Arkells expand upon their sound

There’s no place like home. Just ask Hamilton rock band Arkells.

When the Times & Transcript caught up with Arkells guitarist Mike DeAngelis last week, he was in the midst of getting set to play what would be Arkells’ biggest hometown show to date at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

Asked if performing a hometown show tends to be more nerve-wracking than playing a for an audience of strangers in say Moncton, as the band will be doing this Tuesday night at the Manhattan Bar & Grill, DeAngelis says the nerves prior to playing hometown shows tend to differ from those when they play in other cities.

“Playing the Convention Centre will be the biggest show that we have ever played here in Hamilton. It is very exciting to us,” a friendly DeAngelis says. “Hamilton has always been very supportive of the band; it makes us proud to call Hamilton home.

“Our show is a mixture of excitement and nerves though. Whenever you’re on tour, you want to come back home and be at your best because people know you here.”

Not to diminish the importance of playing a successful hometown show, DeAngelis and his band mates Nick Dika, Dan Griffin, Max Kerman and Tim Oxford actually have a fair number of things to be excited about these days. Last October, the group released their long-awaited sophomore record, Michigan Left, after having undertaken seemingly endless touring in support of their 2008 debut Jackson Square. In the three years between records, the band had the opportunity to perform alongside high-profile acts like Them Crooked Vultures, Pearl Jam, Metric and more.

The extensive touring behind Jackson Square resulted in the group penning some of their strongest material to date on Michigan Left while also giving the group a greater appreciation for exploring pop music.

“Playing live has always been very important to the band. A song sounding good on record is always a focus for us but making sure the songs translated in the live setting was also very important to us,” DeAngelis says.

DeAngelis is the first to admit that the group has grown by leaps and bounds in the time since recording the guitar-heavy Jackson Square. He says the slight change in the group’s sound on Michigan Left is the result of the band choosing to embrace melody.

“In the time leading up to the recording of Jackson Square, a lot of the music we were listening to was guitar-based music,” DeAngelis says. “With Michigan Left, we consciously tried to steer away from that. We wanted to make the guitar more of a detail instrument this time rather than just strumming away. This time, we chose to let the melody in these songs be front and centre. We embraced new textures that are softer, however there are many tracks on the record that can be played back to back with songs from Jackson Square and the show’s momentum doesn’t suffer for it.”

Another factor behind the potentially perceived “relaxed” sound of Michigan Left was the environment where the record was made. Recorded at the Bathhouse in Bath, Ont., the rural setting of the studio combined with all five members living under the same roof during the recording process was a definite plus as far as DeAngelis is concerned.

“I found the real advantage of working at the Bathhouse was that the environment was conducive to experimentation. We were living and making music all under the same roof. In all honesty, it really didn’t feel like a studio; we could come and go as we wanted and ended up working on our own schedules. If we had an idea develop that we were interested in pursuing, there was nothing stopping us from us sticking to the idea and just completely wringing the idea out until we had something that we were happy with. That was a luxury that we didn’t have on Jackson Square but one that helped serve Michigan Left best,” DeAngelis says.

“Ultimately, it was liberating to make a record on our own terms. Making records is something that is very personal to almost any band and at the end of the day, we have to be really proud of what we are doing otherwise there is no point to us continuing.”

Article published in January 27, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript