JUNO Spotlight: The Dirty Nil

Nominated for:
2017 / Breakthrough Group Of The Year

The Dirty Nil have been rocking Dundas, Ontario since their days back in high school as a band singer Luke Bentham described as "A place to blow off steam." Since pursuing the band seriously they've put plenty of 7" singles, EPs and their record Higher Power. Along with Kyle Fisher and Dave Nardi, the group have played around the world, along with the Warped Tour, bringing their high energy performance and unwieldy feedback distorted sound.

Ottawa Life: How does it feel to have made it with your high school band?

Luke Bentham (Dirty Nil): Because things are so gradual and it's been such a long standing part of my life, it's hard to really take stock of any immediate accomplishments. As soon as something happens it's like "That's nice" but there's this thing I have to focus on and this. The last six months with opportunities, stages and recognition have certainly been a really nice thing, and it does warrant a pause for reflection. But at this stage of our career there's not much time to stop and smell the roses because we have to work on what follows, to keep working, cause working is what I like to do. It's amazing that when I really think about it though that a project we started to blow off steam in my basement has turned into my occupation, and continues to grow every single day. It also doesn't surprise me because it's been the longest, consistent thing in my life, so when people say kind things it's what gives me the snapshot moment of these last 11 years since it's such a gradual effort that that's usually my mindset.

How did your deal with Dine Alone come about?

They were sniffing around for a while and we were interested in them. We were fans of their roster, Alexisonfire and Attack In Black. We started talking in 2012, but it took time for us to fall in place. We wanted to do some things by ourselves and build our own momentum so we had more to bring to the table when it came time to talk hard tax. We toured for two years in America by ourselves before we signed a deal, we had a lot of internal momentum before we looked for outside help.

What cemented the band's switch from a place to get better at playing music to a real band you were pursuing full time?

This was my first opportunity to write music and I never wanted to write music alone, my romantic notions around rock and roll were always of a team effort. I was looking for someone to write with and Kyle was in the same boat. I was in a band writing "original" music, it was exciting but I didn't enjoy my position in the band. We didn't know what to do, we had vague goals but we were serious and we would play a lot, and then talk about we wanted to do. I don't remember to much about those discussions but I know I said I wanted an old yellowish Les Paul at some point and play big fuzz songs. It's funny because now those things are true, but it was exciting to plan a future with someone, which we still do today, just with a bigger team and more tangible goals.

Was it somewhere in there you not only wanted to try this out but realized you had something real that had momentum?

It was a things along the way, our first EP in high school, our second EP that we glued together, but our first music video getting national recognition was definitely a landmark.

How did you get your live show to where the energy is now?

It came about very organically. We sat around as teenagers watching videos of The Who and MC5 play. Even just from an enjoyment standpoint, I enjoy being much more physical with the instrument and risking looking like an idiot by falling than playing it safe and hitting all the notes. We're a three piece band, so if we have any hope of filling a space visually, we've got to support it with our movements and make a show of it. It was important for us to be engaging as a live band, and the live tricks have evolved. We love bands like KISS and The Flaming Lips so that's always a fun topic of conversation to keep it as a release for us and the crowd. We owe it to ourselves and our crowd to give a great show every night and make that a goal.

Are you a studio first band or does this live passion follow to the studio?

It varies but I'm obsessed with arrangement, a song could take a year of practicing before going on a record, cutting off the fat and keeping the exciting stuff there. We have a pretty good understanding as band on when things are done and when they need work. We have an economy of ideas on how to experiment to tighten up arrangements. We're certainly a live-first band, Higher Power was a mission to do us in a club with some studio magic dust. We had an emphasis on a live record, not playing to a click track. We learned a lot of lessons on the record, and want to apply what we learned to make a more engaging and dynamic record coming up.

What is it about feedback that you like to work with?

I've always viewed the electric guitar as a two-part instrument, that I think a lot of people neglect. There's the relationship between the guitar and the amplifier, specifically with proximity, so I insisted for the record the guitar in the same room as the amplifier to generate that organic feedback, even if it's not a screeching feedback, but the organic harmonics of the sound from the speakers hitting the strings. I've always been suspicious of tracking guitar in a separate room since I'm always interested in that interplay to make the most amount of textures and different kinds of harmonic content out of the electric guitar. It's just really fun for me, and when you hear recordings where I'm isolated you just lose something. My favourite thing in the world is to drink coffee and play loud guitar, it's meditative. I want to continue that when we go to lay down a recording, and it fills in the gaps in the sound. It can do things you didn't intend where you work with the instrument and unintentionally create something because they don't 100% bend to your will, sometimes you're fighting with it. That kind of x-factor between you and the instrument makes me really excited to be playing it.

Do you think this JUNO nom is a ray of hope to bands from smaller towns and what does it mean to you in a broader sense?

Our parents are certainly excited but it's really a nice nod. I never thought this would happen on this record. When I listen to the squalls of feedback on the record I thought "I'm really proud of this" but I never thought it would get played on radio, so to get a well respected institution like the Junos is great thing, we don't take it lightly. I think that any band from any town can do it, it's just determination and tenacity. You have to forego living a standard 9-to-5 life, you have to throw yourself at it and make sacrifices but if you love what you do, anything's possible. To anybody thinking about doing it, go for it, it's the most fun thing, go America, Europe, our awesome country with your friends, it doesn't get much better. You might have times of mild existential contemplation, but if you love what you do and have good company, and work hard you can do anything. It sounds hokey  but it's got us this far.