The Arkells on Being #1 in Canada, Making it in the U.S., and Hockey

Arkells Promo Photo
Photo Courtesy of Big Hassle

Looking for a great, big, consuming alt-rock anthem that will become your new summer jam?

Listen to The Arkells.

Their latest single, “Knocking at the Door” is an explosive, soul grabbing, head bopping, and fresh track that is currently dominating the Canadian charts, and causing a huge buzz in America.

The band, who has been performing since 2008, have made quite a mark in their home country — winning multiple Juno awards, and currently sitting at #1 on the Canadian charts for nearly three months with “Knocking at the Door.”

On Friday July 28, the band will take the stage at the vaunted XPoNential Festival in Camden, New Jersey at 6:30 p.m. This festival is curated by Philadelphia’s indie/alt station WXPN, and is a legit launchpad for bands who are looking to break into the musical stratosphere.

We recently caught up with Max Kerman of The Arkells to talk about Canadian success, working to make it in America, and hockey.

I listened to “Knocking at the Door” for the first time today. I was absolutely floored by this song. Can you talk about the creative process of creating the sound for the single? You incorporate wildly different vocal patterns, concussive bass, a brass section, background singers, and piano. There’s some many things happening here, but it all works together so beautifully.

The song came together very quickly. We wrote it at the end of February, recorded it in mid March and put it out in early April. We worked very instinctively. It was kind of refreshing to not labour the song in the demo phase – we had a nugget of a good idea and went straight in to the studio. For bigger local shows we play with an extended band: the Northern Soul Horns and the Arkettes (incredible local Toronto singers) so we had them play on the track too. It was one of the most satisfying studio experiences I’ve had.

The single has sat atop Canadian charts at #1 for nearly 11 weeks. Some artists dismiss “chart positions” while others embrace it. How do you feel about having one of the most popular songs in your country?

I think most artists want their material to be heard, and we appreciate any platform where our music has a chance to be heard. We can never predict which songs will strike a chord with music listeners, and we definitely did not expect Knocking to live at the top of the rock charts in Canada for this long. But we’re grateful for any opportunity in this capacity. At the end of the day everything we do is to serve our live show, and in our experience a bigger song just helps the show feel that much more communal and a shared experience.

You guys are currently kicking off a major tour this summer which is taking you to a number of outdoor festivals including the XPoNentional Fest in New Jersey/Philly on Friday. Can you talk about performing at a festival as compared to a club show. Do you have to work harder to grab the crowd’s attention since there’s so many bands playing, and some people may be there to see a headliner, and not specifically your band?

Each type of show offers a different set of challenges. We like the variety in our job, and the chance to play in different spaces. At a festival, there is a range of music fans and we relish the idea of winning over someone who’s never heard us before.

Random question — of all the festivals you’re playing who’s one of the top artists your looking to see perform live?

We saw Kendrick [Lamarr] at Coachella, and that was really powerful. Phoenix played at Shaky Knees and the production was the best and most innovative I’ve ever seen from a rock band. I love Phoenix.

You’ve toured with a lot of big name, and veteran bands over your career. What band or bands have departed some of the best advice to you, and what was that advice?

I learned SO MUCH from Frank Turner when we toured together this year. We are cut from the same cloth in many ways, but his energy and penchant for storytelling and performance art is like me on steroids. I picked up so many tricks from him.

You’ve performed at both the NHL Awards, and the NHL Expansion Draft. I can see a band playing at an awards show, but an expansion draft is a bit different. How did it feel being invited by the NHL to perform…and what hockey team do you guys root for?

We’ve got a pretty healthy list of “how did we get here moments” and playing at the NHL Awards in Vegas was one of them. I get to experience so many unique things in this job. We’re all Leafs fans except for our drummer Tim who roots for the Habs.

You guys are from Canada, and have won multiple music awards there, and as mentioned before are experiencing success on the charts with your new single. Are you guys feeling the same love and acceptance in the United States as you do back home, or is this something you feel is about to happ en for you?

In our experience, the places we’ve been to the most are the cities that welcome us the most warmly. Having a history with a city is important. We started our career touring a ton in Canada and have built up really special relationships with places like Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax. Same goes for places in the states – we feel a deeper kinship with Philly, Chicago, Detroit, San Fran each time we go back. We don’t feel entitled to anything in this business – it’s about putting in the work.

I read early in your career you guys did an impromptu jam with Ke$ha. Can you tell that story?

We were playing an afterparty for the Much Music Video Awards, and suddenly this blonde haired woman jumped on the stage and started singing along. I’m generally in favour of this behaviour, but realized it wasn’t just a random person when everyone pulled out their phones to take a photo. Turns out it was Kesha.

What do you guys have on tap for the rest of 2017?

Fall tour in the US. I like being busy. Our dates can be found at www.arkellsmusic.com/live

Catch The Arkells tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the XPoNential Fest in Camden, NJ.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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