Interview/Post written by Joëlle Dahan
Since releasing their debut full-length album Jackson Square in 2008, Arkells have worked hard, toured extensively, released three more albums and picked up a few Juno Awards along with other accolades along the way. I spoke to Arkells frontman Max Kerman over the phone recently to discuss their latest tour, album, and more…
JD: You released your latest album Morning Report a few months back, and honestly enough good cannot be said about this album. It seems you guys have really found a voice and sound for yourselves thats instantly recognizable. However, Morning Report does have a different sound than your last albums, and I’m wondering if this change came naturally to you or if you made a conscious decision to change things up a bit for this album?
MK: I think we’re only chasing whatever makes our ears tingle. I also think just being music fans and always discovering new music there’s always going to be a new band, a new producer, or just new ideas that are out there in popular music landscape that maybe didn’t exist three years ago. The only thing we consciously try to do is just be our most authentic selves. We love the process of discovery and seeing what we can come up with and the fun that being in the studio can offer us. So we were just really excited to explore many different ideas and sounds while we recorded.
JD: Seeing as this is your fourth album, did you feel any kind of pressure to make something more special than the last ? Or has the process of making a new album been fun for you ?
MK: I think we put enough pressure on ourselves because we take our job really seriously. We want to produce something that impresses ourselves [laughs] if that makes sense? I mean, I think since everybody is so serious about it, there’s no outside pressure that really affects us, it’s really only the yearning to outdo the last thing we did. We’re always trying to put on a better show than the last, put out a way better song than the last, put out a better record than the last one. We’re always just competing against ourselves.
JD: Where do you find your inspiration when writing a new album?
MK: I definitely think that a lot of characters in my life, whether they be friends, family, or people in my community, I often find they have really interesting stories to tell. They provide a lot of really entertaining subject matter for me when I’m thinking of a story I want to tell in a song. I usually just keep a note on my phone whenever I hear something interesting in a conversation or if there’s some sort of theme that keeps popping up in my life that I could explore in a song then I’ll write it down. I think the rule is that whatever compels you, then you pick up a pen and write it down. In my life, the people I surround myself with provide a lot of inspiration for me.
JD: I see you’re proud Canadians; it shows through your music, considering all the references to Canadian cities such as your hometown of Hamilton in your songs. What does it mean to you to be a successful Canadian in the music industry?
MK: We’re really lucky. When we started the band we had really modest expectations. We’ve always been realistic with what we did. There’s a lot of really talented musicians that never get a chance to do this full time and have to work part time jobs. So the fact that we’ve sort of been acclaimed within Canada, we’ve always been really grateful for because we know a lot of it is just the luck of the draw. I really mean that. We’ve had really good luck. I also think the reason we work so hard is because we know how lucky we are and how precious it is so we need to honour that by working our asses off!
JD: Do you think you’ll keep that strong Canadian pride in your music once your fan base becomes worldwide?
MK: I mean, we’re always just trying to be our most honest selves. We live in Canada and that’s just who we are. If we come off as proud Canadians that’s just because we’re being honest with ourselves.
JD: What has kept you so humble throughout your journey as a band together?
MK: Well, success is all very relative. We spend a lot of time touring outside of Canada where the kind of crowds are a lot more humble in size [laughs], so that keeps us pretty grounded. We know there’s a lot of work to be done. Developing a big sense of ego doesn’t help anybody in any way. We know that there are many fish in the sea and we’re a small fish and we’re just out there trying our best.
JD: Lastly, I want to talk to you about your relationship with your fans. Something really great about you guys is that since the start of your career as a band together, you’ve always appreciated and acknowledged your fans. Not just at your concerts, but consistently on your social media accounts as well.
Some of the content you post include pictures of fan tattoos, fans performing covers of your songs. You’ve also played surprise house parties, a ton of college shows, you also give your fans a chance to win free tickets to your concerts. The list just goes on and on, it shows that you’re very appreciative of your fans. Why has it been so important to you guys to have such a good relationship with your fans?
MK: There’s two reasons. One is that we know what it’s like being fans. I remember when I would go to shows when I was younger and would meet my favourite artist, when they were nice to me it felt so good. When someone you admire goes out of their way to be kind and have a conversation with you it means a lot. We try to pass that along. We don’t really feel like we’re on any kind of pedestal. When people come to our shows, a lot of times I’m more interested in their lives than what the opening band is doing in their lives. I know what the life of a guy in a band is like and I’m usually pretty interested in what other people are doing.
The second reason is that it’s just more fun when you get to engage with people and you have a common interest to share, which is music, it’s just more fun to interact with people in that context. When someone gets a tattoo of one of our lyrics it’s crazy to me. It’s incredible. We’re so blown away and flattered by it. It’s fun to engage and interact. Music is meant to be shared so sharing that with our fans makes our job way more fun. Every time we’ve played a house show or posted a photo of an Arkells tattoo or we’ve help an engagement, that’s just fun for me. It’s a good time!