung, it coincided with turning 30 for me. And when I turned 30 I realized that if I wanted to carry on as a musician, it could really have nothing to do with the bands and music I was doing previously. It would need be a lot about musings about being alive and the strange realities of being an adult. I had to realize that as an artist, I was a grown up. The music and the whole emphasis of it went from being a big sugar rush, into taking its time and maturing. Lets just say that if the 45â€™s are like Coca Cola, then Aqualung is like a fine merlot.â€
ENS- Within this maturation is also your songwriting, and youâ€™ve been writing since you were very young. Talk a little about your songwriting process and how it takes shapeâ€¦..
Matt- â€œWell, what I need is some space, time, and ideally a piano. Although that is really only part of the process. There is a whole other part that happens in my head. I tend to start things off at the piano, but it doesnâ€™t go very far, I let them kind of incubate in my head for awhile. So, at times, the tour bus can be a perfect environment in the process because I cannot write, so Iâ€™m forced to let that incubation period continue. And then ill get home and the songs that have been incubating will usually get finished quickly. Mostly for me, its been about having a very tangible and hard to explain feeling ive had since I was very small, which is of wanting to play, wanting to have the feeling and mood I get when Iâ€™m in front of the piano. And when that mood takes me the songwriting process is successful.â€
ENS- Strange and Beautiful is your first US release, but itâ€™s a compilation of songs from your first two albums, does it feel like a new album to you?
Matt- â€œIt actually feels surprisingly new, partially because I hadnâ€™t spent much time with either record for awhile until it came to the job of compiling this one. The effect of these songs in this order is very different from the way they were presented in the original releases. Its much more like a new album than I thought it would be, it feels like my third album.â€
ENS- How difficult was it to choose the songs to put on the album?
Matt- â€œOf course, its not like the stuff that didnâ€™t make it on the album was shit, its was just all about finding a selection that made sense together and represented both of the first two records fairly. We will be releasing all of the other material though as well, and have already started with the Still Life Itunes EP. So, all of it will be out there eventually.
ENS- How is the tour progressing with the band expanding to a four piece?
Matt- â€œWeâ€™ve toured Aqualung in many different ways, from me on my own, to 15 different people on stage. My feeling has always been that the recorded version of a song is just one version of that song and not â€œtheâ€ version of that song, and I think that bands can sometimes trap themselves by always having to play the same version of their songs. So by continuing to change the band members and number of players, youâ€™re forced to reinterpret the material all the time. So when you come and see us as a two-piece or myself solo, your seeing the essence of the songs, where they started. And the four piece is exploring new aspects of the material all the time, because the material is really alive and should continue to develop that way.â€
ENS- Are you comfortable on stage?
Matt- â€œWell, even though Iâ€™ve done it all my life, I donâ€™t feel like an â€œentertainerâ€. But particularly with my own music, I feel quite at home. We try to make the shows have that feeling, I really want people to make a connection with the music and have a good time and be open to the emotion of the music. I want them to be relaxed so that they can be comfortable. If I have any skill as a performer its mostly that people seem to be able to relax, and that can be really cool.
ENS- Who are you listening to from the past 10-15 years?
Matt- â€œIâ€™ve really enjoyed the last 2 Wilco albums, most of the Outkast records, Beck, Bjork. People who are courageous and make articulate, unexpected, magical music. They inspire me to do what I do and I appreciate their talents.â€
ENS- What does the future look like for Aqualung?
Matt- â€œIâ€™ve always hoped to be able to continue to create a very wide range of music. Aqualung is the main thing of course but Iâ€™ve been able to do a lot of stuff within it. Iâ€™m about to do my first film score, and also a theatre project in London, and I feel like all that stuff just keeps me learning and keeps me stimulated and funnels back into my songwriting and I hope it makes me a more interesting musician.â€
My thanks to Matt Hales for the time he spent sitting down with me and also the time he spent in the presented photos. Aqualung is certainly a band that deserves notice and recognition right now for the quality music Matt and company are putting forward.
As Aqualung continues to age like fine merlot as a musician, and with the US introduction, Id recommend we all enjoy a long drink.