Dilly Dally is sitting around a big table in a popular restaurant known for its pork bone soup, where wall-mounted TV screens beam high-sensory K-Pop videos. Just off a six-week tour in support of their first album, Sore, the Toronto four-piece is in the middle of a hometown media blitz. Today they played the house of a Canadian media personality, and tomorrow they’ll headline the Horseshoe Tavern, a low-ceilinged dive bar that was immortalized in a 1998 song by Ontario alt-rockers Tragically Hip. Tonight, though, the rock band has found refuge in the neon lights, bottomless karaoke, and 24-hour restaurants that line the city’s Koreatown neighborhood.
In 2015, Toronto’s musical lingua franca, and its food options, reflect its civic identity: a place that can’t be defined by one culture. Lately, the band has been performing a version of Drake’s hometown-championing “Know Yourself,” toughening the sticky, steady hook into a screeching taunt that will make your blood hot. It's one of the more effective rap-turned-rock covers in years. When the food arrives, Dilly Dally—singer and guitarist Katie Monks, guitarist Liz Ball, bassist Jimmy Tony, and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz—tear through steaming bowls of bibimbop, small dishes of pickled banchan, and the aforementioned soup. “People are interested in Toronto because there are significant, interesting things coming out of it,” says Monks. “I think the romance for Toronto is because of the music, not the other way around.”
The city and its musical history are certainly embedded in Dilly Dally’s narrative: Monks’ older brother is in the indie band Tokyo Police Club, for one. But when childhood friends Ball and Monks moved to the city from Richmond Hill, a suburb north of the city, they had to grind amid the city’s tight-knit industrial and post-punk scene, in which Ball says they didn’t really know a lot of people. Eventually, they met other musicians, many who were part of the city’s restaurant and bar staff. Both Reinhartz and Tony considered themselves fans of Dilly Dally before they joined a couple years ago. “Katie’s voice really spoke to me and Liz’s guitar parts,” Reinhartz says of their earliest jam sessions as a quartet. “It was a really intricate dynamic that I found interesting and playful.”
The four have been together for almost two years, and they’ve played at venues all over the city, throwing their own shows when they couldn’t book others. They spent a lot of time in Chinatown, at a DIY venue called the Garage that’s run by the guys behind their current Canadian label, Buzz Records (the band is signed to Partisan Records in the States). “I thought it was the most exciting thing in the city,” explains Monks of that particular scene. “It was a lot of noise, industrial stuff, some drone. People showed up with gear I didn’t understand. It felt like there was something going on —and it was heavy.” Monks’ own music, which she describes as a “gnarly spew,” reminds some people of Hole or The Pixies, but all four members of Dilly Dally balk at the idea that their sound is nostalgic. “People call all ’90s guitar music ‘grunge,’” says Ball. Tony, the quietest in the bunch, chimes in: “It’s just an umbrella term for something that doesn’t exist.”
Dilly Dally's take on guitar music, though texturally abrasive, regularly feature hummable top-line melodies and huge hooks. “People think we’re a heavy band, but we’re the poppiest of all our friends,” Monks notes. Sore is a riff-heavy suite of tracks about young adult things: body curiosity and emotional lows, dream-chasing and dissolving friendships. You try to change/ And all your friends are gone away/ But Liz and Ben and Tone are here to stay, Monks heaves on “Purple Rage.” Their best loved song, “Desire,” is heady and optimistic. The lucid guitar lines and Monks’ scouring mewl—her willingness to be ugly in service of beauty—is refreshing. It's what some old heads find wistful, and what younger fans yearn for. Either way, their sludgy sound is reverberating far beyond Toronto's borders. “It’s fun to play this role in pop culture of spewing on the table and then walking away,” Monks says, less than a day from performing in front of her band's biggest hometown crowd yet. “I think people are paying attention to a record I put my whole self into.”