Not to be confused with the UK-based brewery, Canadian alt-rockers Arkells took their name from the street where they originally lived and practised in Hamilton, Ontario.
Fast forward nearly a decade and the band have two EPs and now four albums under their belt. We caught up with lead vocalist Max Kerman to discuss the latest release, Morning Report, and to pick out the singer’s 10 favourite records of all time.
Morning Report has surprised some people with its more intimate vibe. Was that a conscious decision, or something that happened more naturally?
“Let me tell you, making a record is a real pain in the ass. Each part is laboured over: first the lyrics, chords, melody and arrangement. Then you’ve got to figure out how to record it in a way that represents the first part.
“Recording can take a while and be hard. Then you have to mix it and argue about that for a while. But, we had this batch of songs that we were so excited about that we couldn’t deny ourselves. The tunes literally compelled us to dig in and get that work done.
“You go through all of that (sometimes beautiful) agony, so that one day we could hear it back as a finalised work. And when that day comes, it’s just the greatest thing ever.
“My attitude is that you chase down whatever compels you to write a song. If it’s slower and more intimate, so be it. I think there are a good variety of songs on the record, but I’ve definitely grown more comfortable with talking about intimate subjects.”
There's a clear hip-hop influence coming through now, too...
“I like how cheeky hip-hop can be. There’s a sense of humour that hip-hop can get away with that often times rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t even attempt.
“Personally, the ‘white-dude-singing-about-his-sad-problems’ is pretty trite, and I sometimes feel like I’m just a parody of that. That’s where the cheeky stuff comes in - Private School, Hung Up, Drake’s Dad, Round and Round have some of that hip-hop spirit to them.”
Is there any one thing that your 10 records have in common? How directly have they influenced your songwriting and sound?
“With all these records, there are common threads that connect them all. To me, Chance The Rapper fills a very similar place in my head that Bruce Springsteen does. They both talk about community, family. They’re each amazing storytellers and they both have so much soul.
“I love to find similarities between music and embrace those things. Wilco and Kanye both push the walls around their genre. Katy Perry and Motown both write immaculate pop songs that go down so easy.
“These records are part of my musical DNA, and I’ve taken nuggets from all of these acts and injected them into Arkells songs.”
Following a summer of festivals, including making first time appearances at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Firefly Music Festival in North America and Highfields in Germany, the band take to the road once again on a European run in November 2016. This comes hot on the heels of the band supporting Frank Turner across the USA.
- November 23: Molotow - Hamburg, GER
- November 24: PBHF Club - Berlin, GER
- November 26: Storm - Munich, GER
- November 27: Luxor - Cologne, GER
- November 29: Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen - London, UK
- November 30: Gullivers - Manchester, UK
- December 2: Broadcast - Glasgow, UK
For more information, check out the Arkells official website.
1. Bruce Springsteen - Greetings From Asbury Park
“His first! There are many amazing Springsteen records, but I love how raw this one is. The band is already smoking hot, but it feels young and raggedy in a great way.
“Asbury often gets overlooked, which is crazy to me because, firstly, it has Blinded By The Light, which is way better than the Manfred Mann version; secondly, it has the most underrated Boss tune of all time - For You; and thirdly, it features my personal favourite Springsteen tune of all time - Spirit In The Night.
“I know he was compared to Dylan on this record, but I hear a lot more Van Morrison on this record. So much soul.”
2. Kanye West - My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy/Watch The Throne
“I’m putting these two together because it’s my favourite creative run an artist has ever had. Kanye is my favourite modern artist. Each record is part of an evolution. Each is unpredictable and exciting.
“These two records are the best combination of arty-Kanye and bangers-Kanye. Otis, No Church In The Wild, All Of The Lights, Power… He combines electronic, soul and hip-hop so effortlessly.”
3. The Best Of Motown 1960s - Volume 1
“Normally greatest hits albums don’t count, but we make a special exception for Motown. Most of these songs were written by the same group of writers in the same house in Detroit.
“My dad went to University there and played all of these songs as a DJ at the college radio station. He kept those crates of LPs with him and, decades later, I would play them on our record player in the kitchen.
“If I can trace my fondness for pop music, it comes back to the songs of Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes etc.”
4. The Beatles - Abbey Road
“I could choose a different Beatles record depending on the day of the week. I literally wrote down Revolver to start this column and then changed my mind.
“They’re divine. Like, literally not from this planet. Between George’s two transcendent tunes (Something, Here Comes The Sun), Paul’s medley and John’s Come Together. You’ve got everything you need in a Beatles LP.”
5. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
“Nothing has excited me in music lately in the way Chance has. I am in awe. He embodies what I love about music. He talks about family, his community, relationships, politics. He’s funny.
“The production has so much soul. He’s not using a ton of samples - he’s using hot-shit soul players. There’s not a dud on this record. Top to bottom it’s the most cohesive thing I’ve heard in awhile.”
6. The Band - Rock Of Ages
“I usually don’t like live records, but this album slays. The Last Waltz gets more attention, but I love the quality of these recordings. The horn arrangements give so much life to these songs.
“I love The Band because you get three lead singers, all with totally unique and expressive voices. Also, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is a top 10 song of all time.”
7. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
“This record was really formative for me when Arkells formed. It was a record I didn’t understand at first, but had me coming back for more. The music was familiar but also very mysterious. Each time I listened there was something to discover. Very experimental layers on top of very traditional songs.
“I watched the accompanying documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, and it almost scared me out of being in a band because of how intense Tweedy had become during that time.”
8. Haim - Days Are Gone
“This debut is pretty spectacular. The song arrangements are spot on. The lyrics aren’t necessarily at the forefront for me, but the way they sing each syllable is so affecting. So fun!
“It’s as if Fleetwood Mac made a record with the Backstreet Boys and then gave it to Ariel Rechtshaid to produce it.”
9. Ben Folds Five - Whatever and Ever Amen
“There has never been a band before like BFF and there hasn’t been one since. I know piano rock ain’t cool (and they’d be the first to admit it), but these recordings are more punk rock to me than most punk rock I hear today.
“The storytelling in each song is so honest. There are hooks everywhere. The bangers make me rage, and the ballads make me cry.
“Also, can you imagine seeing this band at a 250-capacity club? A dude on a grand piano beating the hell out of the keys. Must’ve been incredible.”
10. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
“The first four tunes on this record - the title track, TGIF, California Gurls and Fireworks - are all pop masterpieces. Lately I haven’t been that impressed with the ‘song of the summer’ - iit’s a tough feat to pull off and Uptown Funk was my last true favourite - but this record has four of them.
“Teenage Dream is the perfect song. Incredible and evocative lyrics, and immaculately produced. I am not above any genre of music.”