Arkells' Max Kerman

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Photo: Matt Barnes

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Aug 5, 2016

A decade into their journey, Arkells have gone from being hometown heroes in their native Hamilton, ON to one of Canada's preeminent pop rock powers. First catching ears with the rock'n'soul of 2008's Jackson Square, the band successfully aimed higher on Michigan Left and High Noon, the latter of which was certified gold in Canada last year.
The band's fourth studio effort, Morning Report, is out now. "A Little Rain" layers vocal harmonies to new heights; "Making Due" relies heavily on synthesizers; "Drake's Dad" features a gospel choir and horn section. Frontman Max Kerman calls Morning Report the band's "weirdest, funniest, saddest" and "most honest" release to date.
What are you up to?
Right now we're doing a lot of press and promo in figuring how to roll Morning Report out. We were in New York earlier this week, and now we're in Kirkland Lake, ON for a summer concert series. We'll be jetting around to Philadelphia, BC, back to Ontario for WayHome, out west to Victoria, then Europe all within the next few months.
What are your current fixations?
I love the new Chance the Rapper album, that's my favourite album of the year. I also love a podcast called The Axe Files hosted by President Obama's senior advisor David Axelrod. I just finished a goofy crime novel by Carl Hiaasen from the '80s; it's called Tourist Season and it's a fun, easy read.
Why do you live where you do?
I still live in Hamilton. My friends are there, my partner is there, it's my home now. I grew up in Toronto, but went to school in Hamilton and just never left. It just felt right.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Some might not consider it mind-altering, but I find John Oliver to be impressive every Sunday night. That dude is such an incredible commentator and satirist, and they nail it every week. The writing team they have is so sharp and he delivers it so well. To pull that off consistently requires smarts, humour and an ability to perform.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
A recent one was at Firefly Festival in Delaware, where we did three sets. The first night, we played strictly Motown jams and covers, and Robert DeLong got onstage with us and sang Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." Then we did our own set the next night, where we played a bunch of new songs, and the crowd were very engaged. Right after that, we did an acoustic set at a campfire stage, which ended up being one big sing-along. It was really rewarding to do three shows that were all different in their own way.
What have been your career highs and lows?
A high is playing a show to people who aren't your friends or relatives and have them know all your lyrics and music by heart, and it doesn't matter whether it's in Vancouver, Berlin, London or anywhere else. The lowest moments come when the band fights internally, which we don't do often, but stress and aggravation come with touring constantly, and being in the van for nine hours, things can boil over. We're able to work through a lot of it because we care about each other and the band, but those times we're at odds make me sad.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
We opened for Billy Talent in Germany once, and I think some people in the crowd were expecting heavier music. These kids came up to the merch table after the show and said, "Your set was very interesting. It was not heavy. I don't know how much I liked it. But good try." Germans can be very frank people, but I think they meant well.
What should everyone shut up about?
People who encourage the spread of depressing or negative things on social media need to stop doing that. Everyone knows the world has lots of problems that need solving, so posting about something stupid that someone has done or said to me is unnecessary. Post positive shit! I think that encourages better behaviour from people.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I believe that traits that usually make a person good can also make them really irritating. For me, I bring a lot of energy to the group and a lot of ideas, and it's a good thing because we get to execute a lot of them. But as a result of that, I'm also really fucking annoying. If I've had two coffees in the morning, the guys will get like 19 emails from me going "Let's do this! Let's do that!" and I can get a bit too worked up as a result.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
A perfect Sunday is having gone out on Saturday and miraculously not ending up with a hangover [laughs]. I would go to this amazing bagel place called NU Bügel in Kensington Market, down the street from where my parents live, maybe get a salad from Urban Herbivore. I'd read the New York Times; my dad was born in New York City and he'd always have it around on Sundays. Nice weather would be good too, along with getting some shit done, like writing another 19 emails!
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
If things don't go your way or you get rejected, don't get worked up about it. When I was younger, I used to get down if certain things didn't work out for the band, but now I know not to get discouraged and keep it about the work. It's very easy for young bands to get like that if things don't go their way.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of us as a pretty level-headed country. We've been playing a lot in America lately, and to me, they have the highest highs and the lowest lows. I'm grateful that Canada seems to have a more realistic sense of self.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
I think it was Jay Z's Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. I was really into Rush Hour at the time and "Can I Get A…" was on both the movie soundtrack and that record. I love Jay Z.
What was your most memorable day job?
I worked at an ice cream parlour in Toronto when I was a teenager, and I gave away so much free ice cream. If you were nice to me, I'd go "Ah, just take it." Greg, the owner, did not like me [laughs]. We were supposed to play classical music during the day over a little stereo, and jazz in the evening, but I never did. I played the Weakerthans and early Max Kerman demos.
How do you spoil yourself?
Well, we got ourselves a large Hawaiian pizza driving through New York the other night so that was pretty good. I don't really have particularly fancy taste. I indulge in using up data on my phone, sometimes I won't give a fuck and just run through it all!
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I'd like to do something in media, something with my friends. I have a podcast that I produce with some friends outside of the band, and I love that medium both to work in and as a massive podcast fan.
What do you fear most?
I don't like flying that much, I'll tell you that. I just get so jittery when there's turbulence. I fucking hate it; it might be some weird trauma from flying as a kid or something.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
The Bieber record did. Most of the Drake records do. The early Weeknd shit is awesome. The Selena Gomez record definitely does — you just listen to the sound of her voice and it gets you all hot and bothered!
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
On the podcast I mentioned, we met Shemar Moore. We interviewed him and he was hilarious, and he was also showing off his abs, hitting on our girlfriends, and wouldn't stop inviting them to his afterparty that night. Also, we took a trip to Memphis last summer and randomly ran into Drake's dad on the street, and there's a song called "Drake's Dad" on the new record that came from that.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
It would be Barack Obama, for sure. I'd serve him something incredibly American, like Texas barbeque.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I think she's happy with me now! There were definitely a few times when she wasn't. When my parents first met, my dad had a musician friend who lived off his parents and didn't even work part-time to support himself, so I think she was a little worried I'd turn out like him!
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
I'd keep it upbeat. Off the top of my head, I'm really into Chance the Rapper's "Blessings." He frames it in a religious way, but just the idea of showing gratitude for what you have is simple and powerful. "When the praises go up, the blessings come down," right? When you show that to the world, you usually get it back.
Check out the video for "Drake's Dad" below.

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