Why do people persist in their goal to create a rock band? We certainly live in a time when it couldn’t possibly seem more futile. And yet, even when faced with becoming the plot of a likely story––kid starts band in garage, uploads music to Soundcloud, band promptly finds themselves eternally lost in the internet's abyss––wildly hopeful people do it every single day.
For Toronto band Dilly Dally, the story isn’t all that different. Formed by high school friends Katie Monks (sister of Tokyo Police Club’s David Monks) and Liz Ball back in 2009, the pair got together with little more in their pockets than a semester each of post-secondary, blind faith, and youthful wonder.
“Liz and I are a couple of weirdos,” says Monks jokingly over the phone. “Right from the start, we’ve always had the attitude that our band could take over the fucking world [laughs]! Even if we didn’t know how it was going to happen, we believed blindly in the project and have been playing shows every month in this city for the last four years.” Although it took them nearly that long to secure the right line up, their motivation hasn’t as of yet wavered. In fact, the recent addition of bassist Jimmy Tony Billy Rowlinson (Mexican Slang) and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz (Beliefs) has served the band well. With a mutual appreciation for slurred poetry, pop ballads, and grunge-heavy guitars, the newfound collaborative energy has ignited Dilly Dally’s live show and injected a whole new level of aggression into their sound.
Despite having carved out a place for themselves amidst Toronto’s burgeoning noise punk scene, Dilly Dally only self-released their first single “Next Gold,” a track they had recorded during a 2013 session with Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Greys) and Leon Taheny (Owen Pallett, Austra, Dusted) both of whom had a hand in producing the band’s current Candy Mountain 7”, earlier this year. Interestingly, the song caught the attention of music blogs, who praised the band’s “Pixies-esc” style and Monk’s seemingly impulsive and charismatically delivered vocal slurs.
“It was crazy to have Pitchfork write about us,” says Monks, “It changed a lot of things. As soon as they wrote about us everyone was kind of writing about us; it was pretty funny.” For Dilly Dally, who didn’t have a label at the time and hadn’t actively pursued either website, the experience definitely put a few things into perspective. “As a band these days you end up having to do a lot of things yourself so we kind of felt like ‘Wow, somehow we managed to do this on our own,” adds Monks who’s just thankful there is a medium through which the band can communicate and people out there looking to find them.
Having grown up on the likes of The Strokes and The Libertines, it’s not difficult to identify this band’s fierce loyalty to classic pop song structures, but being twenty-something has a tendency to breed restlessness and in this case a much more ferocious sound. “I think we just grew up on a lot of pop music,” says Ball. “But as we’ve gotten older, our tastes have gotten heavier and it just feels better to play live as well.”
“I mean we still love pop and we go do karaoke often,” adds Monks, “But all of those bands that we grew up on, that whole scene and culture is over now; it’s been packaged up and sold back to everyone as the Jonas Brothers or whatever. What’s happening in this city right now is a lot heavier and angrier than that and it feels very much like a backlash against all of the indie and folky-pop stuff that made up the scene here in Toronto when we first started playing music. Pair that with the frustration we have toward the fact that we’re still grinding away at this project, and that’s probably what you’re hearing in our sound.”
Although these are certainly trying times for musicians, we are quick to forget that rock and roll has never been the byproduct of a perfect world. Yes it is difficult and exhausting out there, and yeah bands these days are expected to self-manage, self-market, self-produce, and self-sooth, but those very constraints are proving to be an integral force for a new crop of hungry and relentless musicians who wont stop until their heard. The good news is one doesn’t have to look further than Detroit in 60s, London in the late 70s or Seattle in the 90s to see that every single one of those scenes grew out of the exact same kind of frustration and elbow grease. At the end of the day, it’s about friction and causing something to spark cause without that kind of despair, rock and roll would cease to exist.
But, the success of a scene doesn’t rest solely on its sound; it’s the people who never stop showing up who make it what it is. For Katie Monks and Liz Ball, the past almost five years have been as much about feeding their creative desires as they have been about feeding their friendships. “My perspective has definitely changed a lot since I was 19,” says Monks. “When Liz and I first started this band we thought ‘Okay we’ll show up and be the best,’ and it’s like, ‘no we’re not the best. We are lucky to have anyone working with us’. Everyone here is hustling so hard and it took a long time for us to really realize that everybody in this industry is kind of doing it just out of passion,” she adds. “For that reason, it’s really important to be nice and to have camaraderie; the real business of it all is learning not to be a dick [laughs].”
Of the pair’s artistic relationship, Monks feels the same. “Words really aren’t necessary when it comes to Liz and I,” she says thoughtfully. “There is just a mutual understanding between us. We’ve been doing this for a long time now, so being able to collaborate and trust each other creatively is a beautiful thing. Friendship is a really important part of all of this for us. It’s why we are sticking with Leon and Josh when it comes time to record our debut record next spring, and why when we need a sound guy at our shows we ask our friend Grant. Even the guys at our label [Buzz Records] are long time friends of ours so it’s really an all in the family type of thing.”
What makes a band like Toronto’s Dilly Dally so endearing is that they speak directly to the disdain of every working band. They aren’t showy but rather loud and a little messy, and they don’t give a shit about wrapping it up with a bow. They came to be just as every other band before them has and that’s under the unapologetic and whole-hearted pretence that they will surely be the biggest damn band in the world. In a time when the pool is flooded and everyone’s clambering but no one has the answer, these guys are frustrated but motivated, restless but still full of wonder. They’ve cultivated a fiercely noisy but completely intriguing sound, and sometimes that’s all it really takes.
Juliette Jagger is a rock n' roll journalist living in Toronto - @juliettejagger