They’re massive in Canada and after 12 years in the music industry Arkells are planning world domination. Lead singer Max Kerman talks to Susie Daniels about surrounding themselves with smart, talented people and relentless return gigs being a sure-fire way to make it big. Max is a political science graduate born in one of the most well-educated countries in the world who would have been just as happy podcasting if his band hadn’t made the big-time. He just wants to tell a story, bless him…
Have you played King Tut’s or Scotland before and what are your best memories of being in Scotland/the UK?
We’ve never played King Tut’s, but it’s one of those venues that has legendary status as “the club” to play in Glasgow. Didn’t The Killers just play there as a suprise show? Very stoked on it. We were in Aberdeen and Edinburgh with Frank Turner this past Spring, and our glimpse of Scotland didn’t match its reputation: we had sunny days, clear skies, warm weather. Everyone was on patios, sitting in parks. It was awesome.
Any funny stories about your last time in Scotland/the UK?
We had never been to Aberdeen before, but I saw a young kid singing along to all of our songs. As the opening band in a new town, it was a cool thing to see. So we brought him up on stage to sing the final chorus of Leather Jacket. I think it’s online somewhere.
What’s the first thing you would do if you ruled the world as an artist?
Demand a collaboration with Chance The Rapper.
You formed in 2006 and Rally Cry is your sixth album. If you could go back in time to 2006 what would you tell you as a young artist about the music industry, about how your life has turned out and specifically about what is and isn’t important to you now?
Five albums! I’d tell a young artist to keep it about the work. Surround yourself with other smart, talented people. Learn from them. And work. Oh, and steal from the best. No one will notice, promise. Also, get out of your own head. Nobody cares. So keep working. Also, be resilient. There’s so much rejection in the business, that it’s a waste of breath to even get distracted by the times you’re told no. Hold on to your wins, and build from there.
You’re massive in Canada, do you have any plans for UK or world domination?
Working on it! There’s a correlation between the amount of times we play a town, and the amount of people are at the show. So we gotta keep coming back.
Many of your songs are political – do you follow politics closely and if you were prime minister of Canada what’s the first thing you would implement and eradicate.
Implement: proportional representation. Like most “western democracies”, it’s not quite a democracy. Eradicate: populist demagogues from running for office. They just give off such a bad vibe, you know?
How did the band form, did you know each other from school?
Mike, Nick and I met at McMaster University. First week of school. That’s when the band started. Along the way we picked up Tim and Tony who are much better musicians than us, and it rounded out the band quite nicely.
Did you study at university or college and if so what?
Political Science. I graduated, and made my mother proud.
Your country is one of the most well-educated countries in the world – did you know that?
Yeah? That’s good to hear! Comparatively I like to think we’re a pretty even keel country – at least as far as countries go. Maybe that has to do with our levels of education? I don’t know.
If you weren’t in the band what would be your second choice of something to do in life?
I like working in groups. I like working with friends. I like creative projects. So something where I could combine those things. Radio? Podcasting? I like being around story tellers.
Tell me about your new album Rally Cry.
We recorded it between tours. I enjoy knowing that when I’m on tour, the studio awaits. And vice-versa. I like keeping busy. Every song on the record is special to us, and has it’s own lane. The tunes will fit in to our live set nicely. Every record we’ve done is a reaction to the last thing we’ve done. And it’s also trying to beat the last thing we did. On this record, we wanted it to be sharp and direct. We were always asking ourselves how do we deliver this lyric with the most clarity. How do we define each musical moment?
Relentless has a lyric that says, take me back to ‘96’ . What memories do you have of that year?
Just being a kid. Listening to the radio to fall asleep. Dreaming about The Toronto Raptors.
‘People’s Champ’ released this year was reportedly about your comment on the social climate – what specifically did you write about and how did you feel?
We were singing about Donald Trump on that one. We wanted to release the song as soon as we recorded it because we thought we might miss the boat if he got impeached, or cleaned up his act. But months rolled by and he was still up to the same shenanigans. Unfortunately that song is as timely as it ever was.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to write about and why?
There’s a song on the new one called Don’t Be A Stranger. You’ll have to listen to it!
You meet many artists at music festvals from singers to actors like Leonardo Di Caprio. Do you have a dream actor or singer you’d like to perform with and what do you see yourself doing with them?
Honestly, I would just like to meet Barack Obama. I hope he is in the VIP at a music festival and we can hang.
What do you miss most about Canada when you’re touring?
My friends and family. I got a real good gang back home, and we miss plenty of birthdays and holidays. If there was one hard part of the job it’s missing out on those special nights. Everything else about the job is pretty fun.
Any diva requests from you or the band?
Nah, Nick’s Catholic Guilt keeps us all in check.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened on stage when you’ve been performing?
Most embarrassing moments end up being the most charming and delightful part of the show. If you screw up lyrics to your own song, everyone just has a laugh. If you screw up the lyrics to another person’s song it doesn’t matter because you’re singing it in the encore, and by that point in the night no one is paying too close attention.
Who’s the guy in the band that stops you all going off the rails or can you all keep a level head naturally with such success?
Oh Nick. Nick thinks we’re going back to our day jobs any minute now.
Arkells play King Tut’s in Glasgow on November 25.