Interview with Carlos Soria in celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Nils debut LP

September 20, 2017 in news

The band’s members never stopped playing music and formed various side-projects, yet founder Alex Soria tragically passed away in 2004. Despite languishing in legal limbo and quickly going out of print, The Nils’ 1987 debut album has become a Canadian cult classic, influencing everyone from the late Grant Hart of of Hüsker Dü to members of Green Day, The Replacements, Sloan, and Superchunk.

Now, to celebrate the album’s 30th anniversary, Label Obscura is proud to reissue a deluxe remastered LP, available on vinyl for the first time in decades. This edition of The Nils’ classic debut features new artwork from Yorodeo, a gatefold jacket with archival photos, and liner notes by Jack Rabid, editor of New York’s influential music zine The Big Takeover. A series of live performances from the reformed Nils will follow throughout October. To celebrate the band’s river of sadness finally coming home, Jesse Locke spoke to singer/guitarist Carlos Soria at his home in Montreal.

Let’s start with the early days. How did the band come together and what led to your signing with Profile Records?

 In 1978 I was 15 years old. I was watching TV and I saw the Pistols and the Clash and that got me interested in music. We only had a few albums growing up: The Beatles, Wings Over America, and Queen’s A Night At The Opera. When I discovered the Pistols it blew me away and that’s when I decided to do it myself.

We weren’t schooled in music, but my brother and I started a band. He sang, I played guitar, and then we got a bass player and drummer. We started small time because we weren’t in a rich family. We grew up middle class in St Hubert, a suburb of Montreal. We built the band from nothing, doing the simple steps like playing a show, making a record, and booking a tour. This was the ’70s and ’80s so there were no cell phones or interweb back then. Bands like us, the Doughboys, Voivod, and Men Without Hats built the trenches that kids play in now.

We had just come back from a really lousy Canadian tour and were completely burnt. It was for our first EP, Sell Out Young! Once we got back we got a phone call from someone who said ‘I’m so-and-so from New York. I want to sign you to my label. Run-D.M.C, Broadway, blah blah blah…’ I hung up the phone because I thought it was my buddy John Kastner playing a joke on me. Then buddy called back and said ‘No man, this is no joke, I’m serious!’

He got our name from Jack Rabid of The Big Takeover who was also a DJ at The Ritz in New York. They were starting a punk sub-label and signed all of these bands like DOA, Murphy’s Law, and the Cro-Mags. I guess it was a tax write-off to lose money alongside the records Run-D.M.C. were making. It started off like a great thing because we thought we were signing to a big label and got to go on a big tour. But halfway through they made us come home. That ruined our career after our first album. Back then we didn’t have a manager like we do now who could have protected us from that. We were 20-year-old guys from Montreal. We were good at rock ‘n’ roll but not good at the business side of things.

 What are your memories of the recording session with Chris Spedding and Phil Burnett?

 Chris Spedding produced The Cramps, John Cale, and the Sex Pistols’ first demo, so we were in complete awe of this guy. Alex and I got to hang out with him for two months. The first week we recorded all of the basic tracks. After that was done we sent John and Chico home because we couldn’t really afford to keep them around. Alex and I got to spend the rest of the time with him doing the overdubs and mixing. Every morning we got up and headed down to Times Square, where we were recording right next to Studio 54. Imagine that! Our studio, Chung King, was a little place but a lot of albums were recorded there, including the Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill. They had a really cool Neve board that had belonged to Pink Floyd. Big Audio Dynamite were recording when we were there too. I saw books with Mick Jones’ writing in them.

Phil Burnett is the greatest engineer in the world. He worked with Steely Dan, and those albums should be revered in museums. When I knew he was going to work with us, he had done Bad Brains’ I Against I. We had that album, and were like ‘holy moly!’ It’s the kind of record you put on the turntable, and just keep going A-B-A-B. Spedding wasn’t a technical guy, so it was great to work with Phil because he’s kind of a mad scientist. He almost had a white robe on. Chris had all of these ideas, and at first you saw everyone’s heads banging against the wall, but Phil made everything possible.

The other thing you have to keep in mind is the kind of albums that came out in 1987: Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction, The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me… we were right up there, and even ahead of a lot of bands. The Pursuit of Happiness were a great band, and they’re friends of ours, but we were doing it first. We played CBGB’s twice, and people say they played the 9:30 Club in Washington, but we played the original one. We were supposed to stay with Ian Mackaye when we were there, but then we remembered that if we drank and smoked pot, we might piss him off because he’s Mr. Straight Edge.

 

After the album came out, it sounds like things were going really well when you got that spot on the Rolling Stone ‘College Rock’ top 10. I also read that you got some outs from people like Bob Mould and the Meat Puppets. Where were they talking about you?

 In interviews everywhere they went! We’re not successful at the bank, but artistically and creatively, other artists love us. We went on tour with the Goo Goo Dolls back then, when they were still touring the first album, the hardcore one. They had our album, and they said they were ripping us off. You’ve heard the Goo Goo Dolls… they went completely pop after that! Grant Hart from Husker Du was namechecking us too. The guy in Green Day knows The Nils, and he’s probably worried because he thinks ‘Fuck, these guys are good!’ If you put me in their situation, I could do what they do. We did it first.

How did it feel to get the news about your label suddenly going belly up? You had to end a U.S. tour suddenly and stop using the band name, right?

 We were on a killer tour of the East Coast, going down through the Midwest, and we were supposed to end up in Saint Louis and go west. By the time we got to the middle of the tour, the label called and said we had to go home. We had all of these shows booked and our friends were going to come out. L.A. loved The Nils, because it was like their music from another city. But the label said ‘no no no, you have to come home.’ No real explanation, just telling us we were off the tour.

The other thing is that we were blowing the band we were touring with, The Godfathers, off the stage. When we played Minneapolis, people from Husker Du, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Babes In Toyland came to see us. You remember The Godfathers’ big single – “Birth, School, Work, Death”? It took you how long to write that? They got worried, and started headbutting with the record company. That whole tour, 30 shows, we might have got one soundcheck. The Godfathers would take too much time and ruin all of our soundchecks. Soundguys knew our music though, so if we even got one minute for a line check, we’d be sounding great by the end of the first song. That’s how we learned to play rock ‘n’ roll: beg, borrow, cheat, or steal, and we’re in the history books.

Did you continue playing music in the years that came after The Nils’ record label troubles or did it just feel like everything was over?

 We kept The Nils going for a while, and then I left the band and they stopped. Then Alex did that Chino record, Mala Leche. They put out a record with four Nils songs that hadn’t been recorded and one new song. It was basically The Nils without me, but the band wasn’t very good. It didn’t work without The Nils formula.

After that, Alex and I got back together and did The Nils again as a three-piece. We came down to Chicago Recorders to do a demo. Cheap Trick recorded there and it was owned by Ministry. Chicago’s the best city in America. It’s not like New York or L.A. with all of that trendy stuff. Chicago is more like Montreal because it’s old and nice. Izzy Stradlin was shooting his video for ‘Shuffle It All’ while we were there, and the guy from the Georgia Satellites was there too. We recorded the demo with the soundguy for In Living Colour. He played in a band too called The Slammin’ Watusis.

We passed the demo around and everyone wanted to sign us, but we still couldn’t get released by Profile. They had us tied up. We could use our name to tour and play shows but we couldn’t record for another company. It’s like playing for the Montreal Canadiens and trying to get onto another team. They ruined our careers.

 

It’s great that you were finally able to get back into the studio 2013 to record Shadows and Ghosts.

 I was going to prove people wrong by recording a second album. We lost my brother, so I did the best I could. Alex would be proud that people respected his music.

I used to bug him that people on the interweb liked us because we’re not computer guys. I still don’t own a computer. His girlfriends had them, so he basically just taught himself how to punch in and watch videos or listen to music. We’re some of the greatest, most talented musicians in the world, but we can’t run a computer, even though we can run an old board. These days with the interweb, it’s not about talent, it’s about who you know and who’s behind you. It’s like a Ritz cracker box. $8 goes into the box, and $2 goes into the crackers.

Everything has changed so much. You see people walking down the street with headphones in. If you stop someone to talk to them, you get charged with assault! Remember in the old days when your mom could get a cup of sugar from a nextdoor neighbor? If you did that now you’d get shot, especially in Port Saint Charles. I remember being 20 and now I’m 55. The older you get, the faster it goes by. You might think that sounds like a bunch of malarkey, bro, but be in the now!

Order a copy of the reissue over here :  https://labelobscura.bandcamp.com/album/the-nils-the-nils

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By Jesse Locke

Jesse Locke is a writer, editor, and musician based in Toronto. He is the author of Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer, published in 2016 by Eternal Cavalier Press. Jesse currently plays drums for Century Palm, Tough Age, Chandra, and Simply Saucer.

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