Arkells first came together in 2006, and have since proven themselves as creative artists who put in the work and time on tour, and continue driving their music forward while remaining true to who the band always has been. The quintet, known for their high-energy performances, includes singer Max Kerman, guitarist Mike DeAngelis, bassists Nick Dika, keyboardist/arranger Anthony Carone, and drummer Tim Oxford.
They released their fifth studio album, Rally Cry, in October 2018. With their Canadian tour kicking off on January 31st in Edmonton, this tour will feature what will be the Arkells’ largest stadium show in Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena. We had a chance to talk with the Hamilton-based group’s frontman, Max, about the latest album, upcoming tour, their trip to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and all the excitement on their band’s adventure that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
What was the inspiration behind the latest album?
There’s so many. That’s the one thing about our band – we’re constantly getting turned on by so many types of artists and different songs and genres. I think lyrically there’s some political songs on there, songs about communities and relationships, and you kind of don’t know what the record is gonna be about until you start working on it and finish it. I think it’s a very outward looking record, it’s examining how we’re connected to each other as people. That seems to be one of the themes that I kept unintentionally coming back to.
How would you describe the album to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
I think musically there’s such a mix. We sampled a South African artist, there’s some 1980s saxophone, a little bit of hip hop production, and modern music that maybe is a little different than traditional rock ‘n’ roll – there’s a bit of everything. For me, it will be interesting to see what other people take from it, and what they hear. There’s certain parts that we think are very obvious and people may not necessarily hear, but they hear something we don’t.
What is different about this album?
Confidence. Making music is still a mystery in some respects, but also the more you do it, then it’s not as chaotic in your mind. You know there’s a process that you follow which should yield some results. I also think it’s a pretty cohesive record, and it’s pretty focused. I think all the songs have a sense of purpose, it’s very direct.
What is the most meaningful track on this album for you?
They’re all meaningful in their own way. Hand Me Downs is the first track that touches on some stuff that I think about a lot when it comes to where you come from, who your family is, and just bigger themes in your life.
You guys recently performed at Canada House at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and it all started with one tweet. What is the story behind that?
It happened in a few parts. We asked Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue to announce our Hamilton hometown show this summer, and we announced it the day the Olympics were kicking off. Then, we got a tweet from Team Canada that they listened to our song Knocking At The Door at the Olympic House every day when they were honouring the athletes in South Korea. So we tweeted back asking why don’t we come play it for you live, and then one thing led to another, Air Canada picked up the tab, and we were on a plane to Korea.
What was that experience like for you?
It was awesome. We’ve been really lucky as a band to get to travel and have lots of interesting experiences, but this one was very unique. I never imagined we’d be able to do something like that. It was much different than playing a festival or an award show.
You mentioned playing that huge show in Hamilton – can you tell us about that, and what Hamilton means to you and the band?
Hamilton is where we met, cut our keys, played our early shows, and where some of us still live. The thing about Hamilton is they’re very proud people and they’re especially proud when someone from the town is working hard, going out into the world and making a name for themselves. I think that’s what Arkells have done to a certain degree, and when you come home, there’s an excitement and a sense of pride. The day itself was awesome. We got to curate the whole thing and really try to put our own stamp on it to make sure every part of the day – from the line up and the programming around the stadium – really felt like Arkells. It was definitely one of the most memorable days of the year.
Your tour is stopping in Ottawa and Toronto in February. What can fans expect?
I think our whole career has been building. These are definitely the biggest venues we’ve ever played at, but I think we’re ready to take it on. We wouldn’t have been ready to take on these shows four years ago because we didn’t have the experience, but we’ve built up our repertoire and our way of performing live, and I think that everyone in the band is really excited for this new experience.
Do you have any memories from your time in Ottawa?
Tons! We’ve played Frosh Week shows at uOttawa, Carleton, and Algonquin. I love playing those and I wish we could do more of them. Even in the summer, we did Canada Day on Parliament Hill which was a great honour. We’ve had a lot of great times in Ottawa.
Do you have a favourite song to play live?
Stuff from the new record has been really exciting. Eyes On The Prize has been so good.
What are your favourite parts of touring?
I think the band has gotten better at touring and can understand how to work better together. As for my favourite part, that’s the shows and getting to play. We’re building a relationship with these places we get to go to and seeing how they’ve grown since the last time we were there. It’s gratifying to see our music make a difference in someone’s life.
The Canadian tour is a big one. That’s definitely taking up a lot of our brain, and then after that we go on to the US until the end of March.
Feb 14 – Kitchener, ON – The Aud
Feb 15 – Ottawa, ON – Canadian Tire Centre
Feb 16 – Toronto, ON – ScotiaBank Arena