Words & Photos by Scott Murry
In A Day in the Life, we spend some time pre-show with a band to learn about their routines. Aside from the climactic time on stage and travel – what inspires them and what do they get into during the down time?
The Dirty Nil has been a band since 2006, chipping out singles and EPs across labels along the way. They channel a Chuck Berry tempo, seducing the rhythm with ample amounts of distortion. Their explosive debut Higher Power hit just last year on Dine Alone Records/Fat Wreck Chords. Yet 2017 has been the year to breakthrough—even the prestigious JUNO Awards recognized this, declaring Nil the “Breakthrough Group of the Year.” Piecing together multiple tours across the year, their nationwide tour with Against Me! and Bleached wrapped up at Gainesville, Florida’s FEST. Just prior to that, we spent an afternoon with them during a two-day stint in Boston, MA.
We met at local guitar haven, Mr. Music. They were on time … early even! I knew I liked them already. Mr. Music is a deceivingly small storefront that sprawls to multiple rooms full of incredible gear and custom guitars. A self-confessed guitar snob, lead vocalist Luke Bentham wasted no time in finding a six-stringed mistress. Laying down some bluesy oldies and slick moves across the fret board, he quickly fell in love with a sunburst Gibson Les Paul. Their long time buddy Ross Miller (who joined on bass earlier this summer) noodled with a mix of guitars nearby. Luke hopped into some 80s hammer-ons for a laugh. “I wasn’t born for speed, I was born for stranglin’ notes,” he said with a menacing brow as he slid back up the neck of the Gibson custom. The smooth stylings of Muddy Waters are more fitting than the machismo cod-piece concoctions of Warrant.
As the drummer, there weren’t as many options to play around with here for Kyle Fisher. Luke remarked that Kyle is a good sport—It sounds like he spends a lot of time in these types of shops for his band mates to get their gear fix. Instead, Kyle and I wandered around the store in search of a good photo op. He loves a good ukelele, but also the shop had a novelty size pair of drumsticks (photo gallery inset). Check! We talked about the summer highlights, which included a recent television debut on Last Call with Carson Daly, and the thrill of opening the stage for The Who at the Festival d’été de Québec. It was also Luke’s birthday. And winning the JUNO award? That was a completely unexpected, surreal moment for the band (author note: but well deserved).
We return to the band by the custom guitars as Luke is being handed an $11,000 Gibson. Holding the vintage that dates back to shortly after World War II, he spouted more facts and knowledge about the guitar than my writing hand could keep up with. When he says he’s a “gear dude,” it’s no joke. He lit up like giddy child hugging a puppy every time a new guitar landed in his palms. “If you lose your gear dreams you might as well die. I think any dreams not including gear are worthless,” he scoffed with a smirk. Kissing and wafting in the aroma of the antique instrument like a fine wine, it looked like he was ready to buy. Perhaps Fat Mike of Fat Wreck Chords will pick up the tab? We decide to leave for coffee instead.
En route, they tell me about the travels they’ve been thrilled to take as a band. In these situations, you’re potentially staying in cramped spaces or on friend’s couches sometimes, but you see the world with your pals. Amsterdam was a standout favorite, and not for the vices the city is known for. Detailing the urban planning beauty and ease of transport (the most bike-friendly in the world), Ross has me convinced to book a ticket. Kyle brings up the people you meet and shows me a tattoo from renowned artist Sean Williams, a.k.a. seanfromtexas. Completed on a whim, he looks back on it with a laugh somewhere between pride and regret. The design on his left bicep shows a fella with his arm freshly severed and the phrase, “everything sucks.” It’s a darkly humorous gem that reminds him of a fun time on tour.
Spotting the band, two fans ran across the street to us, a girl excitedly pointing out that Luke was on her t-shirt. The design of Luke kicking the air in coordination with blowing a massive bubble gum bubble is iconic to their stage show. She professed her love for them, and then strangely, a deeper love for fellow Canadian Fat Wreck Chords alumni, the Flatliners. She gushed about each Flatliner, and circled back to complementing the Nil set of the first Boston night. The band politely answered all her questions and she smiled ear to ear as Luke offered up a couple of his guitar picks. I asked if these interactions were odd, but they all agreed that it’s inspiring and flattering when people love their music so deeply.
As we reach the coffee shop, I expected extensive rituals of tea and honey for Luke. He’s known for a throat of gritty howl, which has gotta be strenuous. Asking about any preservation routine he replied, “I sing ‘In dreams’ by Roy Orbison before every show and drink plenty of water.” I wonder whether or not this is a joke, he’s a sarcastic fella. Perhaps seeing my mind churning, he follows up, “I’m not finicky about my voice.” He downed a cappuccino as Kyle poured milk into his coffee. Unfortunately, it was curdled. Look for the photo below in the gallery, you’ll rarely see a man so perplexed by coffee caught on film. Can you blame the man? He gave it a few swirls and drank it anyway, like a true road warrior.
From here the band took independent time. His mind always on guitars, Luke went to sound check a borrowed black Gibson, and Ross hunted Goodwill for hot yoga shorts. Kyle and I dipped into the best hoarder/record store in Boston: In Your Ear. Swapping influences, his first show was Good Charlotte, and first cd was Smash Mouth. Both surprise me a bit, but hey—when we’re young, our firsts aren’t always informed. Digging through the vinyl stacks, a cardinal van rule emerges, “it’s fun to look, but it has be pretty good to buy. This is the road, you’ve gotta stay light.”
The band all reconvene in the green room they’re sharing with Bleached. Their rider for each show is reasonable and healthy. Ross digs peach flavored La Croix. There are avocados and pomegranates for Luke. It was a carnal sight watching him gnosh into the avocado bare. He carved off the skin and spoke of it lovingly, “this is how I know I’ve made it, when I can get an avocado at a show.” Comparing it to the texture of a coconut, he enjoyed the fruit as deeply as a vamp finding a fresh artery. Mushy, buttery avocado is out, and we debated when they’re in bloom.
Ross questioned Nirvana, “You think that’s what ‘In Bloom’ is about? Avocados?” But Luke shot it down immediately, “I’m confident Kurt Cobain never ate an avocado in his years.” Even if he and Cobain don’t share an avocado love, there’s evident influence on the Nil’s soft-loud game from Nirvana.
At this point in our day, I was comfortable telling them about coworkers being disgusted by their loud, abrasive sound. This unsettling news bounced right off their kind Canadian armor, knowing that their music can’t be for everyone. This was evident in their first show planned Boston show at a burger joint with a basement bar. It was cancelled mid-lineup as the sweating manager felt the loud openers were distressing the casual burger eaters. The Nil didn’t get to play, but they still got paid and enjoyed some choice burgers. The car ride to play was long, but as hardships and tough experiences go in a band, it could’ve been worse. I followed up with the sad truth that my coworkers prefer Dave Matthews Band in bulk. This fact interjected to the conversation helped make sense of everything. We all felt a little sick and proceeded to rank Phish, DMB and Grateful Dead in order of terribleness.
With show time creeping closer, they plugged in and went through a sound check. After a raucous two songs, they were excited to play. “This is one of the best days ever,” Luke exclaimed recollecting his guitar dabbling. Between the Gibsons at Mr. Music and borrowing Brad Clifford’s black Gibson for a song, his genuine love for playing was evident in this moment. The venue sound was on point, most levels saved and modified to perfection from the previous night.
I’d only known them for a couple of hours, but I welled up with pride as show time came. When they hit the stage, it’s a dynamic sonic burst complete with showmanship and bubblegum. The songs blister into your brain with hooky, big bopper notes. They come alive, full of passion to play music together—and they’re really fucking good at it. There had been other guitars in the day, but Luke kissed his white Gibson and confessed that all the others meant nothing. The Dirty Nil are indeed gear obsessed and it relates back to how they all play so intently.