After spending much of 2011 touring solo under his own name, as well as starting a family back home on the central coast, a mellow Beautiful Girls’ front man Mat McHugh sits with a gurgling baby boy on his knee, and a mind full of stories, to speak to ToneDeaf about his upcoming tour plans, his new album release and the albatross that The Beautiful Girls’ crowd favourite “Periscopes” has become.

“You know, I love all my songs. Every song that we play, I wanna love it and I wanna feel like playing it. What we sing about and what we play is an honest reflection of how we feel, and certain nights we don’t like playing a certain song and other nights we do.” He sighs, no longer able to avoid the song which surely has served as both a blessing and a curse.

“999 times out of 1000 songs we’ll play ‘Periscopes’, but sometimes we’re just not feelin’ it. [One] particular night was that there was a bunch of drunk dudes up the front just yelling out for ‘Periscopes’ during every quiet part of a song and in between every song, just right in front of my face the entire time…it takes you out of the vibe of ever wanting to play it. If you pay to hear a song, you’re probably entitled to hear it but if I’m not feelin’ it, then I’d be playing it half-arsed. That’s where I’m coming from…but it’s interesting to see everyone’s point of view.”

“The great thing about playing solo is that you lose all of those expectations. It’s like, ‘Maybe he’ll play this song or maybe he won’t.’”

For over ten years The Beautiful Girls has been a moniker under which Mat chooses to release his music. With a shifting lineup in that period, it has been Paulie Bromley (bass) and Bruce Braybrooke (drums) who have been brothers-in-arms with Mat in more recent times. Despite their longevity, popularity and opportunities as a group there have been varying degrees of success – and offers that had to be knocked back as they went against Mat’s, and the band’s, ethos.

“We turned down a lot of major record label deals because it didn’t feel right. It’s the way we’ve always been as a band and the way I’ve always wanted to do things. I like artists and musicians who I get the vibe of where they’re coming from and an understanding of what kinda person they are. For me it’s just a way of conversing back and forth with people.” To this end, McHugh is a fan of the immediacy that social networking can afford, and happily uses the platform as a way to share ideas with his fan community. “I’ll post something, 100 other people will post something and it’ll turn into this illuminating conversation. There are so many good people out there who have interesting things to say, so I think it’s as much a benefit for me as it is for everybody else. It takes away the middle man, who might not always be putting across an accurate portrayal of who a person is.”

It is this stripping back of layers that Mat is enjoying with his solo tours, after the growth of The Beautiful Girls created too wide a gap between the band and the audience.

“I feel a bit removed at The Beautiful Girls’ shows because there might be 2000 people there. Sometimes I feel you’re getting across one thing but losing another so at the smaller shows what you’re getting across is more musical and probably more emotional than what you necessarily get at a more raucous, drunken band show. For me, that’s what I love about music. I found I enjoyed every single one of the solo shows I played all around the world. For the last couple of years, that hadn’t been the case with The Beautiful Girls. So I guess it was a good way to sort of reset and get connected again.”

Despite the enjoyment Mat has been garnering from his freewheeling solo jaunts, he is thrilled to be joining his bandmates for a turn as The Beautiful Girls’ in the sublime setting of the Melbourne Zoo. At this point, he is not prepared to let The Beautiful Girls go, it’s just a desire to stretch his songwriting muscle; which means creating music that doesn’t necessarily fit with The Beautiful Girls much-love roots music personality.

“I have more creative urges than that and I think people have respected that enough and enjoyed it enough to sort of come along with me. And that’s how I feel about my favourite artists, from Neil Young to Springsteen to Leonard Cohen. They’ve done a bunch of crazy stuff and some people really hated it but then some people really loved it. You can’t try and please everyone the whole time and just do the same thing the whole time because it just becomes insipid and irrelevant you and not interesting.”

The Beautiful Girls will be joined by Fearless Vampire Killers this Saturday 11th Feb at The Melbourne Zoo as part of the Zoo Twilights series. Gurrumul Yunupingu and Lior are other artists to be featured in upcoming dates.