Written by: Bridget Carter-Whitney
Have you ever had dreams about fame? Or, at least about growing up to be exactly who you aspire to be? I know that experience. But it’s not always entirely impossible. Harbord has had many successful alumni. Have you ever heard of the the Arkells?
The Arkells are a Canadian indie rock band. Maya and I sat down for an exclusive interview with their lead singer Max Kerman last month. Max is a 2004 graduate of HCI and just one example of how our dreams can be reachable. He went to Lord Lansdowne PS for elementary school. He is a very witty and down to earth guy with a great sense of humour. His love for music started when he was a huge fan of the Beatles, which he got from his dad who was a college DJ.
He was in the English stream at Harbord and definitely did not enjoy French. Students would finish their assignments and pass them around for other people to use, and Max was always one of the copiers. He told us a lot about his great experience at Harbord. He mentioned lots of teachers; Mr. Duggan, Mr. Ross, Ms. Todros (who taught him cello until grade 10) and Ms. Townsen who was very supportive of him even as he struggled in math. He also mentioned a few other teachers who don’t teach here anymore.
Max was a very involved student. He played on the basketball, baseball and volleyball teams who were never strong but had a few good seasons. He is still very athletic now as he plays in a coed softball league and a men’s basketball league. He was also a member of the Tigerline announcements, BAA, and student activity council. In fact, he was the president of SAC in grade 12. He had a lot of fun at the end-of-year festivals and very much enjoyed soaking his teachers in the dunk tank.
He started music in grade 11 and played in a casual band with his neighbours who went to North Toronto and practiced in their basements. He also played some assemblies with his friends Harish and Bryce who also went to Harbord. “Looking back it must have been terrible but in the moment we thought it was amazing” he tells us. He remembers begging Mr. Alberts to record his band at his studio but that didn’t happen. Though Mr. Alberts told me that it was students like Max who made him want to help create the schools recording room.
Max only applied to 2 universities – Wilfred Laurier and McMaster. His girlfriend at the time was at McMaster and it made the decision a lot easier to just go where she was. So he ended up in Hamilton. He still lives there today and is very content so it was a good choice. He met Nick and Mike (bass and guitar) in the first week. They started playing music together almost immediately. There are a few other members but these three are the ones who have been in it the whole way through.
Max and Mike were in English class and they heard about King Charlemagne so at first the band was called Charlemagne. But than someone with the same name found them on MySpace and threatened to sue them if the didn’t change it. So urgently before they were about to make a release it was changed to the Arkells and the name stuck, though the band isn’t actually crazy about it. Arkell Street was the name of the road Max’s student house in Hamilton was on.
They weren’t always doing huge shows though. From spring 2005 to around 2008 most of their shows were at very random venues. Sometimes a lot of people would come out and sometimes not so many. But then at a gig in Toronto a manager saw them and offered them a deal with a record label. From there they started opening for bigger bands like Alexisonfire and Bedoin Soundclash. “He liked us and he saw potential in us. So from there we were very empowered to get better,” he explains.
A few years ago they were playing an MMVA after party at Horseshoe Tavern, which Max describes as a “dingy rock bar”. They were performing Ms. Jackson by the hip hop group OutKast, when Ke$ha climbed on the stage and started singing the chorus with them. It was a pretty silly, with Max doing a rap, but everyone was into it.
We asked whom he would collaborate with – dead or alive – if he had that choice. He told us he would collaborate with McCartney or Lennon or Springsteen. “Kanye [West] would be amazing,” he added with enthusiasm.
They have 2 albums and another one coming, you should definitely give them a listen. Even being someone who has done all this cool stuff, he is honestly just another person like you and me. He really didn’t expect them to go this big although he could sometimes imagine it. We all sometimes have dreams about being big, but it just seems too unrealistic. Everyone has to start somewhere though, so aim high.