Even though the cultural attitude has drifted away from rock and into hip-hop, Canadian rock band, Arkells, are living proof the genre is here to stay. In the spring, the band promptly decided to stop recording their just-released fifth album, Rally Cry, to go on a month-long U.K tour with Frank Turner – a decision that served the group well seeing the sounds the record produced helped cultivate a unity among their fans. Comprised of Nick, Mac, Mick, Tim and Tony the band formed in 2006 and since then have released blistering albums with grand anthems that weave through themes of political unrest and relationships – all wrapped up in a certain spunkiness.
Fresh off the release of their new record, Max, 1/5 of the band Arkells, chatted to us about touring, writing Rally Cry and working with Frank Turner.
Tell us a bit about Arkells and how the group came together…
I met Mike and Nick in the first week of University. I came to school looking to start a band and was very lucky to find a couple mates so quickly. We were all taking political science. Tim and Tony went to another school for music and production, and immediately upgraded the level of musicianship. They rounded out the group quite nicely.
Where did the band’s name come from?
Mike and I lived in a student house on Arkell St in Hamilton, Ontario. Arkells sounded like a 60s girl group to me, and we liked that.
With Rally Cry being the group’s fifth album, what makes it different from the previous records?
I think we’re always pushing ourselves to do something different than the last thing we did. We’re also always being inspired by new artists we’ve never heard before, and that inevitably makes us want to write new music. On a production level, it just sounds like a different record – which is the point! If we kept making the same sounding record over and over, it would be no fun.
What was the first step in writing Rally Cry?
We’re always hacking away at material. Keeping notes, lyrical ideas, having conversations with each other. Listening to new music. My attitude is that if you put in some work like that every day you’ll be able to turn around after 6 or 7 months have something that is the semblance of an album.
The band toured with Frank Turner and then proceeded to work with him on the record. What were these two experiences like?
Frank is a guiding light for me. His success is not only because he’s a smart and talented guy, but because he hustles his ass off and seems to enjoy all of it. There’s a sense of fun in the way he works, and that appeals to me. If you’re hustling and enjoying yourself, then what else do you need as an adult? He’s able to create these incredible communal moments at his shows, and that’s something we strived to do to. We are cut from the same cloth in that respect.
What were some of the band’s artistic goals while making Rally Cry?
Rock music is a somewhat ancient genre, so the question we always ask ourselves is “how do we remain true to ourselves as a band, while also making a record that sounds like it was made in 2018.”
The band took a break from making the album to go on tour, how did you all come to this decision?
It was our intention to make the record between touring dates. It kept us focused, to be able to get off the road and have a sense of purpose. I think a lot of bands get off tour and then don’t know what to do with themselves. After a few days at home, we like to have a project. We had some songs ready to go so recording our new record made sense.
What do you love about touring?
There’s something very tangible and gratifying to show up in a place you might’ve been 7 months ago on tour, and see people who saw you the previous time bring a few friends to the show. Even though some things about touring are the same – the load in’s, the hotels etc – the shows can all feel different. And that keeps the job very fresh.
How do you plan to bring the songs alive while on tour?
We’re always workshopping ideas to get the best version of the songs on stage. This tour has been very helpful because the songs are getting better and better every night.
On the band’s Instagram, you’ve given the fans a behind-the-scenes look at how the song ‘Show Me Don’t Tell Me’ was made. Do you feel like this helps draws you closer to them?
When I’m thinking about my favourite artists, I love the “making of” stuff, and I personally always feel closer to the material when I know where it’s coming from. There’s a great podcast called Song Exploder that does this – I recommend you check it out!
All of your songs are personal, but ‘Only for a Moment’ feels especially candid and exposed. Can you tell me about writing that one?
I’m usually trying to tell an interesting story with rich characters. You can do this by painting little scenes, and letting the reader figure out the rest. I was thinking about how people cope with life when things get turbulent. The song is about that moment in the night when you are able to forget about life’s troubles, and how liberating it can be, even if it’s just for a moment.
What’s the best compliment the band’s received about the album?
That we work hard! There’s virtue to that.