By Keith Sharp
The Arkells’ guitarist and lead vocalist, Max Kerman has been enticed to execute a last-minute interview before heading for the airport to kick-off a mini-European tour through early November which will take them to dates in Amsterdam, the United Kingdom and Germany before arriving back to Canada for a bunch of domestic dates in January.
To say the year 2016 has been a good one for this Hamilton sextet featuring Kerman, Mike DeAngelis (guitar), Nick Dika (bass), Tim Oxford (drums) and Anthony Carome (keyboards) would be an understatement. Crowned Canada’s group of the year, March 15th at the Juno Awards staged in their home town, for the second time in three years, The Arkells were also awarded Rock Album on the year for their 2014 `High Noon’ release which has just received a gold album, not a mean feat considering we live in a world of music streaming and downloads.
With a new EP, `Studio Music (Songs From High Noon) ,a five-track acoustic treatment of songs such as “Leather Jacket”, “Cynical Bastards”, ”Dirty Blonde”, ”11-11” and “Never Thought This Would Happen” reflecting a more stripped-down styling of established hits, Kerman admits his band has been on a roll of late.
“The tour is all about expanding and building our image internationally,” noted Kerman. “I think we’ve been over to Europe four times previously and each time it gets a little better. We’re playing in rock clubs which are like some of the venues we started in Canada, so the idea of bringing new music to a new audience is a challenge we love to face. We’ve got some great people helping us, especially in Germany, where they work hard creating opportunities for us.”
Kerman is quick to thank social media for creating a buzz about the band in Europe. “I’ll post something about us being in London on Instagram and then one of our fans will pick up on the message, tell their friends in London they should check us out and next thing you know, we have a following,” he enthused.
For a band that has made its mark performing songs acoustically during radio and television promotions, it seemed a logical move for The Arkells’ to release an acoustic cd of some of their more prominent tracks off `High Noon’.
“Our fans like it when we do our songs a little stripped down,” noted Kerman. “Our bread and butter is being a rock n roll band but when we perform our songs in a more intimate environment, it allows our fans to hear the songs in a slightly different context. I have always admired people like Bryan Adams and Wilco who are always performing their songs acoustically and I also get a charge out of listening to other artists interpret our songs. I mean most of our songs start off with just vocals and a guitar at the beginning so we felt the time was right to reward our fans with an acoustic record. It was knocked out in a couple of days and came out pretty naturally.”
Looking back over the past 12 months or so, Kerman says he has to pinch himself on how a bunch of McMaster University students, who used to practice together at Arkell Street, hence the band’s name, have risen dramatically to national prominence.
“We’ve never been over hyped as the next big thing, which I think has been beneficial to us,” explained Kerman. “You have to have a bit of luck in the beginning. We were heard by people in the industry who wanted to take a chance on us. From our point, we’ve always had a good work ethic; we’re self-starters in a lot of ways. Personally, I don’t get discouraged when things don’t go our way.
Launching with a debut five-track `Deadlines’ EP in 2007, that was picked up by indie label, Dine Alone Records, The Arkells’ upped the stakes with their debut `Jackson Square’ release in 2008 which was street cred enough to win them a CASBY Award (radio’s alternative Juno award). A tour opening for Matt Mays and El Torpedo later that year enhanced their reputation which was rewarded when they won a 2008 Juno Award as top new band. In the past, this award has been a death knell for unfortunate recipients but The Arkells bounced back to win the 2012 Group of The Year award on the strength of their 2011 `Michigan Left’ release and maintained their status by taking the 2015 Group of The Year plaudits on the strength of their 2014 High Noon recording.
Performing before a rabid home audience at Hamilton’s Convention Centre and a national television audience was an obvious career highlight for the band. “Everything was in our favour that night,” noted Kerman. “Performing and winning two awards, I think we have set the bar a little too to repeat this in Calgary in 2016,” he cracked. “But I think, the first time we played in Thunder Bay was also an indicator that things were breaking for us. To hear the audience sing a John Lennon song back to us gave us an indication we were doing something right.”
Winning Juno Awards and being crowned the best band in Canada are heady achievements for The Arkells but Kerman is quite to point out that these plaudits are only meaningful if the band is growing creatively.
“Success is relative,” he analyses. “Any of these achievements have made us hungry to get to the next step. Awards are funny things, if we get them we will gladly accept them but our metric for success has been to gauge our own development. If we play to 200 people, we want to play for 400 people and keep growing that way. We are committed to working harder, writing better songs, executing better shows and pushing the envelope to just be a better band.”
By Keith Sharp