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Monday, September 26th, 2022  

Girls Names

Culture of Gravitation

Jan 20, 2016 Photography by Sarah Doyle Girls Names
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Cathal Cully, frontman for Belfast, Northern Ireland foursome Girls Names, is bleary-eyed. Cully has wrapped a week of 16-hour days from his side job working in television production. Plus, the previous day was Culture Night Belfast, a festival with a variety of arts events taking place over a nine-hour stretch in the cordoned-off city center. And just before coming home for this interview, he was attempting recovery from that happening with one more drink at the local pub.

“It’s not a lot of culture,” admits the singer/guitarist, now sitting on his bed, trickles of passers-by on the hedge-lined street visible through his bedroom window. “People are allowed to drink in the streets, which seemed to be the main attraction last night. It’s good for the city though.”

Belfast is where Cully has spent over a third of his 30 years, coming from a small coastal town after completing university. Like most of Northern Ireland’s creative individuals, he gravitated here and found similarly inclined people in the close-knit city’s music hubs. It’s where he formed Girls Names, initially as a duo with drummer Neil Brogan, later adding Claire Miskimmin on bass and Phil Quinn on guitar to flesh out the sound, and finally bringing in Gib Cassidy on drums when Brogan departed. Now on Arms Around a Vision, their third album proper, is the first time they are working as a foursome, with equal involvement in songwriting.

Arms Around a Vision is the darkest, most industrial, and most European-sounding Girls Names album to date. It recalls Joy Division’s romantic gloom and has shades of Einsturzende Neubauten while Nick Cave remains ever present in the band’s compositions. Cully’s soul makes its way out of his throat carried by Miskimmin’s taut basslines on “Desire Oscillations.” He channels Iggy Pop, claustrophobic and punk-fueled on “A Hunger Artist,” while “Reticence” takes its title to heart with wrenching passion.

“This album is more intelligent,” says Cully. “There are a lot of subtleties, and at the same time, a lot of directness we’ve never had before. Everybody is more accomplished at what they do and it feels like it’s being performed by everybody. On a personal note, my vocals have always been low in the mix. That was a confidence thing, particularly on the last album, The New Life, I didn’t have the assurance. That album was made as one idea and the vocals came as an afterthought. On this one it was something I wanted to work on. The songs are strong enough to stand on their own, but in the context of the record they stand well together.”

Arms Around a Vision was performed at European festivals early this summera challenge for Girls Names, who utilized the studio as an instrument on this album more than previous ones. Keeping the performance as raw as possible, what is experienced live is very different than listening to the album.

“It’s hard to get exactly what you want,” says Cully of the album. “I never understood how, but now I’ve got the means and the experience to draw on my influences. I feel on this album we’ve gone back to making the music I always wanted to make when I was younger and was not accomplished enough to do.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue. This is its debut online.]


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