There are few bands in Canadian music that compare to Arkells. A rock band with a somewhat boyish origin story, Arkells met in Hamilton, Ontario, when many of them were attending McMaster University.
The five-piece band – composed of Max Kerman (vocals and guitar), Nick Dika (bass), Mike DeAngelis (lead guitar), Tim Oxford (drums) and Anthony “Tony” Carone (keyboard) – is known for their vivacious energy, catchy hooks, and lyrical realness, often incorporating political and societal views into their own unique sound.
Within the past couple of years, Arkells have managed to hit a couple personal bests. First, by creating the ultimate sports song, Knocking At The Door. KATD not only scored the band two Juno nominations. but also played at the Superbowl, the NHL awards, and practically any Blue Jays game this season. Second would be getting themselves invited to the 2018 Olympics to play at Canada House. (The power of Twitter, fans, and Tessa Virtue is so, so strong.) And last but not least, breaking capacity records for venues in their hometown, with over 20,000 fans packed into Tim Horton’s Field for their June 23rd show.
The band’s biggest show, appropriately titled ‘The Rally’ tied together pieces of Hamilton the guys love most. Their favourite food-spots were highlighted on UberEats. Public transportation was complimentary with a flash of your ticket. Local vendors set up booths outside the stadium to sell art and other goods outside the venue before the show. Unsurprisingly, Arkells managed to make the event extremely personable – making their fans feel all the more connected, both to the band and each other.
AirMiles has released an incredible program for their Collectors this summer in collaboration with Live Nation that brings people so much closer to their favourite artists. Stage Pass: With The Band allows AirMiles Collectors the opportunity to connect with artists with special contests that allow for not only concert tickets but exclusive experiences with bands that you can’t get anywhere else. Thanks to AirMiles I had the pleasure of sitting down with Arkells at their soundcheck to talk about some things that make the band so special: community, energy, and, most of all, Hamilton.
Paige: First, I think we have to talk about Hamilton because we’re in Hamilton and this is such a big show for the city. What I like to say is that you guys did for Hamilton what Drake did in Toronto. In the hip-hop community, Toronto wasn’t a relevant place just as Hamilton hasn’t really been seen as a popular destination or a cultural hub. I think you guys have done a good job at bringing it into the spotlight. Do you feel like you’ve helped bring some awareness to Hamilton and its cool factor?
Max:Yeah, we do it with the understanding that we’re able to shine a light on all the cool stuff going on. We’re just one part of it and we happen to have had some success where people listen to us and we have a platform that people might listen to us, but we’re just one part of lots of cool stuff. This whole Rally Day was just like, okay, I love using SoBi – which is the bike share program here – let’s do a free ride to the show. I love the artists and vendors that exist on James Street North, let’s put them in the plaza because that’s such a point of pride for Hamiltonians. I’m a big proponent of public transportation, so let’s see if we can do ticket to ride program, which they do for TiCats games, which encourages people to take the bus and you can ride for free. It’s stuff like that which is not really directly about us at all, but we can shine a light on it.
Paige: But it is in a way because you’re tethering all Hamilton has to offer in one place, in one day – which has to be really tricky.
Max: Yeah, thank you. It’s been fun though. In its own way, it’s a creative endeavour to put on a show like this. Some of my l favourite life moments have been when I’m part of a big collective, Supercrawl, every September in Hamilton, an art and music event that shuts down the streets. You just think to yourself, “Oh my God, this is so cool to be around your neighbours.” I have been to big stadium shows, and I love a good club show, but a big stadium show… it offers you the opportunity to look around like, “Oh man, there’s a bunch of people here that are kind of into the same thing that I’m into.” And that feels good.
Paige: This place hasn’t been filled to capacity since probably The Hip. How do you feel about that energy? Is that intimidating to you? Is it exciting?
Max: Well, The Hip played this venue back when it was Ivor Wynne Stadium, when it sat 13,000. Billy Talent even played here last year, but I don’t think they had the upper deck. But it’s kind of breathtaking really, because we play all sorts of shows. We play club shows, we’ll play big festivals, we’ve even played on a stage this big but it was never a headlining set. It’s been, we’re at four in the afternoon and Pearl Jam’s headlining, you know? So that fact that we’ve got a full sound check and this is our day is kind of incredible.
Paige: Are you expecting it to be an emotional day? I’m almost emotional, standing here looking at the venue.
Max: Yeah, it’s going to be. I’ve been trying my best to enjoy it because there are usually a lot of little details and variables that will stress me out, but as we’ve gone on in this band I think getting better at it. So I knew not to have the frantic conversation with our lighting guy like 45 minutes before, bugging him like, “Oh, yeah, by the way, let’s change this, this, this, and this!” I think I did that last week. The more shows you do, the better you get at handling things like that.
Paige: One thing I definitely wanted to talk about is People’s Champ. You’ve asked your fans to shine a spotlight on people in their communities doing good for others, which is so incredible. What’s the best story you’ve heard from People’s Champ so far?
Max: Our inbox is filling up with stories from across the country. This week, we were focusing on local things. This guy named James emailed us and told us this amazing story about his mom who came from Sri Lanka with a young family. She was a doctor at home and had to to redo her qualifications at McMaster. James remembers her not missing anything in his childhood despite the fact that she was working and going to school and getting him to after school activities. I was crying just reading the thing, so we decided to make a little video. We got to meet his mom, who works at Westmount here in Hamilton, which was just incredible.
There are all sorts of stories. This other one was really personal. This woman wanted to nominate her friend from childhood because her friend offered to be the surrogate when she and her husband were having problems conceiving. You can’t be paid to be a surrogate in Canada, so it wasn’t a financial thing. Her friend went through all the fertility clinics and tests and in the end couldn’t carry for them. They’re still best friends today and the woman has adopted kids now, but her point is that if the surrogacy was successful, everyone would have told her she was such a good friend. The fact that it never happened meant that her friend never got any attention or accolades for doing this amazing deed. Despite it not working, she wanted people to know how generous a friend she had.
And finally, there’s a financial story from British Columbia. This woman was living in a community that was hit by forest fires. She had been saving up all of her money to buy a new car, $40,000, and instead offered 40 $1000 cheques to anyone who needed it because a lot of insurance doesn’t cover forest fires. This is not a rich person; this is a woman who had been saving for a long time to buy a new car. Shit like that is just the most selfless thing you’ve heard in your life and it’s the antidote to all this terrible shit you just read on Twitter all day.
Paige: That’s actually something I wanted to talk about too because Arkells music isn’t like most popular music in that it’s consistently political, it’s cultural, it’s saying something. Is using your music as a platform something you think has made Arkells what it is?
Max: I think it’s part of our identity for sure. I think my favourite, most satisfying thing is sneaking a political song into somewhere where it shouldn’t be. So right now People’s Champ [a song inspired by Trump’s inability to serve as a good leader, unlike a true ‘People’s Champ’ who serves and helps others] is in a Nascar commercial, which I kind of fucking love. We actually know some of the Nascar people – and they’re lovely people – but I know the politics around Nascar. It’s kind of a red state sport. If someone just wants to enjoy this song for what it is, that’s great. But if they want to read into the message and what we’re trying to articulate, that’s awesome.
Paige: People’s Champ is sneaky. Upon first listen, you don’t really grasp what it’s about. At first, it’s a fun tune and then you really listen and get what the artist is saying.
Max: Those are my favourite kinds of tunes, The Clash does that a lot, actually. Listening, like, I fucking love this song and then you read along the lyrics and go, “Oh, this guy’s on fire!”
Paige: One last question: there’s rain in the forecast for the big show, so on a scale of 1 to Prince at the Superbowl, how are you going to handle that?
Max: Well, we wrote a song for this very occasion. Literally, when we were writing ‘A Little Rain (A Song For Pete)’ I was like, “Yo dudes, this is perfect because if ever rains we’re covered.” So I’m not worried about it. It’ll all be good.
For a chance to win your own VIP Stage Pass: With The Band experience, check out the AirMiles website here.