The Arkells Are Feeling It

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

There is no hard and fast set of rules for how a band creates music, each one does it differently. When it comes time to make a new record, some bands consciously go out of their way to block out a pre-determined (by them) set of dates and times during which the band's members will pour all of their concentration and imagination into the development of new material; hammering out the knicks and dings in their ideas – whether individually or as a group – locking the finer points down and getting them ready for presentation. For them, songwriting is a hard, fast and finite endeavor and, when it's done, the songs are ready to go. There's no turning back; the bandmembers are confident in the results and damn the torpedoes to present it to a regularly-fickle public.

That's one possible way to operate, but then there are bands who open up their work and render each new song they write as an idea that they may sculpt and mould over time; changes may be made to each song both before and after it's recorded, and so the idea of an album simply documents where the group in question was at the particular moment the tape rolled. In cases like that, it might take years to get a song to where they feel like they've done enough tooling with it to commit it to tape (or hard drive) in the recording studio, and according to Arkells keyboardist/guitarist Dan Griffin, his band tends to side with the latter category. Since releasing their Dine Alone debut, Jackson Square in 2008, The Arkells have successfully broken through to listeners with their unique brand of “Black-And-Blue-Eyed Soul” (so named because, according to Griffin, under the reasoning that, "David Bowie had the blue-eyed soul which was sort of the Seventies Rock version of soul music, and ours is something way more busted up.") and enjoyed tremendous success as award nominations (The Arkells have won nominations in both the “Favorite New Artist" and "North By Northeast Favorite New Indie Release” categories at the 2009 CASBY Awards) and critical adoration. In addition, an iron-man's touring regimen has raised the band's stature from hard-working indie band to going concern but, according to Griffin, The Arkells still checks themselves every step of the way through their ongoing creative process. “We've gone full force for the last year and a half and I think it's because when we first put out the album, we set the goal to play these songs to as many people as possible in Canada and really give the album as much of a chance as possible,” says Griffin with just a hint of pride when asked his thoughts on the wave of appreciation that The Arkells are enjoying. “The only way we knew how to do that was to take it on the road. We're really proud of it; it's the first thing we've done that we didn't feel like we had to make apologies for how it came out [laughing].

“As an indie band – before getting signed I mean – we had the same troubles as any band in our position,” continues the keyboardist as he recalls the work up to and sessions that produced Jackson Square. “With limited resources and funding, you just always do the best you can. Jackson Square wasn't really all that different either, but it really did feel like we were putting our best effort forward at the time and we were really excited to get it out. We're still excited about it, a year later but now we're actually starting to write again and starting to think about what we're going to do next and getting excited about that too.

“There's no plan to record for a while yet, but we just think it's important to keep at it and, now, while we're on the road we've started playing a few new ones to road test the same way we did with Jackson Square; just playing them live and seeing how they feel. It worked well last time and we were really happy with the results, so that's how we're going to do this one.”

When asked about the shape of this new material and the shape it has been taking so far,  the keyboardist coyly explains that the songs, while still very much the brand of Black-And-Blue-Eyed Soul that the band won ears with on Jackson Square, are still soft in their designs and will be laid at the feet of listeners in concert to decide if they make the next album and what form they'll take should they make it that far; as reactions to the new material come from the fans at shows, the band will continue to hammer out the finer points as required, or store them until such time as they re-enter the studio to record them. “We're definitely trying out some new ideas and directions with some of this new material,” says Griffin, obviously excited at the new batch of ideas his band has been generating. “We've been listening to a lot of different stuff lately it has really influenced the songs we've been writing; we've been in love with Motown music for a long time and we're trying to incorporate that into it, as well as the sounds of a bunch of bands we really like including Spoon and Phoenix and even Elbows so there may be a bit of international flavor in it as well.

“The thing about Motown – the great thing about it – is that it has no boundaries in terms of who likes it; it's cross-generational,” continues Griffin didactically. “The songwriting's great, the songs are timeless and classic in that everyone from a seventy-year-old politician to a punk rock-identified television personality can sing along – we found that out when we played “Ain't Too Proud To Beg” on George Strombolopoulis' The Hour not long ago and had [New Democratic Party member] Stephen Lewis sing on a dare. That's the sort of live delivery and raw vibe that we're trying to capture – it's not a specific quality of the music or the recordings, it's more an inspiration that we want to try to get on this next record or even in the live shows; like, sometimes they didn't even write the songs – that was back in the day when they actually had songwriters for artists – but the way they sang them felt like they meant every word and I think that's what it comes down to; having lyrics and a rhythm that everyone can relate to. That's what always floored me about those bands and the most important thing we've taken away from being fans of it is that you have to feel it – there's no faking it on stage and that's why we test everything out live. If it doesn't feel good, you're going to find out right away. We're trying to bring that into our sound in little ways but, ultimately, it has to feel good when we play it in front of people and they have to be into it – if it doesn't have that, it won't work.

“We usually gauge what we've got by the reaction we're getting from audiences live so, when we do get out on the road, we're going to take a bunch of new songs with us, take some chances and see how they go. Really, it will be up to the people that come to the shows on this tour to write the songs [laughing].

“It'll be up to them to make sure the next record is killer.”



The Arkells – “Ballad Of Hugo Chavez” – Jackson Square


Jackson Square
is out now and available as a Canadian import here on Amazon .

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