Features Interviews Arkells: Your Deadlines are their Deadlines

Arkells: Your Deadlines are their Deadlines

Interview by: Sara Harowitz

It’s end of semester crunch time and the Arkells feel your pain. But really, they don’t just feel it; they want to help you make it go away.

Acknowledging that their current Ontario tour falls during this busy school period, the Hamilton rock band has offered to edit the essay of anyone who brings one to a show. So far, no one has taken them seriously. And while it’s a funny idea, as lead singer Max Kerman tells me, there’s at least one band member who would legitimately help out.

“People have jokingly been like, ‘I brought my essay!’ but no one actually took us up on our offer,” he says, adding that the guys attended Hamilton’s McMaster University. “[Bass player Nick Dicka] helped me get through university, definitely edited some of my essays. So if anyone had any papers, Nick would be more than happy to help them out.”

As timing would have it, though, they only have one city left on their tour: the band’s birthplace of Hamilton. But something tells me Hamiltonians are going to be way too excited about having their band back home to care about essays (their Dec. 9 sold out, so they added a second one).

The band (other members being Mike DeAngelis on guitar, Dan Griffin on keyboard/guitar and Tim Oxford on drums) has been selling out venues all over the province. Packed houses in Toronto, London, Ottawa and Kingston prove that even though it’s been two years since they released new music, the Arkells have solidified their place in Canada’s heart.

“It’s still really surprising,” Kerman says. “We get really humbled every time a pile of people we don’t know come to the show, because for a long time when we first started to play it was [just] friends and family. And they still come to the shows, so I think it’s sort of exciting for them to come to these shows now and see a bunch of other random people at the show singing along.”

And sing along they do. According to their Facebook page, the power went out while they were playing their song “Ballad of Hugo Chavez” in Kingston. The audience took over and sang the entire second verse and chorus.

The Arkells released their first full-length album, Jackson Square, in 2008. Since then, they have become a crossover band, appealing to both the indie crowd and the mainstream scene. It’s an accomplishment that Kerman chalks up to the band’s own musical tastes.

“That’s something I think we’re really proud of, our audience,” he says. “I think it probably comes down to the fact that we just like lots of different kinds of music and that probably is reflected in our own music. Like, I like big pop arena stuff. I’m not ashamed to say it, I like Coldplay’s last record, I like some U2, some Kings of Leon. I’m not embarrassed to talk about those bands.

“Or the new Katy Perry record I really like to listen to,” Kerman continues. He pauses for a moment and smiles. “Well, not the whole thing. I haven’t really listened to the whole thing. But ‘Teenage Dream’ is actually a great song. It goes down like butter. But on the other hand, we really, really love sort of more alternative bands like The Hold Steady or The National. Those bands get played just as much as other stuff that we like to listen to.” (Fun fact: Kerman also loves Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”). “I’m happy that we’re able to kind of appeal to different types of music listeners,” he says. “We think its super cool.”

Kerman is a genuine music fan who loves to see the success of other bands just as much as his own. During our interview, he praises Vancouver’s Yukon Blonde, Toronto’s Metric, Guelph’s Constantines, Halifax’s Joel Plaskett, and Montreal’s Plants and Animals, to name a few. He relates his life to the music of others as much as his own, clearly just happy to be where he is.

And despite its many accomplishments, the band remains humble. Success to the Arkells isn’t winning a Juno Award (which they’ve done), playing at the Olympics (which they’ve done), or selling out venues all over the place (which they’re still doing); it’s a whole lot simpler than that.

“I think ultimately [it’s about] making songs that we really like and we’re happy with and just trying our best to put on a really fun show,” says Kerman. “And I think from there, everything follows. But if you make a record that you’re proud of, and I think we’re proud of Jackson Square, we work really hard on our live show and I think that’s one thing that really translates for people. If they don’t totally get the record immediately, when they see the band live it might make more sense.”

For those who are eager for a new Arkells record to make sense of, not to worry: the time is coming. They have plans of recording early in the new year and hope to have a full-length out in late spring/early summer.

Until then, there’s always the option of having them edit one of your essays. Now if only they did magazine articles too.