A couple years ago, earnest young English composer Matt Hales was at the end of his proverbial tether. His last pop-punk outfit, The 45s, had just been dropped by Universal. His wife—popular U.K. TV actress Kim Oliver—was between gigs. Bills were piling up, the mortgage payment was weeks overdue, and even the singer’s day job—penning catchy advertising jingles—had hit a brick wall. Or, as Hales painfully remembers it, “I was penniless, no money was coming in and I was really starting to get a bit worried.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the dole office. Hales scraped a few farthings together and went to see one-man-band Cornelius play in London. “It was so incredible and inspiring,” he swears. “When I was coming home on the train, I was feverishly jotting notes and deciding that I was gonna be a self-contained artist and make records on my computer and just do it. Just try and do something from my heart that had nothing to do with making money.” Four days later, while he was piecing together his first home-brewed sonic concoction, “Strange And Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You),” an old ad-agency chum phoned him, wondering if he had any music for a new Volkswagen Beetle TV-commercial campaign. And Hales (who’d previously written for such disparate companies as Wrigley’s and Mitsubishi) offered up the only number he had, “Strange.” Oddly enough, he says, “It sat with this energetic but slow-motion footage remarkably well, like it was somehow meant to be.” Volkswagen heartily agreed.
Sweet serendipity. The 15,000-pound paycheck gave the whispery-voiced Hales the time to self-record a full-length debut of similarly ethereal keyboard-based material, then a follow-up (anthologized for stateside Columbia release as Strange And Beautiful), while BBC radio stations were flooded with requests for ‘that VW Beetle song.’ His wife and brother Ben have joined in the creative/production process as Aqualung—named for the scuba gear, not the lecherous Jethro Tull character, Hales stresses. And Aqualung has become a team-for-hire, currently overseeing the record from ex-All Saint Melanie Blatt.
And further adverts? “There was a predictable flow of inquiries,” grins the boyish-looking 33-year-old, adjusting his scholarly horn-rimmed spectacles. “Most of ’em being other car manufacturers, wanting me to do the same exact thing again. And that’s as smart as they got, really. But I’ve been fortunate enough to not have the urge—or need—to ever do that again.”