By Shelby Monita on October 1st, 2015 at Phone
Formed in 1978, Montreal’s The Nils have been around the block a few times. They grew up in the punk scene, helped mold it, define it and become a staple in the Canadian punk history textbooks.
Despite their lengthy career, that doesn’t mean they’re anywhere close to slowing down. No, The Nils are still going strong. Touring, releasing new material and helping promote the punk rock ethos. Front man Carlos Soria gives us the lowdown on the band’s history, the evolution of the style that he loves and holds so dear to his heart and tells us exactly what the band has coming down the pipeline.
SM: You inspired so many bands over the years and helped define post-punk. I wanted to know, who inspired you in the early years?
CS: In the early years what got me into music, as far as punk goes was the Sex Pistols… that’s what really inspired me and the first Clash record, Stiff Little Fingers. I really liked the guitar/angry rock part of it, that’s what attracted me to it.
But mostly the Sex Pistols, there had never been a band like that, that was so against everything that had already been established. You know like break everything down and do it your way. You didn’t have to be like Jimmy Page and do 12 minute solos, if you knew 3 chords and you could put a few things together than you were in, you know?
And it wasn’t just for the cool people, the hipsters and the beautiful people. It was like the uglier the better. It was like “welcome to the party” for the outsiders, the freaks, people who had been picked on in high school and stuff like that. Which now had a platform to get up and do something.
SM: Yeah I remember hearing Iggy Pop say the same thing about starting a punk band.
CS: Yeah, there were no rules. They deconstructed everything to rebuild it. It’s a magical thing. Therefore that’s what created all these different bands at the time. Television was a certain way, Ramones was a certain way, Pere Ubu was a certain way, everybody could be a certain way but it was still under the umbrella of punk.
SM: On that, can you think of any key differences between punk in the 80s and what we have now?
CS: Well punk in the 80s and now, it’s different. I was just talking about this with my friend the other day. In my day, walking around with a Sex Pistols album under your arm and wearing a leather jacket and tight jeans, spiky hair and that was enough reason for the jocks to want to kick your arse. Where as now you don’t even think twice. Sometimes I see these mom-ladies walk out of the dressers and they have like spiked hair, but up all mom style and I think “fuck back in my day that was reason to get your arse kicked”, you know?
As far as the music goes, I mean some of it is good. I like Green Day. When I listen to certain Green Day things I like it. A lot of these newer bands, they’re good and stuff. Some of it is a bit too commercial but it’s different, It’s definitely different. It’s lost some if it’s anger and original power to be commercial. Some people have handled it better at retaining that original fire. But I think if you listen to bands like Good Charlotte and stuff like that, it’s like no good. Not no good, but you’ve lost the plot somewhere in there, you know what I mean. I rather listen to my Stiff Little Fingers album than Good Charlotte or Blink 182.
I’m not knocking those guys, obviously they’re doing something. To me personally it doesn’t have the same fire and power and anger and rage that it initially had. But then again it did bring forth a lot of good bands, so it’s like anything, there’s good and there’s bad. I guess what it did with being commercial now is it made a bigger playing field. People who didn’t get it the first time, now they got it. Made it more safe, so people who were scared maybe when they heard of people spitting on each other and stuff like that, now they see it different, you know. Mall Punk or whatever. In a sense it’s good too because it brings it to that many more people, so in our case it’s good to because the people that weren’t there back in the 80s and 90s, now they get a chance to relive it and that’s precious to them which helps us.
SM: So you don’t think that punk should be this niche market and for certain type of people? You think punk should be for the people?
CS: I think so yeah, it should be for anybody. That was the original thing with punk, it was anyone, everyone was welcome. It wasn’t like cliché like Led Zeppelin and things like that where you had to be a virtuoso and almost be from the upper class and live in a castle and have money and shit. It’s not about that. It’s for everybody, it’s accessible to anybody.
And I think it has done that.
Now you have little kids into it. I go to shows and I see little kids who have mohawks with their Dads and I like seeing that. It brings it to everybody, it’s not for the few; it’s for anybody. You’re welcome if you want to have fun and retain the original spirit of the music than the more the merrier.
SM: That’s a refreshing view on it
CS: Thank you. I believe it too, I think Kurt Cobain he made it like that. It’s just too bad the poor soul was just so tortured because he really opened up the playground.
A lot of their music, obviously it’s a tip to the hat to the old stuff. And when I hear bands like Green Day or Blink 182, Bad Religion, whoever it’s all nods to old bands like the Buzzcocks and stuff like that. Obviously their influences are there but it’s done respectfully, it’s good. And that’s what is happening now more at shows we have our old fans, people who are a bit older who come and are amazed we pulled through all the stuff we had to go through and now they get to see it.
A review from the Pop Montreal show we just did said “wow they didn’t look an ounce over 40” and that was sort of funny. But the good part about that is now we have young kids at the shows and they weren’t there then, some of them weren’t even born. They come and now it’s precious because they get to live this history, especially with us being called a seminal, influential historic band, it’s like “Wow I get to see The Nils.”
So these young kids, they come into it with a fresh attitude, they don’t know about whatever gossip and nonsense. They’re just un it for the music and they get to hear a new album 28 years later, so to them it’s like “holy Jesus!”
SM: So speaking of the new album you just recorded it. How was it going back into the studio, was it torturous, did you enjoy it?
CS: It was awesome, it was a really really awesome experience… Parts of it were really heavy. It was the first time we had recorded apart from a few demos, as a band and the first time I recorded as a lead singer. I mean Mark sings 3 songs, the rest I sing them all. My Dad died, Phil’s Dad died, Mark’s Dad died and Sean’s Mom died, so we’re going through three months of this beautiful, creative, positive thing.
But like I said there was also a lot of things going on in life that do and it was so weird. In a sense I think that added to the whole album, you know what I mean? It made it so much more emotional and really really poured our hearts into it. What saved us personally to go through those heavy moments. And the fact that Alex wasn’t there.
But on the technical side we had become pretty darn good in the studio. We had done lots and lots of demos over the years and other records and stuff. For us the studio isn’t a hard place or nervous place to be, we’ve become very professional and we have a really great producer. He worked really beautiful with us, Peter Edwards, he’s the guitar player in GrimSkunk.
We were supposed to be in there for a month and it came a point where he was like “fuck this dude, we’re here for as long as it takes”. We did a pledge campaign for money and we weren’t asking for much and we got half of what we were asking for, but we poured 10x’s what we were supposed to into that record and it sounds really professional and good.
It’s all there, there’s hardly a weak moment. I don’t want to brag here but I am pretty much proud of every single little bit. It was a great time, it was a tough time. It was like up and down but I think to make good art you have to go through things like this. You don’t sit around and have tea and crumpits. You have to mean what you’re singing and sing what you mean. You gotta be into it or you just sound blah, some other run of the mill thing.
It’s funny because our music is a lot about our lives and the way we live our lives, we have always been like that…. It’s like a picture of us and our lives and it also applies to other people. Like a song like “Love to Hate,” if you listen carefully to the words it applies to a lot of people: you love someone so much you hate them, you want to kill them. It’s basic, simple and yet so true.
I’m really proud of [the album]. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it was easy, it was hard work, but I think in the end we delivered the goods.
SM: And you did, it’s a great album.
CS: Thank you my dear… there was a review in NOW magazine and I think she said “the fact that is was made is a triumph, the fact that it is so spirited is a miracle.” And when I read that I started crying because it’s so simple, short, but she nailed it.
SM: Is this album in a way a tribute to Alex?
CS: It is yeah. It is a tribute to him, but it’s not a tribute album. It’s an new album with new songs done properly as a band. It is a tribute to him and his spirit and his life but it also has us. We put in new songs, we have new members and it worked out really good.
I have my original drummer Sean so now there’s two of us and Mark Donato who played in The Nils when Alex was still alive in the 90s when we made a few attempts and he also played in Chino. Then we recruited a young kid that was starting out and playing in new bands, our way of adding fresh blood; he’s about 10 years younger than us.
Now we’ve got a super solid line up Not to take away from Alex, but people have said that this is one of the best line ups professionally, because after doing this for so long we’re becoming pretty good at it.
I’ve been in the same fucking band since I was 15 and now I’m 53. So think about it. I fucking know what I’m doing and I believe in it.
SM: After having such a good experience in the studio, do you think you will record more in the future?
CS: Well definitely, definitely, definitely, absolutely 100% yes.
We have a couple of ideas we’re sot of pondering. Also the album isn’t out so there’s still more to come. We’re going to put out a new single soon and make a video for it. So we still have some life in this one. But we have a couple of ideas that we have been throwing around. One of them to make a 12” or maybe 7” vinyl with a couple of covers of the bands we like. So we would do a Beatles song, a Stones song, an Undertones song, a Rush song. So we’re thinking of doing an EP of our covers
Sean couldn’t record on the album, he had some health stuff. So we want to record with our original drummer, the best drummer in the world. So we definitely want to get back in there and do something. And we are putting out a cassette version of the album and have it on vinyl soon too. And we might do some 7” singles… I think it’s going to be hard to stop us.
SM: I have one more question for you. Are there any Canadian punk bands on your radar right now?
CS: Good question, you know what Shelby, tough question. I read a lot about new bands coming up, but to be honest with you I always end up going back to my old records. You know I go back to my Teenage Head records and The Viletones. We played with a band, Brutal Youth, they were kinda cool… be honest there’s nothing that knocks me back. I’m not trying to be mean
SM: Well really how do you top Teenage Head?
CS: That’s what I’m saying, I haven’t heard anything that does that. People have said to me that they have put on our record, the new one and it stands up to that…. But I know there’s bands out there… Pup I saw them, they are pretty good, The Flatliners are pretty good too. Metric, I like the girl in Metric, think she’s a good singer. I find a lot of it, it just doesn’t’ stand up.
Like you said, how do you top that first Teenage Head record? You just can’t… I don’t want to come off sounding like I don’t like anything because there is a lot of stuff out there and it’s all very interesting, it’s just not my cup of tea. I like things that are guitar oriented, pop, melodic and have some cool little story going on. I find now that a lot of people, they write songs to be weird. They are trying to be so different that they don’t get the original reason why your write songs, they write them to be strange off the bat. You shouldn’t write songs like that, you should write songs to be like “let’s make a good song with a hook and a melody and some lines and some good words and a killer little guitar solo”. But I find now it’s more oriented to be like “okay let’s be freaks, fucking snakes crawling out of our beards”.
The emphasis is on being good live, it’s more like how freaky can we be, how different can we be.
SM: Congratulations on the new album and thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
Photos by La Presse and Dwayne Larson.