Dilly Dally Went Through Hell to Get to ‘Heaven’
In the video for Dilly Dally’s “I Feel Free,” singer-guitarist Katie Monks prowls around a gothic cemetery before digging up four graves. Three of them contain her bandmates – guitarist Liz Ball, bassist Jimmy Tony and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz. Inside the fourth, she finds the white Flying V guitar she used to write Dilly Dally’s excellent new album, Heaven (due out September 14th).
“I dug up my real guitar,” Monks tells me over coffee in Brooklyn after an editing session on the video, which she directed. “I had to bring it into a guitar shop very guiltily, like, ‘Can you guys clean this for me? I pulled it out of a grave.'”
It’s not exactly a subtle image, but Dilly Dally aren’t into subtlety. Their music is about big moods, harsh vibes, dark instincts. Those qualities made the Toronto group’s 2015 album Sore into one of that year’s most captivating debuts, a thunderstorm of blood-red riffs and whisper-scream vocals. But in the long months of touring that followed their breakthrough, the creative tension that powers Dilly Dally boiled over.
“There were many, many moments when I was phoning up my friends in Canada, crying, like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Fuck this,'” Ball says when I reach her by phone later.
The stresses on the band ranged from the acute – Tony’s addiction issues, which Monks addresses on Heaven highlight “Sober Motel,” led them to bring on temporary bassists for some shows while he sought help – to the less easily defined, but no less challenging. “It’s hard to think clearly when you’re out there in the pressure cooker,” Monks says. “People can go to a very dark place.”
When she talks about Heaven, it’s with a sense of relief that her band made it to a second album at all. “I had to make peace with the idea that if Dilly Dally was to end, that would be okay,” she says. “That was hard. But I did it.”
Monks grew up in an Ontario suburb that she describes as “a very boring town with a lot of parking lots in it.” Her parents are Irish immigrants; her older brother, David Monks, is the lead singer of the 2000s indie act Tokyo Police Club. “I would see him playing at Lee’s Palace in Toronto when I was 16, and think he was a rock star, and go, ‘I want to do that,'” she says.
She became friends with Ball around the same time, finding each other in the “small group of people who weren’t normies” at their high school, and shortly after graduating they moved to Toronto with the vague ambition of starting a band. “We never had a plan,” Ball says. “We didn’t know anybody in the city, so we’d go out to bars and try and make friends, but end up just getting wasted with each other.”
The band name Dilly Dally arrived before they got around to writing songs or playing shows. Monks and Ball almost immediately had the phrase inked on their bodies at a local bar that doubled as a tattoo parlor. “The artist was like, ‘I really don’t think you should get these tattoos,'” Monks says. “And we were like, ‘We’re gonna be the biggest band in the world.’ We thought we were Oasis.”
The rhythm section of Tony and Reinhartz helped bring the dream closer to reality, but not before a period of fighting to be heard in Toronto’s crowded punk scene. By the time Dilly Dally made Sore, Monks says, the incandescent anger in their music had as much to do with everyday sexism and existential angst as it did with the pace of their career: “We’d been in a band for so long and hadn’t been heard yet. We felt like, listen to us! We’re over here! Just demanding that attention.”
They got more than they bargained for as Sore built momentum. “It’s the same old tale that’s been told again and again,” Monks says. “When you put four people in a box for two years, it’s psychologically fucked.” She acted as Dilly Dally’s manager throughout that first album cycle, further elevating the emotional stakes: “The machine was going full speed ahead. As the manager, I just kept confirming dates.”
In December 2016, Dilly Dally returned home to Toronto after playing their final U.S. shows for Sore. “We were a mess,” Monks says. “I wasn’t able to make my band happy with all the work that we did. It didn’t fix anything. So I retreated inwards.”
The next month, she traded in her Fender Mustang guitar for the white Flying V – “It’s a fuck-you to all the people who have tried to tell me what a cool guitar is. Usually those people are men” – and moved into a spartan bedroom in a new house. She took up meditation and spent hours making looped ambient noises under purple LED string lights. Months went by before she felt ready to reconnect with her bandmates. “I had to distance myself from whatever Dilly Dally had become, so that I could foster a new spark to get that energy back again,” the singer says. “Because it was gone.”
Ball, meanwhile, spent the first half of 2017 working on a quiet solo EP that she has no plans to release and re-evaluating her own commitment to the group. “We definitely had some talks where Katie was uncertain about whether I wanted to be in the band anymore,” she says. “But I wanted to give Dilly Dally at least one more album.”
The four musicians spent last summer and fall shaping the hours of riffs and drones that Monks had amassed into songs. In November, they flew to Los Angeles to record the album with producer Rob Schnapf, known for his work on Nineties classics by Elliott Smith and Beck (along with more recent LPs by Joyce Manor and others).
The album they made there is full of the heavy, distorted intensity that Dilly Dally fans expect, but an unexpected lightness shines through at key points, on “I Feel Free,” “Believe in Yourself” and elsewhere. “There was an aggression to [Sore] that was an exciting role to play as a woman,” Monks says. “But I’ve had enough Courtney Love references.” The new LP, she says, “is for anybody who feels lost and depressed and a lot of pain in their chest. I just want to give people hope.”