You wouldn’t expect Arkells, the Juno Award-winning Ontario alt-rockers who have been building up a fanbase since ‘06, to be playing the earliest festival slot at 12pm. But that’s what happened on Day 3 of The Meadows, and it was cool to see how they handled it. With their striking harmonies and high-energy stage presence, they turned no audience into a substantial one and made them all part of the experience – even inviting a fan up to the stage to rock out on guitar with them, as they did at Coachella earlier this year. When we talked to frontman Max Kerman and guitarist Mike DeAngelis after the show, we were surprised to find that this was – and always is – something that’s totally improvised.
“You know, I saw Springsteen play a few years ago, and I just realized, he has so many tricks up his sleeve from decades of touring,” explained Max. “Depending on the day of the week, or the time of day, or what his mood is, he can go into that bag of tricks and pull one out. So that’s the attitude that we have when it comes to developing our touring repertoire. We toured with Frank Turner, and he’s from the same school – I think we stole that trick from him. The great artists, you steal from,” he admitted with a smile. “I like that it breaks down the disconnection between us and the crowd,” added Mike. “It makes the stage less of a weird pedestal and it really feels more collective after that moment. I feel like, especially when the person is good, people think it’s like a ringer or something we planned, but it literally never is.”
Though Arkells seemed totally unfazed by what had started as a thin crowd at The Meadows, even they sounded surprised at how it had multiplied. “We were really relieved,” Mike said with an appreciative laugh. “Every show has its own set of challenges,” said Max, “but playing noon on a Sunday is really kind of where you earn your stripes. On a certain level, it’s kind of easy to walk onstage with thousands of people rooting you on, because you don’t have to try that hard. People are in it already. But when you have to win over a crowd, and you have to work for it, those are the true tests of your character. Because it would be very easy to get discouraged, but for us, it’s like ‘No. We trekked all the way down here to New York, we’ve got to deliver.’”
The funny thing is, if Arkells were booked to perform anywhere in Canada at the same time, they would have likely been playing for thousands – a theory we specifically asked them about. “Well, we wouldn’t be playing a 12-o-clock show,” they said at the same time with a sheepish laugh, fully aware of their mostly-Canadian following. “The way we look at it is, the work we put in is usually what we get out of it,” explained Max. “And we’ve been touring in Canada for a long time, building real relationships with different communities. It’s the same thing again here – the places where we’ve been the most, we have traction, so it’s just a matter of putting in the work. And there’s something very concrete about that idea. You realized it’s in your control, which is actually cool.”
The work they’ve been putting in is significant, and given the powerhouse vocals across the group, we wondered if it’s a challenge to maintain their voices on tour. “Yeah, it definitely can be a struggle,” said Max, “like on the fifth day in a row. Luckily, during the summer, the tour is sort of broken up into weekends, so it’s quite leisurely. But on tour, it’s definitely something we have to be mindful of. We’re working on new music, but not like rehearsing and melting your face off for three or four hours, or anything like that.”
“People always ask us, ‘So now do you get some down time?’” said Max, “but I think it’s the nature of a life in a band is that you always need to be working – whether it’s thinking about the next tour, or whether it’s the next record. So even when our record [last year’s Morning Report] came out, we were kind of thinking about new music. I think as writers of music, we’re always listening around us, and that will help inform our next set of songs.”
And while they said it’s still too early to tell how their new album will differ from previous ones, they’re definitely exploring some new things. “All of our records are pretty different,” hinted Mike, “so I would suspect that this one will also be different. Just because, we like to try to do something that excites us first. And that usually means going in a new direction, or trying to find some new sounds. So that’s what we’re focusing on right now; making something that’s really exciting to us in my little office. And then, it’s amazing how that feeling can transfer out at a festival to thousands of people. Or at noon,” he grinned. “It all works.”
You can follow Arkells on Twitter and Facebook for more updates, and catch them live in NYC this fall. They’ll be playing the Bowery Ballroom on Friday, November 17th, and you can grab tickets here.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Images: Shayne Hanley