By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious
Katie Monks answers the phone with a level of suspicion typically reserved for telemarketers.
“Where are you calling from again?” she asks me. “I mean, what’s the publication?”
As I flub through reintroducing myself and repeating press credentials, I realize I’ve been stuttering mildly.
A confession: I had felt some trepidation leading up to this call with Monks, the vocalist and guitarist of Toronto natives Dilly Dally.
Would she call me out on a dumb question? Would the conversation finish abruptly after a barrage of insults? Was I walking into Mordor? Where would I find her on this Friday afternoon?
“I’m just chilling at this apartment,” Monks says, hazily, my worries beginning to thaw. “We slept on the floor last night in Portland.”
She’s sitting on the front stoop of the building, cradling a giant cup of coffee, taking in all of the Emerald City’s verdant surroundings.
“It’s kind of all muggy here. It feels like Ireland,” Monk observes. “All the green is so green, and it’s all misty.”
The singer sounds like she’s just waking up from a nap, even as it’s well past noon on the West Coast. As she begins to warm up, both in attitude and word count, I reflexively thank her repeatedly for making the time to speak.
She interrupts me to reassure me not to worry.
“Honestly, I do just want to say I don’t have an interview scheduled after this or whatever,” Monks says, setting the scene for the freewheeling interview to follow. “And sometimes I ramble. So, I’m chill.”
Dilly Dally has been compared to grunge rock greats, but you’ve sidestepped those comparisons, insisting that you’re just focused on making music that feels good. What draws you this particular sound? What about it feels good to you?
Well, a huge thing to point out is that the music that everyone in this band listens to is all over the place. The last six or seven years that Liz and I have been in Toronto, a lot of the music we listen to is pop. We listen to A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, TLC, and Celine Dion. We listen to a lot of pop music. We take that stuff when we go to the karaoke bars at night time, and sing those songs when we’re out and drunk. And we sing our hearts out to those songs! I love karaoke, and looking through the books – if it’s a Kid Rock song or an Eminem song or a Britney Spears song; the words speak to you however you’re feeling that day.
The flipside of that is the shows we go to. It’s very much based in this Toronto DIY kind of punk scene. It’s not a small town pop-punk scene. It’s more competitive, more unique, and weird. There’s industrial. There’s noise. There’s some guy beating the shit out of a modular synth for an hour. There’s vocal effects that don’t even make any sense together, so you just get all this feedback in between all the songs on stage, and a friend of yours is freaking out, rolling around on the ground with cables wrapped around cables, you know?
There are bands that are making more grungy, industrial stuff that’s all guitar based. There’s real drums, but also they hit the other stuff. Bands like Mexican Slang are making more like grungy garage rock kind of things.
We don’t listen to Nirvana. We don’t listen to Hole. We totally respect that shit; I love watching rockumentaries. That one The Year Punk Broke, I’ve watched it so many times. I’ll put it on the background sometimes. I love it. But we’re not nerds about music. We wouldn’t be able to list off all the stuff from that period of time. I’d say our bassist and drummer [Jimmy Tony and Ben Reinhartz, respectively] would be able to; they’re much more nerdy about that stuff. Wait, they’re not nerdy – what I mean is that Liz and I didn’t go to school for music. There’s no pretension there. We don’t read articles about music all the time or anything. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with that or that there isn’t a lot of artistry there and wonderful stuff going on, but we just go one day at a time. If that means turning on the radio or whatever, then that’s kind of what we do. We feel it out.
Electronic music is real well on the Internet. I myself have gone down some lovely SoundCloud holes and YouTube holes, and I have friends who will go digging more and show me cool stuff when we’re smoking weed and hanging out. And it’s great. But when you want to go see a live show, the kind of stuff we love to see is live drums, weird equipment that doesn’t make sense, and front people who are freaking out. You know, live shows! Sometimes, you’re just behind a laptop and trying to translate something that mostly started off as bedroom recordings with your synth, and it’s all mixed, and it’s like Frank Ocean or something. I dunno, I don’t know much about Frank Ocean, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking about that. [Laughs] I guess I just mean to say that stuff translates differently to a live show.
I’m talking about being able to show up to band practice and have everyone get behind their kit or your fucking guitar, and all the pedals in front of them that they can just stomp out. “I’m working on a song, and I’ve got these four chords, and these lyrics are about something fucked up that happened to me last week.” And you play it, move around in the room, and feel it, and write it all together. You figure out what feels good, and then you go on stage and it’s ten times better than it was in the practice room because you’re feeding off everybody’s energy and moving around all over the place. It’s a physical thing, and people are moshing and moving around. The louder the music is, the better. Watching somebody sit behind a laptop or put a ton of reverb on their vocals and put their head down is not quite as entertaining to me. It doesn’t feel as fun.
I know deep down that I’m super smart, and when me and Liz were in high school and partied all the time, we got real good grades, too. But in terms of going to secondary school or university or college, it just didn’t seem to make sense. We really want to carve out a place in this world where we can be ourselves, and not have to prove ourselves to any test, or show somebody how much we know about something. We don’t want to have to show how much research we’ve done about feminism or music theory, or how many articles you’ve read on Pitchfork. We just want to be able to be real and connect with people on an emotional level or almost an animalistic level.
A lot of your music sounds intuitive – almost primal. It connects at a place that’s sort of beyond words. It fucking punches you in the stomach.
“Primal” is a great word! I think there’s a huge lack of respect for that, and what people think of words like it. It’s “not as advanced as we are today” with our Star Trek and our computers. To me – and especially as a woman or somebody who doesn’t really believe as heavily in education as other people might – there’s a huge lack of respect for emotion and communicating with emotion. And if I cry, how are people going to listen to what I’m saying? Or if I get angry?
I grew up and was always told I was really smart. I was great at math and science and all of it. And I just have always found that whatever my gut instinct is, when I look back, that was what my gut instinct was, whether it was about trusting a person or playing a chord in a certain place. When I think about things too much, it pulls everything apart and ruins it, and it stresses me out.
It’s funny, if I read a review about the record, and people will be like “it’s too simple” or whatever, that just shows me that person is so far from what I’m about. [Laughs] I feel weird. But what I really should be trying to do is not read that shit and not give any fucks. I don’t like it when people analyze music and look at it like it’s a science, calculating all these moods.
There’s something to be said about how there’s very little money in music now. But no matter what, people are going to be making music. In caveman times, people were making music! It’s instinctual, like eating breakfast in the morning, even though there’s all this talk about how there’s no money [in music] anymore.
You mentioned Toronto’s DIY scene, and the city remains Canada’s leading light in terms of musical output. What is it about Toronto that produces so many great bands, doing so many wildly different things?
I’ve got an answer for you! [Excitedly] I’m not a sociologist, in case you haven’t noticed. [Laughs] But there are a lot of people from Toronto whose parents are from different places. My parents are from Ireland. Liz’s dad is from Laos, and her mom is from the East Coast, which is more like Scottish and Irish background. We’ve got a lot of friends from multicultural backgrounds. It’s easier to immigrate into Canada than it is into America, and that might be part of it. Actually, my mom said this to me, as she’s an immigrant too, and she has so many friends from so many places that are their age.
Maybe Toronto especially is self-conscious about itself, and everyone is really down on Toronto. You’ll be walking on the street and you’ll hear people say things like, “You know, Toronto isn’t really that bad!” That kind of thing. People aren’t quite as gung-ho or patriotic here as they are in so many places in the world, and a lot of it is because we maybe don’t really know where we’re from and we latch onto a lot of American culture. Or a lot of people have mixed backgrounds, where parents are from different countries. In my case, I always think of myself as being Irish, but when I go back home to Ireland, they’re like, “Fuck you, you’re not Irish!” [Laughs] That could have a lot to do with it.
Another thing I’ve been able to talk about is the sort of “angry temperature” that comes through in a lot of Toronto music. People here are quite passive or they understate things, and they’re like [stereotypical Canadian accent] “Oh, you know, everything’s fine.” They’re not very confrontational.
Right, that famous Canadian niceness.
Oh yes. Always apologizing, defensive driving, and letting others go right ahead. [Laughs]
There’s a lot of space here, too, so everyone’s got their big driveways. There’s suburban sprawl. People just go back into their car and drink their decaf or whatever. The way the streets are built – it’s all wider and bigger than Europe, where everyone’s all cozy and rubbing up against each other. I feel what happens is that everyone has these buried emotions and they don’t know how to connect with each other. There’s a lot of repressed anger.
Do you think that’s partly why your music and sonic profile has resonated so much? Are people like, “Fuck! Finally!”
I hope so! I don’t know. “Fuck, finally!” [Laughs] Well, we’re certainly aggressive, while all the other guitar music right now is like beachy-town, hanging on the beach, bro. [Puts on surfer dude accent] “Totally, bro, let’s go for a surf, who cares?” [Sighs deeply] So, yeah.
You and Liz were the only permanent band members for a long time. Has that officially changed, since you added Jimmy and Ben? How do you guys share creative or songwriting responsibility within the group?
It’s a good question, because it doesn’t have an easy answer.
When I started the band six years ago, we had a permanent drummer and bassist. I mean, we tried out a few people at the beginning, and nothing was fitting, but then we had a permanent bassist and drummer for three to four years. We made a record that never came out, and half of those songs are on the [new] record now. So, some of the parts that Ben and Tony are playing are very much inspired by parts written by the other guys.
How the process works is that something crazy fucked up happens in my life or one of my friend’s lives, or something fucked up and beautiful happens, you know? It’s good because you just ride these. Whatever it is, a sense of urgency comes out in music – chords first, and then the melody, and I just slur it. I’m so good at slurring, and making weird sounds; whatever feels right. [Laughs] And then, I start to translate those sounds into words, and they start to appear. You get a sense of what each song is about and where I’m going lyrically with it, and I’ll start to write the song. Half the time it’s just me and Liz, and then we’ll do the next step.
I’d say Liz and Tony are more instinctual when writing their parts, and they don’t need to talk about it as much. Most drummers have to discuss their parts on an intellectual or technical level. I don’t want to overlook the fact that it’s got a lot of instincts there as well, but for whatever reason it’s more verbal between me and Ben. That’s kind of the last part, and I map it out in my head. It’s essentially a verse, then a chorus, and leave some space for Liz to do her thing on the guitar.
We’ll get together in the traditional way. She’ll come over to my shitty, small apartment. I’ll go into my bedroom and kick out my roommates, and she’ll bring the weed, and I’ll have the wine. So we just sit there and I’ll play chords over and over and over again, singing melodies repeatedly while she jams on it. And she’ll be stoned sometimes and play something amazing, and I’m like, “Oh my god! That’s it! That’s it!” Liz will just give me this look like “What?” [Laughs] She just finishes my musical sentences, and she finishes things in this way that blows my fucking mind – it’s unreal.
Can you tell I’m excited right now? And our friendship is very unspoken in that way, as well. We’re not talking in that room. She just does it, perfectly, and it’s fucked.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.