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We spoke to the band's Carlos Soria to discuss the 30th anniversary of the influential Canadian punk LP
Music history has its fair share of bands that have been demoralized and ruined by bad record deals. However, an argument can be made for Montreal’s the Nils as having the worst case ever. Formed in 1978 by 12-year-old Alex Soria (later joined by older brother Carlos), the Nils became one of Canada’s pre-eminent melodic punk bands in the early 1980s, running alongside their American sonic brethren, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements.
In 1987, the Nils signed a lengthy, borderline criminal deal with Rock Hotel, a subsidiary of Profile Records, which was also home to the wildly successful Run-DMC (plus fellow punks D.O.A. and the Cro-Mags). But the young and wide-eyed band took it in order to record a debut album.
When that self-titled album was released, they climbed the U.S. college charts and became a buzz band, only to find out the label cut off funding a month into their big North American tour. Although it was basically bankrupt, Rock Hotel seized full control over the band, rendering them helpless and unable to record another album as the Nils. Not long after, the Sorias turned to substance abuse. Although there were attempts to later revive the band, everything came to a halt in 2004 when Alex died after being struck by a train.
To commemorate the debut album’s 30th anniversary, Toronto’s Label Obscura has reissued it. A bona fide cult classic, the Nils should find a new generation of fans, thanks to the recent influence that era of bands has had on a handful of new ones (see: Japandroids, Beach Slang, the Gaslight Anthem). Stream the reissue exclusively below:
NOW caught up with Carlos Soria to discuss the anniversary as well as his new version of the Nils, who finally released that long overdue second album, Shadows And Ghosts, in 2015.
Tell me about the record deal you signed with Rock Hotel to release the album.
In the contract, we were signed for seven albums and two options. At the time it sounded like a great deal. It was almost a major, which a lot of bands were starting to [sign to]. So we put out the album and a month later we’re in the freaking Rolling Stone charting on the top 10 U.S. college albums. Instead of helping us, though, everything was a problem: from getting support to tour to getting money for a video. And yet we were dominating the U.S. college charts and the reviews were amazing. But this record company ruined our career.
People have said that it was drugs, but that’s all bullshit because we were the keenest guys on the block. We weren’t doing those bad things until after it all fell apart. It was a crime. We had other labels that wanted to sign us, like Reprise, Combat and Relativity, but it took so long that they went with other bands. When we finally got our release, Kurt Cobain had just died.
What do you remember most about recording the album in New York?
It was great. We got to record at Chung King House of Metal, which was where the Beastie Boys did Licensed To Ill. We did all of the bed tracks and then after that we sent the drummer and the bassist home to save money. So then it was just my little brother and me mixing the album in Times Square in a studio called Sound Works, which was right next to Studio 54. Big Audio Dynamite had a crate there with all of their tapes, and we got to stay there for a month working on vocals and doing overdubs with Chris Spedding. It was amazing to finally achieve what we set out to do, especially with Chris, who we picked because we were big Sex Pistols fans and he recorded their first demos. So he would tell us some funny stories.
How do you think the album holds up after 30 years?
You know what, to me it stands up to a lot of the records released that year by the Replacements, the Georgia Satellites, Guns N’ Roses. It’s a killer album! I was listening to it while we were getting it ready [for the reissue] and it brought a tear to my eye. It should have been great, and the second one and third one could have been just as great if not greater, but we weren’t given the chance.
You reformed the Nils and released a new album two years ago. How hard was it to get up there and play these songs without your brother?
It was hard because Alex wasn’t around, but at the same time it was my way to keep Alex around. That’s why we put his name all over the record because they were songs he did. What we were doing wasn’t trying to take anything away from him. I never wanted to be lead singer, just like he didn’t originally want to be the lead singer. So, yeah, it was also hard because I didn’t know how to be a lead singer. At first I wasn’t even gonna call it the Nils I was gonna call it the Nils FC and make it different. But it’s hard enough to get anywhere in the music business, so my manager said to do everything we could to keep whatever interest we had. So it’s out of respect. Not too many people have bitched about it. I think the music is in the same vein of what we were doing before.
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