Belfast four-piece Girls Names are back this month with a new record entitled The New Life - which doesn’t compare to their debut Dead To Me – doesn’t even come close if we’re being honest. But that’s the whole point – they don’t want it to compare – the debut was dead to them a long time ago – we’re just catching up. The good news is The New Life is a far superior record, merging moments of dream-pop with heavy doses of bitter-sweet 80s indie, it seems the group have finally found their true voice. We tracked down front man Cathal Cully to find out how they lost and then found their way.
Bowlegs: First up I love The New Life – it’s great. But I need to know what has happened in the last few years since the debut for you to change direction? The Garage –Pop seems to have mutated into a form of dream-pop with elements of 80s indie?
Cathal: Thanks for that. I don’t really feel it’s dreamy though. I like hypnotic more, is it tense? It’s quite uplifting maybe by the end? Time’s passed by pretty quickly, we’ve learnt to play our instruments a lot better and develop songs into something more interesting as opposed to just banging out some 2 or 3 minute piece of meaningless tat. “It was easy, it was cheap go and do it!” he said and we did do it but now we’ve moved on. I hate how safe the music industry is, everything sounds the same, about 90% of music out there is horrible. We were always changing. I knew the songs and shape of the band was changing as soon as those recordings for Dead to Me where finished. I had a lot of stuff to get out for this record too and a lot of stuff that I wanted to prove to myself as well. And I really didn’t care what anyone was going to think of it. It’s really a nice bonus that people seem to be into it so far.
Bowlegs: The debut, Dead to Me, was pretty well received – isn’t it a bit soon to be changing direction? Didn’t you want to cash in on the debut and crash out a few more records like that one?
Cathal: It got some good reviews ok, but I honestly at the time didn’t think it was wholly justifiable. In fact as time went on I really found it more of a burden than a blessing as I knew there was so much more to this band and people were making up their own minds really quickly – not that we did anything to discourage them, we just sort of sat back and watched it all unfold. Maybe that’s why this record seems like such a change. That record was just a bunch of quickly cobbled together songs, not much thought or meaning to it. Very naïve, which maybe made it charming for some people. It got put out and we never really toured it though, did very little press. Plus it was called Dead to Me for an obvious reason, we just weren’t really allowed to tell anyone for the last 2 years. And I hope I don’t sound offensive to anyone who liked that record, I just find it really hard to stand by it. The New Life on the other hand should be seen as the one body of work – as the one piece of art. From the ten tracks to be heard right down to the artwork and layout and the way the LP is packaged.
Bowlegs: What records were you listening to, spinning in the studio perhaps, to inspire this set of songs?
Cathal: I wasn’t listening to anything in the studio during recording, I was too consumed by this record. My own thoughts and a lot of time spent alone on and off for about 6 months. It’s not a very healthy way to work. Although PIL’s Metal Box/2nd edition and early period A Certain Ratio spring to mind now that I think of it. Bowie’s Low too was on repeat for most of last year. The songs were obviously written before going into the studio so I wanted to focus on the production end of things once we got in. However, I don’t really want to think about then, I want to think about tomorrow.
Bowlegs: Tell us about one of my faves – the excellent Hypnotic Regression. The title sounds like a form of psychotherapy? What is the song about?
Cathal: Yeah, that’s vaguely what it’s about. The lyrics are printed on the inner sleeve of this record so people can make their own minds up and read what they want from them – that’s the beauty of art.
Bowlegs: The title of this record, The New Life, alludes to a new beginning -starting over perhaps? Is this in the musical sense and how the sound has changed – or does it refer to you as people and where you are at right now?
Cathal: It can refer to everything, or either or either or. I think what we’re trying to convey is this notion of constant change – adaptation even. You don’t have to be the same person or do the same things your whole life. Is that it? It’s an intriguing title.It’s also a springboard now. It’s the title of a book as well which might refer to something else completely.
Bowlegs: Do you all live in Belfast still – or have you all moved to Brooklyn?
Cathal: Brooklyn?! Far from it. I hear it’s popular with the kids these days. Still in Belfast, although Neil, our drummer’s taken some time out for this tour so our stand in drummer, Gib is based in Dublin. We’re an awkward enough band like that – just when out most important record is coming out. It’s all good though. Belfast is ok. One day I like it, then the next I can’t stand the sight of the place and brings out the worst in me. It can be pretty grim. There’s a big depression on at the minute, the shit really has hit the fan here. It gets you down. We don’t really have the infrastructure here for prolonged sustainability doing what we do so it’ll be interesting to see what happens this year.
Bowlegs: Do you all share similar music tastes – what gets the most airtime on the tour bus?
Cathal: Similar at times but massively varied at others. The best way to be I suppose. We don’t have the luxury of a tour bus, we still squeeze into a people carrier so we usually just listen to our own music on headphones. Snoring can be heard a lot when we’re traveling.
Bowlegs: The title track verges on the 8 minute mark and doesn’t really have a formal structure as such. Is this another direction you might be exploring further on future records?
Cathal: It has a beginning, a middle and an end, so that depends on what you mean by formal. I think the whole point with this record is to show that anything’s possible – the realisation that there are no limits, so that’s the challenge now. Repetition, escapism that’s the biggest draws – losing yourself, absconding, exploration, inner fulfilment, yes. I think the next records going to be quite different again, I’ve so many sketches made. It’s frustrating. I’ve another long single half recorded that I want to finish off and try and persuade the labels to put out another 12” single. Which I know they’re already rolling their eyes up at. It’s a total one off pop song. But in saying that there’s some real weird noises on it – like proper weird good. I like it but I don’t know if everything else will sound like that. So in short I think yes was the answer.
Bowlegs: If you could pick out a musical highlight for Girls Names from the last few years what would it be? And on the flipside tell us the lowest point too?
Cathal: Highlight so far would be our tour in Europe last year culminating in a really well attended and really well received slot at Primavera Sound in Barcelona. Lowest point came came about 3 days later. I got a text literally on the drive home saying i’d lost my job so I came back to an ungodly amount of rain (seriously it seemed apocalyptic even by Belfast’s standards) and a few months of unemployment. We started making the record the next week… it was only ever going to go one way.
Bowlegs: Finally what do you have planned for the rest of this year? Are you more comfortable with the whole record reviews, touring and attention than last time round?
Cathal: Yes, I want to get away from here and tour as much as possible. Finish off writing more songs and maybe plan to put out another record. So that all depends on whether people want us to play for them. Hopefully reviews will be good – to me this record’s far superior to the last one, actually it doesn’t even compare, so I’m kind of happy enough that I can sit well with it – just about. I’ll not listen to it much, now that it’s out however. I’ll want to pick it apart and dissect its flaws too much.
-Interview by Charlie Holt-