Matt Hales (born 17 January 1972) is an English songwriter, musician, and record producer who has been performing professionally under the name Aqualung since the early 2000s. Aqualung is best known in the UK for his song "Strange and Beautiful," which was featured on a television advertisement for the new Volkswagen Beetle during the summer of 2002 and went on to become a Top 10 hit in the UK Singles Chart later that year. In the United States, Aqualung is also known for the song "Brighter Than Sunshine," which had considerable airplay and was used in the film A Lot Like Love and various television spots.
Hales grew up in Southampton, where his parents ran an independent record shop. He aspired to be a musician from an early age, writing songs using the family piano when he was just 4 years old. When he was 16, Hales was awarded a scholarship to study music composition at Winchester College. Within a year, he wrote his first symphony titled "Life Cycle," and formed his first band, which carried several different names during its lifespan. In the spring of 1990, the band (known at the time as Mecano Pig) produced their debut self-titled album, but broke up soon afterwards. That same year, Hales moved to London to study music at City University, and in 1992 formed a new band with his brother Ben called Gravel Monsters.
Gravel Monsters became a quartet that featured Matt & Ben Hales, Matt Vincent-Brown, and Stephen Cousins. The band's name was changed to RUTH in 1992, and although it enjoyed a minor hit in 1997 ("I Don't Know") which earned them a loyal fan base, the indie rock quartet failed to find commercial success in their seven years together. Arc Records released RUTH's debut album Harrison in 1999. After the band parted ways with Arc Records in the Summer of 2000, they renamed themselves the 45s and signed a short-term contract with Mercury Records (part of the Universal Music Group). Despite releasing two well-received singles, the label declined to renew the band's contract in March 2002, leading the band to split up. It was at this moment that Matt Hales began to concentrate on a solo project that he would call Aqualung.
Hales and his touring band spent the next two years performing throughout North America, participating in the Hotel Cafe Tour, which also featured Cary Brothers, Meiko, Greg Laswell, Tom McRae, Joe Purdy, and Jim Bianco. While on the road, Hales would routinely switch up the Aqualung show with different musicians, settings, and approaches. The diverse elements he explored during these tours (including the use of an echo device called the Memory Man) subsequently drove the creative process behind what would become Aqualung's next album, Memory Man. It was released in March 2007, and the liner notes credit Hales with playing the following instruments: piano, Fender Rhodes, glockenspiel, electric guitar, Stairwell Drums, harmonium, Moog bass and vocoder. Hales completed his first UK tour since his debut album was released, and concluded the run at the newly re-opened Tabernacle, Notting Hill.
2008 brought the release of Words and Music, Hales' first album for Verve Forecast Records. It featured acoustic versions of two songs from his debut album Aqualung, as well as new songs written in a similar style. In 2010, Hales moved to Los Angeles, to begin the production of his sixth studio album titled Magnetic North. In reference to the album on his Facebook page, Hales said, "It's hard to describe. It's like 12 kids who you would never guess were in the same family until you hear them speaking." The album's first single "Fingertip" was released on 2 March 2010, and reviews of Magnetic North make reference to the indication of Los Angeles' influence on Hales as a writer, with songs containing words like "California," "Sundowning," and "Hummingbird," which were not used prior to his moving Stateside. In 2013, Hales announced on his Facebook page that he had begun work on a new Aqualung album. Also in 2013, Aqualung is featured on the song "Surrounded" on the album A Song Across Wires by EDM artist BT.