From their humble beginnings in Hamilton, Ontario, The Dirty Nil has steadily been climbing the international rock ladder, winning over fans and critics alike with no-holds-barred songwriting and live performances. It earned the trio a Juno Award in 2017 for Breakthrough Group of the Year, and they’re busting out of the gate in 2021 with a new album, Fuck Art, available now from Dine Alone Records.
Although the music it contains doesn’t reflect the past year, it nonetheless qualifies as a work of pure quarantine-core. When singer/guitarist Luke Bentham, bassist Ross Miller, and drummer Kyle Fisher first convened in Toronto’s Union Studios with Seattle-based producer John Goodmanson—who also helmed the Nil’s previous album Master Volume—the coronavirus had just begun its North American tour and talk of border closures started creeping into the headlines. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a leisurely recording process became a tense, do-or-die mission.
Left with the decision of whether or not to continue the record, the band opted to finish remotely by sending things back and forth rather than pressing pause. Their determination to finish Fuck Art as they envisioned it demonstrates both confidence and defiance from a group now at a point in its career where many rock bands would call in the orchestra or experiment with electronics.
The Dirty Nil, by contrast, have opted to stick with what they have always done best: make high energy rock and roll that combines classic rock heroism with ‘80s indie scrappiness and speed-metal adrenaline. We spoke with Luke Bentham to get the full story.
How does Fuck Art compare with the band's past work?
To my ears, it’s both heavier, and more delicate at times, than any other album we’ve made. There is certainly a thrash metal influence that has never been present before, but there are also some tender moments, which are new for us. We’re pretty stoked on it.
What songs on the record particularly stand out for you and why?
Blunt Force Concussion is the most shameless power pop we’ve delivered to date, and I think it came together beautifully. Ride Or Die is probably my favourite song on the record, just because it rips harder than most things we’ve done. I also like Doom Boy because I can’t picture another band other than us making that song.
How hard has it been dealing with the pandemic as a band, and how have you adapted to engaging with your audience?
It’s a bummer not playing shows but we’re so busy working on the band in other ways that I have to be reminded of the situation from time to time. Adapt or die—it’s a good time to experiment with the tools available to reach your fans and make new ones. You just have to keep the faith and keep working.
Do you have a sense of when you might get on the road this year, and what are you most looking forward to about going on tour again?
I don’t really think about it much, to be honest. I'd love for it to happen next week but in the meantime, I’m fully absorbed by our current work schedule, which is a nice distraction from the painful question of when we can play for people. When we do tour again, I’m looking forward to the volume and just the overall feeling of playing a proper show.
Are you hopeful in general that rock and roll will see a resurgence this year?
I don’t really think in those terms. Will heavy guitar music dominate the radio and streaming? Unlikely. I don’t really care though; people like to talk about “guitar music” in apocalyptic terms, but I have no complaints about the size of our audience and their fervour for the music. Hail hail rock ‘n roll!