Herald’s Q&A: Arkells

Juno winning rockers Arkells return to St. John’s to ring in Canada Day festivities on June 30th on George Street. Frontman Max Kerman talks band growth, getting political and the privilege of performance


You guys are coming back here on June 30th to celebrate Canada Day on George Street. You’ve played here in just about every kind of venue over the last 10 years. What’s your thoughts on coming back, and of the province in general? 

We love it. I mean, these are like real hardcore Arkells fans in Newfoundland and it’s like a really authentic relationship we have because it’s been built over 10 years. I remember the first time we played out Newfoundland, I think in 2009 we opened up for Metric and we played a small club show that weekend. Just being able to really kind of get to know the city and we have our favourite spots that we like to go eat and roam around. 

It’s very familiar, like seeing your favourite cousin or something. For us it’s a special place. Live music is so integral to the culture in Newfoundland in a way. It’s different compared to the rest of the country. I feel like we fit right in when we come to Newfoundland.  

You’ve said that the band hasn’t been an overnight success. How do you kind of look back and assess that, to have really become one of the biggest rock bands in Canada?

Yeah I mean it’s gratifying because we take every little thing seriously and I’m a real believer that if you really try your best and you make an effort to work with other talented people who care and are passionate about the project then you can build it up brick by brick. So there’s a lot of times we think are we getting anywhere right now? 

But if you put your head down, you keep working, you know you can turn around and after a year or two say we’re a little further along than we were. We just feel lucky to have the job. We know how hard it is to make a living in music. And the fact that we’re able to pay the bills by being ourselves and performing on stages of various sizes across the country, it’s something I’m so grateful for it. 

I don’t think we’ve ever lost sight of the fact that this happens because everybody in the band cares and wants to be better than the last show or wants to write a record better than the last one. As long as you keep abiding by that attitude, those principles, then we’ll be OK.

Rally Cry is your fifth record and you guys aren’t playing it safe or resting on laurels. Is that a cognizant effort where you feel that you want to stay fresh for your fans? 

Max Kerman: It’s for ourselves too. You know, sometimes it’s like there’s so much great indie rock, so many great new rock records made when we were first coming up from the mid 2000s … I think we’re sort of a part of that on the tail end with our first record. But now I look around and there doesn’t need to be another indie rock record made. What’s the next thing that you want to chase? What’s the next sound that inspires you to write a song? 

I saw two of the best shows in my life in the last five days. I saw Anderson Paak play at Echo Beach and then The 1975 and they blew me away. It made me so excited to write new songs. Those bands don’t really sound like the Arkells but there’s so much we can lift from them and be inspired by. And that’s what keeps the job fresh. I think it would be pretty f****ng boring to try to write the same song over and over again.

With an album like Rally Cry, do you see it as an important thing for an artist to kind of speak on things that are going on socially, politically, or what have you? 

I think for us it works and makes sense because it’s what inspires me to sit at the piano and want to write a song. Like you need to have that burst of inspiration and for me that often come with current events, so that gets me excited about writing a song. But I’ll also say that I don’t think it’s a requirement for every artist. Some of my favourite artists don’t write about politics at all and I really value what they bring too. I think you have to ultimately do whatever fires you up the most. Some artists write heartbreaking, introverted, inward looking songs and I love that too. And I think that there’s a place for that kind of music. I wouldn’t say come on guys the world’s burning you need to write a song!

Has there been that moment where it feels like you’ve hit another level with the Arkells? 

I think every band has some PTSD, even the biggest band in the world says ‘is anybody going to show up?’ I think a lot of bands have years of playing to half empty rooms or empty rooms that stay with them. We’ve played big shows in Canada but also do a lot of club shows in the States, UK & Germany. So we’re always of the mind, I’ll take what we can get. We don’t feel entitled to literally anything. We know how many talented bands and artists that are out there that are deserving of attention. There’s a finite amount of spots on the radio and at the big festivals and if we can be a part of that that’s the f****ing privilege because we know how many people are deserving of it.  

You guys have really made a name for yourselves on live performance. What can we expect from this tour, to celebrate Canada no less. 

Playing live is our bread and butter. Making Rally Cry in the studio, every time we had a breakthrough moment I’d say I can feel how this is going to go live and the way the crowd’s going to respond. We’ve had a chance to tour since October. It feels pretty f***ing good. It’s a record made to be played live and we’re happy to be doing it on George Street. 

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