Dilly Dally’s Sore Grunge and Healing Pop

'I guess I'm fragile in that way, but I also don't take anyone's shit.'

Dilly Dally (Photo: Justin Joffe for New York Observer)
Katie Monks of Dilly Dally (Photo: Justin Joffe for New York Observer)

When Dilly Dally steps on stage their buzzy and melodic guitar riffs instantly slice through your ears. The drums speed up like a pulse. Katie Monks’ primal vocals command full attention, with each howl lingering in sweet catharsis.

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Dilly Dally are true punks who know how to incorporate infectious pop. The Toronto-based band was formed by Ms. Monks (guitar/vocals) and Liz Ball (guitar), high school friends who bonded over getting in trouble in science class, and road-tripping to a Strokes concert. Jimmy Tony and Benjamin Reinhartz later joined on bass and drums, helping to create a more refined sound and a new era of the band that was fully realized last year.

‘I guess I’m fragile in that way, but I also don’t take anyone’s shit.’

The band’s debut album, Sore, released in October via Partisan Records, is a testament to the byzantine layers rock is capable of folding into its traditional structure. Behind every scream, a pop melody. Every indigent verse is a call for empowerment. Sore takes an array of trenchant emotions and transforms them into a place of positivity.

While finishing up its first U.S. tour, Dilly Dally spoke to the Observer before a show at the Mercury Lounge, just one of the band’s New York shows. Ms. Monks is an all-or-nothing artist who simply keeps it real. When her Fender guitar string broke during a song she ripped it off without hesitation, later exclaiming, “everyone wants to ask us what bands we listen to and we just want to talk about Chinese food and cats.” She was just as brilliant and comical on stage as she was in our conversation beforehand—discussing Sore, female vocalists and the awkward encounter of a berating fan.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMrZi0whVpM&w=560&h=315]

Before the tour you said you weren’t sure what your fans would look like, so what has your fan base been?

Oh my god, it’s everybody. There’s people who are clearly music nerds or play music themselves. And then there’s people who are just people and say, “oh I heard your song on the radio and the words ‘this fire desire’ really connected with me.” Then there were some kids who were waiting outside the venue just so they could hear us play. They didn’t think they could get in because of how old they were.

Are you seeing a lot of these kids trying to go to your shows?

Yeah. Here and there we are getting that a bit on our social media, people are wishing we had all ages shows and stuff. It’s tough thinking who your audience is and trying to speak a universal language. I hope that our music is already doing that. It would almost be easier we knew all of our fans are just punks or the people we normally hang out with. But it’s all kinds of weird people too [laughs].

Do you see people you wouldn’t expect at a Dilly Dally show?

Well I didn’t have any expectations. Part of me thought if it’s all going to be girls but that wasn’t the case at all. Man, there was one guy at the merch table the other night who really loves the band but he spent 20 minutes grilling me on how we could possibly make any money, how he doesn’t want to buy any of our merch, and he could just listen to the album for free on the Internet. I was blown away that he didn’t understand why we were doing this. He loved the record but he had no idea what was giving us the incentive to do it. There was a huge disconnect. I was so angry with him by the end.

That’s weird that he was directing that specifically at you.

It was a really uncomfortable situation where he kept asking why we were wasting our time. I was nice to him because he loved the record and I kept thinking he doesn’t realize he’s being rude, but he just made me feel like there was no point in doing what I was doing. I’m not going to be a dick to a fan who just paid to come to my show, but if I had met this person at a bar and removed the context of the band I would of flipped out on him, and said fuck you that you think you could interrogate me and tell me how to live my life.

Do you think he was saying this to you because you are a woman?

I think he just thought I was a sloppy kid, and that could have been because I was a girl. [In] no way do I ever feel sorry for myself, and I’m happy to have a blanket and floor to crash on if it means I get to play music and make random people happy. It’s just silly someone asked me to defend myself. And there’s so much positivity on this tour.

The record in itself is definitely positive, even when the songs are raw and angry.

Absolutely! It’s therapeutic and it’s about working through all your feelings. The record definitely attempts to do that with some really dark ones, but there’s always conclusion and all the melodies come full circle at the end. There’s a little strand of hope at the end of each song. It takes the hard stuff and rearranges it in a beautiful positive way so that it can feel empowering.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H97lKyX9ODs&w=560&h=315]

Yeah you can hear there’s happiness even with “The Touch,” which you wrote for a friend who was having suicidal thoughts.

I think sometimes when people are depressed they just want someone else to acknowledge it. People are phony and superficial and caught up in the wrong things, they don’t take a moment to really engage and listen to one another.

Some of your songs were recorded before Jimmy and Ben joined. When you rerecorded them, was there any disconnect since they were from the “old era” of Dilly Dally?

I was scared rerecording them, but it ended up blowing my mind how we were all able to make it feel fresh again, and the sounds that we used matched the pallet of what we were working on

One song that really resonates for me is “Get To You,” what was the thought behind it?

All I remember about that time is I got a new kitten named Monster [while] I was dating somebody and it was a little bittersweet. Sometimes the lyrics and music come to me pretty subconsciously. I’ll be singing and mumbling and playing the same set of chords for hours. It’s rare that I’ll [plan] out what that songs about, and I’m interested in making music that’s multidimensional. That’s also why I love pop music.

‘For women especially there’s a lot of undiscovered territory in terms of using their voices.’

Your sound gets compared a lot to Pixies and ’90s grunge but there’s also pop and you love pop.

I find the less I overthink these things the more authentic it will be. It’s more representative of where I’m from culturally and I think that’s more interesting about anything about a band. If our music is laced with nostalgia it’s also laced with references to pop culture or a lot of our peers in Toronto who are making grunge music.

How was it being a musician in the Toronto scene?

It’s amazing. There’s many shows I’ve seen from my friends in Toronto and I go, “Fuck—I have to up my game, we need to better.” I’ve kind of just been living in this bubble. I’m not super knowledgeable to what’s going on with music and the whole world and I kind of like that we’re isolated.

Did you go to your first concert in Toronto?

Yeah, when I was a teenager. When I was a really little girl my parents forced me to go see U2. The whole time I pretended not to like it because it would be embarrassing to like a show my parents brought me to. I was really into the Backstreet Boys at the time and there was real lack of bowl cuts on the stage for my liking.

How is the DIY punk scene in Toronto different than New York?

I mean, I don’t know, it’s just better [laughs]. I guess the point of a DIY scene is they’re all representative of that area. All I can say really is the Toronto scene I know is the heaviest shit but it’s also not self-indulgent like people aren’t ripping solos and wanking off on stage and ripping their shirts off. People are angry and dark.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGyRZ8wtsdw&w=560&h=315]

Is creating safe spaces in DIY scenes a part of the discussion in Toronto?

I feel like that isn’t an issue at all in Toronto. I can’t speak for everyone but a lot of the women who are involved in that scene are pretty feminist and a lot of the dudes are too. It’s a pretty tight knit community and it’s not really a misogynist scene. That’s why when I encounter that kind of stuff elsewhere my mind is just blown.

Like what happened with that guy who was hostile with you?

Let’s face it—he was mansplaining me. He was trying to teach me how to run my business and it was offensive. I probably put energy in the conversation because I’m not used to that. Growing up, my family was really sweet to each other. I guess I’m fragile in that way, but I also don’t take anyone’s shit.

Do you identify as a feminist?

I do, but I like to try to make sure the band isn’t pegged as just a feminist punk band. I’m super feminist but I have a lot of anxiety talking about it. I’ve felt attacked when I tried to talk about my opinions. I don’t hold one person accountable, it’s more of a culture problem. I care more about people hearing the music for what is it.

One thing that was really distinctive off the record is your voice, it’s really primal. When did you start singing?

When I was 14 until about 18 I had these little demos that I would experiment with and learn to control my voice on. “Green” was one of those demos. I have hours and hours and it’s like a musical diary. And I feel like a lot of people who take vocal training sound so similar. For women especially there’s a lot of undiscovered territory in terms of using their voices.

(Photo: Justin Joffe for New York Observer)
(Photo: Justin Joffe for New York Observer)

That’s a really good point you make about female singers.

It’s all very soft and gentle [laughs]. That’s why I think it’s hilarious all of my Courtney Love comparisons or female vocalists who express rage, and it’s like how many men sing that way? Does anyone compare them to Linkin Park? No. I wish people would compare me to Linkin Park that would be awesome. But no It’s just Courtney Love because she’s apparently the only other lady who’s been pissed. Furthermore there are a lot of different emotions on the record, and that are super soft and gentle.

How do feel about being categorized with the ’90s grunge sound, does it bother you?

It doesn’t bother me in the sense that we know when we reference things. You play a few major chords and you know that sounds grungy. I’m trying really not to feel anything about it. I want to be able to be me, and connect with everybody. And I feel like once people hear the whole record they’re not thinking it all sounds from that era. We’re just a rock band.

Dilly Dally’s Sore Grunge and Healing Pop