Fans of his 2004 record Strange and Beautiful will know what I'm talking about: Aqualung makes some of the most gorgeous music in the cosmos. And those who have not yet heard his brand new record Memory Man have not yet heard his best. The first single, "Pressure Suit" is a Rembrandt done in notes instead of paint. The rest of the record stands almost shoulder to shoulder with that cut, although they go for different parts of your head and heart.
Aqualung is, of course, British-born Matt Hales who writes, sings and produces the material, along with help from his brother Ben and wife Kim. I caught up with Matt as he landed in the U.S. for a quick promo tour.
antiMUSIC: Hi Matt how you doing?
Matt: All right. Thank you.
antiMUSIC: I've just been introduced to you and my god man, this is some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. Congrats on such a terrific record.
Matt: Well thank you.
antiMUSIC: Can you please tell us how this record came about, which songs emerged first and what events inspired your lyrical content?
Matt: Yeah, well this is, in my real life, this is my third album. The album that came out here a couple of years ago was a compilation of two I had released in Europe previously. So the main thing I thought with this one was I thought it was time for me to kind of, sorta move on into new areas and that was…in a simple way was what I was first thinking when I started thinking of making it.
But the other thing is my life changed very radically a couple of years ago when I became a father and that probably is the single most significant factor in the way this record is, I would say. Something about his arrival just kind of, um, I guess it's inevitable he made me feel very differently about just about everything including the music I was making.
Those I felt really pushed me in a way to try and do something bolder and then I'd try and make something that was going to be, well maybe it's the first time I thought maybe you know, sometime he's going listen to this so I better try to make sure it's good.
antiMUSIC: I'm told your wife and brother have contributed to the songwriting in the past. How much did they help with Memory Man?
Matt: It seems to be averaging about the same each time. About half the record I do on my own completely and half I collaborate either with Kim or Ben. Which is a wonderful thing. I think it really contributes to the intensity of the music we manage to make. There's no kinda holds barred for us three, there's no quarter given. We all care about it so much and the stakes couldn't really be higher. I think if you're working with the two most important people in the world, who know you the best. So I think it means you're able to get further and deeper quicker because we don't have to get to know each other, we do know each other. And yeah, it's very normal to me to work with them. Other people find it very strange that I work with my wife and my brother so closely but it just seems to work for us.
antiMUSIC: What's the significance of the title?
Matt: Well, I can see already that I'm going to have to think of some elaborate lie (laughs)…that makes it more interesting. But the title doesn't really mean anything. I mean the way it happened was as we got sort of toward finishing the record, it started to feel very much like it was…there was a feeling, a cinematic feeling about it. And a sort of sense that it was kind of a soundtrack to it emitting film or something. And so I decided that whatever it was going to be called was whatever the title of this imaginary movie might be, is what the album should be called. But I went through a million different options as you could imagine, but I had this idea that it needed to sound like it could possibly of come from this late '60s kind of space race sort of era. It felt like to me, the way this movie was, possibly Kubrick was involved and it was kind of sorta paranoid late '60s sci-fi affair. And Memory Man actually really suits that, it does sound like it could be a ray Bradbury novel or something. But the actual prosaic truth as to where that (title) came from was that we were using an echo unit called Memory Man a great deal in making the record. And I think initially it was just a joke because we were using it so much that we thought, well, we just have to call it Memory Man. But it turns out to be kind of perfect.
antiMUSIC: From the bit I've heard of your previous material, this record has more of a fuller sound to it. Was it a struggle to find ways of embellishing your sound without alienating your current audience?
Matt: It's mostly that, I really felt it was time to take a step forward. And one of the dimensions I wanted to grow into was just stuff that was more extroverted, was going to be slightly more sure of itself, or bigger or bolder or more dramatic or something. It was a challenge as to how…I wasn't thinking so much of alienating my audience so much as alienating myself. I kind of have a reflectious hatred of kind of bombast and exhaustive overbearing music. And I wanted to make dramatic, big sounding music but hopefully without resorting to too many of the kind of rock and roll clichés that are normally used. That was the big challenge is how to kind of make the musical vocabulary that could be really kind of thrilling but not sorta cheap.
antiMUSIC: Considering your success in America with the OC and other shows, I imagine you must be spending more time here of late. Does geography have an effect on your writing?
Matt: Well I'm still English. I still live in London. And this album was made just a couple of hours from where I live in Suffolk England, and it's very much rooted in home. And I don't tend to write while I'm away. I tend to only write when I get home. But no doubt the experience of traveling the world as come into it. So there's a sorta traveling and distance kind of theme that comes through here and there but I was also quite concerned that we would avoid writing the kind of cliché touring record. I think we managed to avoid it mostly. I don't know really what the American experience has been. Apart from, (something about) more and more people in different countries being interested in what I'm doing that's certainly motivating. And it certainly made me think, well, better make another record. And there are so many more now seem to be looking forward to this record than any other record I've made before that I should at least try to make it a good one.
antiMUSIC: You have said that you have experimented with the presentation of your material in a live setting. Have you come to any conclusion or plan about how to carry it out live or has that changed again with the advent of this new record?
Matt: I think the basic thing I've concluded about live performance is that it's a totally separate entity from recording. And the recording of the songs is just reading of the songs. There's a million other ways you can think about those songs. One of the great joys of touring so much is been finding all these different ways of playing the songs. Playing the quiet loud, and the loud ones quiet, and you know, turning them inside out, and arranging them for a million different instruments. For now we're just grappling with trying to get songs from the new record make some sort of sense on the stage. But I think once we've got our heads round that, I'm sure we'll, there'll be lots of fun to be had, kind of breaking them down into different shapes and different kind of assembles and showing all the other different angles you can get on the songs. And that'll be the fun we'll have over the next few years.
antiMUSIC: Is there anything else that you would like to mention about the record that I didn't ask you?
Matt: Not really…seems like we got the key bits and pieces in there. It was nice.
antiMUSIC: Well, I you all the best with Memory Man. It's excellent.
Matt: Thank you very much.
Morley and antiMUSIC thank Matt for taking time to speak with us.