Analogue Music | The Arkells

The Arkells

By Matt Conner

There's not a room too big for The Arkells.

Max Kerman says he's fine playing to a packed room of 50 if that's what the night demands, but if you've heard the Canadian alt-rockers lately, you know the songs on Rally Cry are meant for the masses—fists raised, throats raw. The Arkells are arena-ready.

It doesn't seem like it'll be long until they can test whether their songs are, indeed, ready for such venues. They closed last year touring with St. Lucia, opened this year crossing Canada with Lord Huron and will head out for their own headlining tour across North America soon enough.

We recently sat down with Kerman to ask him more about the band's ambitions and the "alchemy" of a great song.

Analogue: It's hard not to start with the melodies of the band, because each record is just full of them. Were you raised on memorable melodies yourself? What's the soundtrack like for you as a kid?

Max Kerman: My dad's got great taste in music. He was a college DJ in Detroit back in the late sixties, so he trucked around Beatles vinyl for his whole adult life. The Beatles were all I listened to growing up.. well, The Beatles and Motown. My dad's not a pushy guy at all, but I just loved it. He showed me the movie Help and I was obsessed with that. I listened to a lot of classic, soulful rock music, so I think that's where my appreciation comes from for great melodies and lyrics.

When I was a teenager, I've also just always loved pop music. You can go back to anything in the Max Martin catalog, which was the late '90s I think, and at the time I'd never admit to liking that, but looking back I love all that shit. [Laughs] I love hip-hop. Jay-Z is a favorite of all time. All of the Kanye West production from the beginning of his career as a producer blow me away constantly. Even today, Chance the Rapper blows me away.

The Arkells
The Arkells

I know I've listed like five different genres, but for me, they're all the same. It's not that there aren't differences, but I see a lot of commonalities between a Beatles song and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone". It all hits me in the same spot in the same way that Chance the Rapper does.

Analogue: Is it the heart you find in the song? Is it too hard to quantify?

Max: I think it's the combination of a great melody and the lyrics and it all having this alchemy to come together and form this grander thing. For me, there's some bullshit out there, but I love earnest music, heartfelt music. It's the same reason I love Frank Turner or Jimmy Eat World. You see that when a legit artist covers a pop song. You can appreciate it more than the original. I'm far more interesting in finding the connection with music than focusing on the differences.

Analogue: When you said that about earnest, not only does that strongly resonate with me but I couldn't help but think of your own music. Does it get harder to stay earnest the longer you do this?

Max: It gets easier and easier to be honest. I saw some great concerts this year. I saw Jay-Z and Beyonce play in Cleveland. I saw Arcade Fire play in London. I saw Bruno Mars play in Toronto. Even though those are all different shows, they all blew me away. And the underlying thing with all t hose is that they all try so hard. They present it in a different way, since obviously Bruno has a different swagger than Arcade Fire, but I appreciate so much how they care—how much time and thought and energy they put into making those shows really memorable.

To me, that's a way of being earnest. Showing that you care when you're putting yourself into your work is something that really appeals to me. It inspires me to care that much more, to be the best version of myself as a songwriter and entertainer.

Analogue: So it's easier as long as you're properly resourced?

Max: Yeah, totally. I think what every artist is trying to do is to be the best or most authentic version of themselves. You're pulled in a lot of different directions based on your influences. But the more we go, the more I have a better sense of who I am. I think that also comes with getting older.

Analogue: Earlier you referenced the community in the live setting. When was the last such moment for you?

Max: We did this pop-up event for the release in Toronto at Union Station which is the main train station. It was awesome. We had 1,000 people show up. We brought a t-shirt printing press and, because the first single on the record is called "Hand Me Downs," we told people to bring their old shirts and we'll print them a new one or we'll make it new. We did that for free but people could buy the LP. We got to meet a ton of fans and hang and we were blasting the record with speakers. Then there was a piano they rolled out for us and we had a big sing-along. You should check it on Instagram. There are a couple cool clips from that day. It was so cool because we had an acoustic guitar, a piano, a shaker, and then a bunch of people singing along. It was awesome!

Analogue: Were you surprised by the turnout?

Max: Yeah, definitely!

Analogue: Some good opportunities have been coming your way in the last year. I know you've been at this for a while, but that has to feel good to see things get bigger, right?

Max: It feels weird to say we're trying to get bigger or reach more people because that's not articulating what we're really trying to do. I think what we're trying to do is get new experiences, so each time we go back to a city, we hope to experience something new and different and make a new memory with that community. Naturally if we play to 200 people in Chicago and it's a great show and people are sweating and enjoying themselves, we want to do the same thing in a different venue. Sometimes playing to a packed room with only 50 people in it can be really good.

The point is to keep the job fresh and interesting and we do that through creating new experiences. You want to be able to have the freedom to choose what that experience looks and feels like. The more the band grows and the more people who are connected to the music, the more freedom you have to make those choices.