"I feel very lucky that I get to choose the thing that’s going to drive me crazy in life, and that’s rock and roll."
The Dirty Nil have just released their utterly wonderful new album 'Fuck Art' via Dine Alone Records.
As frantically corrosive as it is romantically catchy, it's one of the finest examples of how fun it can be to make music with your best friends that you will hear this year, and any other year to be honest. With as many arena-ready choruses as gargantuan thrash riffs, it's the sort of music that's made to be played loud and sung along to even louder.
We spoke to guitarist and vocalist Luke Bentham all about how the album's inception, how they have mastered their old school craft and how it feels to have the whole world in on their jokes...
Where did the first seeds for this record start to be sewn for you? You never seem to take a second to stop and breathe, so when did you find the time to focus in on ‘Fuck Art’?
“We basically started this process a couple of days after New Years back in 2019. That was when we got home from the ‘Master Volume’ tour. I had a couple of songs that I had the basics for but it was the first time that we had really had a blank slate in a while. That’s always an interesting situation to be in. So we had ‘Elvis ‘77’ as well as some of the parts that would eventually become ‘Doom Boy’.
“Essentially this was a record that we made whilst we were still touring pretty heavily for ‘Master Volume’ and so it was the product of playing live a lot and feeling like after we had expressed something on ‘Master Volume’ in a more classic rock way, this time things were moving in more of a thrash direction as well as a more carefree direction. We found ourselves indulging both sides and really having a lot of fun with heavy sounds. So ‘Fuck Art’ turned out to be a culmination of those things rather than a repeat of what we did last time. This one sounds much more lush and heavy at the same time.”
So how do the ideas that you have transformed into fully realised pieces of music for you? How did that compare this time around to how you have done it previously?
“We learned what we could get away with on ‘Master Volume’ and learned that people really like our band. I felt a lot of courage and freedom in terms of making the music for this one because of that and not really caring what people thought. We just wanted to make something that made ourselves laugh internally. Our process as a band is to do 90% of the work before we actually get into the studio. We have a terrible 15x15 concrete practice space in the basement of a bunker with a blown-out PA system that pre-dates the band. We just blast it at the music in there for about a year before we go anywhere near a studio. It has to sound good in that concrete box before we go anywhere else. A lot of modern bands will have an idea for a song and then go to a producer to help them put it together. We have no interest in that. The work to me is the work of musicians trying to figure out together how a song is going to go. The recording then is the most fun part because you’re just executing the work that you’ve already done.”
So the core of The Dirty Nil will always be the same, but it’s from your experiences outside of that core that helps you to develop and distinguish how you want to progress?
“Exactly. I feel like it’s a really special process that we have as a band, even with the modern landscape and the way that things work. From being interesting in how other bands, especially bands I admire, work, I find that our process of bashing out for a long time is becoming rarer and rarer. I understand why. It’s uncomfortable at times and sometimes it’s uncomfortable for long periods of time. But to me, there aren’t any shortcuts to making a good song or record in my experience. I think that just comes from the way that the band was formed in us just bashing things out and there’s a certain romanticism I have with that form of struggle. By the time we get to the studio all of the songs we have will all feel good.”
Does that feeling of infatuation you have for the process of making music then bleed into what you wanted this record in particular to represents aesthetically and thematically? This is a very human and very real and very warm record, so is that something that has developed more for you as a sculptor of these emotions as you’ve become more comfortable with who The Dirty Nil are?
“Lyrically, I’m kind of slow. The faster I can get it done, the better I will feel about it really. I like to tweak things until the last minute as well, and I will always drive myself nuts over getting things as tight as possible. They are almost like a Sudoku to me. I know when there is a flow and when the tone matches the music or not. I have a lot of insomnia during the process as well because I’m just lying awake thinking, ‘What if the second verse sounded more like this?’ or something. I just can’t stop thinking about. I don’t want to think about it but I do. I feel very lucky that I get to choose the thing that’s going to drive me crazy in life, and that’s rock and roll.
“There’s definitely a more musical conversation always happening as well. Kyle is the only drummer I’ve ever really played with. We are musical brothers. We don’t have to communicate verbally that much, but we started playing our instruments together when we were 16 and not we’re 30. Ross is also the best bass player I’ve heard, and not just in terms of his dexterity and how much territory he can cover but his basic personality as a musician within the band is an 11/10. I’m just a very lucky guy to be able to have the chemistry that I do.”
Does ‘Fuck Art’ stand for more of what the band represents overall than just a title of this particular record then? Is it a statement on how you can do anything you want, within conventions or not, if you simply put your heart into it?
"I think there’s a lot of truth in that. My view is that life is 100% about hard work, especially if you’re working on something that you love. When Kyle and I started the band we were the worst two musicians in a town of 15000 people. That’s why we started the band because nobody else would play with us. So I played the guitar and he played the drums and he said, ‘Well you have to be the singer’ and I said, ‘I can’t sing’ and he said, ‘You have to because you play the guitar’. We receive a lot of high compliments, that we take graciously, about our skills as musicians and songwriters, but it’s all been earned the old fashioned way. Nobody in the band was a musical prodigy as a teenager. It’s all because we love it and we’re willing to put in more time and thought than most other people.
The main thing that we really try for a band and as a team is to make each other laugh with our own parts and with what we can do all together. That’s when we know that we have something really special."
‘Doom Boy’ is a really good example of that mentality on a musical, lyrical and visual level. Yet aside from when you know you’ve written a song that’s fun for you, what’s it like when people resonate with it when it’s out in the world?
"I think our band has a very potent personality and certain confidence that comes with a bit of age and experience. Making a thrash love song about listening to Slayer and Turnstile in a Dodge Caravan, which is funny because I never thought it conceptually and just wrote those lyrics because it felt funny, is an example. I definitely think that The Dirty Nil is always about trying to have a smirk or shit-eating grin in terms of our presentation, even with the more serious subjects such as death and drugs. We always try and have a little glint of the teeth because you always need to have a little bit of fun even when you’re dealing with the darkest of things. We’re proud of being able to showcase our sense of humour in such a way, and then seeing other people dig it when it’s something we did just to make ourselves laugh is really cool. I don’t think there are many other bands that can make a song like it."
How do you feel as though your relationship with what the band represents has changed over the course of making this album? How does it feel going into this new era with that sort of mindset?
"This is the longest thing that I’ve had be a part of my life aside from my life itself. I thought the other day, ‘Isn’t it crazy how long we have been doing the band?’ and then my second thought was, ‘No it’s not, it’s the least crazy thing in my life’. It goes without saying that 2020 was a shit show of a year and ‘Fuck Art’ was impacted by it. We got into the studio with John Goodmanson, got the drums and bass down and then he had to literally leave the country because they were closing the Canadian border to the US. The owner of the studio said that they were closing down all of Toronto in two days so we could attempt to finish all the guitars with no producer and just an engineer or we could pause. I said there was no way we were pausing because momentum is too important. Now when I listen to ‘Fuck Art’ I know that it benefitted from the no-nonsense approach. This is a direct and decisive record that was made under a lot of pressure and that’s why it sounds like that.
"It feels amazing to be stepping into the next era off the back of that. I feel like we are at the height of our powers and I’m already really excited about the new songs we have made after this record was finished. People seem to be finding a lot of light in our music, which is obviously a beautiful thing. The Dirty Nil to me is like a comedy troupe and to see that our inside jokes are scalable to a larger worldwide audience is one of the greatest pleasures of my life."