Professional athletes and professional musicians have a lot more in common than you think. Both spend a lot of time on the road traveling from city to city, they both find ways to stay relevant as times change, they need to be consistent every single night no matter the circumstances, and only very few are able to do what they love for a long period of time.
Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Arkells’ first full-length album Jackson Square and they’ve become so much more than just a local Hamilton band they once were a decade ago.
The band has released numerous hits over the span of four studio albums and they put on one of the best live shows. As a result of their hard work, they’ve managed to land some pretty incredible gigs such as the Vanier Cup, the Grey Cup, the NHL Awards, and the Centennial Classic, to name a few. If you haven’t seen them live, you’ve most likely heard their music on the radio or in different sports montages ranging from the Stanley Cup playoffs to the US Open.
Front man Max Kerman and bassist Nick Dika happen to be huge sports fans, so getting these opportunities has been a dream come true for both band members. We recently caught up with Max and Nick to discuss their love for sports, what it’s been like as huge sports fans to see their music become the sound of so many memorable events, their favourite experiences from these events over the years and much more.
Christian Marin: What were your favourite sports when you were growing up?
Max Kerman: I played a lot of baseball and basketball growing up in Toronto before I moved to Hamilton for school. I played baseball at Christie Pits from tee-ball to high school and played basketball at the Bickford Park Rec Centre across the street. In high school I played on the baseball, volleyball and basketball teams. We didn’t have particularly good teams so I was able to make all those teams, but now Nick and I still play on a softball team together, we actually won game two of our final five-game series.
CM: Pete Rose and the Gamblers?
MK: Yup, the Gamblers, and I still play basketball on Monday nights in Hamilton.
Nick Dika: I still play softball. McMaster still has a league in the summer, so I play in that league. The campus bar runs it and they’ve been doing it for like 30-35 years now. I think they were one of the first organizations on campus to have a working website and they haven't updated it since, but I’m still there a little bit.
CM: Who were your favourite athletes when you were growing up?
ND: Growing up my favourite athlete was always Ken Griffey Jr. I felt he always played the game the way a kid would play it. He was always smiling and having fun and would be laying out for balls with no concern for his personal well-being, so I really identify with those youthful, exuberant characteristics in a grown man when I was 8 and 9-years-old.
MK: I really loved the 1992-93 Blue Jays. I was 6 and 7-years-old and I think those teams had a big influence on everyone from Southern Ontario and really made them love baseball. Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor and even after that guys like Shawn Green, I love Pat Hentgen, but my first e-mail address was email@example.com after Vince Carter because I was obsessed with Vince Carter. I went to his basketball camp, I wrote him a letter to come to my birthday party, I was very emotional about Vince Carter.
CM: Did he ever get back to you?
MK: I don’t think he ever got back to the birthday invitation, but I did as a project in I want to say grade 7, I was supposed to reach out to a member of the community to interview them so I reached out to Glen Grunwald, the general manager of the Raptors at the time and he had me down to his office for an interview and gave me a tour of the building and I still have pictures of it.
MK: It’s actually kind of come full circle because after Glen left the Raptors he went to New York, but now he’s actually employed as the sports director for McMaster University so he’s kind of in the neighbourhood where I live and he’s a sweet, generous guy.
CM: Did you guys ever think when you first started the band that your music would be featured in sports montages or played at sporting events, and what does it feel like to have your music featured like that?
ND: It feels really great and definitely not something we thought about when we first started. It ticks a lot of boxes too because it’s pretty high on the Nana Index or the Dad Index. We might be able to play a cool festival in LA with all these bands I loved for years, but if I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my dad and grandma, ‘Oh yeah, we got to play with Bon Iver at Coachella four months ago,’ they kind of just scratch their heads, but if I tell them we were in a Budweiser commercial with a Jays montage, then that’s something your family and people who aren't as wrapped up in the world of music can identify with and get excited about and it brings them into our world in a really positive way I find.
MK: I agree I love a good sports montage. One of my favourite movies, I will call it a movie, of my childhood, do you remember those World Series recap movies? The ones from ‘92 and ‘93 where they would make kind of like an hour and a half documentary on the Blue Jays making a run and winning the World Series, I feel like everyone had those VHS’ and to be a part of anything in that world is always kind of cool and fun. It gets people pumped up and that’s sweet.
CM: You guys have played a lot of cool sporting events over the years, from the Grey Cup to the Centennial Classic to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, which event was your personal favourite and the most memorable to you?
MK: The NHL Awards show was really cool because it had the added component of us introducing 11 of the top 100 legends. The NHL kind of asked us a few days before and we’re not professionals when it comes to player introductions and being able to navigate that with the band playing music underneath it, there were a bunch of moving parts and to be honest it came together pretty quickly and it wasn’t a normal show. About five minutes before we went on I asked Wayne Gretzky if we could change the lyrics to ‘Gretzky, I’m not knockin’ at the door’ and he just kind of looked a little confused but he went with it. We did the handshake and a fist bump and it didn’t turn into an embarrassing viral moment because when you take risks like that you open yourself up to being embarrassed by the internet but it turned into a cool gif so I’m happy about that.
CM: How quick was your heart racing when you saw Gretzky stick his arm out for that fist bump?
MK: I was just happy he had a big smile on his face and wasn't looking at me like a crazy person, so I was stoked.
CM: How about you, Nick, which event was your most memorable one?
ND: Well I think because Max went with the really cool high profile one I’m going to go with the Vanier Cup. We played it when the band was first starting and it makes looking back on it a fond memory because it was at the old Ivor Wynne Stadium before they tore it down and we were playing in Montreal the night before so we had to drive all night to make it there. This was mid-November, too, so it was freezing cold outside and I felt like having never played anything other than flag football, just being out there was the closest I ever felt to feeling what it’s like to contend with the actual elements of CFL or NFL football and I thought that was just a really cool experience. Again, it’s a little bit outside of the traditional band show experience where you show up to a club or indoors where it’s all controlled. We played outside and our fingers were freezing.
MK: Yeah, that was a very memorable one for me, too.
CM: Have any athletes that you’ve met left you star struck after meeting them?
MK: We’ve met a few guys at this point, a lot of guys in the NHL actually. We met Connor McDavid, Carey Price who is just as handsome in person, Ryan O’Reilly comes to a lot of Arkells show. Nick who else have we met? I’m trying to think.
ND: Well this year at the NHL Awards, Erik Karlsson was in his walking boot because of his foot surgery and I walked by him and said ‘This is the only time in my life where I’ll be faster than you’, but he didn’t know who I was.
MK: Brent Burns was a really sweet guy.
ND: Oh yeah, we know Brent Burns a little bit.
ND: You know who we met years and years ago, too? Really randomly, we were playing in LA with another Canadian band and this girl comes up to me at the merch table and unbeknownst to her we’re really big Blue Jays fans and she’s all smiles and so excited and I have no idea why. Then she goes ‘Hey do you like baseball?’ And I say, ‘Yeah’ and she goes ‘Do you like the Blue Jays?’ And we got excited and told her ‘Yeah we’re from Canada!’, and she goes ‘Do you know Ricky Romero? He’s my brother and he’s going to sign a big contract tomorrow, don’t tell anybody’ and it was the day before he signed the big contract.
CM: Oh wow, you could have broken the news
MK: Yeah that’s a Woj bomb, you could have gotten the big steal. I actually just played in a charity basketball tournament the other day with Nik Stauskas and being a big basketball fan meeting any of those guys is always really cool and getting to talk basketball. I have a podcast with a couple of friends called the Mike on Much Podcast and we interviewed Zach Lowe, who is my favourite basketball writer, and of all the interviews we have done from famous people in music and entertainment, Zach Lowe by far was the one I was most nervous for and most excited to listen back to. I think the world of sports journalists is equally exciting to us. We’ve come to be friends with Jonah Keri who comes to our shows when we’re in Denver and getting to meet those guys, I’d love to meet Bill Simmons one day. I’d love to meet Woj, all those guys.
CM: If you could choose four or five current athletes to make the perfect band, who would you pick based off image and attitude to make the perfect rock and roll band?
MK: Well Russell Westbrook would be the lead singer. Who would be on bass, Nick?
ND: Joey Votto.
MK: Good one. Who would be on lead guitar?
ND: I think you could put Brent Burns in there.
MK: I think Brent Burns would be the drummer. Let’s call him the drummer.
ND: We’ve got hockey, basketball and baseball. Let’s go with another sport.
MK: Shapo. Denis Shapovalov, let’s give him lead guitar because lead guitar is usually the hot guy in the band and he’s a young, hot dude. Who would be on keys? I’ll say Steph Curry, for some reason that’s what I’ve got.
CM: Are there any bands you guys play with that you love playing with because of your sports conversations?
MK: We just played with The Sheepdogs the other day and Ewan is a big baseball fan so Nick and Ewan usually have a lot to talk about.
ND: Because we’re all Canadian everyone loves the Jays so there isn't much of a rivalry but in hockey there's a few more.
MK: The guys in Said the Whale like the Canucks. I don’t have a rivalry with him or anything, but I usually have basketball conversations with Shad.
ND: When we toured with Tokyo Police Club, they’re friends of ours, and actually Billy Talent as well, we would if we had a day off or had time in the morning before a show we would find ice and rent it and play shinny before the show.
Hockey isn’t the only sport the duo makes time for ahead of their shows. If they get some downtime before a show and there happens to be an afternoon ball game, you can bet the guys are spending their afternoon at the ball park.
MK: We’ve probably been to over half of the baseball fields in America. Nick let’s try to rhyme them off between the two of us. Let’s go down the East Coast. Fenway.
ND: Fenway, Citizens Bank, Citi Field.
MK: Camden Yards, Nationals Park.
ND: Great American Ball Park.
MK: I’ve been to Jacobs Field. We went to Comerica. We went to Wrigley and got hooked up there. We sat right behind home plate and that was really cool.
ND: Dodgers Stadium, AT&T Park.
MK: We’ve been to the Coliseum, the Jewel of the Bay Area.
ND: It’s such a terrible ballpark. Angels Stadium.
MK: Kauffman in Kansas City.
MK: I went to Marlins Park for a bachelor trip. There was nobody there.
ND: I think that’s it. We haven't done Atlanta, Tampa Bay or Seattle.
MK: I’ve done Milwaukee and Minnesota.
ND: We’ve got a bucket list and we’re trying to cross everyone off. You know what, we haven’t done Yankee Stadium. I feel like out of principle I’m less inclined to go there.
CM: Which one was your favourite or most memorable?
ND: The Oakland Coliseum is the most memorable because it’s seriously from another time. It looks like a post-apocalyptic Mad Max football stadium, but I really liked Citizens Bank in Philly.
MK: I really liked PNC in Pittsburgh. Of all the newer ones that one might be my favourite.
The guys also happen to be huge fans of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and they’ve managed to check off a few CFL stadiums from their bucket list over the years.
In 2012, the band wrote a song specifically for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats called ‘Ticats are Hummin’, one year after they rocked the halftime show at the 99th Grey Cup at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, and it has become known as an anthem for the team.
The band already has an incredible résumé when it comes to sports-related gigs and that list is only going to grow in the near future as they continue to release hit after hit. Make sure you go check out the band next time they’re in your hometown because you will not leave disappointed.