Dilly Dally Almost Died
The Toronto band nearly broke up after their breakout ‘Sore.’ Out of the ashes comes their new album ‘Heaven,’ the group's most dynamic work yet.
Katie Monks had to make a choice: wolves or angels?
It was the summer of 2017 in Kensington Market, a colorful if not worn-out bohemian neighborhood in Toronto, and Monks was looking for guidance. As she browsed one of its beautiful, eclectic stores, two very different decks of cards caught her eye.
“These wolf ones looked cool,” Monks remembers. As the co-founder and razorblade-sharp scream of Dilly Dally, Monks being drawn to wolves is no surprise. Dilly Dally made their bite-mark at home with the melodic aggression of their 2015 debut album Sore, and abroad, Monks’s seething lyrics of passion and pain lingering on fans and critics as much as your first hickey. The album garnered international acclaim by outlets including Rolling Stone, NME, Pitchfork, The Guardian, and Noisey (duh), landing on our 50 Best Albums of 2015.
But Monks picked up the second deck. “I went with the angel ones because they seemed ridiculously positive,” she says. “I was like ‘Whatever that is, that’s what I need. This punk needs some angels in her life.’”
Sore didn’t just break Dilly Dally internationally—it engulfed their friendships and mental health to the point of almost ending the band. In nearly dying, however, Monks and her bandmates found their way to Heaven: an arresting comeback album featuring their most naked, dynamic, and uplifting (yes, uplifting) music to date.
Over some beers at The Rivoli, a venue and bar on Toronto’s live music row of Queen Street West, Monks revisits one of the lowest points Dilly Dally hit touring behind Sore. Her color-tipped brunette bob from that era is now completely bleach-blonde, crowned by a pair of white Kurt Cobain-style sunglasses that match her white fishnet top like a true angelic punk.
“There was one show in England that we played where I totally pulled a Cat Power and I started crying in the middle of our song called ‘Get to You,’” Monks says. “The lyric is ‘I wanna get to you but I’m still trying,’ or something like that. I suppose that song is about broken friendships in a way. I just started crying in the middle of the song, and I walked off stage, and the rest of the band was like ‘What—what do we do?’”
Monks lets out a laugh of relief that’s colored with her signature rasp. “Which is really funny now that I think about it. But I was so sad! I was singing a song thinking that the people on each side of me, that everybody wasn’t on the same page, that we didn’t share the same goals and dreams, and that all of this was for nothing. Dilly Dally, from the beginning, has always been about friendship, so when those friendships started to deteriorate on tour, it felt like it was the end.”
"I was singing a song thinking that the people on each side of me, that everybody wasn’t on the same page, that we didn’t share the same goals and dreams, and that all of this was for nothing. Dilly Dally, from the beginning, has always been about friendship, so when those friendships started to deteriorate on tour, it felt like it was the end." —Katie Monks
High school was the beginning. Monks grew up in the town of Newmarket just outside of Toronto with her older brother Dave. She’ll be the last person to point out that Dave fronts Canadian indie rock staples Tokyo Police Club, but has previously credited him with inspiring her to chase music for a living.
Monks met future bandmate Liz Ball at the end of grade nine, two self-taught guitarists that bonded over bands like Pixies and became determined to start their own. They co-founded Dilly Dally in 2009 and sealed the deal with matching Dilly Dally tattoos—even before they had a body of recorded songs.
“Right from the start, we’ve always had the attitude that our band could take over the fucking world!” Monks told Noisey in 2014. “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.”
Dilly Dally‘s melodies and melancholy grew increasingly aggressive as they fought to be heard—scrapped album be damned—and with the addition of Benjamin Reinhartz and Jimmy Tony on drums and bass respectively. The band started writing what would become Sore at end of 2014, a period when Monks had left a relationship and ran into having unrequited feelings for a friend.
“They help me feel empowered,” Monks wrote of her bandmates on Genius. “They’re a really big part of the fantasy that I was chasing. Running far away from the broken relationships I had left behind – and very quickly towards a sold-out show with my three best friends. So instead of being bummed, I was just like, ‘Fuck EVERYTHING. I’m just gonna make this crazy record, start fresh, reinvent how I look, start a whole new life, and bring the band to the next level.’”
Dilly Dally’s head bang-able sludge packs emotional intelligence—not to mention zero fear of gushing about crushes or periods. Monks’s voice instantly grabs you by the throat, a hard barroom cocktail of Karen O urgency, Stevie Nicks drawl, and Kim Gordon IDGAF. Look to Dilly Dally’s cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself,” a reimagining that’s less about hitting the city with friends and more about the literal woes contained in concrete and street-light memories. Sore made Dilly Dally the breakout act of Toronto’s 90s-heavy, femme-led indie rock wave. They went on to tour North America and Europe, headlining shows and supporting the likes of METZ, Grouplove, and Fat White Family. Hell, fans as far as Italy made homemade Dilly Dally shirts. So where did it go wrong? Monks declines to go into specifics, saying it’s better not to dwell on the band’s past “dark energy” to avoid perpetuating it.
“We always thought that once we obtained what we essentially did on the Sore campaign, we thought that all our problems and everything would be fixed. Instead of fixing our problems, it illuminated them,” Monks says. “Being on tour is like being in a pressure cooker. We felt like it all just erupted. There were a lot of exterior factors for us in our personal lives, demons and shit, that we had to overcome.”
“Being on tour is like being in a pressure cooker. We felt like it all just erupted. There were a lot of exterior factors for us in our personal lives, demons and shit, that we had to overcome.” —Katie Monks
The cover of their 2016 Sore remix EP fkkt now appears to be an accidental metaphor, the savoury ice cream cone from earlier single artwork smashed and broken on the ground. Monks’s onstage breakdown in England eventually led to a revelation: she had an unhealthy codependency on Dilly Dally.
“My whole life was in question, and I felt like the only person who could really save me was me. I learned that I can’t need the band… We just had to shake that codependency, and just kind of reclaim our own lives for the moment. Once we were strong, it was like, ‘Now let’s just make some art.’”
Monks retreated from Dilly Dally and Sore in early 2017, putting down her Toronto indie-cool Fender Mustang and picking up an offbeat white Jackson Flying V instead. Writing on her own, she experimented with noise beds in her bedroom, creating an imperfect utopia of doom-y music with positive messages on self-care and mental health. As healing as space can be, Monks eventually realized she didn’t want to do it alone.
“I had a thing at my apartment in Kensington, with my angel cards and my white Flying V, with the writing process that I called ‘band delivery.’ One of my bandmates would show up at my door,” Monks laughs. “It wasn’t like ‘Let’s go to a band practice,’ it was like ‘Can somebody come over and help me structure these songs?’ Cause they came from such a spiritual, meditative place, that they were too loose. So I’d have band delivery just so I could bring everyone slowly into my dream world.”
“Many songwriters have said before that it’s something you tap into and it’s almost like these aren’t my songs, you know, I was just ready to receive them. You just gotta keep your tools sharp and something might happen. Those accidents are what it’s all about. It’s why we’re called fucking Dilly Dally,” Monks laughs again, “cause we take forever. We wait for miracles to our benefit and demise.”
That dream world became Heaven, Dilly Dally’s sophomore record out on September 14 through Partisan Records in the US, and Dine Alone Records in Canada. Where Sore was an unforgiving noise mudslide (save for the ending piano ballad “Burned By the Cold,”) Heaven is healing, intimate, an understanding that absence weighs more than presence, that life is both sweet and sour. It’s the record you wish you had in high school, a voice acknowledging your hurt all while giving you mantras to hold the hell on to.
“The more I do this life, the more I realize that music is 100 percent the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religion,” Monks says. “It’s through music that I seek to find the answers for all the pain that exists. Hopefully this record will spawn a bunch of new cults or something, that’d be sick.” Monks jokes, breaking into a grin. “Like the good ones, not those bad ones.”
Heaven’s anthemic opener “I Feel Free” is a powerful reintroduction to Monks, Ball, Tony, and Reinhartz, a warm summer wind rushing alongside eruptions of signature Dilly Dally screeching, pummeling, and distortion. “We’ll start it again / In a moment of silence,” Monks softly sings, moving from a whisper to her signature drawl to a bright head voice, one of the band’s most impressive performances yet. Its music video is just as captivating, a deeply personal metaphor of a band being pulled out of their near grave.
“What pained us the most about Sore was that people pigeonholed us as this 90s Courtney Love situation,” Monks says, describing “I Feel Free” as a noise U2 song. It expresses both a fantasy of being a bird and a metaphor for touring, asking people to let go of all their problems and fly around with her. “I’m hoping to slash all of that away with this white, pointy guitar, and hopefully start fresh and reclaim what’s Dilly Dally. I just wanna be free and do what feels right in the moment for ourselves.”
"I just wanna be free and do what feels right in the moment for ourselves." —Katie Monks
It’s a surprising and welcome new direction. “Sober Motel” starts with a familiar cloud of distortion and Reinhartz’s gut-punch drums before pulling back into a clear blue sky. “Believe” features Monks’s cathartic riff overcoming a sea of anxious noise. “Sorry Ur Mad” is a push-pull with Tony’s melodic bass at the eye of the storm. “Doom” has an extremely non-doom hook: “Remember who you are / And where you’re gonna be / What’s inside you is sacred.”
Monks is directing and starring in the music video for “I Feel Free.” Surrounded by pink eyeshadow, her blue eyes light up in excitement as she explains the concept. “The video is something that I totally had a vision for: me wearing a vintage silk, black funeral gown from the 30s, and approaching a graveyard with my bandmates buried in it, and digging them out of there along with my white Flying V.”
“As I’m trying to hang out with them, part of it is I try to put that Flying V white guitar into Liz’s hand, and I put her fingers on the instrument, and they just kind of fall away, all dead. At that moment, there’s a sharp edit to the band playing dressed in all white with haze and white studio lights, all silhouette, of Dilly Dally just performing. It’s like reincarnation at it’s best—or worst, I don’t know. If the band died and went to heaven, this is the album we would make.”
Just a few days later, Dilly Dally are on set at YouTube Space Toronto to film those hazy performances. Their manager offers earplugs, warning it might get loud. Monks is swaying to the climax of “I Feel Free” as Tony plays along on bass, backlit through the haze on an all-white backdrop as their new anthem rings out in the studio.
“Awooooo!” Monks exclaims as she claps for Tony at end of the take. She’s like a big kid in a sandbox of her own design, occasionally swiveling back and forth in an office chair. Her approach to asking for one final take is calm. “That one was supposed to be the fullest of rocking out. How do you wanna rock out? Let’s experiment.”
From cheering each other on to humming random riffs to talking about cats, Dilly Dally are in good spirits for the final hour of a music video shoot. Is this really the same band—the same friends—that nearly imploded? They’ve come a long way. Something Monks shared over beers back at The Rivoli comes to mind.
“I think the point of life is just to be in love. And I mean that in a broad sense. It’s the best feeling that I could think of. In love with music, in love with your friends, in love with that outfit you’re wearing… in love with sex… that’s the point. And anything that keeps you away from that feeling, yeah you’d better fucking confront it.”
Jill Krajewski is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.
Yuli Scheidt is a photographer based in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram.
Dilly Dally 2018 Tour Dates:
Aug 18 - Ponderosa Music Festival - Rock Creek, Canada
Sep 07 - First Avenue - Minneapolis, MN *
Sep 08 - Vic Theatre - Chicago, IL *
Sep 10 - Newport Music Hall - Columbus, OH *
Sep 11 - The Majestic Theatre - Detroit, MI *
Sep 12 - Phoenix Concert Theatre - Toronto, Canada *
Sep 14 - Paradise - Boston, MA *
Sep 15 - Terminal 5 - New York, NY *
Sep 16 - Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA *
Sep 18 - 9:30 Club - Washington, DC *
Sep 19 - Cat's Cradle - Durham, NC *
Sep 21 - Cannery Ballroom - Nashville, TN *
Sep 22 - Masquerade - Atlanta, GA *
Sep 23 - Tipitina's - New Orleans, LA *
Oct 3 - Berlin, DE - Maze Club
Oct 4 - Rotterdam, NL - V11
Oct 5 - Brussels, BE - Botanique
Oct 8 - Paris, FR - Espace B
Oct 9 - London, UK - Sebright Arms
Oct 18 - Observatory Park North - San Diego, CA *
Oct 19 - The Van Buren - Phoenix, AZ *
Oct 22 - Emo's - Austin, TX *
Oct 23 - White Oak Music Hall - Houston, TX *
Oct 24 - Canton Hall - Dallas, TX *
Oct 26 - Gothic Theatre - Denver, CO *
Oct 27 - The Depot - Salt Lake City, UT *
Oct 29 - The Vogue Theatre - Vancouver, Canada *
Oct 30 - Showbox SoDo - Seattle, WA *
Oct 31 - Crystal Ballroom - Portland, OR *
Nov 02 - Fox Theater - Oakland, CA *
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.