Though they’re just a month out from the release of their first album Sore, Dilly Dally has been a fixture of the Toronto music scene for years. “Our own scene is very self-sufficient,” explains Katie Monks, the band’s front woman (if the name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the sister of Tokyo Police Club singer David Monks). To gauge fame, she periodically refers to “Toronto-famous” and “Toronto-big,” but between a sold-out stop in Denver and a recent KEXP session on their first headlining tour, Dilly Dally has outgrown either descriptor. Monks heads up the group that also includes guitarist Liz Ball, with whom she started the band, as well as bassist Jimmy Tony Billy Rowlinson and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz, who both came on board in 2012 (Rowlinson played with one other band at the time; Reinhartz with four).
Sore (via Partisan) is a project Dilly Dally has lived with in some form for six years. Monks and Ball recorded a debut with a previous bassist and drummer, but when local labels didn’t receive it warmly, the band found themselves dejected and unmoored. It took a felicitous Pitchfork post to reignite the band’s following and propel them into this new release, which cannibalizes the album’s previous form (tracks like “Green” and “Next Gold” were re-recorded with Rowlinson and Reinhartz) and introduces material written over the past year. “When Tony and Ben joined our band, our music got a bit more aggressive,” Monks says. Reinhartz quickly jumps in: “I’m a loud drummer.” But their aggression was also a response to the sense that no one was listening—perhaps if they got louder, more confrontational, they could work out their frustration and audiences would start paying attention.
Dilly Dally’s music is infused with a lot of anger, but as they play they grin at each other. “There’s something really playful about our music,” Reinhartz said. “We’re pretty lighthearted.” Eyelids fluttering and eyes rolled back in her head, Monks commands her engrossed audience; even as the musicians bow their heads and grit their teeth with effort, their energy radiates outward. At one point in a recent Manhattan show, Monks squints out at the audience and sighs: “I want to beat you guys up but, like, in a good way.” The anger also filters sadness, romantic longing, and undeniable sexual energy, and lyrics candidly reference subjects including menstruation (in “Snake Head,” Monks howls, “Snakes are coming out of my head, and there’s blood between my legs”) and depression.
When we spoke with Dilly Dally over dinner at Mission Chinese on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, just prior to their performance at the neighboring Mercury Lounge, they finished each other’s sentences, their thoughts on the same wavelength. We caught them again on Wednesday night, for the closing their first headlining tour, at Montreal’s Rialto Theatre as part of the “M pour Montreal” festival. They end their set with optimism: After a quick huddle before their final song, Monks mutters, “Fuck, fine, that sucks, but we’ll be back.”
KATHERINE CUSUMANO: What makes a good show?
KATIE MONKS: Technically, it’s us being able to hear things well on stage—but what actually makes a good show is vibes. Good vibes from the venue, great vibes from the audience, great vibes from each other.
JIMMY TONY BILLY ROWLINSON: Whenever people are getting into it, it’s so much easier to get into it. Or if I look over and I see Liz really rocking out, I want to rock out harder.
MONKS: When Liz is rocking out, it’s a big deal.
ROWLINSON: Or if I hear Katie scream and it sounds really good.
BENJAMIN REINHARTZ: I love the level of engagement between the audience and the band.
LIZ BALL: You really need to feed off the energy in people. That’s a big thing about the live experience of a live show. You can’t capture the feelings in a record all the time. When you see it, people performing on stage and a crowd reacting, it’s like a whole organism in itself.
MONKS: It’s an exchange. And another thing that you can exchange, if I get pissed off about something, even if it’s negative energy being pushed at us, it’s something. We can channel that. As long as there’s something happening—sometimes you feel like you’re just going through the motions, like nothing affects you, you have to kind of call upon yourself to find inspiration.
CUSUMANO: Is it something you can usually feel before you go on?
MONKS: We do power moves, me and Tony. Now the others are starting to catch on.
ROWLINSON: Big, grand movements to pull energy.
MONKS: It’s like yoga, except way more furious and badass.
ROWLINSON: Hype-up yoga.
MONKS: We should probably do some classes.
ROWLINSON: It focuses your energy on the performance. We’re not worried; we’re taking that nervous energy and transforming it into, like, excitement.
CUSUMANO: You mentioned that you’re able to channel anger into your performance, and that’s something that also comes across really clearly on the record. There’s a lot of anger, but it’s a way of filtering other things. Do you find that’s a way that you process things?
MONKS: Absolutely. I think that anger is a really healthy emotion. I think that it is not seen that way. I think that it’s really healthy and I wish it had been more encouraged in me in my life. I mean, I personally I didn’t have that much to be angry about in the beginning of my life, so maybe that’s why I’ve kind of been exploring that emotion more recently. I just think it’s a positive thing to get out—it’s therapeutic to share all of the different emotions and then channeling it into something positive and beautiful. Someone recently mentioned to me that the record makes them think of hate sex, and I think that that’s a great example of a situation where you use frustration to channel something really positive and beautiful and unleash everything. You feel relaxed and full afterwards.
REINHARTZ: I think music is a really good outlet to express any emotion. Anger is something that definitely comes up—especially playing drums, because you’re hitting things.
MONKS: So jealous.
REINHARTZ: Frustration, anger, happiness, excitement, anxiety, it all flows through your body throughout the day and on stage. I feel nothing and everything.
CUSUMANO: So you like performing.
MONKS: Oh my god, yeah. I really think that when we’re on stage, I feel more myself and more comfortable than I do in any other situation.
CUSUMANO: Why was music your outlet?
MONKS: Because it was the language I best knew how to speak. I grew up with my brother playing music all the time. He would always pressure me to jump on the piano. We grew up in the suburbs and there wasn’t much going on so we were bored. We had a Beatles chord book—I have to start saying this more in interviews, because this is really where it all started. It shows you exactly how to play it on guitar, and it’s got this cute black-and-white photo of the Beatles on the front, and they look like babes. That was how I started learning the guitar. Another thing that happens is you feel like you don’t fit in, and then you see pictures and music videos of a band—those guys are greasy dirtbags too, they’re able to be themselves and are shameless about it. That is super beautiful and intriguing and makes you feel like maybe I do have a place in this world and I do have an identity.
ROWLINSON: I’ve always just felt a strong emotional connection to music. I remember being young and listening to Stan Rogers in the car with my mum and it making me feel really, really sad, but also really enjoying it.
MONKS: It’s someone else acknowledging the sadness, and you feel this connection.
REINHARTZ: Music’s just always been in my house. Both of my parents are musicians. My first memory is a musical memory. There was never really any other option for expressing myself. I always just felt a deep connection with songwriters and lyricists because you feel like they’re speaking to you.
MONKS: Music is confrontational, like spilling all your guts out on the table and then walking away.
REINHARTZ: Also collaboration with other people.
MONKS: It goes back to something else I was saying recently about how there’s not as much money at all in the music industry anymore. Fair enough. But music is something that is so engrained in our species and in a lot of animals. Music is such a huge part of my life, for the money or for any of our lives, it’s like second nature. I think that without money, if there were no such thing as money, music would be absolutely everywhere. My granddad in Ireland still goes to the pub every Friday night and plays traditional Irish music with his buds.
REINHARTZ: Totally. Drums were the first telephones. Tribes would communicate with each other from, like, kilometers away, send each other messages.
MONKS: That’s crazy. You mean like Morse code?
REINHARTZ: Kind of. Same type of thing.
CUSUMANO: That’s where the battle drum came from too, as a way of rallying your troops around a sound.
MONKS: Someone said recently that they apologize for saying our music was primal. They were like, “I don’t mean to devalue it by saying it’s primal, or saying it isn’t as smart.” I just think it’s so strange that people find their emotions to be unintelligent. What you’re feeling deep down is so much more informative than your brain sometimes. I think instincts are super important in all different scenarios and exchanges.
CUSUMANO: Do you consider “primal” a diss?
MONKS: No! No, I think it’s so awesome. It’s sexy and real. When I was a kid, I was really good at math and science, and I used to read tons of books all the time, but I have pulled away from that. I just keep coming back to my instincts and realizing that they know more than what I read in a book. The more you like reach down inside yourself, the more you learn about humanity, really, and the more you’re able to connect with other people, make them go, holy crap! I haven’t acknowledged any of these feelings inside me in so long.
CUSUMANO: When you are writing, what do you start with?
BALL: We start with Katie.
MONKS: I don’t even think about it, and suddenly I’m playing guitar and I’m singing, because it’s second nature to me. I’ll be playing and noodling around with my voice and playing different chords, and then something just feels right. Most of our songs are based around four chords. I experiment with my voice and mumble, because I’m not really saying words yet. I’m just slurring different sounds together until I land on stuff that feels right, and then I start to piece together some lyrics, more around what vowels make more sense. The melody and the way that it’s sung is more important to me than the lyrics. Then the lyrics come, and then I write them down, and I’m like, crazy, I can’t believe it. I didn’t set out to write a song about this. It comes out. It’s super special, kind of spiritual. Usually I’ll light some candles, turn off the lights, and then these lyrics come.
Then I bring it to the band. We feel it out together. Me and Liz don’t really need to talk at all. She kind of just knows; her parts just come. Ben and Tony, we had to talk more at first, but the talking has started to go away—it’s becoming more instinctual now. We’re able to whip out a chord progression at sound check and all understand the vibe. No one’s trying to…
MONKS: Overplay, yeah, or overthink it.
REINHARTZ: To write tunes, together as a group, or arrange them together as a band, it goes through so many incarnations so quickly. Within like an hour, it will have gone through so many different versions. At the end of it, we come up the best possible version of it.
CUSUMANO: [to Monks] How did growing up with somebody who’s also a very well known musician impact your music?
MONKS: [David] been away touring a lot of the time, so it’s been inspiration—telling me that you’re completely capable of making this a lifetime journey and this can be sustainable. I’ve always been able to take it really seriously. But I’m also his bratty little sister and I want to do it my own way Liz and I, we’ve been carving our own path and that’s why it’s taken so long. We have a very different vision.
CUSUMANO: The album came out last month, but you guys have kind of been living with it in some form or another for six years now. How does it feel to have it out?
MONKS: It’s so cool finally being able to tell the story, because there’s so much to tell. The next step is just touring it, just playing as many shows as we can.
ROWLINSON: I’m excited to start writing new songs.
REINHARTZ: Playing cool new shows—more shows. Not cooler shows, but just more, more, more, more, more.
BALL: More everything.
MONKS: Getting to the point where no one can fuck with you.
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