Max Kerman and Tim Oxford of the Canadian rock band, Arkells, had just enough time to talk a bit of shop with us before boarding a plane to Germany. Fresh off a new album release, they took us through the process of recording their third album since 2008, High Noon.
1. When you’re in a band, the creative process is all about combining everyone’s visions.
Max: It’s definitely not always easy writing a record. I think the reason why the band has worked is that everyone has a different sensibility, but they complement each other. It’s a really long process. I usually start the song with just a very simple chord melody and a couple lyrics that really stand out to me. Even to get to that idea takes a long time for me personally. Usually, when I think something is good enough to show the guys, it’s only about 5 per cent of the song. And then everyone gets their hands on it. Then, once you think you’ve got it in your rehearsal space, you have to record the fucking thing and that is a nightmare in itself.
Tim: It’s like filtration after filtration. If Max can get it to a point where he is actually happy and proud enough with it to bring it to the table, then the other four of us will go through it and individually find our own place with it, make it our own…then you’re sort of starting again when you start recording it.
2. The process of each song is different.
Max: It really varies. There are some songs that we banged our heads against a wall about—like Leather Jacket. We were working on [that song] forever. And then while we were in the studio we figured it out.
Tim: The idea for the song came together really quickly. It existed in one state for months and then it kind of fell apart in the studio and was rebuilt. It depends on the song. Some of them happen naturally and organically and some of them go through a real punch-out.
3. It’s okay for musical inspirations to come through in your own music.
Max: There are some things that we try to reference musically and, of course, I think our music is inspired by all the different kinds of music that we love. Some references come through really obviously. For example, I like 80s Americana music like Tom Petty or Don Henley or John Cougar, and I think those influences come through in our songs. We’re always trying to do something that’s new. Though I will say, there are two references in the song Dirty Blonde to late 90s early era hip-hop. There’s a Nelly reference and a JaRule reference and some of our fans have caught it already and Tweeted at us about it.
4. The writing and recording space is paramount.
Max: We actually wrote the record [in a vacant nightclub in Hamilton] and we recorded some of it in Toronto and some in LA. To me, having a comfortable studio is really important because we’re still working on the songs at that point. We knew that that would take the longest, so we just wanted to have a place that was ours and that was comfortable. Like any other job, enjoying the place where you work is important. We ended up sharing our space with this band called The Dirty Nil who are friends of ours and it was really good because it felt like a community, a shared space, which is something I really believe in. But they’re a bunch of dirty ass punk rockers and they were leaving the place a mess. [laughs] Luckily we had pretty much finished the record by the time they got their hands on the space. We kept it clean enough.
Tim: What’s funny is the reason we got the space is because we wanted to avoid being in the dingy, go-to rehearsal spaces that exist in Toronto or Hamilton or wherever. Any band would know what I’m talking about. They stink, there’s beer mixed with God-knows-what on top of whatever furniture is in there…those rooms are an absolute disaster. This space was our own. Then The Dirty Nils showed up and turned it into exactly what I’m talking about. You gotta love them.
5. Music doesn’t always have to stay true to life.
Max: I think stuff that inspires me to write the most is stuff that is more personal or had to do with a friend. But, I think that there’s some fantastical music out there that’s cool to listen to too. Or some music that’s might not make sense, but it connects in some way. I think it depends on who’s doing it and how well they’re doing it. And that goes for music that’s autobiographical…sometimes that music is terrible too. It just has to be presented in the right way.
Tim: Authenticity is pretty hard to fake.
6. Change, both musically and personally, is good.
Tim: We’re always trying to keep things exciting for ourselves, first and foremost, and that comes from naturally progressing and trying to step outside the box that we began writing in.
Max: I think our musical palatte has grown. I like a lot more music today than I liked in 2008. I guess the main thing is that we’re always hungry for more and to take in more. Just having that perspective has changed the band in terms of the music we make. The core of the band is the same as it ever was because we love making energetic rock music, but the things that influence us have changed.
7. It doesn’t matter if you release an album on vinyl, CD or online. Rock is all about the live shows.
Max: The most important thing is that it just gets out there. We’re in this band, so we can share music, especially live. We’re not resistant to any changes that the music industry brings. When we put out our last album, Instagram wasn’t a thing. Twitter wasn’t as huge. The thirst for live music hasn’t dried up. Fortunately for us, that’s what we like to do the best.
Tim: As Max was saying, that’s what we really get off on…the live experience. Both as a band and as fans. Personally, I still go to a ton of concerts whenever I can and that’s one of the really cool things about being in a band is that you get to go on tour with bands that you’d actually want to see in concert. If you could go back in time and tell your 16-year-old self that this was going to happen, you’d blow your mind.
Max: Touring is the gig you signed up for. If you hated to tour, then being in a rock-and-roll band would be really weird. Rock and roll is a kind of community thing; it’s music for people. It’s meant to be played live. We all feel really lucky that it’s part of the job so we take it really seriously.
8. Style is always a factor.
Max: I’ll tell you, we look back at old press photos and grimace. Don’t include those kinds of photos in this! There’s definitely a connection between the image and the music. Just as a band in pop culture and rock-and-roll, you get a kick out of seeing The Beatles in old press shots and seeing how cool they looked. I think we’re observers of stuff like that and we take it as one of our responsibilities. You don’t want to go to a show and see your favourite band looking like a bunch of schleps.
Tim: There’s an expression called SOS, which means help but also ‘shorts on stage.’ You can’t do that.
Max: Unless you’re really fucking cool and can pull them off. The odd band gets away with it. In our band, Mike has a real keen eye. He will give his master opinion on a new garment and he’ll say either you can do better or,that’s the one. The problem with suits on tour [like The Beatles] is that because we sweat so much on stage, we’d need like eight different versions of the suit. Or we’d need to find a dry cleaner in every city, every single day. We’ve dressed in suits for the odd show now and then, and that can be really fun. But on tour you have to be lean and mean. Light and tight.