“There’s lots of great things about Belfast but when it’s bad it’s really bleak. I’m walking right now in the pissing rain and it’s just grey. It feels like it’s grey all the time.” We’re speaking to Girls Names singer Cathal Cully on perhaps the world’s worst phone connection about the spirit that informs his band’s forthcoming album, ‘The New Life’.
“If you spend too long here it can really get under your skin,” he adds. Listen to the record, and you know exactly where Cathal’s coming from. It represents a complete sea-change for Girls Names compared to the raucous surf jangle that informed their earlier material. Back in the summer of 2011, they were peddling bedroom recordings that sounded like Creation luminaries Felt covering The Beach Boys. They were roundly ignored by all but the blogosphere. “We ended up calling the first album ‘Dead To Me’ because by the time it came out that’s exactly what it was,” despairs Cathal. “It took 10 months to be released after we’d finished it. We just weren’t the same band any more. That album sounds so naïve – but we literally didn’t know what we were doing.”
Not any more though. Beefed up with the addition of fourth member Philip Quinn on icicle-sharp Johnny Marr guitars, they’ve grown up and OD’d on Bowie’s Berlin period, embracing a kind of gloomy subterfuge that has now spawned one of the year’s most chilling records. “There’s not one track on ‘Low’ that’s not weird!” Cathal enthuses about Bowie’s darkest masterpiece, and it’s this blueprint that seems to seep through ‘The New Life’ too.
Later, he’ll push the notion that he’s made such an album because “it’s a dark time in general” at the moment, but beneath the moribund, concrete landscapes that pepper proceedings there’s an undercurrent of catharsis – that this is a band still on the move despite being at the peak of their powers. “There’s a reason why the title track is at the end of ‘The New Life’,” Cathal explains. “It’s to symbolise a shift in gear to what’s come before. And it’s all building up to what comes next.”
For now, though, we’re happy enough to have Girls Names exactly as they are: bleak, and brilliantly so.
NEED TO KNOW
For fans of: Joy Division, The Horrors
Buy it now: ‘The New Life’ is released on February 18 – until then, check key track ‘Pittura Infamante’
On NME.COM: Take a tour of Belfast’s music scene with the band
Believe it or not: Cathal spent last summer working as a labourer. “When using the angle grinders I’d pretend I was in Einstürzende Neubauten,” he says