Straight out of Steeltown

After gleaning some success on national airwaves and playing sold out shows, Arkells remain humble

Arkells said they’re looking forward to playing Clark Hall Pub on Thursday night.
Arkells said they’re looking forward to playing Clark Hall Pub on Thursday night.
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When Arkells first heard themselves on the radio in their van in downtown Toronto after a show, they got really, really excited.

“We were so excited we put all the windows down,” vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist Dan Griffin said. “We must have looked like the biggest idiots. There were old ladies waiting to cross the intersection.”

The band’s getting more steady radio play these days, but Griffin said he doesn’t think the thrill will ever wear off.

“To hear your music as a part of the culture you’re involved with it’s a really special thing,” he said.

The Hamilton band met through various channels while some of the guys were McMaster University students and others were holding part-time jobs.

A week after they played together for the first time, 2007’s Deadlines EP was born.

“Since then, we’ve been touring non-stop,” Griffin said from the band’s van somewhere between St. Catharines and Barrie. “It feels like we’ve been together for years and years.”

The band’s 2008 album Jackson Square, which turned a year old when I talked to Griffin on Wednesday, has taken as of late, receiving radio play nationwide. Last summer it was longlisted for the Polaris Prize, Canada’s top indie rock honour.

Arkells have toured with Matt Mays & El Torpedo and the Black Crowes, and shared festival stages this summer with Canada’s biggest musical acts. But the Fall Classic tour, as they’re calling it, is their first headline tour, Griffin said.

“It’s cool in a lot of ways get to feel completely responsible for the shows,” he said. “We get to have fun with it in a lot of different ways.”

The band heads to western Canada and back, ending in their hometown of Hamilton in early December.

Having played some large venues last summer, Clark Hall Pub might seem too small.

“We wanted to keep it smaller so we could have sweaty, crowded dance party,” Griffin said. “We’re hoping it’s going to be a really great time and everybody in there’s going to feed off each other and the band’s going to feed off it—that’s what’s going to make the night.”

Griffin said until recently, the band still tried to keep part-time jobs along with their busy touring and recording schedule.

“We’ve been touring around so much it’s tough to really hold down anything too permanent,” he said. “But when we’re off-tour it’s really important for us to stay busy. A lot of bands struggle when they stop everything normal about their lives; they have trouble relating to anything that used to make sense to them. We enjoy that feeling of re-integration back into what most people go through, which is important for songwriting.”

Arkells recently performed on CBC’s The Hour, with former United Nations Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS Stephen Lewis joining them on a cover of The Temptations’ “Too Proud to Beg” as a part of his ‘A Dare To Remember’ campaign, a nationwide challenge to raise money for the AIDS effort in Africa. The band is also become known to do mo-town covers at their shows.

From talking with Griffin, it’s clear the extra attention hasn’t gone to the band’s heads.

“We still feel like we’re delivery guys driving in some sort of trailer going across the country,” He said. “The only way this band has been able to get anywhere is the support of people around us. That hasn’t changed—the family has grown. The people that come out to our shows, we have a lot in common with, which is a great thing. It feels like we’re having a show with 400 of our closest friends.”

Griffin said the band hopes to tour Jackson Square in the United States and Europe next year.

“Even if we get a percentage of the kind of reception we’ve got here in Canada, we’ll be really happy about it,” he said. “We’re no strangers to getting on the road and just grinding it out, so that’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be a whole brand new start.”

Arkells play Clark Hall Pub on Thursday night. The show is sold out.

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