Reporting For Duty: Max Kerman of the Arkells on New Music, New Media and Making Some Noise

Monday, August 29, 2016

  • Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

    Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

  • Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

    Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

  • Arkells and crowd at Kee to Bala, Aug 27. Photo courtesy of @arkellsmusic instagram

    Arkells and crowd at Kee to Bala, Aug 27. Photo courtesy of @arkellsmusic instagram

  • Arkells and Jane's Party performing The Tragically Hip's 'My Music At Work" at Kee to Bala

    Arkells and Jane's Party performing The Tragically Hip's 'My Music At Work" at Kee to Bala

  • Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

    Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

  • Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

    Arkells frontman Max Kerman in an interview with thecannon.ca at the Kee to Bala, Aug 27

Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

Hailing from Hamilton, the Arkells recently released their fourth full length EP, Morning Report on August 5.

Since then, the album has had its first single, Private School, hit number one on Canadian Alternative Charts, and sat at number two on the real time Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists charts the first weekend of its release. Morning Report also sat at Number 3 on the CIMS Top 100 within the first two weeks of being out.

The Arkells have recently been enjoying an explosion from the Canadian Indie Rock scene, having been awarded a 2015 Juno for their previous EP High Noon (2014) and recently announcing a UK/European tour this fall.

Frontman Max Kerman found some time in their busy touring schedule to hang out with us prior to their sold out show at the Kee to Bala in Muskoka on August 27. We talked about Snapchat, close and personal promo opportunities, and going against the grain to do what you love. 


CAN: First of all, I’d just like to offer congratulations on how successful the release of Morning Report has been. I know you’ve seen crazy numbers in the first couple weeks.

MAX: Thanks! Yeah, it’s going the right direction, we’re really happy.

CAN: So I know you guys have done a lot of shows recently, and have sold out at Massey Hall in Toronto, both nights in Buffalo, and in London (UK). You were recently at Highfield Music Festival in the Europe, and you’re doing a fall tour in the UK and Europe as well. Are you looking forward to going back on the road overseas?

MAX: One of the exciting things about being in a band is that there’s always another mountain to climb, and I kind of like that. It’s not like you get to a certain place and go “augh, we made it!”; there’s always something to do. Each country, each city, is kind of its own thing: so y’know, the first time we ever played a show in Berlin, seventy five people came. And the next time, one hundred and fifty people came, and the next time two hundred and so on. And each time it’s like okay well maybe we can get another hundred people next time we come back. For me, I like that about the job, that you never really get complacent. In the words of Bruce Springsteen: “everybody’s got a hungry heart”. So I try to think about each market and each city as its own thing, and you just try to make each show better than the last.

CAN: You guys have done a lot of festival stuff, both this summer and last summer, in North America and Europe. Do you find the festival scene is essentially the same anywhere you go? Or are there striking differences from place to place?

MAX: I can’t really point to anything that’s too markedly different. It’s always fun when there’s a bunch of people excited to see music in a live setting. One thing I’ll say that’s interesting: we played a festival in Germany and I didn’t recognize any of the bands, and there’s a ton of great German bands right now, so it does speak to the fact that there’s a lot of civic pride when it comes to bands people like. And we get that in Ontario obviously, and Canada in general. And it’s true wherever you go: people feel this sort of closeness with the bands that are from their neck of the woods.

CAN: Do you find your “Canadian-ness” kind of follows you guys when you go on the road? Like for example, the story of meeting Drake’s Dad down in Nashville and being able to say “Hey! We’re from Canada!”? Is that a part of the experience for you guys or does it usually fly under the radar?

MAX: I think for context, for sure. People like to know where a band is from, and we certainly run into folks abroad, like ex pats and stuff, when we’re in other countries. I don’t think it defines us, but I definitely think it’s a part of us.

CAN: Morning Report was a social media phenomenon of sorts: you had tons of promo going on, and were really active on your Instagram and Snapchat. Is that just part of the job for you, or do you enjoy it, and find doing that kind of stuff fun? 

MAX: Y’know, we like to try and take as much joy in the job as we can, and when it comes to servicing social media platforms of 2016, we try to have a good time with it. Occasionally it feels like a bit of a chore, like “oh yeah, we should probably post a photo or something goofy on SnapChat” stuff like that. But I think at the end of the day, what those things can do for you is provide an avenue to talk to your fans, and have an almost personal relationship with them. We’ve gotten some really sincere, heartfelt requests via Snapchat and stuff like that. Generally speaking, I’m pretty glad those avenues exist so that people can communicate stuff like that with us. People are interested in our music, but are also kind of rooting for us as a band (and as people) and I think that’s a really nice thing.

CAN: My next question for you was if you find your fans enjoy having that connection, but it sounds like you’ve had quite the overwhelming response from what you’ve just mentioned. 

MAX: Yeah, I think so! And I think the underlying rule with most things in life is that “the more you give, the more you’ll get back” kind of deal. And that has to do with everything from the energy you put into a show, or the thoughtfulness you put into album art, or whatever it is you’re doing. Generally speaking, that’s a pretty good rule to live by: the more you give, the more you’ll get back. And that goes for anything we do, including our social media stuff.

CAN: That’s a pretty good philosophy, especially in an industry where you kind of have to be high energy, and so involved in your work. It’s almost like a level of intimacy is required.

MAX: Yeah, and I think there’s some people that maybe it doesn’t suit their personality type as much, to be that engaged. And I understand that too, but for me personally, I kind of enjoy it.

CAN: You seem to be the right man for the job then.

MAX: Thanks, and yeah: that’s part of the ‘lead singer checklist’ that they hand out to people [Max laughs, pretends to hold up a list and tick off a series of boxes].

CAN: All of your promo initiatives you’ve done for Morning Report so far seem like a lot of fun: you’ve had a slew of TV appearances, some radio stuff, running with the whole theme of a morning report, tuning in for news. And you’ve done some cool stuff in the past: a couple years ago you did surprise shows at a fan’s houses in a couple different cities, and stuff like that. If you had to pick one promo stunt from morning report that you guys got to do, could you pick a favourite?

MAX: Oh, yeah! The one thing that we did that I really liked, was when we knew we were releasing Private School as a single. Private School is a very tongue in cheek song, it’s kind of poking fun at people with privilege. And we wanted to make sure people weren’t confused and didn’t think we were celebrating private schools, because that’s not the point of the song. So we sent out this call on our social media, and said “ok send us a photo of yourself, and your address” and we didn’t tell anyone what we were doing. Then in the mail, started to come these Arkells Collegiate Vocational Institute student cards. We just sent them out, without telling people: like three or four thousand people just got them in the mail one day, a lot of people had responded. And it was sort of hammering home the idea that Arkells are an inclusive band, they’re not just for a certain demographic, or for the ol’ boys club. And so we’ve seen the cards, people flashing them to us at concerts and people post them to Instagram all the time. We saw a few people in Germany even had them! One person told us they got out of a speeding ticket in British Columbia, because they accidentally handed their ACVI card to the police officer that pulled them over: so the police officer goes “What?!” and he took out his, and was like “were you at the Commodore show? I was at the Commodore show!” and they connected over the concert, and she got out of the ticket.

CAN: That’s so awesome!

MAX: The thing that I like about this stuff, and kind of when you do anything that you’re proud of, is that you just put it out in the world and you just wait to see what happens. Certain things will happen when you create, and you offer what you’ve got to the world, that you can’t predict. And that’s what I like about it. I would never have been able to predict that someone would be able to get out of a speeding ticket because we did this kind of goofy promo. It’s the same thing with songs: you don’t know how certain songs are going to connect with people, and what it will mean to them, how it’ll help people in their life. We’ve helped people propose, and stuff like that, and that’s pretty cool. I’m always flattered when that happens, that people want us to be a part of their lives and big experiences.

[Understandably, Max omitted that there was in fact a proposal that would take place later that evening during their performance at the Kee, set to the tune of their new song And Then Some (2015)]

CAN: On your website, you describe Morning Report as your “weirdest, funniest, saddest record yet […] and therefore, our most honest one, too”. Then a few weeks ago, when Private School went number one on Canadian Alternative Radio charts, you posted to Instagram that you found out about it through Snapchat, and contacted your label rep who then confirmed it. In the post caption, you said “for such a strange fuckin’ song, this is a helluva an accomplishment”. So what makes Private School so strange, on what you’ve already described as a ‘weird’ album?

MAX: Yeah, I think that if you go through our records, there are some signature qualities that are very Arkells-y if that’s a word, or Arkellian? And I like that; I like that there’s a thread. I also think with a song like Private School, and a song like Drake’s Dad, they don’t necessarily fall in line, at least at the moment. They don’t necessarily sound like Arkells songs, but I was really happy that the label was like “no no, let’s make this a single”. Because it gave us an opportunity to showcase another side of ourselves, and in the moment it seems like a strange song but over time it’ll just become another Arkells song, and help sort of add to what we’re known for.

CAN: To become a part of the Arkells cannon?

MAX: Exactly, it becomes a part of the cannon. So I was just really encouraged, that we were able to do something that didn’t necessarily sound like “an Arkells song”, and that we were able to write it and do that and just put it out, and that it be well received on the radio. It was great, so to me I’m always really encouraged when people celebrate other people doing weirder, stranger things, that are a little unconventional.

CAN: I’m sure it also builds your confidence as an artist, to be able to sit back and go “that went really well, so let’s try this other thing next time”.

MAX: Totally, yeah! And there’s other things on the record, like Drake’s Dad is kind of a goofy song, and Passenger Seat doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever really done…

CAN: [Photographer cuts in]: That’s a personal favourite, big fan of that one.

MAX: Yeah? That’s awesome, thank you! People have really responded well to it and it’s just like oh, that’s cool! We can do a whole song without much guitar, or drums, or stuff like that and people are able to connect to it and aren’t going to go “ugh, what the fuck’s this new garbage?”. So yeah, it’s always really inspiring when you’re sort of validated to keep on trying new stuff.

CAN: It must be refreshing too, to know that you can switch it up and not everyone’s not going to be all grab-your-torch-and-pitchforks against you when you put yourself on the line and put out something really different.

MAX: Exactly! And we definitely appreciate people telling us the love our kind of different stuff. Now here’s the thing: the ultimate sweet spot to be in as an artist, I think personally, for me, is when your fans have no idea what the fuck you’re going to do next and are still really excited about it. There’s only a few artists that are able to do that. Kanye does that: no one know what Kanye’s going to do next, but his fans are always like hey, I’m excited! And Beck does that a lot. Beck fans are like okay, am I getting a weird acoustic record? Am I getting a pop-dance thing? And I really love that. That’s what I sort of aspire to be: to be a band that has fans that are excited to be taken on a journey. I’m not putting us in that category, because those two guys are obviously at the top of the mountain. But I’m definitely using them as models of how to get to that level.

CAN: In a league of your own, you guys definitely have a pretty dedicated fan base, though. I’ve been to see you quite a number of times, and it’s always cool to see people that support your music through purchasing concert tickets, wearing your merch, singing along to every word and posting all of that to social media. It must make you feel good that people were ready to hear a new album, have no idea what was going on, and still get really stoked about it. There’s a few bands in Canadian Indie Rock right now that are working on new stuff: you guys, Said the Whale, Hollerado, etc. and their fans have just gone ‘I don’t know what’s next but I’m going to like it’.

MAX: Oh, thank you, that’s amazing! And yeah, we totally do. It’s really amazing, and we really appreciate it. I sent Tyler from Said the Whale, he’s a good friend, I sent him Private School and Drake’s Dad and he was like ‘dude, this is awesome!’. He was just so excited for us in a very sincere way, and just so encouraged that we were trying different things. It was nice to sort of have another musician’s kind of blessings on that. And their new shit is awesome too.

CAN: Well on the note of new music, can’t wait to hear some stuff off of Morning Report tonight! Thanks again for making some time to chat with us, and best of luck with the show!

MAX: Yeah of course! And thanks for the nice little outdoor interview. Have so much fun, and we’ll see you at the show!


Arkells closed out the high energy performance at the Kee to Bala with a highly anticipated encore including a nod to The Tragically Hip, with whom they’ve previously toured, performing  My Music at Work with the evening’s opening band Jane’s Party.

Morning Report is available for purchase on iTunes or for streaming on Spotify. Keep up with the band by following @arkellsmusic on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

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