Lead singer Max Kerman shares what he learned from Gord Downie
Before moving its way up to upcoming Rogers Place show for its Rally Cry tour, Arkells spent a lot of time playing university pubs and numerous shows at the Starlite Room. This series of shows will be the band’s first coast-to-coast stadium headlining tour, coming over five years since they opened for The Tragically Hip in 2013. That’s where lead singer Max Kerman began taking notes from Gord Downie.
“We learned a lot,” Kerman says. “We spent a lot of time in clubs playing smaller stages and we really love that, but the opportunity to learn how to work a bigger room, to use the space, was something that we took very seriously.”
There are lessons aside from what happens on the stage that Arkells took from The Tragically Hip. Much like The Hip, Arkells hasn’t stopped since it released its debut album, Jackson Square, in 2008. In the past decade, the band has released four more albums, toured extensively in Canada with trips to Europe and The United States, played the festival circuit nearly every summer and managed to pull off countless promotional events.
This past summer, the band members curated “The Rally” at Tim Horton’s Field in the band’s hometown of Hamilton, Ont. The show was the largest in Hamilton since Pink Floyd played for a crowd of around 24,000 in 1975. Arkells’ members curated the entire day themselves from setting up free transit with the city, to a pre-show bike ride, and local marketplace outside the stadium. Kerman doesn’t stop.
“One thing I remember most about The Hip is that they never took a night off,” Kerman remembers. “You could tell that Gord was living it and he wanted to be the best. Obviously there’s a difference in energy between a Tuesday night show and a Saturday night show but he’d give it his all every time.”
Arkells doesn’t really shy away from putting everything out on the stage, even the group’s views on politics. Before releasing Rally Cry, the band released its second ever certified-gold single, “Knocking at the Door,” which was inspired by the Women’s Marches held around the world. The first single from the latest album, “People’s Champ,” is undoubtedly anti-Trump. The release came with a long campaign of Arkells celebrating people who make changes in their communities to counter the negativity that comes with writing about United States politics.
Kerman admits that most of the Arkells’ fanbase probably stands in the same political headspace of the band, but there are listeners who stand across the aisle.
Yet Kerman is understanding when people are hurt by the band’s political commentary, explaining it’s the same when someone doesn’t like their new music. In his opinion, these feelings are all linked to the fact that people have their own problems going on in their life and sometimes certain songs and bands feel positive and sometimes they can just add to the stress.
“I don’t want to contribute to the cultural warfare that’s happening,” he says. “So even though “People’s Champ” is clearly an anti-Trump song, I don’t want to alienate people who I think I’d actually get along with and who I think I could find common ground with. We met an older fellow in North Carolina who said ‘I gotta admit, I’m a Trump guy but I love that song “People’s Champ.” You seem like a good guy.’ It was a really nice moment.”
Arkells began showcasing a new prop on stage last summer that materializes the band’s commitment to creating connections. The massive sign had to be shipped from city to city often by truck overnight. In bright, glowing letters the sign reads “Arkells Touring Band.” It’s a fitting title for a band that doesn’t seem to take a break.
“I think for our band, what we feel more than anything is really lucky that audiences across the country are excited to see us, and we never want to take that for granted,” Kerman says.
– Tamanna Khurana
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