There’s a sense of nervy anticipation hovering around Katie Monks today. She's sipping ice tea, trying to keep cool in the in sweltering summer. Her pale blue eyes are watchful, her hair is bobbed and blunt and bleached a crisp white. The next evening, Dilly Dally will play their first show in 10 months, opening for Julian Casablancas’s band The Voidz at Elsewhere in Brooklyn. Funnily enough, The Strokes were one of the groups she and guitarist Liz Bell first bonded over, making the trek from Toronto to New York City to see the band when they were still teens. Now 29, Katie is mildly apprehensive about meeting a hero, but mostly she’s excited to perform Dilly Dally’s new songs. “I know in those moments when we’re onstage and it’s all clicking, that’s when I’m living my dream and all those frustrations on the road, they won’t matter,” she says in her measured drawl. “I’ve had my mind dead set on that other place since February last year — how do I get there? Climbing around in the dark till I do.”
This other place which she speaks of is a place of equilibrium, a place where fractious friendships are repaired and communication comes with ease. Heaven is the quartet’s back-from-the-brink record and their sophomore LP. It’s quintessential pop-punk — songs like “Sober Motel” and “Marijuana” are doubled over with gnarly riffs and glittered with gloomy-glorious pop melodies — but it’s also an album that explores tensions, licks wounds, and attempts to make sense of emotions that shared histories can tangle into a knotty whorl. On “Believe” Katie hypnotically sings “Believe in yourself” over and over, adding “Fade out / Into a part of me / I want to know your weaknesses.” It’s a mantra intended to uplift, to provide solace. “If it wasn’t for that song," she tells me, "I don’t know how we’d be here now.”
Beautiful alchemy occurs when Liz and Katie and bassist Jimmy Tony and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz are working in tandem. The Toronto-based band’s 2015 album Sore soldered primal squalls with happy-sad hooks and loud-quiet-loud-quiet dynamics that drew favorable comparisons to the Pixies. Their songs vibrate with a powerful feminine energy, while their live shows pack a gut-kicking wallop that swelled their fanbase and garnered critical acclaim. And like any young band finally making a dent, Dilly Dally rode the wave relentlessly. But at the tail-end of 2016, after completing a month-long tour with Grouplove that spanned the lead-up to the American presidential election along with its crushing comedown, the grind was taking its toll. “We just felt this wave of depression wash over the whole country,” explains Katie. The national mood mirrored the band’s internal strife. “Whatever Dilly Dally was standing on was falling apart. We were on thin ice.”
What was going on with the band dynamics during this period?
KATIE MONKS: We were just exhausted physically and emotionally. You’re busy and stretched so thin, and you don’t have alone time or even one-on-one time with each other, to be like, "Hey, how are you doing?" It was always four of us all the time. Every band struggles with that — being in the midst of this pressure cooker tour and anything you’re dealing with internally ends up coming out in these sinister ways. I think it brought out the worst in all of us.
How did it manifest in you?
You show up in a new city every night, and there’s a bunch of new best friends waiting for you. At the very beginning, I literally said, "I can feel my ego getting bigger." In a lot of ways that was positive because I had body image issues, as any girl does, feeling like I wasn’t good enough in all these ways. I had to compensate for that with my art and then suddenly everybody loved me for me. That was really beautiful. I think any girl could use a bit of confidence, so it’s beneficial, but in terms of our relationships within the band, I wasn’t grounded.
Would they call you on it?
I forgive myself for it a lot in the sense that I was being a party girl, I was being fun! But it meant I wasn’t able to be there for my friends in the way that I want to be when I’m not on the road. Usually when I’m not on the road, I’m the person that anyone can go to with their problems, and I stopped being able to take on anyone else’s problems. I was like, no, we’re hitting the ground running right now. I was also managing the band and doing all the social media and I was sending out a lot of stressed-out vibes. Sometimes I would be selfishly not paying attention to other people’s energy.
As your profile rose, I’m curious about the effect of having other people’s perceptions of yourself and your art projected onto you.
I’ll tell you what I’ve learned: even when someone is telling you something really positive, if you internalize it too much, you’re still giving them the power, because as soon as that goes away and you’re at home alone and all the lights are off, you feel sad. I’ve certainly had friends who have experienced 10-year careers and at the end they’re not getting the same positive excitement that comes with a first record. I don’t want to have to deal with that come-down. This time I’m hoping that artist Katie and extrovert touring Katie can be one person.
“Even though there’s no money in the bank, you don’t want people to know that because every once in a while you get to take a break from that stress: you get to live in the illusion that you’ve made it.”
Once you stopped touring Sore, did you make a conscious effort to retreat?
Yeah! I left social media. Before I left Facebook I threw a party on my wall — I ordered pizza to my house and drank a bunch of Coca-Cola, smoked weed, and told everyone to leave a meme or whatever. I had to do that because a lot of my life was on social media. It felt like a video game I was really good at, but after the election it was so anxiety-inducing.
As in you became addicted to the positive feedback loop?
Oh my God, a “like” is like a coin in Mario. It was a video game and I was winning. That was something else that made me feel not grounded because you’re living in an illusion, and that’s exactly what the music industry can be. Even though there’s no money in the bank, you don’t want people to know that because every once in a while you get to take a break from that stress: you get to live in the illusion that you’ve made it. [Laughs dryly.] The reality is, if I was to talk to my ultimate rock star idol, I’m sure they’d say, "It may seem that I was always at the top, but every single record I had to fight my way back up to that place."
How did meditation help during this period of retreat?
I started to help myself sleep and stop being stressed out about people who I thought might be angry with me.
Why did you think they were angry with you?
Well, I have a lot of passive aggressive people in my life.
Ugh. That’s my least favorite behavior. When friends start doing that, I’m just like, "We have to actually talk."
Yeah, but some people are really bad at confrontation and don’t have those tools. For some people, it’s simply their way of communicating, it’s their language, and unfortunately as a result I’ve had to become very fluent in it as well. I don’t know if that’s the reason. Who knows why I had trouble sleeping? I suppose from a lack of being present. I made my bedroom all white, like a blank piece of paper with purple LED Christmas lights and shit-tons of candles. I got a looping station in the hopes of being able to write more fully fleshed out ideas by myself. It was important for me to change the tools I was writing with because I wanted to explore a different feeling. I wanted to distance myself because I felt different.
So you spent six months writing in your bedroom before bringing the rest of the band back into the fold.
I needed to carve out something for myself, and that way I could say, "Hey, this is where I’m at spiritually and creatively, and I don’t have anger anymore and I’ve been working on songs that can help provide hope. Would you be able to help me do it again?"
Was there ever a real chance they wouldn’t help you do it again?
Easily, yeah. My three bandmates are fucking artists through and through, and if all of this isn’t good for their health, it’s not going to continue. If our heart wasn’t in it, we wouldn’t be doing it at all because it’s music, for crying out loud.
Were you nervous when you called them up?
I was hopeful because as tumultuous as our relationships have been I know, I fucking know we all love each other.
Over this period did Liz, Tony, and Benjamin all go on separate journeys? It wasn’t like you were off on your own and they were all hanging out?
No, no. But I mean, you know Liz and Tony are a couple.
I didn’t know that.
I don’t think we’ve ever told anyone that for whatever reason, mainly because they’re quiet people. Liz asked me the other day, "Are we too couple-y on the road?" because we were talking about some other band that were having issues with that. I said, "All I know is whenever Tony is around, you have the biggest smile on your face." It’s real! Honestly, the foundation of this band is strong, even though there was a lot of external struggles going on, or super-personal internal mental health shit from our past that creeps up in your late twenties, as it would. Like, maybe getting wasted all the time isn’t the best solution anymore! Maybe I have to confront some things. I think that’s what everybody had to do before we could step into this album wholeheartedly.
“If our heart wasn’t in it, we wouldn’t be doing it at all because it’s music, for crying out loud.”
The song “Pretty Cold” is lyrically dark even though the melody is bright. What was happening in your life when you wrote that?
I fell in love and then I felt like I was stung real bad. It was also sad because it was the end of a friendship with somebody I’d been friends with for a long time. This quintessential heartbreak feeling, when I’ve felt it in the past, in a way it’s always when I’ve felt my most beautiful. You know when there’s the break up in a romantic film, but then there’s that moment when both people are walking around by themselves, by the water, wearing a trench coat on a windy day and they have their hands in their pockets, they’re looking very thoughtful. I actually see a lot of these clips when I watch The Bachelorette. So it was like that — but with way better art direction.
At this point I was deep in the dreamworld bedroom situation, which is I think why I got so heartbroken. I got so sensitive at that time and so in love with life and happy and healed and feeling positive and truly good with myself. I dove headfirst into the affair and got smacked in the face. The way that it happened was really painful.
Are you over it now?
Hell yeah! Oh my God, I got over it so fast because I was in LA within the month making the record. And because the person felt awful and kept texting and calling.
Ah, when they realize the folly of their ways. That’s a sweet, sweet moment.
Oh yeah! They had many regrets! That’s the beauty of being a woman: having the power to almost silently make somebody feel regret that they’ve done wrong.
That’s a uniquely female power?
I think there’s a lot of feminine energy in that song. And I think because the way society is, women have to avoid being confrontational in the same way guys are able to be. Or aggressive or angry, because God forbid a woman is called a bitch. And while I used to quite literally fight and wrestle with that concept and I loved doing it so much, for this album I decided to explore those other ways in which women are able to maintain their power.
What’s another example of that on the record?
It’s too abstract.
What about “Doom”? It feels both bleak and dirge-y, but also underscored with optimism.
That’s about flying back from one of the darker European tours. When things get really dark, are you going to climb back up that hill, or just keep falling down? That song is about how it was a struggle in those moments to find hope for the future of the band, which is my baby in so many ways. It’s scary saying that — it makes me feel so vulnerable. There’s a lot of people in my life who struggle with depression and it can really get the best of them. I have that warrior mentality to just reach for someone’s hand before they fall and that’s what that song is about. In relation to that other question [about female power], this may be a maternal energy. I used to fight my maternal instincts. Like, I’m not going to take care of all of you effed up artist boys and girls, or whatever gender, and fuck gender. But my heart just can’t not care.
I find the lyrics for “Bad Biology” difficult to decipher in terms of meaning…
That song is about my frustration with my gender and my body and also my sexuality. It’s said that we fantasize about what we fear the most, sexually, and I’m forever confused about how I identify, or not identify. I’m always thrown through loop about what my sexual preferences are. That song is a celebration of the sexiness of that tension, but then also the tragedy of that tension, of how it can keep you from the people you love, or keep you from falling in love.
How does it keep you from falling in love?
Maybe not keep you from falling in love, but it can certainly make relationships very complicated.
Do you feel the need to define your sexuality or preferences?
No, but I feel sometimes like what I want sexually isn’t what I want romantically.
I get that.
And it’s sexy but complicated.
And where are you at currently?
Sexy but complicated.