Features Interviews Sound Checking with Max Kerman of Arkells

Sound Checking with Max Kerman of Arkells

Max Kerman
Max Kerman of Arkells
Article by: Colton Eddy

Before Arkells took the Bandshell in the heart of Toronto's Exhibition Place, a scruffy dehydrated Max Kerman released a breathe of air before collapsing on the grass that laid before the stage.

Kerman and the rest of the band are a tour-de-force that have seamlessly juggled frosh-weeks and arena performances for several years. Being able to catch their high-octane performances a handful of times, it's worth noting that their tireless efforts don't leave a scar on their genuine quality. For the next few minutes, he unraveled the chemistry behind one of the most consistent bands across our nation, their success this season, and his fascination with Bruce Springsteen.

Sticky: Have you had a chance to mosey around the CNE before soundcheck today?

Max: No, we just kind of got here and soundchecked.

Sticky: Going to have a chance to hit up the ribfest, beer garden..?

Max: I hope so! Yeah, there's a bunch of good foods here.

Sticky: Yeah for sure. This though, has to be one of the most picturesque endings that any band could have to the summer.

Max: I know! It's great. I mean, I've never been - I've heard of the shows that happen here, but I've never actually been. So, I didn't know what it looked like. And to be honest, I haven't been to the CNE in, I don't know, like fifteen years, since I was a little kid. So it's nice and we couldn't ask for a more pretty day.

Sticky: How'd the idea come about?

Max: The programmers here asked if we wanted to play and we were looking for something fun to do to end the summer. It was a cool opportunity.

Sticky: Same with the Osheaga “Motown Review”?

Because we've done them a few times in Toronto, but in Montreal we've never done it. We don't do it very often, but yeah, the Osheaga organizers asked us if we'd be interested and we were “Oh yeah! Sounds good. Why not!”, you know? And we assumed it would be in a small bar or something like [Toronto's] Horseshoe. In my mind that's what it looked like, because we'd never been to the Corona Theater, so when we got there it was such a beautiful stage. “We better not fuck up”, and the show ended up being really fun. We had a bunch of friends out.

Sticky: Yeah, a real great community came out: Sheepdogs, Yukon Blonde, Hey Ocean...

Max: Yeah! Our friend Aaron Goldstein was there, who plays with City & Colour, and Mia, who is a great singer-songwriter, came up and sang a few songs. And the Yukon Blonde guys came up and did a bunch with us. That was really fun.

Sticky: Being this relentless touring band, these "road-warriors" as Jian Ghomeshi called you guys once - going around and around playing endlessly, what was it like seeing Springsteen last week? This guy who you imitate sometimes, do covers of - what was it like actually experiencing it? Did you take notes during the show?

Max: Oh yeah (laughs) I was mesmerized the whole show. I went with some - like, I'm a big Springsteen fan, but the guys that I went with are fanatics and we lined up at like 2:30 in the afternoon.

Sticky: So, you didn't get VIP? You did it the ol' fashioned way?

Max: No, no. We paid and we had to line up super early and we were baking in the sun for about four hours. But yeah, we ended up standing like second row in the pit, and it was an amazing concert. I've been raving about it since it happened. It was really inspiring; It was like, all the things that I like about music, especially live music, Springsteen embodies. He really has kind of a joyous spirit to the way he performs and it's really inclusive.

Sticky: It's sort of spiritual, but not too much without being corny.

Max: It's like a pretty wholesome family show, but in the best possible way. Arkells has a bit of that, I like to think.

Sticky: Well, if you had to do a Mount Rushmore of influences, would you put Springsteen on there?

Max: Oh yeah, definitely.

Sticky: Who else would fill it out?

Max: Oh, that's a good question. Who'd I have? I'd have Springsteen... I mean, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy would probably be up there. I really like Ben Folds - I think he's sort of an under-appreciated artist.

Sticky: Are you stoked for their comeback?

Max: Yeah, I'm very stoked about it. I'm excited about it. I love Ben Folds. But I mean, there's others, like obviously The Beatles. But I don't know, it's tough.

Sticky: Your new song, "Ti-Cats Are Hummin'', that's going to be used as the Hamilton Tigercats' anthem after touchdowns and whatnot. How did you guys go about writing it? Was it like, let's sit down we have to write this song?

Max: They asked us and it was really open-ended when they approached us about it. Just saying, "Are you guys interested in this kind of idea..." and we were a little bit on the fence about it. We thought, if something comes to mind and we actually like it, then sure why not.

Sticky: And it had to sound "Arkells".

Max: Yeah, exactly. It turned into a fun thing. If it had turned into this stressful thing, where they were trying to make edits or anythings like that, then we would kind of forget about it. But if it came naturally and it was a fun little project, then we thought we'd give it a go and that's exactly what it's become - just a song that we all really like, and I think we're going to play it tonight. It'd be the first time that we've ever played it live. And it just became a fun little project. I think it's a fun little perk about being in a band.

Sticky: Is it kind of awkward going to the games and hearing your songs? Are you playing it at the Labour Day Classic?

Max: No, we're going to be away on tour. But no, I love hearing our songs played in different places.

Sticky: It works well at Blue Jays' games with "Kiss Cam".

Max: Yeah! It's great! I love that. And our songs have been playing in Hollister or something lately? (laughs) And I don't know, people have tweeted us saying, "Oh, I heard your song in the mall the other day." It's sweet.

Sticky: However it gets out there, right?

Max: Yeah. Well as I've said, we write this stuff and we're not embarrassed by it. We're not ashamed of it. If someone gets something out of it and wants to play it on their speakers, then great.

Sticky: With the 'Ti-Cats' song and especially "Michigan Left", there are a lot of references to local Ontario places like Branson Hall, taking the 401, 402... and the Canadian audience goes nuts. How does it play for an American crowd?

Max: If you want to relate it back to Springsteen, Springsteen's always talking about local references a lot too, in his music. He talks about Jersey a lot, in the city and counties. I've always liked it, when I was listening to music, when a song is telling you about a place, it sort of becomes a little mythical in a great way. Kind of draws you in because it paints the picture. [Joel] Plaskett talks a lot about Halifax in his music and I love that. Someone like Ben Folds talks a lot about people's names, using specific full-names especially in some of their earlier stuff. So I really like that about music, because I think it just helps paint a picture. So for us, you know, we're talking about what we know and what we care about and what interests us. It's natural to talk about these things that are local to you. 

Sticky: Having The Darcys open for you today, then touring with Billy Talent and then with Lights - what's the difference like being the headlining act versus the opening band? Do you feel more pressure to present yourselves as a band, whereas [at CNE] people came here to see you?

Max: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely a different set of challenges. I think when you're headlining, people are there to see you and you gotta figure out how to make the best show possible. But it's the same thing when you're opening. You have to make an impression on people that may not be familiar with your music and it's a whole different set of challenges. So, I like both shows for different reasons, but I think winning over a crowd that doesn't know you is a great feeling.

Sticky: Do you get nervous anymore?

Max: I think I just get excited. There's always a nervous energy, you know? I think that's one thing that stays with you always. When we first started playing, I wouldn't be able to sleep the night before. Now I can sleep the night before, but it's still the same excitement before you go on stage.

Sticky: Have you been working on new material as well?

Max: Yeah, we're always hacking away. We try to. I think if you don't want to write under a lot of pressure or something, then it's best to stay active. Always trying your best to put your ideas down.

Sticky: So the label is pretty easy going with you guys doing whatever you'd want.

Max: Yeah, we kind of do whatever we want (laughs). Yeah.

Sticky: Think that's a Canadian thing?

Max: I don't know (laughs). I'm not sure. I don't know how. We've been lucky enough to be in a position where we don't have to compromise ourselves or something.

Sticky: Has it been different without Dan [Griffin], who has worked with you guys for such a long period of time?

Max: Yeah, it's different. We definitely...

Sticky: Dan is still involved somewhat.

Max: Yeah, I was hanging out with Dan the other night. He's still a really close friend of mine. So in that respect, in my life there's not too much change. The only difference is instead of Dan sitting in the van, it's Anthony. But we've been lucky because Anthony has been amazing - a really great guy to be around. Yeah, it's been pretty seamless given that. I think when you hear stories of other bandmembers leaving and how it can be really difficult... it hasn't been like that at all. It's been pretty ideal.


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Video: Michigan Left