The Juno Awards celebrated Canadian music in Ottawa earlier this month as part of Canada's 150th anniversary as a nation. Artists big and small from a variety of genres were honoured in what was truly a celebration of the country's finest musical talents, with icons and newcomers alike looking to carry the Canadian music torch coming away with awards.
The award for Breakthrough Group of the Year went to boisterous Hamilton, Ontario trio the Dirty Nil, whose debut LP Higher Power saw release in February 2016 through Dine Alone Records. As young as they may appear next to veterans like Leonard Cohen, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Luke Bentham, drummer Kyle Fisher and bassist Dave Nardi (who is no longer with the band) first came together over a decade ago, in 2006. From there, a series of cassette and seven-inch releases (including one for legendary punk label Fat Wreck Chords) brought their ferocious blend of punk and garage rock to rest of the country.
Now that the hardware has been handed out to the three-piece, discover four things that primed the Dirty Nil to become the Breakthrough Group of the Year at the 2017 Juno Awards, below.
1. Studying the Greats
As the band told Exclaim! last year, their days in Hamilton consisted of taking in classic records from the Stooges, Led Zeppelin, Dinosaur Jr. and early Weezer and Metallica. A particular record that the Dirty Nil owe much of their sonic foundation to is the Who's Live at Leeds, the English group's first live record, which has been dubbed by many critics as the best live recording in rock history.
"It's the benchmark for how tight a live band can be… It's just unbelievable, the sound on that record," Bentham said. "I hate every studio recording by the Who prior to that. It's just so lifeless. The gulf between what they were doing in their live shows and what they did in the studio is, to me, just a tragedy… That's the Who that I love — that live, ferocious sound."
2. Taking Criticism in Stride
Criticism is a constant when it comes to being in a band, no matter what level of the rock'n'roll ranks you're at. But if you believe in the music you're making, it's easy to shake the haters off. As the band told Music She Blogged in 2014, one of the meanest things someone told them after a show was that they sounded like Thornley, while another instance saw a musician they beat in a battle of the bands competition tell them, "You guys are good and all, but let's be honest, we were robbed!"
"We played a show with Sparta, which was a big deal for us 'cause it's Jim Ward from At the Drive-In," Nardi told the blog. "We talked to Jim after the show and he kind of looked at us all, nodded, and was just like 'Well, good song, keep it up.'" Bentham added that Ward had "his hands in his pockets, looking at the ground."
3. Learning to Own the Live Stage
Recognized for their unbridled energy onstage, the trio realized the importance of being a good live band early on, having spent hours watching old performance footage of sets from the Who and MC5.
"Even just from an enjoyment standpoint, I enjoy being much more physical with the instrument and risking looking like an idiot by falling than playing it safe and hitting all the notes," Bentham told Ottawa Life magazine last month. "We're a three-piece band, so if we have any hope of filling a space visually, we've got to support it with our movements and make a show of it. It was important for us to be engaging as a live band, and the live tricks have evolved. We love bands like KISS and the Flaming Lips, so that's always a fun topic of conversation to keep it as a release for us and the crowd."
4. Embracing the Touring Lifestyle
Hopping in a van and hitting the road with your band is an excellent way not only to see the country, but to provide you with special experiences that only tour life can. As Bentham told Chart Attack about an east coast trek in 2011, "We had this dream of going out to the eastern edge of Canada and shaving these awful beards that we had accumulated over the course of our two-week tour."
"We got to the coast, and we pulled my parents' Dodge Caravan into a parking lot next to the ocean and turned on the stereo really loud," he continued. "Against the advice of the locals we ran into the water and got very, very, very cold. We got back to the van and realized that the battery had died because we were blasting the stereo the whole time. So we were sitting there freezing our asses off for hours waiting for CAA to come."