The Dirty Nil is three albums into the game, with their newest release, Fuck Art, their most confident and defiant offering yet. At the point where ambitious rock bands are supposed to call in the orchestra, experiment with electronics, and try to make their Ok Computer, The Dirty Nil, by contrast, have opted to perfect the formula that, over the past decade, has landed them on stages with everyone from Against Me! to The Who.
Fuck Art melts down all of their favourite ingredients—classic-rock heroism, pop-punk horsepower, ’80s indie scrappiness, ’90s alterna-crunch, speed-metal adrenaline—into a radiant, chromatic solution they can then mould and harden into unpredictable shapes.
The Dirty Nil have dropped a live performance of “Ride or Die,” taken from Fuck Art, filmed at the Killroom.
The band will be playing a supporting tour with The Menzingers this month along with a string of headlining Canadian and US dates to close out 2021. 2022 will kick off with a supporting tour with Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem.
It’s been a hard year’s decade. At this point, 2020 is a leading contender for Worst Year of the 2020s: A global pandemic, raging wildfires, mass unemployment, authoritarian violence in the streets, an uncommon amount of racist assholes with mainstream-media platforms—and sure, let’s throw killer hornets into the mix, too. These are the sort of unprecedented times that inspire artists to look inward, take stock of our current condition, and produce topical works of great importance that will unite and inspire an emotionally distressed population.
Alas, we regret to inform you that, on their third album, Hamilton, Ontario-based power trio The Dirty Nil have done none of these things. This record features no songs about isolation, imminent apocalypse, or the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity, however, there are tunes about dysfunctional relationships, getting your bike stolen, idiots on the internet, the anxiety of entering your 30s, and listening to Slayer in your Dodge Caravan because you’re overcompensating for turning into a soccer dad. In other words: all the shit you were worried about before you started Googling the words “viral load trajectory,” and all the shit that’ll still be weighing on your mind long after you can start coughing in your friends’ faces again without fear.
But while this record features no songs that immediately timestamp it to the year 2020, it nonetheless qualifies as a work of pure quarantine-core. When singer/guitarist Luke Bentham, bassist Ross Miller, and drummer Kyle Fisher first convened in Toronto’s Union Studios with Seattle-based producer John Goodmanson (who commandeered the Nil’s 2018 Juno Award-nominated crusher, Master Volume), the coronavirus had just begun its North American tour and talk of border closures started creeping into the headlines. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a leisurely recording process became a tense, do-or-die mission.
“It was a really strange atmosphere,” he continues. “We were just trying to have fun and insulate ourselves from the bad news. But it got to the point where, just after we finished the drums and the bass, John had to fly back to Seattle, or else he was going to be stuck in Canada. He made the last flight out. Then, the studio engineer Darren McGill turned to me and said, ‘We have to close the studio in two days.’ So I had two days to record all of the guitars for the album, which typically takes a week or two. We subsisted on pizza pockets and soda water and coffee for two 16-hour stretches.”
Left with the decision of whether or not to continue the record, the band opted to finish remotely by sending things back and forth rather than pressing pause. Bentham began the process of going to TAPE Studio every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night to record his vocals – the only time he would leave the house. Each session started after engineer Adam Bentley had thoroughly sanitized the studio. Bentham, Bentley and fellow TAPE engineer, Jordan Mitchell, individually quarantined for the month of April to ensure they remained healthy throughout the process.
Working on the record quickly became the only respite from the storm cloud of the apocalypse as it continued thickening on the horizon.
“It was the one thing we had control over while humanity was powerless,” Bentham recalls. “It became a time where we could crack open a couple cans, play some tunes, and focus on what it was we actually could do – which was make the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record of all time. It was just the most insane, crazy, ramshackle putting-together of an album that I’ve ever had to do. I was just a wreck physically and mentally. When I heard the first mixes back, I almost cried because I was so happy.”
Fuck Art is also a statement of confidence and defiance from a group that’s now three albums into the game—i.e., the point where ambitious rock bands are supposed to call in the orchestra, experiment with electronics, and try to make their Ok Computer. The Dirty Nil, by contrast, have opted to perfect the formula that, over the past decade, has landed them on stages with everyone from Against Me! to The Who. Fuck Art melts down all of their favorite ingredients—classic-rock heroism, pop-punk horsepower, ‘80s indie scrappiness, ‘90s alterna-crunch, speed-metal adrenaline—into a radiant, chromatic solution they can then mould and harden into unpredictable shapes.
And hey, why not double-down on that uncompromising ethos by giving your most radio-ready album to date a title that can’t be uttered on the radio—and which, even in sanitized form (F— Art), still reads as “fart.”
“Before COVID hit, Fuck Art was kind of like a super tongue-in-cheek, snotty title inspired to provoke somewhat,” Bentham observes. “But in the subsequent time that has passed, to me it’s become a title of just celebrating absolute freedom. Ironically, to me, there’s a lot of optimism in it. It’s an absurd title, but it’s also kind of monolithic and simple. There’s also a kamikaze element to it—because there’s a chance that it could limit our commercial potential, but whatever. I don’t give a shit!”
Connect with The Dirty Nil:
I grew up in Alberta, but spent most of my life in British Columbia – I also spent a lot of my summers in Britain as I was lucky enough to have immigrant parents with the capital to go visit our relatives. The amount of time I spent overseas makes it hard for me to say I feel fully Canadian, but it does make me feel typically Canadian as so many of us have mixed parentage. My parents defined another divide in me as I feel inexorably pulled to both science and the art; my father being a doctor and my mother being a school teacher. I studied both in university and now work on making healthcare software during the day, then write/read/draw/paint/dance in my evenings. My global wanderings, my education, and the fact that my appetite for media could be described as ‘voracious’ means my frame of reference is pretty varied. It’s hard to say that I have a favourite music genre, rather I am always seeking sounds that convey a sense earnestness an honesty.
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