INTERVIEW: Girls Names frontman Cathal Cully discusses new album – ‘Stains on Silence’

Belfast three-piece Girls Names release their new album ‘Stains on Silence’, on June 15th via Tough Love Records. It stands to reason that many vital albums come critically close to never being made. The eight-track upshot of doubt, upheaval and financial strain, ‘Stains on Silence’ by Girls Names is one such release.

Following 2015’s blitzing ‘Arms Around a Vision’, and the parting of drummer Gib Cassidy just over a year later, the Belfast band suddenly found themselves facing down a looming void. “There was a finished – and then aborted – mix of the album, which was shelved for six months,” reveals Girls Names frontman, Cathal Cully. “We then took a break from all music and went back to full-time work. We chilled out from the stress of rushing the record and not being happy with it, as well as being skint with no impending touring on the cards and constantly having to worry about rent.” Mark Millar caught up with Girls Names frontman Cathal Cully to discuss the new album and more.

Photo credit: Florian Thoß

After 2015’s arms Around a Vision album, you’re drummer Gib Cassidy left, and things didn’t go too well for the band. What happened?

CC: Gib left about a year after it came out at the end of 2016 it was all amicable and had run its course. We were touring loads and were continually having to balance everything financially, so he decided to part, and that was fine. We had already started to record the new album and Gib leaving put a bit of a spanner in the works, but we decided to get our heads down and go at it as a three-piece, but that didn’t correctly work out as best as we wanted it to initially. We rushed it a bit, and there was some pressure for us to get something out early last year but we decided to take a bit of a break and relax.

Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it should sound?

CC: No, this record was the most sketchy of all the records we’ve made. There were some ideas and some sketches of ideas and songs, but we wanted to leave it to fate and work on improvisations and impulses and not having everything detailed ready to go into the studio. It was tougher to do that what we thought. That was how we started off the record, but it took a lot of editing and rearranging to get it to where it is now.

The album was recorded in the studio and at home why was this?

CC: Yeah, it was, and that was partly due to budgeting reasons. It got to the stage where I knew how certain songs should be or sound and I had the realization that I was the only person that was going to be able to do that. I wasn’t going to be able to articulate that or go to any other studio and do that either – so that was the reason behind home recording and mixing.

There was a finished version of the album which was aborted. Why were you not happy with those recordings?

CC: There was a mix of the album done which we presented to the label as a record, and they had the honesty to say to us “it doesn’t quite sound right.” which was a knock on our confidence but kind of a wake up call and in the back of my mind I knew they were right. There was part of me that wanted to walk away from it and draw a line on the record, but thankfully the label had the honesty and confidence to say to us “we think you can do something better.” – which I think we have.

The band took a break from all music and went back to full-time work. Was that before the recording of the new album or after it was finished?

CC: Our last tour finished at the tail end of October 2016. Usually we would try and gather bits of work in between tours, but personally, I threw myself into making the record and spent three months on it full time, but the cash ran out at the end of February last year. The only way we can make money these days is from playing live shows not selling records, and we didn’t have any gigs in the pipeline, so the reality was I needed to get back to work. It turned out to be the best thing because I took some time away from music and stopped worrying about the record and went back to civilian life.

What did you end up doing job wise?

CC: I have done every job under the sun in the last few years. I’ve worked freelance in television on and off since I left university for about twelve years. So I ended up getting a contract working on a TV shoot for three months – which is pretty intense work it’s like a sixty hour week, but it enabled me to gather some cash to pay for finishing off the record. And then after that, I went to work in a cafe and a bar which I have been doing fulltime for a while now because until the band gets going again, there is no cash flow – its all pretty self-financed at the minute.

When did you decide to return to the album?

CC: It was always niggling away at me to get it finished and the label, booking agents, and publishers kept asking when it would be ready. I went back to it at the tail end of summer last year and started working on it again. I was always thinking about the record but not actually doing anything. I got it finished at the end of November.

It’s a relatively short album at 35 mins long was the feeling less is more?

CC: The one goal of the record was always to keep it short and have a maximum of nine songs in and around the half-hour thirty-five-minute mark just like classic albums and LP’s used to be before CD’s came about.

Stains on Silence’ came critically close to never being made, how feel do you feel now it’s finished?

CC: I am really happy about it and so are the rest of the band, it was so up in the air for so long. A lot of the tracks are a big departure for us we have gone somewhere that we didn’t previously imagine. It was kind of stressful in that way so there is a lot of relief that it was finally done. It felt that it came together and made sense in the last few months of recording. Even tracklisting was a big issue at one point it just sounded like a collection of songs as opposed to a record and when that fell into place and the artwork started coming together and the record title.

What inspired the title of the album?

CC: Its a play on a quote from Samual Beckett that I came across which is “every word is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.”

What advice would you give to new bands starting up in Northern Ireland?

CC: For new bands starting up, I would recommend bypassing the UK and going to Europe and playing shows there because you get paid more money get treated better and have a lot more fun. The UK music industry has this thing if you are doing a show you are privileged to be there and it is because there is such a vast domestic scene there and there’s not so much in European countries. If you are from America, UK or Ireland, their ears prick up straight away, and the fees are so much more significant. I would advise new bands to go straight to Europe as they will enjoy it more and its better weather. There are not many music venues around in Belfast now compared to when we started out – all the small venues have mostly all gone. Again the question is, do people want to go and see live music? I think the older generations do, but I don’t know if kids are interested in guitar music or bands – I’m sure there is, but the majority of them aren’t. I’ve noticed from working in a bar that young people are mainly into electronic music and dance music.

Girls Names will be playing some live dates from June starting off at the Black box in Belfast are you looking forward to getting back out on the live circuit?

CC: Yeah, we are there’s a bit of excitement, but there is also a bit of apprehension anxiety about it as well because it’s been so long since we played any shows. We only played three shows the whole of last year towards the end of the year. Also, we are in the process of learning and rehearsing how we will present the record and play the songs because it was all, so studio orientated and we never worried about who played what and how four people can make this music. So there has been a bit of head scratching about it. We have been rearranging songs and making sure we can present it as best as possible. And because its such a different record I hope it gets received well and people will come to the shows.

Do you have a record that you always return to?

CC: It varies so much, but I always go back to the Birthday Party and their early records. In recent years one record that I always come back to in more contemporary terms is a record by a band called HTRK they are an Australian band and they’ve had a record a few years ago called ‘Psychic 9-5 Club’. It has been a constant in the last few years that I’ve found myself slipping back into listening to.

How do you listen to music nowadays vinyl streaming or CD?

CC: Streaming and vinyl are how I consume music. The funny thing is since going back to full-time work I’ve had a lot more money than I’ve had the last eight-nine years so I’ve been buying a lot of records in the last year. I subscribe to Spotify I think its handy – I stream a lot cos everything is there and I like Bandcamp.

What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?

CC: I got the new record by Grouper it’s really good.

Girls Names live dates:

June

15th – Blackbox, Belfast
19th – Moth Club, London
20th – Oporto, Leeds
21st – Old Hairdressers, Glasgow
22nd – Night People, Manchester
23rd – Whelans, Dublin

August

9-12th – Ypsigrtracklisty

‘Stains on Silence’ tracklist:
1. 25
2. Haus Proud
3. The Process
4. The Impaled Mystique
5. Fragments of a Portrait
6. A Moment and a Year
7. Stains on Silence
8. Karoline

‘Stains on Silence’ will be released on June 15th via Tough Love records and is available to pre-order here

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