Hamilton’s Arkells offer a Rally Cry that you can sing along to

Smart one, that Max Kerman.

He refuses to take the bait, refuses to get involved in any inter-provincial border skirmishes.

When asked if his Canpop-rock act Arkells are kicking off their current Rally Cry Tour in Edmonton before heading to the West Coast and then making their way to Calgary so that all of the bugs are worked out before their Feb. 9 Saddledome show (i.e. Dirt City is where you go to rehearse), he laughingly demurs.

“No comment,” Kerman says.

Well, that said, the frontman for the Hamilton band does admit that there is a special connection with this city, something they proved by surprising students at the Calgary Arts Academy on Thursday, Feb. 7 with a special MusicCounts Award presentation and performance, and the announcement that they’ll perform another small, free show at Studio Bell on Saturday afternoon before their evening Dome date.

The latter he also admits should be the biggest on their current cross-Canada arena tour — their grandest to date.

That’s not really a surprise considering the heights they’ve ascended to over the past decade-and-a-half and on the back of five stellar studio albums.

In fact, this discussion is a day removed from the multiple Juno-winning quintet receiving another pair of nominations — Group of the Year, and Rock Album of the Year — for their latest release Rally Cry

“Actually, you know, there’s a sneaky third one, our guitarist (Mike DeAngelis) is up for album artwork, too, which we’re really excited about,” he says.

Asked whether the nominations actually mean something, Kerman considers. 

“You don’t write songs and play shows to win a competition, that’s not why you do it. But, I’d say, for me a Juno nomination or any type of recognition is nice. No matter what your job is, whether you’re a plumber or accountant, it’s nice to be recognized for doing a good job,” he says.

“So that’s the way I kind of think at it is the Junos are just a version of an industry awards night, where it’s like people who are working hard and doing a good job.”

Again, Arkells are doing a pretty damn good job.

Rally Cry is a big, bright, beautiful, boisterous and exuberant rock record where the chorusses are catchy AF, the sonics soar and, hell, the pop is pure. It seems tailor-made for arenas — anthems from beginning to end that should have audiences with their cellphones at the ready and their lungs in fine form.

“I think we’ve always been trying to do some version of that. Even from our first record, like the song, Oh, The Boss is Coming!, or Leather Jacket (from 2014’s High Noon) — those are a singalongs,” says Kerman.

“I discovered something when we were touring Jackson Square, I remember being in Thunder Bay, which felt a million miles away from home, and we were playing a little club, and people were singing along to John Lennon, our song. And I just remember thinking, ‘Holy fuck, this is the coolest thing ever.’ ”

He laughs. “To have a room full of people that you don’t really know that have listened to your music and are singing the words back at you — when I think of all the things that we get to experience in this band, the feeling of a big group singalong is my favourite thing.

“So we always have that in the back of our minds when we’re working on songs.”

He continues. “Our band’s a very communal thing, it’s not an introverted experience, it’s a very outward looking experience, so the shows work best when everybody’s onboard and everybody’s singing and dancing together.”

What they’re singing about is equally as important. Arkells have always infused some social commentary into what they do, with Kerman explaining he loves artists who have layers to their lyrics such as Joe Strummer and The Clash, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder.

Rally Cry is particularly coloured by the times we live in, with songs such as American Screams and People’s Champ particularly of the moment — tunes that might make border crossings south a little longer and, shall we say, more invasive.

He laughs again. “That’s sort of the MO for us: How do you get a rock ’n’ roll club to light up just based on the beat or the guitar riff, and then what do you say that doesn’t have meaning or isn’t important to you? Because I think as a singer the lyrics that you end up liking the most and ones you sing the best are the ones you feel most passionate about.

“So there’s a fair amount of editing I think when we’re working on the songs because you want to get it just right and to say exactly what you mean.”

That’s not to say preaching to the choir — or preaching, period — is something Kerman or Arkells are particularly interested in doing. The singer thinks with the amount of shouting going on in the discourse of the day, it’s important to pull back and say what you mean, but say it with a little understanding.

“I try not to write from a condescending place,” he says. “I think that’s one of the biggest problems in our culture is the tribalism that exists between various factions of political communities that exist in North America. I think one problem the left has is they can be condescending in their critiques, and I don’t think that’s helpful at all.

“Even though I might agree with the critique, I don’t necessarily agree with the tone of it. So I think for us, we’re writing about politics and we write from a place that doesn’t sound condescending, but a place of love and compassion.

“You can disagree with somebody, but at least do it respectfully.”

For example, he points to what he calls “an amazing experience” he had with a disgruntled fan during an email interaction. Actually, it was a fan in Calgary who was disappointed that Kerman was one of the over 200 artists and musicians who signed an open letter supporting B.C. First Nations groups over their treatment by the RCMP during the dismantling of a checkpoint where members were protesting a pipeline.

Instead of merely ignoring and dismissing the emailer, he thought he’d engage.

“My stance on a lot of these social issues is that people treat everything as a zero-sum gain and that just because you’re in support of one thing means you hate the other thing, which is not true,” he says.

“I wrote back and said my support of this group is simply putting myself in their shoes. You know, I can imagine how stressful it would be for them to be forcibly removed by the RCMP and I just tried to shine a light on a group that could use some compassion. And likewise, we’ve played in towns in Alberta who have really struggled with oil business not moving and people becoming unemployed, and my heart breaks for those families that really rely on those jobs. 

“So I can be equally compassionate for a hard-working family that works in the oil business and a First Nations group — those things aren’t mutually exclusive …

“I wrote him and the guy wrote back he said, ‘I really appreciate it, and I needed to let off some steam.’ It was just a very cordial, respectful back and forth, where it wasn’t just a shouting match, where, ‘You’re a traitor!’ It wasn’t that at all, it turned into this really nice moment of human connection and I really loved that …

“We’re all just people trying to figure it out and we should be easier on each other.”

Arkells perform Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Saddledome. For tickets go to They’ll also perform a free show in the afternoon at Studio Bell at 2:30 p.m. on a first-come basis.