The Sound And The Fury Of Dilly Dally, Toronto's Snarling Darlings
Originally published on Slant.
When Katie Monks first met Liz Ball, little did she know it would set into motion a musical partnership that would take them around the world as Dilly Dally.
"We started a band because we believed in ourselves," says Monks, "and we believed in music — almost like it was a religion."
The music of Dilly Dally is fuzzy, messy guitar rock driven by Monks' coarse holler and plaintive, raw lyricism. It's a punch to the gut that'll leave you amped, but also a little bit stoned.
Ahead of a string of SXSW shows, I had the chance to talk with Monks about the benefits of complaining, discovering Future, and the most fun thing you can do with stolen Christmas lights.
SD: Is it ever weird talking about yourself, or talking about your music to people who don’t really know anything about you?
KM: No, not for me. It’s really easy for me to talk about myself because I do a lot and talk about my music especially because it’s the most comfortable thing for me to talk about it. I know it more than anything, so it’s awesome. It’s great. It’s not like you’re talking to me about spaceships too much. You know, I know the basics of spaceships, like what they do and who they can kill, but I don’t really understand some of the science behind it probably because it’s not even real.
SD: What you got you into music in the first place? When did you start playing music? When did you start writing music?
KM: I first started writing music on guitars that was I guess when I was like 14, as soon as I learned how to play guitar. That’s what’s cool about that instrument. It kind of has this vibe that anyone can write a song on it. Anyone can write a song on guitar. You don’t have to be a genius. So I guess that’s why it felt comfortable.
SD: Why did you pick guitar out of any instrument? What drew you to that instrument in the first place?
KM: Because it was the closest to me. Physically, literally. It was closest by and my brother played, so I just picked it up, too.
SD: How did you first meet [bandmate] Liz [Ball]? What's your relationship like?
KM: I met her in science class and we used to just goof around and get in trouble together in like a pretty playful way. I guess that’s how we met. I’ve had a lot of best friends in my life, but Liz, we kind of became sisters in a lot of ways. We have each other’s back more than anyone I know.
SD: How would you say that you guys complement one another?
KM: Because we’re opposites. Liz is pretty quiet and serious, I shouldn’t say serious, that’s not true. I don’t know we’re pretty opposite like she’s introverted and I’m extroverted more and I’m like naive about the stuff that she isn’t and the other way around. We just had different life experiences, we had very different growing up, we both have wisdom in totally different ways.
SD: How would you say your childhood influences your art and your music?
KM: I don’t know how to answer that. I feel like more than anything, the reason why Liz and I are good at making music together is just because we’ve had a lot of the same experiences growing up, like when we were teenagers. I guess what I was saying is like when we were kids, and our families and all that shit, that’s very different.
We’ve been best friends since we were 14 so then that’s 12 years. I’m 26 now. That’s why it’s really easy to make music together because we have a lot of the same influences and we’ve always really trusted each other as artists, as music fans and everything. Even just in this world, like that person’s really fucking cool you should hang with them more, whatever it is. You should really try a dope restaurant, all this stuff and then you should really listen to that record, and whatever. We just trust each other and look up to each other in different ways.
SD: What are some of those records that influenced you early on?
KM: It’s always been changing, so I get a little put off sometimes when I read about the things Liz and I listened to in high school in relation to the band.
I feel like we were both around each other during the time in our lives when we got more into less-mainstream stuff. So we were really into music that was less accessible, music that was really DIY, music that was local. We were around each other that same time. I guess the Internet was a thing, too. It was like 2004, 2005 and we would just make each other mixed CDs.
But we liked Liars and The Unicorns, and we liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Death From Above. Just whatever was happening at that time that seemed interesting. But then we also loved The Strokes and shit like Radiohead. We grew up in the suburbs so everyone thought we were really weird for liking these things, which I think we liked especially because we’re girls. It seemed like it was really weird for girls in the town we grew up to be really nerdy about music. I guess that was it.
We just went around and write lyrics on things and fuck shit up in like a funny way, like with toilet paper and eggs. You know what’s cool? if you take Christmas lights off someone’s front of their house, you take one Christmas light you screw it off and you throw it really hard on the ground it makes like a big gunshot sound. It was pretty boring where we grew up, so we used to really love the idea of chaos and something messy and breaking the rules and all that shit. Everything that being a teenager is all about I guess. In retrospect, looking back, we lived in a pretty safe neighborhood.
SD: Where does the name Dilly Dally come from?
KM: I think I wrote it in a journal entry when I was like 20, maybe, and then I was just, oh it looks cool written down. I think I was just probably writing about when you tell people what are you doing right now with your life and then you say music. And they think it’s just a waste of time and that you’re stupid. I thought it’d be a funny name to go to the top with. It’s kind of cheeky.
SD: I saw that you worked with Leon [Teheny] and Josh [Korody] on 'Sore.' What was that experience like and what did they bring to that record?
KM: Those guys were our friends. We worked with them before, recorded with them before, so it just felt natural. They’d been coming to all of our shows and they were just really passionate about the band. Leon just built a new studio and we loved them. It kind of felt important. At the time, it felt like they were older brothers. Now it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like they’re our same-age brothers. They recorded the record and produced it, and then it was mixed by this guy Rob. I went out to LA to his pretty modest studio and chilled out there for a few weeks and worked on the mixes with him.
SD: What was the inspiration behind your cover of Drake's "Know Yourself?" Obviously there’s the Toronto link, but why did you guys pick that song in particular?
KM: It’s so fun to play live. We just wanted to do a cover for CMJ and for that whole tour because covers are fun. We were going to do Kendrick and I just kept procrastinating on it because it’s so hard to remember all those lyrics and he’s so good at rapping. The Drake cover just seemed a lot less daunting. It was Liz’s idea to do it. I think we just do we wanted to — we listen to so much mainstream rap. Rap is just like the most exciting genre right now I think. There’s so much stuff happening all the time.
SD: What else do you guys listen to in terms of hip-hop? You said Kendrick and Drake, but do you listen to a lot of hip-hop?
KM: Actually I’m just delving into Future right now, not that he raps all the time. He kind of just says stuff, which I think is cool. The way his lyrics kind of unfold. It has more weight sometimes, I think. How he just says one line and then says another line. There’s a few rap albums that I listen to a lot. I guess Danny Brown was a big deal for us. Whatever's the latest, freshest.
SD: Tell me about the scene you came up in specifically. For someone who’s not that familiar with it, what’s it like?
KM: I think it’s always changing. I feel like this scene that I was most loyal to is kind of falling apart now. All the bands are either blowing up or breaking up. Right now, what’s happening is there’s a lot of really cool music, and a lot of people in different bands collaborating, doing these one-off shows in like gallery spaces and just messing around with gear. I think everyone here is going through a transition. It feels like a lot of the scene that I was more involved with, like Buzz Records and even other smaller labels in Toronto like Hand Drawn Dracula and Telephone Explosion. I feel like a lot of the bands are moving away from this heavy guitar thing into like an electronic-punk-industrial kind of thing. I feel like everyone is going through a transition. I even feel like I’m at the crossroads and I’m not sure where to go.
I feel creatively so strange going out and my mind being completely blown at these little shows that I’m going to. Like playing drums that have pads with different sounds in them and then playing with synths and modulations and just like weird pedals and stuff. Just bringing their laptop on stage and just like tripping over a bunch of cables. That to me is the most exciting because that’s new. Sore is record that came out of a time where I was first really thrown into — and so was Liz — a world in Toronto that was full of really aggressive guitar music that was like sludgy, grungy, stuff. And that was really exciting. I think everyone is just excited to keep moving forward though. It’s good because it came out of a very genuine place.
SD: Feeling like you’re taking a risk when you’re going to the studio, or going out somewhere and you’re playing something that you’re not 100 percent sure everyone is going to dig, is way more exciting than universal acclaim and everyone patting you on the back.
KM: Yeah, for real. It’s also just more about the song anyway. As long as the song is genuine, then you can present it in a different style like that’s cool because no one is doing that now. It feels like unexplored territory and it’s more fun to go into the studio and play around with new toys.
SD: I feel like musicians don’t get into it to find the formula or the secret sauce that makes music great. It’s more of an exploratory process and learning about it by doing it. What would you say is the hardest part about being a professional musician?
KM: That whenever you want to complain, people are like, "Fuck you." I love complaining so much. It’s so healthy to complain sometimes, to just be like, "Oh, I’m so tired," or, "Oh my God that person was so mean," or like, "Oh my God, I’m so stressed out, I have a million things to do." I want to be able to say those things and people be like, "Oh, damn girl, that sucks."
SD: It’s like, "You have the best job ever, be quiet."
KM: It’s just hard for me to keep my feelings in. If I’m just super fucking happy, sometimes I’ll be like, "Oh my God, this is amazing," and everyone’s like, "Oh my God, shut up." I think that everyone, I probably mean I’m like trying to imagine all my other friends in band in Toronto who have a different way than I am. They’re just kind of like, "You should count your lucky stars."
But what I can promise you and everyone is that I definitely fucking do count my lucky stars everyday. I’m so fucking stoked at this opportunity and I just don’t want it to slip out of my hands. That’s why I’m focused, that’s why I stress out sometimes. That's it. All the things that I’m stressed out about and all the pressure is fucking awesome. Like, I wouldn’t want to be stressed out about anything else.
SD: That’s so cool to hear. I’m talking to people from all different genres, different perspectives going to SXSW.
KM: I’ve never been to SXSW. I’m excited. A bunch of basically friends — now I’m excited to just fucking make some new friends. That’s also the best part about all this shit is just meeting cool people from other weird places.
SD: It’s probably people that you would never meet otherwise.
KM: I know. It’s the best part.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Cover photo: David Waldman