With an ascent in the music scene that’s been remarkably fast, Canadian rock band Arkells have slowly but surely carved out a place for themselves in the hearts of listeners and critics alike.
Arkells will be returning to Edmonton on Feb. 3 to play at the Shaw Conference Center, adn if the band’s history of lively performances is anything to go by, the show promises to be on worth remembering.
Recently, it was announced the band will play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, alongside acts like Beyoncé and Future.
In a phone conversation with vocalist Max Kerman, it became clear the news has the band equally as excited as it has their fans.
“It’s awesome,” Kerman said. “When we get a piece of news like that . . . it’s always exciting. It’s good news, (and) we’re very aware that a lot of bands don’t necessarily get (that) all the time.”
The five-piece from Hamilton, Ont., released their fourth album, Morning Report, in August of 2016. The first single from the album, “Private School,” reached the number one spot on the Canadian Rock/ Alternative Chat.
Kerman is joined by bassist Nick Dika, guitarist Mike DeAngelis, drummer Tim Oxford, with Anthony Carone on keyboard.
While fans will be excited to see Arkells’ performance at the festival, Kerman has acts he looks forward to seeing perform, too.
“Beyoncé is probably at the top of the list,” he said, adding that the festival provides a good opportunity to mix up their usual playing partners. “Being able to play alongside acts that aren’t necessarily rock music is a great opportunity.”
In addition to playing Coachella, the band is set to begin touring once more on Jan. 19, visiting the United States and Canada. For Arkells, it’s not uncommon to be touring for the majority of the year, every year.
So, is it difficult to write and create music with that kind of commitment to touring? For Arkells, it hasn’t been a challenge.
“Part of the job is touring and part of the job is writing music, and of course everybody needs a bit of downtime,” Kerman said, “and you need to make sure your head is right to start thinking creatively about new music, but we didn’t really hit a wall.”
“We were very inspired to write and record new music, (because) that was what was coming out of us,” he added.
Morning Report provided commentary on the social and political climate of the world with songs like “Private School,” and talked friendship and perseverance with “A Little Rain (A Song for Pete).”The album also visited the world of love and relationships, both at their best and at their breaking point, with songs like “And Then Some” and “Passenger Seat.”
According to Kerman, however, none of this was decided in advance. The band doesn’t limit itself to a scope of topics to cover. In fact, they make efforts to remain open and curious in their music.
“We’ve never really gone into a record saying, ‘OK, this needs to be about this,’ or, ‘This needs to be a record about the state of politics in America,’ or something like that,” he said.
“Those are just subjects that I think about all the time, and that’s sort of based on the news that I read and the conversations that I have with friends and the community that I live in,” Kerman added. “We don’t go in with a mandate; it has to come from a very honest place.”
This honesty is especially important to the band in a rock scene that Kerman believes is growing more and more conservative.
So, what is Kerman’s fix for avoiding letting this conservatism seeping into Arkell’s music?
“I think it’s just a matter of listening to music that’s outside the genre and listening to the innovators,” he said. “A lot of times, the innovators aren’t necessarily people that are directly in the mainstream culture.”
Kerman added that maintaining honesty and remaining genuine in their music is something that matters to fans, too.
“People smell it pretty quickly if you’re doing something purely for the sake of being popular,” he said.
With shows regularly selling out, there’s no question about whether or not this approach is working for the band. Arkells fans can be found in every corner of Canada, and the band has also developed a worldwide fan-base, something Kerman chalks up to Arkells’ work ethic.
“I think anything we’ve accomplished is a result of just putting in the work and not expecting anything to be handed to us,” he said. “If we’ve built any success, in Canada or outside of it, it’s because we’ve been willing to work away at it.”
Despite their growing success, Kerman remains humble.
“We’re always incredibly surprised, generally, when anybody shows up to our shows,” Kerman said, laughing.
More than just hard work, the band’s recipe for success includes the right focus and attitude.
“If you put in the work, and you put on a good show and you write good songs, and you don’t get discouraged too easily, and you keep it about the work and keep it about the art, then good things might come your way,” Kerman said.
In 2013, Arkells had the chance to tour with Canadian icons The Tragically Hip, and it’s an experience Kerman said taught him a lot about performing and success in general.
“One thing I learned from watching ( The Tragically Hip) every night was that there is a very good reason why they are so beloved. It’s because they put on an amazing show every night. Their body of work has grown with each album, and each album has offered great songs that all live in their current set list,” Kerman said.
“It’s not like the Hip are de ned by one song or one thing they did. They’re defined by a body of work that they’ve amassed over three decades now,” Kerman added. “As much as every day is meaningful, it’s not going to be one day that makes or breaks you. It’s going to be a collection of a bunch of good days put together.”
‘If we’ve built any success, in Canada or outside of it, it’s because we’ve been willing to work away at it.’
Despite the band’s extensive touring schedule, they’re known for delivering highly energetic, immersive performances everywhere they go.
Maintaining this energy day-in and day-out is an art the band has mastered.
“You gotta get a good night’s sleep, and you gotta take care of yourself,” Kerman said, laughing. “You gotta be prepared. Every show day, I spend a lot of time just thinking about the show, just (about) little details in the set, and how to make the night special.”
“Everybody in the band is on their toes and ready to go when it comes to the songs we want to play,” he added. “You have to be very aware of what’s happening and be looking at the crowd and looking for genuine moments of interaction that might be able to happen, that make any show a singular experience.”
“We don’t want to throw on the same show every night with the same shtick. I think it’s really important to make each show special and unique and memorable,” Kerman said.
He added that the audience has an important role to play in making each night one of a kind.
“It’s a party, but it’s one that requires everybody’s energy, and everyone’s gotta bring something to the party,” Kerman said. “We’re working our asses off up there, and we need everyone else to be working their asses off too, which means singing, dancing, and making a genuine connection with your fellow concertgoers.”
“If everybody does that, it’ll be a great time.”
Cover photo by The Come Up Show / CC 2.0.