The Arkells put on one of the most memorable sets of the weekend at Shaky Knees, and that’s not surprising given their resume. With several Juno Awards and numbers one records to their name, they are one of Canada’s most successful homegrown bands out there right now. I got the chance to sit down with lead singer, Max Kerman, and lead guitarist, Mike DeAngelis prior to their Shaky Knees performance. Here’s what they had to say:
You have found huge success in Canada, where you are from, amassing #1 hits, a certified gold record, and 4 Juno awards. You’re easily one of the biggest alt rock bands in Canada right now.
Max: Yeah, it’s been a good little run.
Mike: For sure.
But, in terms of US success, you have yet to translate what you’ve done in Canada. Is that a goal of yours?
Mike: I’m not sure that we’re trying to translate our Canadian success. I think we’re looking for the opportunity to play in front of people here, which is tough for Canadian bands, but in our experience, it’s also really tough for American bands. It’s just kind of tough for everyone. It helps to break in California, if you live in California or whatever, but at the same time the nationwide success of a band is very rare for everyone. But for us, especially if we’re trying to emulate what we did in Canada, is we got the chance to play in front of a lot of people, to play festivals, to play on a lot of great tours, to get played on the radio and get to meet those people. We’re just trying to do that, and it’s like a flashback to 2009 or something like that in Canada, in a good way. It’s exciting be back in that world of playing the clubs and meeting people after the shows and grow it that way. It worked in Canada, maybe it will work here. Maybe it won’t. Otherwise we got a lot of great southern food. We got to see California.
Max: I think, for one, we don’t feel entitled to anything. If we have success in Canada it’s because we put in a lot of hard work up there, and if we’ve found success in America it’s been the places we’ve been and the relationships we’ve made in those cities. To me, that’s one of the great parts of the job. There’s always that next thing to strive for. It kind of keeps you hungry. It’s like “Oh man we played to 300 people in town. Maybe next time we’ll play to 400.” Success is all relative and it’s very market dependent. It’s not like because we draw a few thousand people in Winnipeg that we’re like, “why doesn’t that many people show up to Dallas?” We’re also very realistic, as Mike was just getting at. We realize the reality that there are so many bands that want the same thing. America is 10 times the size, so there’s 10 times as many bands. So, just because we have a cool thing going up in Canada, does not mean that we are deserving of that same thing down here. We’ve toured with so many American bands that don’t even exist anymore. To be successful you have to have a lot of luck and you also have to be really persistent. And, you have to be really good. But, you need all three things.
I know you’ve been around for a quite some time now. I first heard of you guys about a year and a half ago when your song “Leather Jacket” got played on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation. I’m a little ashamed to say it because I wish I had known about you earlier.
Mike: We learn about new bands everyday. We’re like, “Oh man, this bands awesome. How have we never heard of them?” It’s all good though. I think that’s a part of the way we’ve grown in Canada. It’s kind of slowly, people have sort of trickled in slowly. I think that’s how we’ve built a relationship with those fans in Canada, now where they’ve seen us like ten times. And, hopefully the same thing happens here. But, it’s a lot harder here. It’s harder to go through the United States ten times. There’s a lot of cities, a lot of people.
Despite recently finding out about you all, I have actually seen you twice, both earlier this year.
Max: Oh nice! Where?
I saw you in New York City and Boston on back-to-back nights, supporting Frank Turner. And that’s when it clicked, because I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard them on the radio.” If it weren’t for me being a fan of Frank Turner, I probably never would have become a fan of yours. How did you end up on that tour? Did you know him before?
Max: No, it was through some mutual friends who encouraged us to tour with him. They were like it’s a perfect fit. Then we got to know him and the band because we did a full fan run with them and then that winter run. So yeah it’s kind of like long lost brothers or something because the band (The Sleeping Souls) embodies what we try to do. They put on a really entertaining show. They’re really professional. They’re great musicians too. It’s a great community vibe, so yeah, it’s fucking awesome.
I’m asking because from what I know, Frank Turner is very relationship-based. He won’t just tour with anybody.
Max: Oh definitely. He’s very involved. Actually, Frank’s a good example of just being persistent because Frank’s been at it for so long and he’s just getting to the point where he’s getting higher on festival bills in America. He’s been bigger in the UK for a long time.
So, similar to what you guys are doing?
Max: Yeah, same thing. The Sleeping Souls guys have been so encouraging. They’re like just keep doing it. It will happen. In their experience, that’s been the case. Be relentless and be patient.
Do you have any personal favorites in terms of cities or festivals to play?
Max: There’s a reason why the big cities are revered, so like San Francisco, LA, Austin, obiously the big boys. We went to Coachella this Spring, which was really fun.
Mike: Lollapalooza was really cool. It’s kinda like a giant version of Shaky Knees in a lot of ways, the whole urban festival vibe, which is really cool.
Your newest album is titled Morning Report. I’ve read some reviews that compare it to some old school Coldplay sounds. It’s certainly more mellow and alternative than some of your earlier work. How do you feel about those comparisons?
Mike: I like Coldplay. I like that new song with The Chainsmokers. It’s pretty cool. Like whatever. It sounds like a Chainsmokers song, but it’s also kinda like… I like Chris Martin’s voice. But as like a song, melodically, it’s way better than a lot of the shit I hear that pop music’s doing right now, where the melodies are total throwaways and there’s just a drop at some point. That one definitely has a drop, but Chris Martin has that sorta “kids get out of the way” attitude. I’ve done this before.
Max: There are definitely some mellow moments for sure on the record. We’re so inside of it. I get when you listen to the records back to back to back, and you see a difference, but for us, we’re just so inside of it. So, it just feels like us, the same way the last record felt like us. It never felt like a, let’s try to do that or let’s try to do this thing. We did what came natural or what was in the moment.
Do you have any particular musical influences or inspirations?
Mike: A lot of Coldplay, haha.
Max: “Drake’s Dad” had a hip hop Kanye thing to it, mixed with Paul McCartney. “Private School” was definitely like a Beck or Cake reference. “Ours Was Yours” was definitely more like The Killers, but “Passenger Seat” was more Lana Del Rey. “Come Back Home” was kinda like My Morning Jacket. “Round and Round” is back to a McCartney vibe. So, there’s definitely reference points, but within each song there’s like 4 or 5 moments where it could be from another band, like what if we tweak the bass line to do this or that?