The Dirty Nil are keeping rock ‘n’ roll’s larger than life spirit alive

The dream the Dirty Nil grew up on has changed, but they're making the best of it.

July 20, 2016

When it gets down to it, there are two kinds of people in this world. First: the people who admit that they’ve cranked up a monstrous rock song, stood in front of a mirror, and imagined themselves headlining Madison Square Garden while poorly aping the moves they’ve seen their heroes pull. And second: dirty, filthy liars. You’ve done it. We all have. It’s near impossible to watch YouTube clips of Zeppelin at Knebworth and not picture yourself squeezed into Robert Plant’s downright offensive bell-bottoms and miniature, sweat-slicked jean vest.

Most people’s lusty rock and roll dreams end when they step out of their bedroom. The Dirty Nil’s didn’t. For the past decade, the Dundas, Ontario trio have graduated from blowing shit up in the woods, street party sets, and high school to playing Vans Warped Tour, releasing music on Fat Wreck Chords, and touring across the US, Europe, and of course that beautiful, barren wasteland we call Canada. To thousands of starry-eyed kids across the world, The Dirty Nil are just as monumental as the rock gods of old. But hunched over a wooden picnic table behind Vancouver’s The Cobalt, the trio paints a more humble picture.

“When we started playing together, our goals were very modest,” ponders lead guitarist and vocalist Luke Bentham. “We just wanted to play a show. We would just sit around watching videos and looking at photo books and listening to records.”

[pullquote]The rock ‘n’ roll dream The Dirty Nil grew up being sold on wax and over the airwaves was a counterfeit ticket, scalped at triple face-value.[/pullquote]

There’s a disconnect, though. The rock ‘n’ roll dream The Dirty Nil grew up being sold on wax and over the airwaves was a counterfeit ticket, scalped at triple face-value. They’ll never be The Who headlining for 50,000 people (though Bentham admits, “its certainly part of our MO to have large, daunting, oversized amplifiers”). But whether it’s Wembley Stadium or Shea Stadium, 50,000 rabid fans or 50, the spirit lives on. 

“It’s a lot different now. You’re not going to be Led Zeppelin, where people worship the ground that you walk on or anything,” cements drummer Kyle Fisher over clasped hands. “But I think at times we have small influences on people, or make kids interested in music to a level that they might not have had before.

“It’s all much smaller, but it’s still a mark I guess we’ve made.”

The band has spent the better part of the last few years on the road, mad-dashing between clubs and bars, moonlighting on interstates and the Trans-Canada to haul a gear-nerd’s wet-dream of guitars, amps and pedals on and off of stages, in and out of vans, for 45 minutes of glorious, unchained bliss. What people don’t see are the endless hours spent breathing thrice-recycled air in a dank (negative connotation, nerds) GMC. It ain’t all sunshine, sunshine.

“What life between shows?” huffs bassist/probable Viking Dave Nardi.

“In general it’s just the exact opposite of what we do onstage,” smiles Bentham. “It’s just part of being in a touring band. Tensions build when you put three monkeys in a metal cage and drive it across North America.”

Channeling his inner PUP re: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” Bentham adds, “There’s certainly days where you want to kill each other.”

Of course, pounding pavement is a rite of passage for a band that just released their first full-length record. The Dirty Nil’s Higher Power dropped on Dine Alone Records in February, the culmination of a decade of making music together. That decade was littered with splits, 7-inches, and legendary EPs, spawning iconic Nil standards like “Fuckin’ Up Young,” “Cinnamon,” and “Zombie Eyed,” which the band polished up and re-recorded for Higher Power.

“Our gains at the beginning were very fulfilling in and of themselves. Just playing a show, getting our friends out, writing five-minute terrible songs, and then writing two-minute terrible songs… You kind of have to force yourself once in a while to look back and experience a bit of pride in what you’ve done.”

So how does it feel to release a full-length after ten years? Bentham begins to answer as a beer smashes to the ground behind us.

“It kind of feels like that,” he grins.

“It’s funny how much it means to a band to actually have a full-length record out versus just a bunch of 7-inches. Those songs came pretty naturally.”

It’s a long way to come for a group of lofty-headed kids from Steel City, Canada. They’ve traded in 10-speeds for six-strings, fireworks for guitar-based pyrotechnics, stoned afternoons in the basement for stoned afternoons in the van. But they’re still the same kids, chasing that Rolling Stone-branded dream.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is just a mythology to us,” muses Bentham. Nardi and Fisher nod.

“We worshipped rock ‘n’ roll. That was a very important and fertile time in our musical development, as listeners and as players. So that kind of relationship that we had, saying, ‘check out this guitar,’ and ‘check out this band,’ that really snowballed our love of rock ‘n’ roll, and music in general, and that continues to this day.”

Bentham checks a glance at an apartment window and back at the table. The sun has almost set. Nardi and Fisher peer around at some friends behind us. It feels like they communicate wordlessly, the result of hours onstage sweating all over each other; hours in a van developing their own telepathic links between joints; hours in the woods near their childhood homes, blowing up toys with cherry bombs.

“My love of rock ‘n’ roll has a lot to do with hanging out with these guys. We’re still worshipping guitars and the people that played them.”

Catch the Dirty Nil on tour, dates below:

[quote]7/23 – Rockaganza 2016 – Drummondville, QC
7/24 – Ti-Petac – Trois-Rivières, QC
7/25 – L’Anti Bar & Spectacles – Quebec City, QC
7/28 – Seahorse Tavern – Halifax, NS
7/29 – Capital Complex – Fredericton, NB
7/29 – 31 @ SappyFest – Sackville, NB
9/5 – Kansas City, MO at The Riot Room*
9/6 – Minneapolis, MN at Varsity Theater*
9/7 – Milwaukee, WI at The Rave Bar*
9/9 – Supercrawl Festival – Hamilton, ON
9/10 – New York, NY at Gramercy Theatre*
9/11 – Cambridge, MA at The Sinclair*
9/13 – Philadelphia, PA at The Foundry at The Fillmore*
9/14 – Washington DC at Rock & Roll Hotel*
9/16 – Grand Rapids, MI at The Pyramid Scheme*
9/17 – Kalamazoo, MI at District Square*
9/18 – Chicago, IL at Riot Fest

* w/ Billy Talent[/quote]

Exclusive videos, interviews, contests & more.

sign up for the a.side newsletter

sign up