By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ely Cass.
The Dirty Nil from Dundas, Ontario wants you to know they love touring in the United States. They admire the cheapness of our fast food (for better or worse) and they think our highways are designed better. They love playing here so much that they’re willing to endure the scrutiny of tight-lipped border patrol officers, really risking what they sacrificed to just cross into stateside territory.
Crossing the Canadian border is always a huge gamble, as fellow Ontario punks Single Mothers weren’t so lucky with their recent attempted engagement at SXSW.
“The border is a stressful place for anyone who plays in a band especially because it’s the place where dreams can truly end. It’s kind of just a matter of basically recognizing the fact that they hold all the cards so you just have to be respectful and try to take a shower that morning so you don’t look suspect when you’re going across the border. The number one thing is to totally just acknowledge that they have all the power in the world. Be nice,” says Dirty Nil’s sagacious frontman, Luke Bentham.
The Dirty Nil started with a dream “to play electric guitar music in America,” which Bentham says is a common dream for young Canadians who listen to bands like The Replacements or the MC5, or Husker Du. While Americans may not believe we have a “upper hand” privilege over Canadians, in this right we do. Our pursuit of DIY indie rock glory tends to not require a mandatory Customs search for drugs and apparently it’s abundantly easier below the border to live the life of even a small-scale rock star.
He describes this unspoken, vicarious Canadian dream as a “mythology” that’s always been a goal of his.
“If you’re gonna go play electric guitar music, you might as well go do it in America, where it’s from,” says Bentham.
The band started when all the members were in high school, albeit in different bands at first, in the southern Ontario suburb of Dundas near Hamilton, ON which Bentham describes as “kind of like our Pittsburgh.”
They would gig around with their now-bassist Dave Nardi who was in another band at the time, making them two the only musical outlets in Dundas playing original songs. Bentham grew up in the “Nirvana” school of punk rock, recounting the first time he saw them on Canada’s version of MTV, Much Music. He noticed how it made his parents “upset” to which he thought, “Alright, this is sweet. If it’s pissin’ them off then I wanna research this more.”
It seems that to every young punk, they all have a scrambled version of that same story though Bentham’s probably involved more maple syrup. From there, his teen years were spent gorging the histories of primary guitar-driven influences like Fugazi, The Pixies, and Bentham’s personal favorite, The Replacements.
If you ever have the chance to see The Dirty Nil live, what you’ll be witnessing is a half-hour or so of unapologetically loud and energetic rock ‘n’ roll. Bentham thrashes his guitar around and falls on the floor while Nardi assumes the most powerful of stances. It all looks rather theatrical, an element that can be lost in a music scene that tries to “out-cool” everyone and everything.
“When we were seventeen and playing, our songs were a lot slower and longer. Our songs have gotten a lot faster and a lot shorter. It’s just kind of a thing that develops as you start playing more and start playing with more bands. Also, when you get louder amps it’s kind of impossible to stand still. There’s something to be said about that. It’s also just fun to move around because you only to get to play for forty-five minutes or half an hour so you might as well have a good time,” says Bentham.
The Dirty Nil play the type of rock ‘n’ roll that’s becoming more and more difficult to market with romantic flare because of just how simple and straightforward it is. In a way that’s quintessentially Canadian, The Dirty Nil may owe a great debt to distinctly American influences, but they do so in a way that’s ever so slightly off, and the band likes it that way.
“It’s a weird thing when you’re trying to tell people what you sound like because you get hit with a set of reservations and fears about what you can say about your band that will be accepted by people. Some people have called us a punk-ish rock band there’s definitely a stigma or something you’ve gotta back off when you call yourself a punk band. I know it’s obviously a cliché, but we just like to let people listen and make their own judgement. If we can say it’s just rock music then it gives you a general idea that there’s an electric guitar and it’s probably gonna be pretty loud,” says Bentham.
On the current state of music, Bentham says he’s “hit a wall” and that he’s “probably heard all of the bands that I will truly, truly love.” This isn’t to say that he hates his contemporaries but more that he’s happy with what he’s found in rock music. The man isn’t close-minded, he’s self-actualized.
With such a powerful, nearly Biblical word like SMITE as the title for their latest EP, it’s curious as to how they came upon it. It wouldn’t be out-of-character for a punk rock band to repurpose a religious indoctrination as a way to “stick it” to their parents, but somehow The Dirty Nil seem a bit more Advanced than that.
“The violent imagery in the Bible is an awesome source for anyone who wants to write anything that has any kind of dark tone to it. Reading the Bible is a crazy experience for anyone who hasn’t done it. Those kinds of words really stick with you. We just wanted a word that sounded violent and it was also very abrupt. It also looks cool when it’s written down. It didn’t really have a big explanation,” says Bentham about his light reading material.
With SMITE, the band blasts past their teenage “rebellion phase,” in to the wild frontiers of adulthood stages and Biblical violence.
Help The Dirty Nil cross the border and into your heart by clicking here.
Check out The Dirty Nil’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.