For front man Max Kerman, the Arkells are never far from their college band beginnings.
“A lot of being in a band is striving for the next thing,” Kerman said. “You played [for] 100 people in a city and you go, ‘next time I hope 150 show up.’”
Instead of just another 50 curious concertgoers, there’ll be a few thousand more in attendance for their show at the K-Rock centre on Nov. 24. Plus, it’ll be a slightly bigger venue than their last Kingston experience — a student party they attended after their Queen’s ReUnion Homecoming performance in 2015.
This constant evolution has defined the Arkells over the course of four albums and 11 years – going from scrappy students forming in McMaster student housing to an arena-filling fixture of student life.
“I find campus grounds really inspiring. I remember going to shows at things like Frosh events and how important that was to me,” Kerman said. “I think it’s really cool that we can be that for the next generation.”
The band’s music took a similar path, developing from straight-ahead workman Indie rock to sleekly produced pop-rock hooks.
Some of this is attributed to their own evolving musical tastes. The band is just as likely to cite Chance the Rapper or Ariana Grande as an influence as they are the Sam Roberts Band.
“My favorite artists or bands are the ones that keep you on your toes,” Kerman said. “When Beck comes out with a new song, you won’t know what’s it going to sound like. When Kanye comes out with a new song, you won’t know what it’s going to sound like.”
Despite these changes to their sound, the group always tries to stick to its pillars to ensure the Arkells stay as the Arkells.
“That’s the trick of evolving,” Kerman said. “Finding that balance between pushing yourself and also remembering who you are and where your friends are … After that, you can do whatever the fuck you want,” he said.
For Kerman, the fundamentals are being a lively, energetic rock band that tells stories through their music and usually with a positive attitude — aside from a few a heartbreakers.
He says the songs similarly stick to the band’s core: politics and relationships, the two things that “really fire [him] up” and most often make the ongoing list of ideas stockpiled on his phone.
It’s the kind of commitment the band honed after touring with bands like The Tragically Hip. The Arkells recorded their 2011 record Michigan Left in the Hip’s Kingston studio and their cover of the Hip’s “My Music at Work” frequently made an appearance in the Arkells’ sets last summer.
“We know the guys, we know their kids. We know their management. It hits close to home,” Kerman said of Downie’s passing.
“But it’s beautiful to see people sing those songs and celebrate the music and the life of Gord Downie. To me, that sort of public gathering is a beautiful thing because it doesn’t happen very much and speaks to how important Downie was as a dude.”
Kerman said any further covers from the band during a performance will depend on the night.
If not, fans can expect the same high-energy live show that made the Arkells a household name in their own right, rocking through songs that have taken on special significance for a new generation of Canadian music fans.
“I think the root of it is that we know how precious this job is,” Kerman said. “It’s an awesome job to have. Not many people get to pay their bills by playing their own songs across the country.“
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