‘Black and blue-eyed soul’
Success comes to those who wait is not a phrase that applies to Canadian rockers Arkells. Formed in 2006 at McMaster University, the new musical powerhouses have gone from opening for big-name acts like Matt Mays & El Torpedo to headlining their own major shows.
Having released their first full-length album Jackson Square earlier this year – which has received critical acclaim for its unique style – Arkells have already been long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize.
And while they are relatively young, the budding group has been able to build their own mature sound.
“Black and blue-eyed soul” were the words guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Dan Griffin used to describe the group’s style.
“It’s soul music but it’s sort of gotten shook down and punched in the face.”
Just hours before performing at the Sound Academy in Toronto, Griffin explained to The Cord that Arkells use Canadian music as their inspiration, drawing from a variety of artists they listened to throughout their youth.
This includes “going to see a lot of live concerts … and going to see a lot of Canadian heroes like Joel Plaskett and the Weakerthans,” Griffin commented, adding that being exposed to Motown music during their childhood has been another major influence for the band.
Along with Griffin, Arkells are composed of band members Nick Dika on bass, Mike DeAngelis on guitar and vocals, Tim Oxford on drums and Max Kerman on lead vocals and guitar.
By combining Dave Grohl-reminiscent vocals with grungy guitar and upbeat piano riffs, Arkells’ sound ranges from the clear and melodic to the raspy and rough.
For Griffin, being named among other talented Canadian artists on the Polaris Music Prize long-list was a humbling experience.
“There were a lot of great names on that list so we felt really honoured to be a part of it,” he said.
Arkells are currently on a summer tour for their new album. For Griffin, being able to share the stage at different venues with acts like Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards and The Tragically Hip has been the biggest highlight.
Griffin confesses that some of Arkells’ best memories have been on the road, remembering one specific dangerous dilemma.
During their winter tour this year, the band was driving through the BC interior to Kelowna when intense fog set in, the night of a gig.
“We literally had to pull to the side of the road and stick our heads out the window and look for the white line on the road,” he said, explaining that it eventually got so bad they could no longer find their way.
“We thought for sure we were going to miss this gig and this white pick-up truck pulls in front of us and puts on his lights telling us to follow him.
“It was just one of those times we thought we were going to be splattered on the bottom of some valley,” he laughed.
But that incident was one of the best bonding experiences for Arkells, who have become very close over the past few years.
Griffin told The Cord that between gigs the guys enjoy playing baseball and attending Toronto Blue Jays games.
“Half of our band are baseball fanatics and the rest, they just go along with it,” he said.
For Arkells, festivals provide relaxing downtime from the hectic nature of touring. “You get to stay out in the sun and play with a lot of great bands,” Griffin stated.
Having attended the festival for the past several years, Griffin is excited to finally play it, especially because the band will be the Saturday-night headliners.
“For us it’s really special,” he said.
“We love the festival so it’s really nice this year to be a part of it finally.”