COVID, Courage, and Conquering the World – An Interview with Luke Bentham of The Dirty Nil


Although they hail from the small town of Dundas, Ontario, Canadian rockers The Dirty Nil have become regular visitors and long-time lovers of the Twin Cities. And after nearly two years of not being on tour, The Dirty Nil are opening up for The Menzingers at The Lyric (Skyway) in downtown Minneapolis on Friday, October 22nd. Tickets for the show are still available HERE.

It’s safe to say there’s a true excitement for this show. Referring to Minneapolis as “the holy land”, there exists a mutual love between band and city. And Minnesota is ready for the Nil’s return.

I had the chance to catch up with Luke Bentham, lead singer and guitarist of The Dirty Nil, ahead of their upcoming show. And after our conversation, one thing became abundantly clear. COVID and time away from the road can’t stop the Dirty Nil from spreading the gospel and taking over the world

We talk about how the band navigated the pandemic, their new album Fuck Art, why St. Anger doesn’t deserve the hate it gets, as well as how good it feels to be back on tour, playing sweaty rock and roll clubs again, and eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

Full interview with Luke listed below:

Amanda: Hey Luke! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today, it’s always such a pleasure. Where are you guys in the tour right now?

Luke: Thank you for having me! We are currently at a truck stop somewhere in Pennsylvania. We’re heading towards Michigan, stopping in Ohio tonight, then we’ll make the rest of the journey tomorrow. We have a few nights in Grand Rapids then we’re heading out your way!

Amanda: It’s been awhile since you came to our neck of the woods here in the Twin Cities. The last time you guys were here was October 2019, and it’s safe to say a lot of life has happened since you last rolled through. How does it feel to be touring again? 

Luke: I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in the van and to be playing again to people. It’s something I think we’ve all missed. I haven’t actually been able to go and see many shows yet, but performing them sure is awesome. We did a lot of live streaming this past year and all that stuff sucks (laughs). So it’s just great to be back in sweaty rock and roll clubs again and feeling like we’re actually living our lives again rather than just watching them pass by. 

Amanda: Hell yeah. What are you most excited about coming back to Minnesota?

Luke: Just excited to be back in the holy land. Maybe I’ll see Paul Westerberg one of these days — I’m still holding out for that interaction. And a Mickey’s Diner plain egg omelette is on my list as well. We’re excited to return. 

Amanda: Awesome. Well, now that things are getting back to “normal” I feel like this is the question everyone can’t help but ask, how was the pandemic for you guys? You had a new album come out January 1st of this year. What was it like releasing new music and there being some uncertainty about when you would be able to tour and play the new songs live?

Luke: It definitely was a strange thing. Obviously not being able to immediately hit the road and capitalize on the album with a huge tour felt a little bit odd. But we were faced with the dilemma a lot of other bands and artists were having; whether to sit on the record or put it out and make the best of what we can. And I’m really happy that we put it out for a couple reasons. Number one would be that most of the people that I know who have sat on their records are miserable and feel like they didn’t really move forward at all. It’s really tough sitting on something that you’re proud of because you can start to second guess it. Plus, a recording is the capturing of a certain time. So sitting on a document like that feels strange. 

And I can speak about that from experience. When we made Higher Power, we sat on it for a while and it didn’t make me like it any more. So I’m glad that we put (Fuck Art) out at the height of our maximum enthusiasm. I’m also happy we put it out because it allowed us to move on to a lot of new material. I can’t really mentally get there unless the album is out and the silo is empty for me to get back in the basement with my guitar to write some more songs. We’ve worked on a lot of new music since releasing (Fuck Art) and I don’t think it would have been as fruitful if we had sat on the record. 

We did a lot of bizarre online promotional things, sold a lot of records by our standards, and people are still digging the album. So I’m happy about it. Playing these shows, people also seem to know all the words, which is awesome. So I cannot complain, I’m very happy we put the thing out. 

Amanda: Awesome, good for you guys. I know a couple of bands who went the route of sitting on their record for the past year and a half of COVID, and I think it’s really difficult to hold onto something you’re so proud of for so long figuring out how and when you’re going to release it.

Luke: Yeah, it’s funny because the album was recorded under COVID circumstances, so it felt like a natural next step to release it during COVID. It seemed like that was how the world was going to be for a while so we said “let’s do it”.

Amanda: Yeah, I think people were also definitely hungry for new music, or rather just something positive and hopeful to latch onto during a difficult time. People needed that.

Luke: Absolutely. It was a bit of a risk putting the album out on New Years Day, but I think we got a lot of extra exposure doing it that way because it’s a bit of a dead zone in terms of new releases. It was also released in a unique time when not a lot of people were putting out new music during the pandemic anyway. So we had a lot of opportunities come to us. Fortune favors the bold, at least that’s the mentality in our camp. We like to take big swings and see what happens. If we’re going to miss, we want to miss big.

Amanda: During this past year, did you pick up a new COVID/quarantine hobby?

Luke: Weed whacking. I’m pretty damn good at weed whacking. I also got into cooking. But honestly, I spent a lot of time doing what I’ve always done but haven’t had the time to do between our hectic touring cycles — and that’s play a lot of guitar and write music. That’s what gives me the most optimism and confidence about the future. 

Amanda: That’s great to hear. One of my favorite things about the new album is the animal artwork covers you guys took submissions for. That’s a unique idea, and a great way to pay homage to people’s pets. Besides your own animals, did you have any favorite covers? Or unique animals that stood out to you? 

Luke: Well, I have to say that everyone’s submissions were all beautiful, but there was one of a lizard that I remember that was really good. I really liked that one. We’re actually doing another run of those covers because we sold out of the first ones so fast. I’m excited to re-release that because people seem to dig it and I just love seeing other dogs on the cover because dogs rule. 

Amanda: Every dog deserves to have its day on a Dirty Nil album cover.

Luke: Amen to that!

Amanda: That’s great. So speaking of touring, you guys are on the bill with one of my personal favorite bands, The Menzingers. How has the tour been so far?

Luke: It’s been incredible. We played with The Menzingers four years ago in Europe and that was an amazing time, but to play with them in the States and play to their crowd is nothing short of a real treat and a really beautiful way to come back. These have been our first “real” shows back and we couldn’t ask for a better band to play with than The Menzingers. We’re having a great time with them, we get along with them really well, and we love their band. Worriers are also a great band and we enjoy hanging out with them as well. It’s just great to be on the road again spreading the gospel.

Amanda: I know what happens on the road stays on the road, but has there been a stand out moment of something wild/stressful/chaotic happening behind the scenes yet on this tour?

Luke: Certainly! We locked our keys in the van on the second day of the tour and had to wait for a tow truck driver to open up the van. He put two wedges in to get the door slightly open then he had to use an unraveled coat hanger to try and fish them out of the console. It was like watching a guy play a game at Chuck-E-Cheese. So that was very interesting. Other than that, just experiencing the wild and beautiful truck stops of America is always a source of entertainment. 

Also, I know this sounds funny, but the first moment arriving on U.S soil and eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger was one of the most beautiful moments of my year so far. We thought crossing the border was going to be hell, unsure if we had all our documents in order, but it was actually very easy to get through. So when we crossed and had that first 99c cheeseburger with an American flag waving behind us, we all felt very good. Like we were on a mission and step one was complete.

Amanda: I love that. So you mentioned it a little bit, but how does it feel to play the new songs live, and what has the crowd reaction been like so far?

Luke: It’s a dream to play them live because we’ve played them so many times in a shed for live stream shows I thought my mind was going to melt. But to play them live and connect with people reminds us of why this whole thing is beautiful. There’s of course a beauty and solitude about making music that you’re happy with and your band is happy with. But to be able to share it with people is a wonderful thing. It reminds us why we love this. It’s been a long two years since we were on the road, so I can’t tell you how beautiful it is to experience that feeling again.

Amanda: That’s great. So let’s talk about the music and message of Fuck Art for a second. You guys have kind of embraced this playful contrast to Master Volume, an album that grew your reach and fanbase pretty significantly. What in particular did you want to accomplish when you were making Fuck Art and thinking about how you were going to unleash it to the world?

Luke: There were only a few basic goals that we talked to John (Goodmanson) about to differentiate the production of Fuck Art from Master Volume. We did talk about having more of a “lush” sound and a bit more emphasis on prettier passages and John really did a great job at making the record sound prettier than Master Volume

In terms of the material, we were all listening to a lot of thrash music and I was listening to a lot of Conway Twitty and Roy Orbison. So the album is kind of a mix of thrash music and pretty ballady singing stuff. We were definitely on less of a classic rock tangent this time and more into really brutal sounding metal music and Sinatra-esque lounge music. So it just kind of naturally came out in the record. Additionally, all the touring we did behind Master Volume changed my voice a little bit — I used to have to scream to hit high notes and now I can choose to scream. I feel a little bit more comfortable in the microphone. This was the first time singing on a record where I didn’t feel terrified doing it and the first time I really had fun with it. Master Volume really made us all better musicians in the studio. 

We made Fuck Art a lot faster because of COVID and it was just a lot of fun to make, but it was a very strange process due to COVID. Our producer had to leave four days into making the record so I had to do the guitars by myself with the engineer and then they locked the whole city down so I had to do my vocals from home… so it was weird but it definitely expanded my confidence in what we do. 

Amanda: One of my favorite things about The Menzingers is their ability to capture the transitions of life and make you feel nostalgic about growing up. Of course, Dirty Nil has and will always be a ‘youthful’ band with high energy, but do you feel yourselves transitioning into being a little bit more mature as well?

Luke: Definitely! It’s funny, because some bands seem like they’re completely fearless when they’re younger. But speaking for myself, I felt more fearful when I was younger. But the older I get, the more confident and relaxed I get about what we do and feel more ambitious with our music. I’m also more cognizant of the fact that I’m going to die one day so I might as well have fun and make the best stuff that I can with my friends and keep moving forward. When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily have that mindset. The older we get, the less of a shit we have to give about what adults say. We don’t care about being told what to do at all anymore. I enjoy getting older because I experience less anxiety and fear. My only real life goal with our band is to never have anybody tell us what to do, and so far so good.

Amanda: And speaking of life’s changes, you guys have a new bassist now. Did you guys know this lineup change was coming? I’m assuming you probably had some discussion before Ross’ decision was announced.

Luke: Yes, when we were heading into our touring cycle we had a friendly series of conversations together. Of course, we’re still very good friends with Ross and we talk all the time, but Ross is an incredible musician that plays every instrument and he’s got a number of projects on the go that he wants to focus on right now. If there’s anything we understand, it’s that you gotta do what you gotta do. So that’s what he’s focusing on right now but we’re very proud of the time that we’ve played together. 

Ross has a tape label called “Weepy Eye” and he’s doing a ton of work over there. I would recommend everyone to check out his label, every single one of their releases are awesome.

Our friend Sam is joining us on tour right now, and funny enough, he’s from Dundas as well, which is where Kyle and I are from. And it’s very strange because Dundas is a very small town and Sam is six and a half years younger than us. But when Kyle, myself, and Ross had these discussions, we were getting close to touring and we had to figure out what we were going to do — possibly thinking about needing to reschedule dates. But Sam was already on our visa coming on the road with us as a tour photographer. I heard he played bass and could sing a bit, so I asked if he would be interested in playing with us and he said “fuck yeah!” We had one jam together and I thought, “Sam might be one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met.” He can do everything very naturally, he basically comes from a professional music household.

We’re having a lot of fun together so far, and that’s all I can say. He’s very talented. And there’s a special feeling — the fact that we’re all from the same little tiny village even though he’s younger than us. We all have kind of the same upbringing. There’s a strange link between us that I can’t really describe. It’s an interesting and strong connection that I’m still processing.

Amanda: I’m so happy to hear that it’s working out and going well for you guys. Now, for people who may be unfamiliar with your band, I want to ask you a few rapid fire questions so they can get to know you just a little bit better before Friday’s show. Some of them are pretty Minnesota biased. 

Luke: Fire away.

Amanda: Minneapolis or St. Paul?

Luke: Minneapolis

Amanda: Bob Dylan or Slayer?

Luke: Slayer

Amanda: Bob Mould or Bob Stinson? 

Luke: Bob Stinson 

Amanda: St. Anger or Lulu?

Luke: St. Anger, of course.

Amanda: First Avenue or 7th St. Entry?

Luke: First Avenue

Amanda: Favorite videos to shoot – Tone Tips or Let Er Riff?

Luke: Tone Tips

Amanda: Would you rather have dinner at Mickey’s Diner, or at Paul Westerberg’s house?

Luke: Paul Westerberg’s house. 

Amanda: Better tour stop: Tim Hortons or Buc-ees?

Luke: Buc-ees

Amanda: Speaking of rest stops, are you on the Sheetz or Wawa train?

Luke: I like them both. But our tour managers in the past really liked Wawa so shout out to Jordan Gauthier, I’ll pick Wawa but Sheetz is great too. They have soft serve ice cream.

Amanda: If you could spend a day with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?

Luke: Obviously, I have to go with Paul (Westerberg). I know that’s boring, but he’s my number one. My number two would be going drinking with Keith Moon. I would go on a bender night with Keith Moon.

Amanda: And finally, who would win in a drum battle: Lars Ulrich, or Kyle Fisher?

Luke: Oh, Kyle for sure. Kyle is the best drummer in the world. I mean, when it comes down to who has better fights — James and Lars or me and Kyle? That would be a hard one. That’s part of the crucial connection of both bands. Kyle and I love St. Anger and I think sometimes our lives painfully mimic moments of theirs in Some Kind of Monster. But I’m the luckiest person in the world to have a best friend like Kyle. We’ve been best friends since we were 5 years old.

Amanda: Good answers. Okay, last question. Going with the Minnesota theme, is this show going to be the show you finally bring out the Replacements cover?

Luke: I can’t confirm or deny, but we may have one cooking up.

Amanda: Alright, well we’ll be looking forward to that on Friday! Thanks again for taking the time to chat, I can’t wait to see you at The Lyric!

Luke: Absolutely, thank you. Looking forward to seeing you shortly!