THE NILS with Royal CITY and CUFF THE DUKE at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (May 9). $10. 416-532-1598.
Of course, the pop-punk thrash of the Nils has travelled far beyond Montreal's city limits, yet the impact of their independently released EPs and compilation tracks never fails to amaze me. Hardcore heavies Bob Mould and Dave Smalley are both fan club members, while Marah's Serge and Dave Bielanko told me at length how their lives were forever changed after finding a Nils record at Tower in Philadelphia. "Are they still together?" they asked hopefully.
Sadly, I had to inform them that when the Profile label's Rock Hotel subsidiary collapsed shortly after the release of the Nils' self-titled debut in 87, the group went with it. Although a couple of half-hearted attempts were made to reform, the Nils were done in 94.
Since Alex Soria had formed Chino without brother Carlos, who'd split for California, a Nils reunion seemed improbable but evidently not impossible. Suddenly, the Nils are back in action, with Carlos playing bass and Alex's Chino bandmates, Marc Donato and Luc Mantha, on guitar and drums.
"Carlos and I had always been on good terms," Alex explains from his Montreal home. "He'd been moving around the West Coast playing in different bands, but once he was back in town it was inevitable that we'd start playing together again.
"When Carlos picked up that bass, it just felt... right. I have this connection with Carlos that's different from anyone else I play with."
They do have something special going on, but based on past recordings the magic only happens when Alex is playing guitar with Carlos on bass.
You can hear it on the Nils' two classic EPs, Sell Out Young and I Am The Wolf - compiled on Mag Wheel's excellent Green Fields In Daylight retrospective CD - which helped define the Montreal pop-punk sound that carries through the recordings of the the Asexuals, Doughboys and All Systems Go.
It's the underlying melodicism that's the key to the Nils aesthetic, which harkens back to the late-70s Brit-punk blueprint that first inspired the Soria brothers to put away the soccer ball and pick up instruments.
"When I was in grade nine, all my friends were into Led Zeppelin and Genesis, but that stuff never did it for me," says Alex. "Then one day Carlos came home with the first records by the Damned, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and something just clicked. The next day I took the money I'd saved up from my paper route and bought a guitar."
"I showed Alex how to play three chords: A, E and D," recalls Carlos with a chuckle, "and he took it from there. It all just came to him. He made it look so effortless, it was kinda frustrating for me."
Even though three-quarters of the current lineup are former Chino members, it was clear to the Soria brothers that their group had to be called the Nils.
"At first we thought maybe we should lay the Nils thing to rest and start fresh with a new name," admits Alex. "But we both really liked the Nils name, and we'd been through so much together as the Nils that we decided we should keep it."firstname.lastname@example.org