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Today I made a tape for a friend and I included The Nils, one of my favorite little known bands.  Although they were around for a long time (1978-1994) their recorded output was fairly small (a couple ep's and an lp plus assorted tracks on compilations collected on Green Fields in Daylight) and every now and then I've googled them to find out anything I could about them.  Today I tried wikipedia and at the bottom of an extremely short entry was a link to an obituary for Alex Soria, the lead singer and songwriter of The Nils.  The Nils were a band who toiled in near obscurity and because of  that, it took me nearly four years to learn that Alex Soria had killed himself in 2004.

There was a time in the late 80's, after their self-titled lp came out that The Nils were absolutely my favorite band.  My friend Matt had seen them play in New London, CT and went out to find their album.  We listened to it over and over.  We found their earlier ep, Sell Out Young and listened to that even more and later we found "Scratches and Needles" on the compilation Something to Believe In.  Man, I loved that band.  I could barely understand a word that Alex Soria sang, even with a lyrics sheet in front of me, but the emotion in his voice and the conviction behind it were so pure and real.  It was the kind of music that would hit me right in the chest, seeming to fill me up with the sound and emotion of the hooks and the singing and the words I'd catch here and there.  It was the kind of music that you listen to and you just feel like it's the best song you've ever heard and you just want to keep listening to it again and again so you keep rewinding the tape over and over and still you just can't get enough.   It was that good.

I had tickets to see The Nils in 1988, in New York at the Ritz, opening for the Butthole Surfers.  Some of the kids in the dorm were going to see the Surfers but I was going to see The Nils.  For some reason that I never learned, The Nils cancelled and even though I scoured the music listings weekly to see if they were playing anywhere in the NYC area, to the best of my knowledge, they never returned.  Eventually I'd heard they'd broken up.  Lots of bands get the label "The Best Band You Never Heard" but The Nils really deserved it, not that that's a good thing.  Most people who I've mentioned the band to -- even people who are pretty knowledgeable about music -- just kind of give me a blank look.   I've read where people called them a Canadian Replacements and they really were on the same level as the 'Mats and Hüsker Dü, they just got even less breaks than those bands did and never recorded enough to leave behind the same sort of legacy.  And that's really unfortunate because you can put any Alex Soria composition up against a Paul Westerberg song and it could match it hook for hook, and with more sincerity and emotion.  It's too bad.  The Nils made some damn good music.
Woody Whelan of Mag Wheel Records, The Nils’ and Chino’s label, says “Alex was hands down one of the best songwriters. He could say so much with so few words. When I think of his lyrics they give me goose bumps. Lines like ‘Let’s pretend we were joyful, like green fields in daylight,’ or ‘I think I’ll go out and buy the smartest clothes, so I can talk without much force.’” He adds, “I often think of that Steve Earle quote regarding Townes Van Zant: ‘Townes Van Zant is the greatest songwriter, and I’ll jump up on Bob Dylan’s coffee table with cowboy boots and say that to his face.’ I would change that to Alex Soria, boots to Converse high tops, and Bob Dylan to Paul Westerberg.”

Don't believe it?  Here's an acoustic track:  Love to Hate


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March 2012

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