Shooting hoops on an outdoor court near Beverley and Dundas, Arkells lead singer Max Kerman talks about his adopted city of 10 years, Hamilton, their latest album, High Noon (Universal), and debating politics in the tour van with his bandmates – guitarist Mike DeAngelis, drummer Tim Oxford, bassist Nick Dika and keyboardist Anthony Carone. But the conversation keeps steering back to our current pursuit. “You gotta read my piece. I’m a journalist myself!” he says, laughing, before recounting the time he drove from L.A. to Lawrence, Kansas, to cover Andrew Wiggins’s first college game for Sportsnet.
That article came just after the guys finished recording High Noon in L.A. with a new producer, Tony Hoffer, late last October. The result, the group’s third full-length, is their slickest yet – straight-up aggro rockers alongside joyous Elton John-channelling piano pop songs and 80s-new-wave-inspired tunes. The common denominator? Every one of ’em sounds like a single.
“I’ll be listening to something a little more solemn or sparse, like Sea Change by Beck, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is what we need to do!'” says Kerman. “I’ll say, ‘We need way more ballads, guys!’ and then we just get carried away and it turns into High Noon.”
If their Toronto shows earlier this week – Richard Branson’s fundraiser for homeless youth and a Red Army TIFF party – are any indication, High Noon packs a wallop live.
But these aren’t empty pop anthems. Arkells share certain sonic similarities with Bruce Springsteen, and also his flair for championing the working class. Steeltown’s specific set of challenges and triumphs surface throughout the record.
“We listen to a lot of podcasts in the van, more so than music, often, and there’s a lot of downtime for reading,” says Kerman. “Income inequality, who has power and privilege – those are things I find really interesting, and weaving them into songs just felt natural.”
Heroes of Hamilton, sure. But Toronto audiences can’t get enough either. Embrace has announced a third show date this fall, due to overwhelming demand. Combined with more U.S. dates that month, November’s looking pretty good for the Arkells. Plus, it’s the start of ball season.