One of the most striking things about a song by Girls Names, the Belfast-based four-piece, whose sophomore effort, The New Life, is singer-songwriter Cathal Cully’s voice. It’s a smooth, deep, Ian McCulloch-y baritone that lends the album’s moody songs a somber drive. Not that Cully himself thinks much of it.
“I really don't feel I'm a great singer,” he says. “The way I sing developed from shyness, I'd almost be whispering in my room writing songs. I'm trying to project my voice more now and I hope it's getting better.”
If The New Life is any indication, he’s got nothing to worry about. Over the course of 10 songs, the album takes what was great about Girls Names’ 2011 debut Dead to Me and blows it out -- thanks in part to the band’s expansion from a two-piece and Cully’s seemingly gloomy new outlook. “There's certainly more depth to it than anything preceding it,” Cully says of the album. “We spent a lot of time locked away in our practice room developing the songs and getting the arrangements right before we went anywhere near a studio.”
Indeed, the band didn’t play shows for nearly six months in order to make sure everything on the record, from the eerie opening notes of “Portrait” to the heady, nearly eight-minute-long title track, was just right.
Cully’s outlook might have been somewhat dark during recording -- “Making this album was quite a fraught experience in terms of where my head was at,” he says -- but what really made the difference in sound was a newfound interest in production.
“These songs were all written and structured in my head before we went into the studio -- we'd taken them out on the road on a European tour,” Cully says. “But the main difference this time was using the studio itself and the mixing desk as an important instrument.”
He goes on, “Production was the real art I wanted to work on and develop. Anyone can write a song or a melody, but putting your own stamp on it is something totally different altogether.”
Maybe it’s not just Cully’s voice that makes The New Life so very appealing, but the fastidious attention paid to crafting the record -- and its foreboding new sound -- over all.
“There were 10 months between the recording of the last LP and its release; it was a lot of waiting around waiting for things to happen,” he explains. “I poured this frustration into writing songs and a new sound. For this album, there was so much time spent dissecting everything and making sure that each part was the best we could make.”
As to whether all his work will pay off, Cully’s slightly more relaxed: "We've done all we can with it,” he says of the new record. “It's open for people to take from it what they will.”
Girls Names' The New Life is out now via Slumberland.