The opening notes of Sore hit like a swarm of honeybees. White noise surges, whipping electric as Katie Monks counts it off: “One, two, three, four.” Three parts venom, one part sweet. Dilly Dally works like this: heavy meets light, sharp tempers soft. Across eleven succinct tracks, their debut album whittles light and dark into a seething mass of punk-pop. The Toronto quartet’s bright hooks bleed directly into combustible, guttural screams from Monks. There’s no attempt to sand off the edges or tone down the heaviness. Still, Sore is a post-punk record spiked with a heady dose of pop inclinations, and that’s exactly how the two women who founded Dilly Dally want it to stay.
After bonding as high schoolers in Toronto, Liz Ball and Monks found solace in mutual rebellion and their stubborn, self-taught musical sensibilities. The duo spent nearly six years sharpening their twilight grunge-pop into a weapon, and Dilly Dally’s first full-length has drawn blood. The band really came together in the last year and a half, when their lineup finalized with Benjamin Reinhartz settling in as percussionist and Jimmy Tony taking over on bass. Out this October via Partisan Records, Sore refocuses the conversation about rock as a genre that has lagged in recent years.
Once king, rock has dwindled from reigning arbiter of authenticity into something that is often, at best, a pale approximation of the past. Especially when pitted against the wily innovation of hip-hop, or the clamorous critical acceptance of pop’s gleaming depths, guitar-based music rang hollow. Like the rest of the world, however, rock has a woman problem. It would be reductionist to call Ball and Monks the solution, but Sore is one hell of a rejoinder.
On fever-pitched “Purple Rage” anger blooms into a desire for growth. “Snake Head” drenches Medusa’s stone-cold murder gaze in menstrual blood. Or there’s “Desire,” the twitching, downed power line opener that pulses unapologetically with lust. By the time they hit the album’s closer, a molten, shivery ballad called “Burned By The Cold,” Sore is an apt emotional description. There’s catharsis here too, and that emotional release is one of the main musical priorities for Monks and Ball. We talked yesterday in the noisy if elegant lobby of the Ace Hotel, a venue that offered suitable parallel to their personal style. Read our conversation below.
For a long time I got very sick of rock and thought it was boring. This year especially though, rock seemed interesting and it was mostly because of women. There’s so much stuff that women go through that gets silenced and it seems like one area where women can be loud, powerful and aggressive. In general though, women are socialized to be accommodating but your music isn’t like that at all. Did you always feel the freedom to be angry and aggressive?
Monks: If nothing gets in the way of it, every girl growing up is able to express that part of themselves freely. I realized recently that guys don’’t get called bossy when they’re little kids. And girls are constantly being scolded: ‘That girl’s too bossy.’ For whatever reason in the environment we grew up in, we were able to embrace these things. I guess that’s how we bonded. We were trying to not be accommodating all the time, and we would rebel together in our own cute ways. In terms of music, I was never comfortable jamming or learning to make music with a guy. I was always really intimidated by how quickly guys able to pick up gadgets, use them really easily, and feel really confident around each other and stuff. So I thought it was cool that Liz and I were both girls and we learned how to jam together.
Ball: It’s comfortable for us to make frustrating music. I’m naturally a frustrated person. It’s definitely a translation of who we are as people, because we do use our music for therapeutic reasons. If it comes at all raw, that’s what we’re feeling and what we need to get out. It’s natural.
It’s natural, but I think it’s something that’s often stifled in women.
Monks: It totally has been. I think it’s hard for us to gauge how to talk about it because it’s so normal for us, it’s so ingrained in us to be like this. Maybe if we didn’t meet each other and the other awesome girls we grew up with. We always encouraged one another to be ridiculous, to be real and be honest. Maybe if we didn’t have that, things would be different. But it’s so natural for us. I don’t know why, or what cultural setting–or lack thereof–made it happen.
On a more visceral level though, you’re addressing these themes lyrically. That’s one of the things that sets you apart. You’re referencing Medusa on “Snake Head,” singing there’s “snakes coming out of my head and blood between my legs.” It’s still pretty aggressive to be talking about periods like that–in a good way. I think it needs to be done. There’s such a shift in music and larger culture right now when it comes to the way we treat women. I feel like that’s a huge part of what’s resonating with Sore.
Monks: I think that’s awesome. Really, despite my own personal beliefs, we’re trying to make music that is empowering for everyone to listen to, and that’s inspiring for everybody. The message is that you can be yourself and that’s beautiful. If it’s a man who wants to be feminine, or a bro who wants to bro down with us because we’re cool and badass, or a girl who wants to be an asshole some days–whatever it fucking is. We want to inspire everybody and reach everybody. That’s despite the fact that I myself am super fucking feminist and have a million things to say about it. But in terms of this band, we were really just trying to make a rock album. A record that’s relevant for everybody. But I appreciate that. And it means so much to me when there’s young girls at our shows who are like ‘I cried the first time I heard ‘Desire.”
Ball: We didn’t go into it thinking: ‘This is a feminist album.’ And I’ve had guys come up to me and say the same thing about ‘Desire.’ So it’s obviously resonating really deeply for both sexes. Which is the goal, and which is quite feminist I guess.
Monks: As you were saying, a lot of these other rock bands with white dudes fronting them aren’t relevant anymore. I think a lot of it is even just on a music level. On a vocal level, I think there’s so much unexplored territory. Especially with my voice, I think a lot of time women sing very softly and beautiful and angelic–and while I do enjoy exploring that part of my voice too, it’s very fun–what excites me so much is when I picture a noise or imagine a noise in my head, something that I feel. Or even a lyric, something about Medusa and relating that to being on your period. There’s a lot of unexplored territory. Because women have come such a long way since the 70s or other eras of rock, there is something to be brought to the table musically now. I think it’s fucking exciting.
There’s some new room for anger. Like for anger that doesn’t also offer resolution — especially for women. When I first heard “Purple Rage,” I hadn’t heard a song sung by a woman in forever that’s just like yeah ‘I’m fucking pissed I’m angry.’ Or, a lot of songs that have that emotion in them then express some sort of resolution, whether it’s musical or lyrical. And it doesn’t have that. It just burns and rages through.
Monks: I think anger is a really healthy emotion to have. My favorite way to describe it is as the rejection of sadness. I’m not going to mull over this for days and weep and moan about it. It’s more like ‘Fuck that person, I want them out of my life. Fuck you.’ And it’s empowering, it’s great to not to carry everyone else’s burden all the time. There’s a lot of power in rejecting sadness. I think there’s a lot of power in that.
One of the other songs that seemed to have a lot of power was “The Touch.” That was the other one I connected to early on. I felt two ways about it, like in one way it is addressing how women are portrayed as these sites of healing and redemption. But then, I wasn’t quite sure if there was some sarcasm there.
Monks: A lot of times people think I’m being sarcastic when I’m not. My intention behind that song was just me being romantic about the healing powers of women. It’s inspired by our maternal instincts, or an older lady who is a therapist of mine who does gestalt therapy (which is a feeling-based therapy), through this girl I was seeing who is into Reiki and all this spiritual shit that I don’t understand and have time for. It was literally me being romantic about that. The song is about me reaching out to a friend who was feeling suicidal, and feeling like I wanted to pull out every healing power inside me to help him. Then I thought about all these other women in my life who are really amazing with that. I suppose the sarcasm comes at the end of the chorus, when it kind of transforms, like that sugar-coated healing moment transforms back into this weird growl and this weird panting. It suggests those healing powers can only take you so far. At the end of the day, nobody can really save anybody else. You have to save yourself. That’s the process, and it is bittersweetness.
11/18 Montreal, QC @ Piccolo Rialto
11/27 Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
01/07 London, UK @ Victoria
01/09 Berlin, Germany @ Rosi’s
01/10 Copenhagen, Denmark @ Ideal Bar
01/11 Hamburg, Germany @ Molotow
01/12 Munich, Germany @ Milla
01/13 Basel, Switzerland @Hirscheneck
01/15 Amsterdam, Netherlands @ De Nieuwe Anita
01/17 Antwerp, Belgium @ Trix
01/18 Liege, Belgium @ La Zone
01/19 Paris, France @ Mecanique Ondulatoire
01/22 Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
01/23 Manchester, UK @ Castle Hotel
01/24 Glasgow, UK @ Broadcast
01/25 Birmingham, UK @ Hare and Hounds
01/26 Bristol, UK @ Louisiana
01/27 Brighton, UK @ Green Door Store
01/28 London, UK @ The Lexington
01/29 Aldershot, UK @ West End Centre
Follow Caitlin White on twitter @harmonicait