Dilly Dally has been a band for seven years, and over those seven years its original members Liz Ball and Katie Monks have gone from fingerpicking during stoned-in-the-park BFF jam sessions to playing their 90s-influenced alt rock in front of some pretty big audiences, including the Great Escape Festival in Brighton, UK last month and on their cross-continental tour with The Fat White Family.
Both guitarists grew up in Toronto, where they still reside with the rest of the band that includes Jimmy Tony on bass and Benjamin Reinhartz on drums.
Due to her background as a singer-songwriter, Monks didn’t get into pedals or accessories until recently — which is part of the reason she claims she’s not a “gear nerd.”
“Liz always wanted to sound like an alien, she knew a lot more than me going into the studio about tones and terms,” Monks says about the recording process for Dilly Dally’s 2015 debut, Sore (Partisan Records), where she learned how to compliment Ball’s fuzzed-out sound. Her strong and guttural vocals sound like they’ve been pulled off of a crackling TV screen. Clearly, she experiments with her voice. She caws, howls, even screams her way through songs, bending her pipes in a way that most people couldn’t if they tried. It’s funny that she didn’t worry much about mirroring that type of experimentation with her guitar in the past, unless you factor in Liz’s thundering lead work.
In our latest Gear Guide, Ball and Monks discuss how they learned to play off of each other and how their most valued gear has come second hand from dusty shops, generous friends, and family members (including Monk’s brother David, who is the singer/bassist of Tokyo Police Club).
While Dilly Dally has evolved and changed rhythm sections over the years, you two have always been the consistent figures in Dilly Dally. How important is it that you two are able to play off of each other?
Monks: Our tones are really important in relation to each other. I fill in the gaps between Liz’s leads because I’m playing rhythm, so I’m more about creating these textures surrounding what Liz is saying with her guitar, that’s how the two meld together. Liz’s guitar tone and my tone are very different, and they are best buds for that reason. Kind of like our personalities, you know?
How has your friendship factored into your songwriting and chemistry as bandmates?
Ball: I think it just came naturally, because we would spend so many days and nights getting stoned, drinking and just jamming for hours—I think we figured out how to finish each other’s sentences and fill in the gaps.
How did that start? What were some of the first effects or features you played around with?
Monks: When Liz and I first started playing guitar, we didn’t really have the language to express what was happening. We didn’t know how to talk about guitar tones or gear. I think the only effect we really understood when we started out was reverb, and we were like, “Oh my god, reverb is so cool!” and we just wanted to put it on everything. Then eventually we learned you can’t put reverb on everything because then you can’t hear anything. It wasn’t until we got into the studio that we really started learning the language.
Can you please share a list of 5-6 of your favorite pieces of gear and how they affect the sound of your instrument?
Monks: What I’ve learned in the studio by working with Josh Korody, who was one of the producers for our record, [was] that if you play much brighter guitar it can take to pedals more and you can hear the notes come through. You can put more distortion on it and you can still hear the notes shine through. That’s why Fenders are good if you’re using a lot of distortion.
2. Vox AC30 Amp
Monks: Vox amps are just much brighter and treble-y sounding amps. [This one] was passed down to me and Liz just so happened to have a Fender amp passed down to her, which was lucky. It’s cool that they both have these different tones and work so well together.
Monks: RAT is a distortion pedal that sounds super high-end and bright. When we’re in the studio, we have 30 different pedals in front of us and many amps and we try a lot of different things, but live—and what Dilly Dally spawned as and what all of the recordings are inspired by—is that brighter sounding distortion where you can hear the notes come through.
4. Gibson 1966 Melody Maker
Monks: The Melody Maker is more mid-range sounding. All of Liz’s gear—her guitar, the pedals she uses, her Fender amp—all of that stuff is again, mid-range sounding, it’s meaty and beefy-sounding so it occupies a different sonic space than my gear.
Ball: I have my Cathedral pedal, which is a reverb pedal. I love that pedal. It’s fucking awesome [because] it has five or six different reverbs and you can program and a sustain. It’s my most essential pedal for sure, and the main one [I use] for effects.
Monks: I’ll tell you one thing, it’s fucking heavy as hell! All Fender amps are weirdly heavy for the size that they are, probably because they’re older. It’s real hard to carry and it has a nice, natural gain as well that comes out of it. You wouldn’t be able to get a clean tone out of one of those, it’s just naturally dirty. Liz and I started jamming without any pedals, so our amps have a lot of character.