Emerging at a time when the internet had thoroughly disrupted the way we make, consume, and think about music, the Arkells’ 2008 debut, Jackson Square, inherited the dying-embered torch for a certain old-school, rock ‘n’ roll ethic—and poured a fresh gallon of gasoline on the flame. They came from a notoriously tough industrial outpost—Hamilton, Ontario—armed with songs about punching clocks and punching faces. And though they were spurred into action by the mid-2000s Canadian indie-rock renaissance—back when bands like the Weakerthans, the Constantines and Wolf Parade were channeling punk-fueled passion into anthems for the overeducated and underemployed—the Arkells were also keen students of the classics. They named songs after John Lennon and pinched lines from Elton John, and if you got them drunk enough, they could play you an hour of spot-on Motown covers.
But while their Canadian indie antecedents had either broken up or gone on indefinite hiatus by decade’s end, the Arkells gamely inherited their mission, and—with the release of 2011’s Michigan Left and 2014’s High Noon—achieved the sort of national success that their underdog heroes always deserved but never experienced. With four Juno Awards and a gold record under their sweat-rusted belts, the Arkells have proven there’s still a place for passionate, no-bullshit rock ‘n’ soul in the mainstream—last year, they were the most-played band on Canadian alt-rock radio.
But there’s just one problem with the popular perception of the Arkells as Canada’s saviours of rock music: these days, they’re completely bored by rock music.
“It’s a weird time to be a rock band right now,” observes Max Kerman, the Arkells’ singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter. “And to be honest, I don’t really listen to a lot of rock music right now. I listen to Drake and Kanye. It would be so boring if we made a mid-2000s-style indie record. All those bands that I grew up with and shape the way I think about being in a band—the C