Belfast quartet Girls Names have recorded one of 2013's finest albums in the shape of The New Life. Awarded a handsome 9/10 on these very pages, it captures the very essence of a band who've promised so much since their self-titled debut EP landed on DiS' doorstep some three-and-a-half years ago.
Not that it's been plain sailing in between times. Debut album Dead To Me took an eternity for its release nearly a year after being recorded, by which time the band had already progressed both musically and as songwriters. With several line-up changes along the way - the most recent being the departure of drummer and founder member Neil Brogan last month - the band's resolve seemingly strengthened as their excellent second long player evidently proves.
With festival season in full swing, DiS caught up with the four-piece; fellow founder member, guitarist & singer Cathal Cully, guitarist/keyboard player Phil Quinn, bassist Claire Miskimmin and new drummer Gib Cassidy; prior to their mid-afternoon slot at Green Man. Tired and weary having just flown in from Poland after playing Soundrive Festival in Gdansk the previous evening, we find them in a surprisingly upbeat mood considering the lack of sleep.
DiS: You've had a string of unanimously positive reviews for The New Life. Were you expecting that kind of response?
Cathal Cully: I guess we hoped the response would be positive, mainly because The New Life is such a departure from the first record. Sonically I just wanted it to be totally different.
DiS: When did you start working on the songs for The New Life? There seemed to be quite a gap in between the release of Dead To Me and the new record?
Cathal Cully: It was actually around the same time as Dead To Me was being recorded. I guess there was a crossover of the two really, as we had a lot of downtime while the first album was being recorded, so as soon as we finished it we started working on the songs for the next record. There was a lot of going back and reworking songs and ideas. We were almost in lockdown mode for six months, making the songs sound weird and then eventually even weirder.
DiS: Was it ever a worry that because of the large gap between records people might have forgotten about the band?
Cathal Cully: A little bit although Stephen (Pietrzykowski) from Tough Love Records kept the momentum going. He's good at that sort of thing, and because we toured the new songs around Europe last springtime - that live set was basically just the entire new album - it gave us the incentive to record it immediately after we came back. So it was pretty much fresh, and we knew exactly where to go. It was quite funny because we knew people would be surprised when they came to see us at those shows as they'd be expecting to hear songs off the first record.
DiS: Your sound has changed dramatically both from a recorded and live perspective. I remember the first time I saw you back in early 2010 at the Chameleon in Nottingham where you were basically just playing the first two EPs. Looking back, are you still fond of those early recordings? You could almost say Girls Names were a different band back then in some ways.
Cathal Cully: I'm proud of them. I don't really give it that much thought to be honest. I was always into the DIY aspect of making music, so I guess back then it was more a case of publish or be damned! I wouldn't say the way we work is exactly measured now, but there's a lot more thought goes into the process with the songs as a whole. Not just from writing but also the production and how we're going to play them live.
DiS: Was it difficult initially with The New Life material making the transition from studio recordings to a live context? While not a concept album as such, there does seem to be a continuous theme - musically at any rate - running through the record. Was it intended that way from the outset?
Cathal Cully: In a way I guess, yeah. It's certainly meant to be listened to as one piece of work. So it can be difficult sometimes trying to replicate that live. We tend to play the songs a lot harder and faster live, more because we can't take every single sound we used on the record - there's only four of us on stage. Maybe we'll get an extra member in the future? We can use backing tracks as well but it's not the same. There's a lot more guitar work as well. The synths and samples Phil (Quinn) takes care of, but the guitars could maybe use another person.
DiS: You use a lot of layers and overdubs on the record, which if anything help create a definitive sound for the band. Is this something you plan to continue on future recordings?
Cathal Cully: There is a lot of studio... wizardry going on I guess! But yeah, I like that kind of sound with the guitars throwing different shapes in the mix, so it's possible we'll use that as a template moving forward.
DiS: You've got the The New Life remix EP coming out shortly which features a version of 'Projektions' remixed by Factory Floor's Gabriel Gurnsey among others. How did that collaboration come about? Is it something you'd allow other artists to do with your work in the future?
Cathal Cully: It was Tough Love that sorted it out. Stephen from the label sent Gabriel the album and he was up doing something with it, and to be honest it sounds great. I'm a big fan of Factory Floor, really looking forward to their new album. But yeah, Optimo did one for us last year as well, and David Holmes too. His was done a while ago, we've just not had time to get it mixed properly. I think it's interesting to hear other people's takes on our songs. The versions on the EP almost rewrite the songs to the point where it actually becomes unrecognisable from the song we originally wrote, which is how remixes should be in my opinion. I like it anyway!
DiS: 'Projektions' definitely has that Factory Floor stamp across it with the distinctive bassline and rhythm sounds accentuated through it.
Cathal Cully: Definitely, which is why we're really happy with the results.
DiS: You're on tour during October and November, including some support slots with The Cult at Camden's Roundhouse. How did those shows come about?
Gib Cassidy: God knows!
Cathal Cully: It's a management thing. It might be a strange choice of support from both theirs and our point of view but it means we get to play to a sold out crowd at the Roundhouse, which is kind of a challenge in itself so I'm thankful for the opportunity to get to play such a show really.
Gib Cassidy: Hopefully we won't be spending the entire set dodging beer bottles from irate Cult fans who've only come to see them!
DiS: Will there be another release to coincide with the tour?
Cathal Cully: Just the remix EP. We've also done a cover of a Brian Eno song, 'Third Uncle', so I think we may end up sticking that on there as well.
DiS: What about other singles off the album?
Cathal Cully: We're not sure what the deal is at the moment. We want to start sorting out new songs really.
DiS: Have you got many new songs ready at present?
Cathal Cully: It's getting there, so we'll see what happens.
DiS: Have you set yourselves a timescale to finish the album or even a projected release date?
Cathal Cully: It's difficult to say just yet. It definitely won't be out this year as we're gonna be touring for about two months around the UK and Europe. We might also be going to America at some point as well - it's been mentioned so we're just awaiting confirmation - so by the time we come back it will be near the end of the year. We'll regroup when we finish touring and then see what happens. We might end up going into hibernation mode again for a few months. It's hard to say really, but there's every chance our next record could be out next year.
DiS: What about the song structures. We've already touched on layering and overdubbing to create a definitive sound, but will there be another seachange in the overall sound similar to the one between Dead To Me and The New Life?
Cathal Cully: It's interesting because the dynamic has completely changed now Gib's become a permanent member. When Phil joined last year his impact is starting to come through now. A lot of The New Life had already been written before he joined, but his input into the live show has helped bring all that together differently again.
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
Cathal Cully: There's definitely a couple in Dublin and Belfast I'd recommend. Patrick Kelleher is a guy based in Dublin. He records with bands and he's made a couple of solo records as well. He should be so much bigger than he is. I can't understand why he isn't. He's on an Irish label at the minute. Hopefully, he'll be the next Irish artist to get some recognition elsewhere.
DiS: Is there much of a scene in Ireland at present?
Cathal Cully: There's loads of bands, but at the same time it has kind of fallen on its arse at the minute. With the recession, a lot of the smaller sized venues have closed down recently. Before, there would have always been that punk or metal circuit which everybody would have played on, but that's also suffered as a result because there aren't many places to play. It's kinda strange as there's loads happening.
DiS: Is there still that stigma where bands feel they have to move to London in order to be heard?
Cathal Cully: Yeah, it's funny because some bands genuinely do work on that premise. There's this mentality with some bands where they'll compete to become the biggest band in Belfast then once they've achieved that, go to England, realise they can't just attract a fanbase based on being big over here and end up getting lost in a sea of other bands. For that reason, there's also plenty that don't come over any more. It's not like it used to be. It's tough because there is a lot of great stuff happening in Belfast and Dublin. The recession seems to have an adverse effect on the scene in Dublin. It helps it in a way. In the 1990s there was loads of money around and people were getting signed left, right and centre. Now that no one has any money, people are sharing rehearsal studios, putting on gigs and even playing in multiple bands.
Gib Cassidy: There's a lot of new psychedelic bands coming through.
Cathal Cully: I guess that's how scenes work, in cycles. It's actually ten years since the UK garage scene so maybe that will be revived soon?!?
For more information on Girls Names about forthcoming releases and shows visit their official tumblr page.