By: Natalie Clark
Since graduating from McMaster in 2008, the Arkells have become one of Hamilton’s greatest accomplishments. “You write what you know,” mentions lead singer of the Arkells, Max Kerman, who accredits not only Hamilton, but McMaster, to the inspiration behind many of the band’s greatest hits.
“You write material based on your own life experiences; you’re trying to tell a story about a person, a friend, or someone you admire,” said Kerman.
The multiple Juno-award winning band’s career began in Hamilton where Kerman met the other members of the band. Their band name was even inspired by one of Westdale’s own street name; Arkell Street. Their first gig was played at the annual Battle of the Bands at McMaster in spring of their first year and a few of their songs feature campus landmarks such as the Brandon Hall residence in “Where U Goin”.
The Arkell’s music video sets and album titles have included places beyond campus including Cheapies Records, Jackson Square and even a Hamilton Street Railway bus.
McMaster and Hamilton are clearly places that the band admire. For Kerman, the buildings we spend long hours studying in, the neighbourhoods we settle into and the downtown spots we find excitement in paint the setting of his coming of age story, despite winding up there for other reasons.
“I went to McMaster because my high school girlfriend who was older than me was already there in the year ahead of me… I wanted to go to a school that wasn’t near my parents’ house, and McMaster took me in,” said Kerman.
Kerman went on to graduate as a political science major and describes his passion for politics as stemming from his family.
“My mom is a high school teacher and my dad is a social worker, which are two very community-based jobs…because I had this in my house growing up, it makes you think about how you are a part of a bigger thing,” explained Kerman.
He described political science as constantly asking questions about how we understand and figure things out together and how we coexist in this world. His education informed the way he sees the world and Kerman often translates this passion for politics into the band’s lyrics.
The Arkells have had more than a few hits with political messaging including “Knocking at the Door” which is inspired by The Women’s March on Washington and their most recent single, “People’s Champ”, is a protest against American President Donald Trump.
The Arkells are making their way across Canada and the United States this February to tour their new album Rally Cry. Their most local show will take place at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Feb. 16 with special guests Lord Huron.
“Getting the chance to play our new material is something we are most looking forward to, and when we were working on the songs in the studio, we were really thinking about how these songs would come off live,” mentioned Kerman.
The tour comes after their record-breaking show, The Rally, this past June at the Tim Horton’s Field. In true Arkells fashion, where better to have their biggest performance to date than in their hometown? As the Arkells continue to thrive, it’s exciting to see where their momentum will take them next.
When Detour played their set at the Casbah for McMaster’s Battle of the Bands finals this year, they did not expect to win.
Although they had supporters in the crowd, they realized that the venue had hit maximum capacity due to the amount of people their competitors drew to the audience.
Despite their pessimism, Detour earned a surprise win.
Comprised of Emman Alavata, Victor Zhang, Marco Goldblatt and Jaden Raso, the fresh-faced power pop outfit is the quintessential edgy, gritty, practice-in-mom’s-garage boy band from the high school days of yesteryear.
Detour started in the hallways of Westdale Secondary School, where Alavata walked into the wrong classroom in Grade 9 and ended up discussing the Foo Fighters with Zhang for the duration of that class.
Detour has credited their success as a band to the supportive atmosphere of Hamilton’s music scene, where venues like the Casbah and This Ain’t Hollywood book artists of a wide variety of styles and at varying stages of their careers.
“Arkells, [Counterparts, Teenage Head, The Dirty Nil]… all of these bands have set the bar so high… but [the supportive community in Hamilton really helps]… I remember [Brodie Schwendiman] from the Casbah booking us to open for Dear Rouge when we just started out… we went up to them a year ago and they still remembered us,” said Alavata.
Since the band’s inception in 2014, Detour has released 19 songs in total through several EPs and their debut full-length album.
The group describes their music as happy/sad power pop, referencing their heavy power pop influences and how their music seems happy at first but is actually quite sad in nature.
Detour’s music derives from a mix of personal narratives and occasionally unconventional topics that reflect the stage of life they are at.
This combination and their relatable ethos has garnered them a supportive following.
"Arkells, [Counterparts, Teenage Head, The Dirty Nill]... all of these bands have set the bar so high... but [the supportive community in Hamilton really helps.]"
“I think the most memorable moment [in our career as a band] was sometime in April of last year when we were playing our song ‘By the Fire’… everybody in the audience started to sing along and none of us [on stage] expected that at all,” said Alavata.“It felt so good.”
“That was the first time I felt like everyone in the room — us on the stage and [the audience] in the crowd — was connected through song,” said Zhang.
Before Detour, their band name was Mexican Fajitas Squad.
All of their social media handles still contain the abbreviation, “MFS,” as an ode to their humble beginnings.
The band members are all fans of artists like Bon Iver and Gorillaz.
They practice and record in Zhang’s basement. Some of their members are still attending high school, but their love for making music together resonates.
This air of relatable humility that gives Detour such a refreshing quality: they take their craft seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.
One day, they hope to sign with Dine Alone Records. But for now, they’re just kicking back and preparing to represent McMaster at the Battle of the Bands Provincials in a few short weeks.
“For me, [the hope is] just for more people to hear our songs… I’m really happy when we get even the smallest positive comment about our music because [music is such a big part of all of our lives]… our goal is to just have more people hear our stuff, for more people to truly enjoy it,” said Zhang.