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Matt Hales (better known as Aqualung) made a bit of a ruckus when his debut, Strange and Beautiful, dropped in the U.S. in 2005. A selection of lush, dreamy pop from his first two UK releases, it introduced a voice to be reckoned with but it's with his latest album, Memory Man, that Hales gets his voice straight. Caught in transit at Los Angeles International Airport, he took a moment to chat about it all. He had trouble remembering where he was flying to, though: "Uh . . . Boise, I believe it's called."
New Times:When you began recording the new album, your intention was to create a concept album of sorts, driven by an apocalyptic, lost-in-space narrative an effort that was eventually scrapped. How much of this work made it on to Memory Man?
Matt Hales:I ended up thinking that actually a whole record of pent-up paranoid space songs would be a little bit much, [and] also, not truly representative of what I was thinking or feeling. A parallel strand came through with other songs that were more earthbound and personal. It ended up being an interesting balance between the existential songs, which are, at their core, more cerebral and out-of-body, and the other half, which is very organic, more real-people songs.
NT: Is this balance representative of who you are today, then?
Hales:I think it is in the end. It's a framework to kind of express what seems to be the reality of what I've experienced. It's a strange point in my life. On one hand, I've got this amazing joy in my life with my new song and being able to do what I love in music. But, of course, there's this constant tension from everything that surrounds us [in the world] and this general sense of anxiety.
NT: The album title Memory Man refers to the delay pedal's echo effect, but is there more to it than that?
Hales: (Laughs.) It would be sort of heroically prosaic if it was just the delay pedal. The thing that came through was this sort of cinematic feeling , in the sound and scope a bit. And, obviously, in the words. So, we thought, maybe we should put this [on a] soundtrack to a missing [Stanley] Kubrick movie. When we were doing the artwork, we kind of ended up making the movie poster to this missing Kubrick movie and the only thing missing was a title, besides the movie. [Memory Man] sounded like the title to a Kubrick movie, too, so it was sort of perfect in the end.
NT: It's very much a family affair for you, as you co-write songs with your wife and brother and tour with your brother. You often hear nightmarish stories about mixing music and family.
Hales:It's sort of risky business mixing work and family and it does mean the stakes are high. But the stakes should be high if you're going to be so . . . rude as to impose your personal thoughts on the world. You should probably think long and hard about it. So, surely, given the rewards of working in this kind of life, you should pay a little bit of sweat, shouldn't you?