/ FACES Magazine February 2017
Formed in Hamilton, Ontario, this Canadian rock band has made quite the name for themselves. Having signed with Dine Alone Records in 2006, The Arkells have released 4 albums, 2 EPs and several singles, many of which have made the charts in the Canadian music world. Furthermore, the band has also won several Juno Awards, one of which was for their recent album “High Noon”, which was released in 2015.
Recently, we caught up with the bands frontman, Max Kerman, to discuss the bands new album,“Morning Report”, their current tour and their thoughts on returning to the nation’s Capital to once again rock out in Ottawa.
When did you become passionate for music, and who were some of the artists and bands that inspired you as a kid?
The first movie I ever watched was “Help” by The Beatles. My dad grew up in a different generation and he was a Beatles fanatic. He passed it on to me. There are drawings in my house from when I was in kindergarten—pictures I had drawn of The Beatles. When my dad was in university, he was a local DJ on the campus radio, so he always carried his vinyl LP’s in the house. He’d put them on in the kitchen and then I would bring them to school, so I was definitely into music at a young age.
I loved playing guitar.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you started touring?
When we first started touring as a Canadian band, the drives were just brutal. You’re in a van and you have to go from Toronto to Winnipeg in 24 hours in the middle of winter. The stress of having to play a show, get to the hotel afterwards around 1am, then get up at 7am to drive 10 hours, that was very hard. When you first start doing it at 21 years old, there’s definitely some excitement to it, that kind of powers you through. I feel like anyone over
21 years old can just choose to not do it.
Tell us a little bit about the early days when the band had just formed in Hamilton, Ontario. How has the chemistry between
your team changed since then?
I met Nick during the first week of school. I was looking to start a band and I was really lucky to have met Mike DeAngelis on the second day. His favourite band was one of my favourite bands, too. I asked him if he played any instruments and he said he sort of played the guitar, so I told him he was in the band. The next day, Nick showed up in a Sam Roberts t-shirt. I also liked Sam Roberts, and I asked him if he played any instruments. He said he played the bass guitar, so I told him he was also in the band (laughs). That’s how the band started. We gigged a lot in undergrad and we were really lucky because halfway through 4th year, Dine Alone Records reached out and wanted to work with us. We started touring straight out of school. We made our moms proud by graduating and then we toured. We didn’t have that time after university where you don’t know what you’re going to do. We had a path immediately and Jackson Square came out that fall. The cool thing about the guys was that everybody’s on the same page, we all take it pretty seriously but we always have a good time. Everyone is very aware of the fact that not many people get the opportunity to play music for their full time jobs, so everyone has a lot of respect for the job. It’s a pretty awesome, privileged thing that we get to do.
There’s been a lot of hype about your newest album, Morning Report. Some people have said it’s the perfect blend of hip-hop beats with rock-music sounds, others say it’s the perfect overall blend of various genres fused into rock. How would you describe the album in your own words?
Well we’re definitely a rock and roll band. It’s crazy how fast technology is advancing—all of the things you have at your disposal. Different types of equipment, different sounds, etc. and every time we make a new record, there’s a whole new batch of new influences that existed 2 years prior. Whatever gets your eardrums tingling, that’s what we’re chasing. On this record there’s a sample pad—we use some drum programming, and there’s a lot of stuff going on that didn’t exist in our first couple of records. I think we’ve developed a rapport with our audience where they kind of trust us to surprise them, which may sound a little contradictory
(laughs). I sort of envy artists like Beck or Kanye West, whose fans don’t really know what they’re going to be getting from them. They just know that they’re going to get something really cool. That’s
the model that I like to chase. Our fans hopefully trust that when we put out an odd song like “Private School”, the first time you hear it, you may not catch on but after listening to it four or five times, you realize it’s kind of catchy.
As a proud Canadian band, what difference do you see when you perform in the U.S. and internationally compared to when you perform at home?
I think alternative rock and roll bands all around the world have something in common, in that we all appreciate this genre of music. I think that goes for anything, whether it’s the Olympic games or an actor, you’re going to have a certain amount of patriotism and a sense of pride, knowing these are people that could’ve grown up around the corner from you. I
think some of the biggest parts of our story are the fact that we graduated from university in Hamilton, that we’ve toured with bands like The Tragically Hip and Sam Roberts, and that a lot of our experiences are a big part of the Canadian experience for a lot of people. I think there’s something comforting there for fans of ours. They’re familiar with us and they can get attached to that.
You guys have had a tremendous career so far, having won 4 Juno Awards, countless sold-out shows and several successful albums. What accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
Yeah those things are all really great. I think a big part of any job is being validated and knowing that you’re doing a good job. Whether you’re a janitor, you’re in a band, or you’re an accountant, I think it’s important for people to respect and acknowledge that you’re a person who’s working to offer something to the world. It is amazing to be recognized by the Junos, but I think the thing that I’m proudest of is the fact that we were able to make this into our careers without having to borrow money from our parents (laughs). I’m kind of joking, but not really. It’s amazing to be able to be a musician for a living, it’s rare and it takes a lot of hard work.
For your “2017 Morning Report Tour”, which kicks off in January 2017, $1 from every ticket sold on the Canadian tour will be donated to Partners in Health. What made you decide to partner up with this organization and why is it significant to you and the band?
We learned that Plus 1 is the administrative organization and they came up with the idea to add $1 from each ticket to be contributed to the charity. They’re very collaborative in the way that they help out. They don’t say “this is how it’s going to run”. They’ll really work with us and make an effort to collaborate. They’ll listen to small communities to find out what’s really needed there.
You guys have performed here in Ottawa a handful of times in the past. What’s your favourite part about coming to Ottawa, and are there certain spots in the city that you always try to check out when you’re here?
We love going to Elgin Street Diner. Right next to it there’s a really good hot dog spot. We love the tacos from the diner too! In the summer, we’ve played at Bluesfest a number of times and it’s always awesome. In September, we played at the University of Ottawa and that show was a rager. We love playing in smaller towns, it reminds us of when our band first started. When you’re 18 and you see bands that young, you develop a relationship with them, so it’s very important to make it extra special.
For your biggest fans, what’s one thing that most of them wouldn’t
know about the band?
Well Nick has a baseball blog, he’s really into the Toronto Blue Jays. I produced a podcast with my friend Mike from Bell Media and MuchMusic. We interview people in the entertainment and arts industry. I’m a massive podcast fan myself. We travel a lot, so I really enjoy them. We’ve interviewed so many people, from Commander Chris Hadflield, to The Lumineers, to Joshua Jackson—if you check it out on Google, you’ll see the list.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
We do hands-in every night. Each night’s cheer is a bit different. It usually has something to do with something we came across while going around the city on that day. Anybody standing around gets to put their hands in and join in, it’s not just us band members.
Recently, you guys performed for 2 nights at the Masey Hall in Toronto, a very iconic venue. What was that experience like for you guys?
It was amazing. It was definitely a bucket list venue for us. There has been so many incredible bands that have played there before, so it was really significant to us. A pretty amazing accomplishment and it was an amazing event to be a part of.
What’s one of your favourite songs of all-time to perform?
“Leather Jacket” is really fun. When we wrote it, we weren’t imagining that people would be screaming out the lyrics back to us, so that’s pretty cool. Mainly, on the new record, for some of the shows, we’ve brought out backup singers, so being able to perform some of the songs with a 10-person backup singing team is pretty cool.
As one of the chief songwriters of the band, what is your creative process like?
I always like thinking about interesting theories or expressions. I just take ongoing notes for possible songs—I take notes throughout the day, either about things I come across or things that people say to me. Whenever I have a chance to sit down at the piano—which is where I do most of my writing—I’ll play around
with different sounds to see what I like. Once I have the bones of an idea together, including the chorus, I’ll show it to the guys and we all start making suggestions and recommendations. We throw a lot of ideas around. It’s sort of daunting but if you’re thinking about it all the time, you can put together some great stuff.