Hamilton breakout rock act Arkells wants to fire you up

By Holly Burton
Feel good Canadian rockers Arkells keep catching much-appreciated breaks.

Feel good Canadian rockers Arkells keep catching much-appreciated breaks.

CALGARY — Max Kerman is struggling to find quiet amidst the bustle and buzz of coffee grinders, milk steamers, and chatty patrons at Johnny’s Coffee on Hamilton’s Locke Street. He is the lead singer and guitarist of rock outfit Arkells, and to fill us in on what the band is up to, he has escaped to the bathroom to chat. This escape from the hustle is similar to what’s going on with Arkells: after recently returning from tours of the United States and Europe, and playing at Toronto’s historic Danforth Music Hall, the quintet is enjoying time at home before heading back on the road later this month.

Arkells formed while they were attending university, eventually signing to Dine Alone records. The story is offbeat: the band had been gigging. They played a show at NXNE, during which Shawn Creamer, the owner of the Dakota Tavern, Toronto’s fan-voted “best blues bar,” bought a handful of their EPs to hand out. One EP made its way to Dine Alone Records founder Joel Carriere, who approached the students. They told the label that they were three months from graduating and would be able to hit the road right after. Three months later, they did just that. Kerman emphasizes their luck in so many circumstances, including this serendipitous beginning.

Kerman can’t quite explain what it is that has brought them the lucky breaks that they are so grateful for. However, it’s evident that they possess a combination of generosity, open mindedness, love for music, and a determination that these opportunities will not be wasted. They feel a sense of responsibility in their position. Grateful to mean something special to people, they extend an extra gesture of kindness to fans whenever possible.

Their fans are a driving force behind the direction their music takes. Kerman explains that they love to see the crowd singing along, dancing, getting really fired up at the shows and creating a live rock ‘n’ roll connection with their audience. One of the most gratifying things for the band is “to see someone you’ve never met, singing along to your lyrics. You kind of live for that in a way.”

The Arkells explored new sonic territory with L.A. producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, The Kooks, M83) on their third album, High Noon, continuing to follow their mantra of creating something that feels personal and trusting that it will ignite a response in people. Kerman admits to so many musical influences that can be heard in the album. While High Noon stays true to their style of guitar driven rock, it features more synth and electronic integrations. He admits that they have never known what it takes to be a successful band but have learned to follow their instincts because it has worked for them so far. Indeed, audience response and Juno awards are a testament to that.

“We’re our own biggest critics… if something seems like it’s being forced and doesn’t feel like us, then it would just never make the record.”

The album’s driving single, “Leather Jacket,” has garnered the most response, but almost didn’t make the record when they couldn’t nail down the chorus. In the studio, Kerman found himself asking, “What would Katy Perry do?” So they went poppy and anthemic. The resulting song is sure to inspire sing-alongs.

Kerman explains that the Arkells package all comes down to work ethic.

“I think we’re all very motivated to keep the life that we have now, because we know how precious it is and we know how lucky we are.”

He finishes, “I think the one philosophy is to work really hard, be inventive, and enjoy it, and play to each other’s strengths, because we all have different strengths.”

Arkells will fire up sold out audiences at Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) on February 20 and at Flames Central (Calgary) on February 25.

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