Interview by: Devon Anderson
Words by: Devon Anderson
Juno Award-winning, Ontario-based rockers, The Dirty Nil, are quite simply kicking ass and taking names. Singer Luke Bentham, bassist Ross Miller, and drummer Kyle Fisher have found themselves hurtling across the United States supporting punk icons, Against Me! as of late, and it’s safe to say they are making big impressions in their wake. With their 2017 release, Minimum R&B via Dine Alone Records, the band has been gaining traction, and people are talking. Luke sat down to chat with us about touring, their fans and what gear has got them making the sexy eyes.
I admit I am a newer fan of yours, but any band worth spending time with Laura Jane Grace is a band worth getting to know in my book. So, how did this amazing tour lineup come together?
Thank you for taking the time with us! Well, I am not one hundred percent sure what happened behind the scenes with everything. I think our friend Dan Ozzi had something to do with it. He is friends with Laura, and I think he just kind of made a recommendation to her about our band. And, she personally reached out to us to be on the tour. I was flattered. When we were brainstorming ideas over the last couple of years of who we’d like to ideally tour with, Against Me! was a name that constantly came up. This is the dream tour for us for America. We’ve never had the opportunity to see the country this way. I mean, we’ve done a lot of American tour with our friends. We’ve done Warped Tour. This is a pretty special opportunity for us, and we are very grateful to be on this tour.
That is great. You said this is the first time for you seeing the country like this, so how has the tour been going so far?
A: It’s been great! We’ve done thorough, full US tours before. The caliber of room every night is pretty high, so we play to a packed theatre full of kids every night who are openminded and interested in hearing new things, which is not something we have had the fortune of being able to do yet in our career in America. We are very thankful to have this. This is the tour we have been dreaming of for a long time.
Well, I am glad you said that because I am wondering how you manage to keep your own fans happy and engaged while also entertaining and grabbing some of their fans’ attention as well.
We’ve played a lot of shows in the last few years, so when it comes to the shows, we come out and play it to our best. Our ability to play for new groups of faces has not been as high for us in the past as they are now. With the rooms the way they are, there is usually no barrier, which plays to our strengths as a band with the fans. We are able to kind of more easily establish that connection with people in the audience, which is fantastic. And that is something we do not waste the opportunity to do.
That makes a lot of sense. So, let’s talk about your sound. It is rare that a three-piece outfit has such a large and bold sound. I think about bands like ’68 who blow me away sonically and fill a room with only two of them. How do you manage to fill in the gaps and make sure your sound is as robust as it is?
I think that sheer volume surely has something to do with it. I think also being very careful and deliberate when it comes to sound arrangement to get the maximum effects between quiet and loud could be achieved by the minimum number of people. And also, having fun and playing music that we want to hear. There is a lot of conscious effort to cover the ground that could be covered by multiple people. At the end of the day, we’re just playing for the fucking rock and roll music.
You guys look like you’re having fun. A real blast is had on stage, to be sure.
Absolutely. Of course.
Oh, wow where to begin on that list. It’s a disease that never ends. But, we’ve got a fantastic custom drum kit made in Waterloo, Ontario. We’ve our beautiful Marshall backline. I’m sporting a mid-70s faded Les Paul custom guitar with headstock brakes that I gave them. And Ross has his trusty Rickenbacker bass.
In terms of things we are, as you said making the sexy eyes at, Ross and I were having a discussion earlier about how we are very much into the exotic speaker cabinets. And so, James (Bowman, Against Me!) and I are huge mostly Gibson and Marshall fanatics, and he’s got two Marshall 8×10 cabinets on this tour, and I am looking into getting one of those as well. I am toying with a potential one right now. Ross is on the hunt for a big Gibson bass from the 70s. There are a couple he is looking at. Kyle’s looking at getting a vistalite drum kit, which is the clear drumkit, a la John Bonham. Those are the current objects of our desires.
I love how lyrically, you are so emotional and raw, but sonically you beat the shit out of your listeners a lot of the time. Where do you find your inspiration for both lyrics and sound?
Well, I think it’s hard to simplify that too much on that front because I would say that everything we do musically is a product of all of the music we have listened to in our lifetimes. But, I mean there were bands in our formative years that have never left our wheelhouse and now have a permanent indentation on our DNA. Bands like Dinosaur, Jr. and the Pixies, Jesus Lizard and the Rolling Stones, the Replacements certainly are in there for many reasons are bands we look to. In terms of lyrics, I cannot say whom I draw the most from primarily, but as I said, that’s more of who I have listened to over my lifetime. I have always appreciated older country music in terms of lyrical content. Like, John Prine is one of my favorites. A Canadian guy named Stompin’ Tom Connors, and I have always loved Paul Westerberg and Alex Chilton. I love Mick Jagger’s lyrics a lot. I mean, there’s an infinite amount of influence on lyrics for sure.
That is quite the spread, from the Pixies to older country music to Mick Jagger. That’s a wide berth, there.
It’s all rock and roll… [laughs]
I’ve listened to both Higher Power and Minimum R&B, and both of those albums are so gritty and dirty, they almost sound like they’re live. I love bands that can do that – juxtapose the live sound experience onto an album. In your recording, what do you do to make it sound like a live experience in the listener’s home?
Well, thank you. We certainly do our best in the studio. We don’t use click tracks. Recording is the very last five or ten percent of how we feel about a song. We don’t go typically into a studio with a song idea and work it out in the studio. By the time we record, we have everything done. We have done our homework in the woodshed to make sure the whole thing from front to back is kind of a tidy package, even if it’s hissing with feedback or whatever. It’s somewhat deliberate. I think from there on, any embellishment we can do in the studio can kind of enhance the song rather than depending on us having any fancy tricks in the studio to make it sound good. If you can make the song sound good when you’re just playing it in a room, then I think the studio is a lot less stressful and more fun because you have the freedom of time and thought to experiment with sound instead of trying to figure out how to make the songs work. I mean, a lot of preparation going in in terms of rehearsing is a big part of our recording philosophy, but trying to capture some of what we do live in terms of energy and trying to lay it down to tape is key. We also do things in the studio to make it more of a proper recording, but we’re certainly not layering on tons of guitars or extra vocal tracks. We try to have the arrangement stand for itself and sprinkle some magic on it in the studio by turning some knobs. That’s pretty much all we’ve done up until now.
I have to say, I think it’s working. I think it’s working well. I have to know how in the world you all keep up with each other and keep your energy up while touring. You are very high energy, and you kill it nightly on stage. So, how do you it?
Five-minute plank every day and lots of water [laughs]. I’d say other things certainly when it comes to a long tour, watching the sauce and taking care of yourself generally. I mean, touring is the only thing we wanted to do when we were kids and what we get to do now. Even when it does get shitty and we’re tired of sitting in the metal cage, hurtling across the country every day, it’s easy to remember that we are very lucky to be in this position and that there are a million bands that would give their necks to be here. I find it hard to empathize with really vocally whiny bands who complain about that kind of stuff. Yeah, we can complain to each other internally, sure. But when I see other organizations venting about these things in public, I always kind of roll my eyes. It’s generally approaching it as a job – it’s the best job in the world, but it’s still a job. We have to shape our day so that the half hour opening slot is worth it for everyone.
Okay, so you’ve said you wanted this since you were a kid. How old were you when you realized this is what you wanted to be a musician?
That’s a good question. I was sitting eating breakfast one morning when I was twelve with my parents before school. They had rereleased that Nirvana song, “You Know You’re Right,” and they’d made a video for it. And it came on that morning. The sound of the vocals and the guitars and the overall package offended my parents so much. It was like there was a terrible smell in the room; that’s how they reacted to it. And I looked around with wide eyes. I was like, “Anything that can put my parents in that kind of a mood instantly, I am interested in exploring.”
That is probably the best origin story I have ever heard. I would like to think that they do not have the same reaction to your music and that they are proud of you and what you’ve accomplished.
Oh, they’re very supportive for sure. When we were fortunate enough to receive the Juno Award earlier this year, we received it. My mom was there when we got it. I was holding it in my hands, and she immediately took it and put it in the box and put it in her purse. And that says it all right there.
Oh, that’s another good question. I would tell myself to buy proper guitar stands. That’s my message.
Works for me! When it comes to your fanbase, what is one of the most surreal things you have dealt with when it comes to the fans?
That’s a good question. We have lots of wonderful fan art. Anytime I see someone walking around with lyrics that I wrote in my parents’ basement while we were practicing inked on themselves, that moment is never lost. That moment is pretty wild. Lyric tattoos are always really surreal to see.
That’s rad. I have a few lyric tattoos, and they mean so much to me as a fan. I can’t imagine how you feel as the artist. You guys are super active on social media and interact with the fans a bit. So, do you feel social media is more of a hinderance or an asset when it comes to music and your outreach as a band?
That is a Kyle question – he runs our social media accounts. (Kyle gets on phone and answers since he does social media) I don’t think it’s a hinderance. It’s really helpful. We can immediately get in touch with people. I have seen Laura Jane Grace get with people who have been like, “oh I can’t come to this show because of this reason, and I wanted to come out,” and then she’ll be like, “yeah okay, I’ll get you on the guest list.” If something happens and it’s in the moment, and you can be helpful to someone with social media, I think it’s the best thing. I think some people use it a little too much, and they try too hard in a band to come across a certain way. I am off and on with it, and I at least try to address the people who are talking to us. I repost a lot of dumb things that I hear some people around me.
That’s a great way to use it! Do you have any last word for the fans?
I would say thank you for talking to the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Minimum R&B is available where all fine records are sold. [Also], “hail, hail rock and roll, motherfuckers. Peace out.”