Aqualung at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), Friday (May 13), 7 pm. $12 (sold out). 416-531-5042. Rating: NNNNN
Matt hales is sick and tired of talking about Jethro Tull. I feel kind of bad asking him about it, but whatever - if you didn't want to talk about Tull, you shouldn't have named your band Aqualung. Silly goose.
"I didn't know," says Hales - despite the fact both bands are British - "that they had an album called Aqualung, and I didn't know that when I came to North America I would have to talk so much about it. If I had, I might have called myself something else.
"Of all the music to be associated with," he says dryly. Then quickly, in an attempt at diplomacy, adds, "I'm sure they're wonderful musicians."
About as far as you can get from Jethro Tull, Aqualung's North American release, Strange And Beautiful (an amalgam of two previous albums released in the UK) is ambient airy experimental Radio-heady Coldplay-ful British stuff. It's spacious and thoughtful, with pianos, drum machines, elements of jazz and very sophisticated arrangements.
The first song written as Aqualung, Strange & Beautiful (I'll Put A Spell On You), got used in a Volkswagon ad.
"That's just not the way you dream it's going to happen," he explains. "It's about doing a great show at the local club and some fat guy with a cigar telling you he's gonna make you a star. Not some advertising guy asking if he can have a song for an advert."
His parents owned an indie record shop in Southampton, and little Mattie was writing songs on the piano by the age of four. Awarded a scholarship at 16 to study composition in Winchester, at 17 he composed and conducted his first symphony, performed by a 60-piece orchestra.
"It was terrible," he says. "I spent a year writing it, and then - this is sort of classic me - I didn't have enough time to write down all the parts or to rehearse with the orchestra, so it wound up being this sort of jazz improvisational piece. It was a mess."
Hales also liked to rock. He formed a Britpop band with his brother Ben called Ruth, and later the 45s. But the world of rock was not kind, and soon after a deal was struck with Universal the 45s fell apart. Hales was broke and disillusioned.
But then, drawing inspiration from a performance by Japanese noise popper Cornelius, he decided to give it a go solo.
"Partly," he says of the shift in musical direction, "I started to feel like I was fundamentally too old. It seems a bit embarrassing to rock past a certain age. Not because you can't rock when you're old, but it just seemed less real."