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Interview: Arkells

8 min read
We caught up with @arkellsmusic frontman Max Kerman to discuss new album Blink Twice and their current co-headlining tour with pop icon @lights..... @Halestormpr

Canadian rock outfit Arkells have been around for the best part of 2 decades, so they undoubtedly know a thing or two about longevity in a fickle industry; an accomplishment that stands alongside so many others including the release of several masterfully crafted albums, EP’s and tours around the globe. The bands last release, Blink Once saw the light of day back in September 2021 and we are now on the even of the release of that records companion collection, Blink Twice which sees Arkell’s team up with a plethora of some of music’s brightest acts including Tegan & Sara and Lights.

As the band make their way around Europe and the UK, a co-headlining tour with pop icon, Lights, we managed to steal some time from frontman Max Kerman to discuss the tour, the bands career and the growth of one of Canada’s finest musical exports of recent years. Here is what Max had to tell us….

Brendon Veevers: Hey Max – how is the band doing today and where in the world does our interview find Arkells?

Max Kerman: We are in Glasgow for the day. Show tonight and then onward to Manchester.

BV: I want to ask you about the tour you are currently in the middle of shortly but to kick things off, how is the tour going?

MK: It’s honestly amazing. We are touring in a bus in Europe (which is a first for us) and it allows us to have a proper day in each city. We are well rested. This allows the shows to be more ambitious. We are digging into the catalogue and playing older songs that we haven’t played in years. Our sax player Dennis is with us and he adds so much musicality and style to the show.

BV: Arkells came to be way back in 2006. 16 years is a long time for a band to be together – what do you think it is about Arkells that has held you together for so long at this point?

MK: I think we’ve always been extremely realistic about how hard it is to be in a band and make a living from it, so as a result we’ve really worked hard to hold on to any good thing that’s come our way. It’s kind of as simple as that.

BV: What would you say are the key differences to Arkells today when compared to when you formed back in 2006? What areas of growth within the band have been the most obvious to you?

MK: The music business has changed in so many ways since we started. So on the biz side there’s been a lot to learn. It’s always changing. Artistically we’ve grown from a scrappy indie rock band into something much more adventurous. In our biggest moments the band comprises 12 people on stage. There’s horns, fiddle, singers, choreography. The sound has changed too. We still love good ol’ fashioned rocknroll but we aren’t shy about exploring other sounds that wouldn’t have been part of our initial milieu.

BV: You’ve toured the world and along the way you have won numerous awards for your records but if you look back over the last 16 years together, what would you say has been your finest moment or proudest accomplishment?

MK: Just being a band. So many of the bands we started with aren’t playing anymore. And it’s not because they’re not good or worthy, it’s just that it’s a near impossible task – to be a band for more than a handful of years.

BV: You have a new record, Blink Twice out on September 23rd. What can you tell us about this new collection because we see a lot of enviable collaborations are on the way with this album?

MK: I was getting tired of my own voice to be honest. The songs immediately felt more exciting when someone else was singing with me. Wes from The Lumineers? Tegan and Sara? Nathan from Cold War Kids? Lights? It’s a murderers row! You want each record to have its own moment in the sun, and once you get to album seven they might start to blur together. Blink Twice is a deliberate departure from the way we made records in the past. It was also partly born out of necessity: we kept writing because we had all this extra time on our hands.

BV: The album follows last year’s Blink Once LP almost to the day. Was it always in your plans to release companion records?

MK: Before we released Blink Once we always knew Blink Twice was part of the master plan. The final song on Blink Once is actually a part of Reckoning, which is the first song from Blink Twice.

While we were in the middle of the pandemic, we were watching friends put out records that evaporated in to air because there was no touring apparatus to go behind the promotion of the album. We could feel it would be a long road back to more regular touring. We wanted to be able to keep writing and releasing new music, and have energy behind the tour when we were eventually allowed out of the house. If we released and toured only Blink Once – and those songs were over a year old – the tour might seem a little tired. We could have our cake and eat it too by doing it this way.

BV: The new single that we are loving right now is Teenage Tears and it’s a pairing of the band with Tegan & Sara. How did this collab come about? Was working with the duo a recent opportunity or have you been wanting to do something for a while?

MK: I’ve always loved T+S, but after working with them I’m kind of obsessed. They’ve carved out an amazing, dynamic and evolving career for themselves, born out of natural talent and good instincts, but also good old fashioned hard work. I sort of reached out with the song out of the blue, and it felt like a long shot, but they said yes. And to me, the song is perfect for their voices and style of storytelling.

BV: If you could have the choice to collaborate with any other musician(s) on Blink Twice that you didn’t, who would you pick and why?

MK: There were a bunch of ideas that didn’t pan out, but the funny one is that we did email Bruce Springsteen. His team of course said no, but his lawyer was kind enough to get back in like 24 hours. It made me love him even more. On the other hand there were some song ideas that I pitched to up and coming new artists that left us on read, which is fine. But when the Boss and his team had the courtesy to get back with a quick and polite “NO”, it makes you love him even more. Long live the Boss.

BV: Is collaborating with so many incredible acts a tough thing to set up or do you have all of these acts on your phones speed-dial (and if so, can we please have your phone?)?

MK: Ha, once you get to know anyone, you realize they’re just people. We learned a lot each time we collaborated. How people think about lyrics, writing and performance. Each artist’s process is different, which is also a satisfying thing to learn in itself.

BV: You are currently on tour with the amazing Lights, who is a fellow Canadian. So many incredible artists have come from your homeland over the years – Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morrissette, Shania Twain and Drake to name just a weighty handful. What is it about Canada that produces such a high caliber of musicians and songwriters?

MK: Haha, couldn’t tell you what’s in the water up here, but I’m grateful to be in such fine company. I’d guess one of the qualities of our country is that our national identity isn’t as defined as other places, so as a result we are stealing from everything and everywhere. Which makes the music more interesting.

BV: How did this co-headlining tour come about? Who called who to get the ball rolling?

MK: The stars aligned! We share a manager, and a lot of the same road crew, and Lights hadn’t been to the UK in a long while, and we have this new song Human Being…so it kind of just worked. I’ll also add that touring is more congested than ever. Coming out of the pandemic, every band needs to play shows and venues are all booked up. It’s still an odd time in many ways. So this felt like the most comfortable way to do it.

BV: What would you say you most admire about Lights?

MK: She’s a genius. She produces her own music. She does her own artwork. She’s designed her own graphic novels. She is effortless in her skills as an artist. I could go on…

BV: What have been the standout shows on the latest tour so far? Also, what show(s) are you most looking forward to playing in the coming weeks?

MK: All the shows have been amazing so far, but the London show this week is something we’ve circled forever. Blink Twice comes out that day, and to celebrate the release in the UK is very fun.

BV: What would you say are the most obvious differences between your fans back home in Canada and your UK fans?

MK: Different accents over here, mate!

Arkells brand new studio album, Blink Twice is out tomorrow (Friday September 23rd). The band will also be playing Manchester tonight and London’s Electric Brixton on tomorrow night with pop icon, Lights. Details of remaining shows are below and tickets available HERE:

Sept 22 – Manchester, UK – Club Academy w/ Lights
Sept 23 – London, UK – Brixton Electric w/ Lights
Sept 24 – Brighton, UK – Chalk w/ Lights
Sept 30 – Halifax, NS – Scotiabank Centre w/ Lights
Oct 20 – Winnipeg, MB – Canada Life Centre w/ K.Flay
Oct 22 – Grande Prairie, AB – Bonnetts Energy Centre w/ K.Flay
Oct 25 – Vancouver, BC – Rogers Arena w/ K.Flay
Oct 28 – Calgary, AB – Scotiabank Saddledome w/ K.Flay
Oct 29 – Edmonton, AB – Rogers Place w/ K.Flay
Nov 24 – Ottawa, ON – TD Arena w/ Joel Plaskett Emergency

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