Girls Names on borrowing from Beckett and coming out of the haze with Stains on Silence
The Belfast band talks through their first album in three years and why it's the best thing they've done despite taking the longest to complete
As time goes on, music enthusiasts look back at decades gone by and categorise them into neat genres. We have the Swinging Sixties, electronic eighties and who can forget the raving nineties (although, I’m sure some have after all those trance nights)?
Belfast has not escaped in music nostalgia. We salute the likes of Stiff Little Fingers and Van Morrison, who put this part of the world on the musical map.
So how will we remember this current decade of music in Belfast? There has been a great wave of talented bands and artists recently, such as jangly guitar pop gurus Sea Pinks and the otherworldly Die Hexen. At the forefront of the Northern Irish music scene is Girls Names. After starting as a two piece back in 2008, the band have transformed in both personnel and sound over the years but have always produced stand out music to critical acclaim.
For those who haven’t heard of Girls Names, one music scenester might question: where have you been? But as a quick reminder, the current core line-up comprises founding member, singer and guitarist Cathal Cully, Philip Quinn on keys and guitar and bassist Claire Miskimmin. The group are set to release their highly anticipated new album Stains on Silence on June 15. Before they embark on a tour to promote the record, Culture NI caught up with Girls Names to discuss their new material, gigging and the recent sunshine that has brightened up Belfast.
How is everybody? How have you been enjoying the recent good weather?
Cathal: I have been injecting that sunshine directly into my veins.
Phil: I don’t know how to dress for it.
Claire: It brings out the best in people.
The line-up has changed recently. Drummer Gib Cassidy parted ways in 2016. How did that feel?
Cathal: It wasn’t great, timing wise, as we had planned to start recording what would become the new record. It was the right thing for all parties though. We’re still good friends, not that we see each other much with living in different cities but any time I’m in Dublin I’ll always hit up Gib first!
Phil: Gib was my roomie on tour so we shared a lot of highs and lows together. I still expect to see him bounce round the corner when we’re doing band stuff. It took a while to settle I think, until we’d found Sarah [Grimes] as a replacement and after we’d finished recording it kinda felt we weren’t really a band.
Is Sarah enjoying her role as the new drummer?
Cathal: I hope so. She’s great. She’s an amazing drummer and has fit right in so quickly. We’ve all known her for quite some time from her previous band September Girls. She and Claire played together in Cruising a few years ago so we knew she’d be perfect.
Lyrics from Stains on Silence were posted online, such as: 'I want to bathe again, I want to swim again / In a pool of twisting bodies, blackened gold' on '25' and 'Beating out the fires of passion / Eating out the scum in Western Man' in 'Karoline'. Could you explain the lyrics of this album?
Cathal: I wrote most of the lyrics to this record at the tail end of 2016 and start of 2017 but they were pooled from reams of noted ideas over the course of that year probably. Lines come and go. This record was cut and pasted quite a bit but I feel maybe the idea of time as a linear construct and the frustration of nostalgic ideas might be central to the record.
What moods do we get on this album? I find ‘25’ quite haunting, melancholic but also affirming. ‘Karoline’ quite triumphant sounding. Am I right with those feelings? Or am I way off?
Cathal: No, you’re spot on actually. I’ve said it time and time again, but the music and art that I want to explore in creating is fleeting moments of clarity and abject beauty shining out beautifully from a murky sea. It makes them all the more poignant.
What does Stains on Silence mean?
Cathal: It’s borrowed from a Beckett quote – 'Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.' I believe we’ve flipped it though and need to 'Stain the Silence' by creating this art from places which had previously not been explored in order to push ourselves and to give us some sort of sense of belonging.
How come this album is shorter in length than previous titles? Could you explain the recording process?
Cathal: It was always going to be shorter – eight tracks, two sides around the half hour mark - the way records used to be before 70 minute CDs came onto the market. The album was recorded in various rooms around the town. My house, (recording engineer) Ben McAuley’s house, our practice room, Start Together Studios, and an afternoon in David Holmes’ studio recording keys, even one vocal line in 'The Impaled Mystique' re-recorded at Analogue Catalogue in Rathfriland.
Why was it shelved for six months?
Cathal: After aborting a version of the record we reconvened on it after some time off about six months later and the majority of the mixing and editing and re-recording was done. A proper studio album with no thought for how it was to be performed live and the longest process for our shortest record.
Your previous album Arms Around A Vision, released in 2015, was a resounding hit with great guitar tunes, edgy/groovy bass lines and confident vocals. How do you feel about this new album compared to previous Girls Names records?
Cathal: It’s very far removed from the last one but it makes sense that we went down this route. People have been calling it a come-down record. That might be a fair assumption as AAAV was such a fraught and cacophonous affair that something had to give. It was so unrelenting that we really wanted to play on the dynamics again and make this record ebb and flow a lot better.
To what extent was this an album created by the full band? Was it more a collaborative process rather than Cathal bringing the songs to the group as in previous Girls Names records?
Phil: The last record was quite collaborative but not as collaborative as this. I think that’s probably a reason why it took so long, it was less structured and things took a bit longer to bloom maybe. It’s only now through practicing the tracks live that I feel I understand them, it’s weird to not really know how to play a song you’ve helped write!
Claire: Sometimes when I think of the sort of haze that these songs came together in I’m amazed there's something to show for it. It took a long time but I think it's the best thing we’ve done and we can be really proud of that.
What tracks do you particularly like playing off the new album?
Cathal: 'Haus Proud' is proving to be quite the live stomper.
Claire: I’m enjoying playing them all. The freshness of them. 'The Process' is sounding great. Cathal and Phil's vocals together just do it for me. I can't believe it's taken them this long to try it.
You’ll be back on the road soon. What is life like on tour?
Cathal: In a cramped van, driving for anything between six and ten hours a day with little sleep, unsure of being hungover or depleted of all goodness in your body. Jaded. Fuelled by adrenaline, caffeine, alcohol and motor way service wifi. The sun shines. These strange hotels. It is freezing. It is the worst of times. It is the best of times.
Claire: It's easy to remember the hours staring out a window on a motorway but I actually love touring. I've seen places I would never have seen. We’ve been everywhere in Europe. Several times round. That's pretty special.
Have you ever had to say no to any commercials? If a commercial did want to use your songs, which would you say yes to and which song?
Cathal: Haha, no! We’re in quite a bit of debt to our publisher so I think we’d not be in the position to turn down many within reason. I could see '25' being good for if they ever brought back the Turkish Delight advert. So if your reading Fry’s you can direct your requests to Domino Publishing. Thank you.
Each member of Girls Names got themselves a tattoo of artwork from the last album. Does Stains on Silence have the same affect on you?
Cathal: I could definitely live with some sort of Stains on Silence artwork tattooed on.
Phil: A tattoo? I think we all deserves medals after this.
Stains on Silence is released on Friday, June 15. Girls Names will perform an album launch that evening at the Black Box, Belfast. For tickets go to www.blackboxbelfast.com.