EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Max Kerman from Arkells

Canadian pop-rock outfit Arkells are currently out on tour in support of fifth album Rally Cry, they played an incredible live show on Friday at London’s Heaven which we were lucky enough to witness. We managed to catch up with vocalist and frontman Max Kerman prior to the show to talk everything from music to mindfulness and everything in between.

Hi Max, you’re over halfway through the German and UK tour. How have the shows been so far?

I’ll be honest it’s really exceeded our expectations. We haven’t been to Germany for a couple of years, when you’ve been away for a while you have in the back of your mind “is anyone going to show up?” and the UK this is our first sort of headline tour in a lot of these cities. Most of the shows are sold out and the vibes been really warm and people seem to know all the lyrics. All of the things you kind of hope for in a show. It’s been great.

How are Canadian shows different to your UK shows?

The main difference is that we have a deeper, longer history with those cities and for it’s typically been the equation is how many times have you been to a place equals generally how many people are going to show up. With a place like Calgary or Toronto, we’ve been there dozen and dozens of times. A place like Bristol we’ve only been twice so we have a longer history in Canadian cities. But it’s the same kind of person that comes to an Arkells show in the UK and in Germany and in Canada. It’s the same type of music person.

What have been your favourite shows on the tour so far?

Berlin was great, Bristol was awesome. I mean they’ve all been good in their own way. Manchester was awesome last night too. It’s very difficult to pick out one as they’ve all been delightful.

Now to the important topic, your fifth album Rally Cry, how have you found the response to this album compared to your previous releases?

I think because it’s a pretty, direct album in a lot of ways. The production and lyrics are kind of laid out for you kind of simply, it’s not a very meandering record so I think as a result people have gravitated towards it. Because it sounds like a rock and roll band playing rock and roll songs. I don’t necessarily think there’s too much to wrap your head around. That was the intention of it. We wanted to make it a great pop record, like not to use the terminology of pop music but we were very excited about it being here’s the song and so people can understand it quickly. You know some songs can be quite hard to figure out.

For sure, whether you’re trying to understand the lyrics or get your head around the music

I think for this one it’s pretty straight to the point and as a result, I think it’s made the shows come easier for us as the arrangements lend themselves to be played live by five guys in a band. The songs are easy to sing along to and those are qualities that I personally really like in music and think about in my favourite bands. So it’s been really really good. A long answer but the crux of it is that it’s been really good.

There are some political themes across your discography, including American Screams and People’s Champ do you feel it’s important as a musician to speak out?

I think it’s just important for an artist to create something that’s inspiring to them. That’s the best kind of art, something that comes from an honest place. I think if you try to make something that doesn’t feel like you it just won’t come off as authentic or genuine. So for us, I think writing political songs is a thing we think about and care about, so it makes sense for us. But I don’t think every artist need to do it as if it’s not something on their mind I’d rather them write a song about something that is on their mind.

Have you ever found any issues with being so open politically?

No, I don’t think so. I have my opinions and my views but I’m not particularly combative or antagonistic. I think I come from it from a place of love and I’m also I think a pretty good listener, I can have like disagreements with people without wanting to strangle them. For the most part, I think we’ve been able to participate in the conversation without having anyone get too annoyed to us. It’s presented in an optimistic way.

Is there a Saturday night you’ve ever known that tomorrow is going to be a write-off?

(laughing) That’s really good. I can’t think of a specific night right now but some nights at 1 in the morning you just know whatever plans I have for tomorrow I have to cancel them.

Has anything happened on tour which made you think the next day was going to be absolutely horrible?

In Hamburg, we did go out to a tequila bar with Felix Hagan & The Family and luckily we had a travel day the next day. But that was a looooonnngg travel day.

Hungover travel is not the one.

Yeah, it’s definitely no good!

In Don’t Be A Stranger you sing of some difficult topics, is this something you can relate to on a personal basis?

It’s about a friend of mine who I think is very brilliant and smart and has a lot of amazing character traits but doesn’t necessarily see them themselves and struggles with depression and anxiety. That’s what the song is about; reaching out. I write it not only about him but yourself as a lot of songs are reminders to myself as even if I’m thinking about somebody else I’m also sort of singing it to myself as a reminder to take the best path forward. I think everyone is either that person or can relate to different versions of that in your life.

With this being so personal to you, is it ever emotionally challenging to be so open and honest onstage?

I think the more we do it the more we feel comfortable. It’s like our job is to tell stories that connect with people and other people can see themselves in. I think as a songwriter that’s what you’re trying to do and the more honest and relatable the lyrics are the better the song.

Now for something a bit less heavy, what prize are you keeping your eyes on?

Oh wow, actually that’s funny as that song well I was reading these books about mindfulness. I think for me that’s been a way, the idea of mindfulness is very simple. Do you know anything about mindfulness?

A little bit!

If I said it to someone they’d be like “what are you talking about?” but when I read it, it’s the simplest idea. Instead of worrying about what might happen tomorrow or what happened yesterday. Literally just try to appreciate exactly what you’re doing at that very moment and if you’re able to remain in that moment you’re free because you’re not burdened with by all these stories telling yourself what tomorrow might look like or yesterday might have been. So the prize, you know the lyric is “reach out you got the ribbon right in front of you” it’s like keep your eyes on the prize and the prize is what’s right in front of you. I try my best to keep that in mind and any time I get carried away in my own mind then I have to kind of bring it back like “I’m sitting in an interview with someone in London”.

That was a really lovely answer

Thank you.

Before the release of the album you did a karaoke party and a hotline for American Screams, do you have any ideas for the next album?

We’re kind of thinking of something for the next song from the album, we’re gonna come up with some fun stuff. That’s the job for us, how do you bring these songs to life in different ways and obviously people have an experience when they listen to it at home on their headphones, it’s also another experience when you play them live, another experience when you make a music video. There’s a lot of ways to make a song enter someone’s life and we’re just trying to think of the best way to introduce the song.

Did you have any overly ambitious ideas?

We typically, definitely know the confines we’re working in and it’s less about what it costs but more if it’s cool. Sometimes cheap ideas are the best ideas, we had a billboard and put up a phone number to advertise the American Screams number. It was a cheap idea but a fun idea because people obviously really like but anyone can get a 1-800 number and rent it for a month and put up a billboard which costs 300 bucks. That was a fun idea that didn’t cost a lot of money.

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The boys in Heaven. (? @benmorse)

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What would be your favourite or most relatable lyrics from any of your albums?

Hmm, I’m thinking of something from Rally Cry. Eyes On The Prize has some good ones. Erm, I like the lyric “I was repeating conversations with the chip on my shoulder. Replaying the scene over and over. I got confused and the world started spinning, send out a search party I’ve gone missing“. That kind of goes back to the idea of you know when you just keep on replaying an idea or a scene in your head. Then like you’re so much in your own mind, that people are like “are you actually in there? Come on back”.

You recently toured with Frank Turner, how was that whole experience for you?

It was awesome. We’re kindred spirits in a lot of ways, I think we’re similar as when we think of the way we want to perform and entertain and our work ethic around being a musician. He’s really earned everything that he’s gotten and that’s from sheer determination and hard work. I think everyone’s kind of looking for a path, like what’s my path and looking if someone’s done it before or what people we can use as reference points and say“this is the way you get from point A to point B” and Frank for us; at least for me has been that. It’s like here’s a guy who isn’t afraid to play anywhere to put his ego aside and just like get to work and it’s hard to be a musician but he just gets his head down.

So we’re guessing given everything you just said you enjoyed creating the reworked version of Hand Me Downs with him?

Yeah, it was awesome. We wrote that song when we were touring with Frank in the UK then we got home and recorded it. We thought it would be cool if he was a part of the reworked version.

When you started the band what did you set out to achieve?

We had very modest expectations, I think we’re all realistic so no one assumed that a life as a musician would be our career. I think everyone thought it was a good time as we’re all at university and it’s a great time to do it. Once we started getting some breaks we realised like “okay this is a really exciting idea and a pretty precious thing” as not everybody was getting the breaks we were getting back in the day. So I think once we realised that we had a shot to make this our full-time job and we all realised it beats any other full-time job that we should work hard at it.

What’s one thing people probably don’t know about Arkells?

(After a lot of uhhming, ahhing and thinking) We’re pretty fucking normal guys. I mean people probably assume this anyway. Yeah, I don’t really know! I think we’re normal dudes.

Finally, what’s happening next year apart from the Canada and US tour?

We’re in Canada and the US but we’re working on the Summer stuff so hopefully, we’ll be back in the UK before we know it!

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Written by Nicola Craig

Lover of all things pop, a boyband or two, and discovering new artists to get hooked on. You'll usually find me at a gig, truly living my best life without a care in the world.