Luke Bentham was taking painting lessons in a community center when inspiration struck for the new Dirty Nil LP, Fuck Art.
“There’s this old man sitting at the back of the class, and he’s such a whiny asshole,” the singer-guitarist tells SPIN. “He keeps putting his hand up, and he’s like, ‘Um, my bushes don’t look like your bushes.’ And the teacher’s like, ‘OK, well, don’t worry, Mr. Gallagher. Take your time; you’re just learning.’”
After several rounds of bellyaching, an exasperated Mr. Gallagher threw his paintbrush on the table and muttered, “Fuck art.”
The story had Bentham’s bandmates — drummer Kyle Fisher and bassist Ross Miller — in stitches. But once the laughter subsided, they knew they’d found the title of their third studio album, which follows 2016’s Higher Power and 2018’s Master Volume. “It sounds nihilistic when you look at it on paper, but to me, it’s a very celebratory, jubilant title,” says the 30-year-old Bentham. “It’s like, nothing really matters, man, so don’t try and be cool. Just be you. Don’t worry about the cool kids. They’re a bunch of assholes.”
That’s fitting advice from the Dundas, Ontario power trio, who have spent over a decade perfecting a defiantly unhip blend of arena rock histrionics, Bay Area thrash brutality and the fuck-all humor and recklessness of DIY punk. Fuck Art continues this tradition with its bottomless supply of beefy riffs, sky-high hooks and shamelessly extravagant guitar solos, all engineered to explode from Camaro speakers by alt-rock super-producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney).
“Doom Boy” and “Ride or Die” tread familiar Van-Halen-by-way-of-Slayer territory; “Elvis ‘77” incorporates a weeping, “Layla”-esque slide guitar solo; and “Blunt Force Concussion” and “Hello Jealousy” evoke jangly ‘90s alt-rock. (The latter seems like an obvious homage to the Gin Blossoms’ mega-hit “Hey Jealousy,” but Bentham confesses he couldn’t name one of their songs.)
Wearing influences on their sleeves has taken the Dirty Nil a long way since the summer of 2006, when Bentham and Fisher started banging out Black Sabbath riffs in Bentham’s parents’ basement. In 2017 alone, they won the Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year, supported fellow Ontario punks Billy Talent on a Canadian arena tour and opened for the Who at Festival d’été de Québec, playing to a crowd of 50,000. The Dirty Nil have taken cues from the British rock legends’ raucous stage presence, as evidenced by Miller’s frequent high kicks and Bentham hitting his knees to shred solos on an assortment of Gibson Les Pauls.
These are the classic rock elements the Dirty Nil want to preserve — but they admit it’s time to ditch some of the genre’s less savory conventions. “The riffage is undeniable, but some of the lyrics are questionable,” Bentham says. That’s why, when the band records its Pantera-fied version of Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle,” the singer plans to revamp some of its “super sexist and bullshit” lyrics to make them funnier and more palatable. “We like to take songs that are kind of sacred and fuck them up to see what people will think,” he says. “If you’re not gonna ruin a song somewhat then what’s the point in covering it?”
Fans hoping to see the Dirty Nil slaughter classic rock’s sacred cows onstage this year had to settle for the recent Dancing 2 Thrash livestream tour, which found the band ripping virtual club gigs across North America via green-screen technology. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has devastated independent music venues and road warriors like the Dirty Nil, who finished tracking Fuck Art’s guitars by the skin of their teeth just before Canada closed its borders and forced Goodmanson to fly back to his native Seattle.
Bentham briefly acknowledges this pervasive anxiety, along with 2020’s social and political upheaval, on Fuck Art’s winking, mid-tempo closer “One More and the Bill.” “I’ve got a lot of things to drink about, dream about and run away from,” he declares before vowing, “Gonna smash my TV, smash my phone / Leave politics alone / Go outside for a while.”
The song was inspired by a drinking buddy of Bentham’s dad, a judge who used to get plastered with his legal cohorts every Friday night and end his romps by ordering “one more [pitcher] and the bill.” It’s the singer’s way of saying: Yeah, everything sucks and the world is on fire, so you might as well indulge in a little well-earned hedonism by cranking your favorite tunes, tossing back a few cold ones and logging off social media for the night.
“I know so many people whose mental health problems really stem from paying too much attention to the internet and battling people on Twitter,” Bentham says. “And, you know, I think part of our intention with our music is to remind people that there is a world outside, that we all get one silly little life, and you might as well enjoy it and spend as little of it in fear as possible.”