Q&A with Arkells

Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Arkells celebrate a decade of releasing music after their newest album release, Morning Report. They’re now on their “Knocking At The Door” Tour, and Juliette Paige of WRBB caught up with Max Kerman, frontman of Arkells, in anticipation for their concert at The Sinclair in Boston on November 16, 2017.


First of all, double congratulations on your most recent album, Morning Report. I’ve been following your music for a few years now and I loved Morning Report when it was released in August 2016. Now you’ve released the deluxe version of the album, which features the hit song, “Knocking at the Door,” and you’re on the road again all over North America! So congratulations on a decade of music creation and for another successful headline tour!

Thank you so much! Really appreciate it!

Arkells have been around for a while, as it formed when you were in college in Canada. When people talk about alternative rock, bands from Canada aren’t exactly the first thing that comes in mind, and you are definitely paving a path for that. What’s it like making your mark as a Canadian Alternative Rock band?

Our attitude with everything we do is to do things brick by brick – you have to just keep putting in the work. If you’re putting in good work and you love everything you do, you use it to better yourself. You cross your fingers and you hope more people show to your next show. I think that’s been our experience as a band and it’s one of the most gratifying parts about being a musician. A lot of this business is chance and luck, but you can kind of create your own luck if you’re constantly learning and putting in the best work you can.

You’ve mentioned in past interviews that it’s a weird time to be a rock band because it seems to have become too conservative for growth. The new album pulls in hip-hop and pop influences in terms of its production, since you worked with many producers to put the album together. What was the production process like for this album, and how did you make sure that the album was yours?

There are so many bands comprised of five white guys playing rock music. That’s been the sort of narrative for a lot of rock bands, where you all get in a studio with one producer and you come out a month and a half later with an album. We’ve done that before, but I was really interested in trying something new.

From the way my brain works, I thought it would be more effective in doing the recording in chunks and between tours. It kept the tour exciting because we were bouncing back and forth between performing and recording. When you look outside the world of rock – such as hip-hop, electronic, pop – there’s a lot of collaboration with writers and producers. So we had four different producers on this record and each one was a great and interesting experience, and it really made the record feel fresh.

Most of the songs on the album are about people you’re close to and other characters that you’ve encountered in your life. I think it’s really brave to open your vulnerabilities and feelings towards these people.

Yeah, I’m always trying to write and tell these stories in a sense of compassion, so I’m not hanging anyone up to dry. I use humor and self-deprecation to see the world not in black and white, but rather in gray. When I’m telling stories about a friend or a loved one, I’m trying to show that life and love is complicated.

I couldn’t help but notice that you have a degree in Political Science! Do you feel that your studies have influenced your music?

I kind of fell into that degree, but my interest in politics comes from my parents, who are both civil servants. My mom is a high school teacher and my dad is social worker, and I really revere people who have jobs that try to help other people. I think that’s the most virtuous job you could have. I think my parents and my interest in politics help me understand that life is complicated and hard, but we can all work together to figure it out.

Morning Report has such a rad album art. Are the characters inspired by real people?

The album art isn’t inspired by anyone in particular. Mike DeAngelis, our guitarist, oversees most of our visuals (posters, merch, website). He designed the album art in past records and enjoyed that, but this time he was really keen to work with another artist. We reached out to an Australian artist that he really liked and gave him the rundown. We talked about what the record was about and sent him the songs so he could understand what we were trying to convey. Then he sent us back ideas, and this one image of a guy’s whose face was falling off really stuck with us. The idea of how a part of you could be put together and another part is falling to pieces was a pretty good imagery of what this album was to us.

The “Knocking At The Door” music video captures the energy of the song so well. How did the music video come about?

We wrote the song in February, recorded in March, and the music video came out in April. It was really exciting and it was a new process for us to do something that quickly. We recruited our friends, Shane & Mark, who did our “Drake’s Dad” music video and know how we like to work as a band. We sent them the song, and they came back with this idea of doing a sports commercial, like those Nike and Adidas ads with gritty, sweaty athletes training hard. I thought it matched perfectly and I think we pulled it off.

Morning Report has been described as a “messy perfection.” There are melancholy songs like “Passenger Seat” and upbeat songs like “Hung Up.” How do you gauge bringing all these emotions and vibes in a live concert?

I think our band does well in offering a variety of tunes to the listener. For a setlist, I think this works pretty well because we don’t want to put everyone to sleep with only solemn songs, but we also don’t want to rock out for an entire setlist at 11 P.M. By having different kinds of songs, we could have a really interesting flow by having intimate moments and turn it back up to have people dancing.

How did you find IRONTOM to tour with you guys?

We saw of show of them in Chicago in the spring and we really like them. Harry is a killer frontman, and they’re an exceptional live rock band. They definitely got something crazy going on, and they’re really entertaining to watch. Even though our bands have different music, the spirit of IRONTOM is really similar to what we try to do.

One last question (and you can answer this any way you’d like): Are you happy?

As a band, I think we’re all happy. We practice whenever we can, show gratitude and are mindful of this privilege as musicians. That can be tough sometimes when you’re tired in some random city on a Tuesday and you miss home. It’s not that glamorous. But I try to keep in mind how many musicians who would love to have our job: playing original music, going to cities, and being able to pay bills. I know everyone has their days that are harder than others. All you can do is be mindful and work to make each day as good as it can be. The band has worked for 10 years, and that’s a long time for any job. The fact that we’re able to sustain ourselves this way is a big accomplishment, so that makes me happy.

That’s truly inspiring, and it’s a nice reminder to be mindful in any situation we’re in. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, I can’t wait to see you in concert in Boston!

 

See Arkells with support from IRONTOM at The Sinclair on November 16, 2017!

 

Listen to Morning Report here:

About Juliette Paige 9 Articles
Hailing from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Juliette Paige (a.k.a “DJ RedEye”) is a third year Mechanical Engineering student at Northeastern University. Being from Hawai‘i, her music taste stems from a diverse range of cultures and influences, and ultimately consists of alternative rock, indie rock, and '60s rock. You can normally find Juliette drowning in engineering work, traveling around the world, or rocking out at a concert. Be sure to catch DJ RedEye’s WRBB radio show, “No Lei Overs” and keep spreading the Aloha.

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