Arkells and their sports, politics, and community Rally Cry

In conversation with lead singer Max Kerman about the band and their upcoming album

Arkells and their sports, politics, and community <i> Rally Cry </i>

A 10-minute walk east of McMaster University in Hamilton lies Arkell Street. The small residential road is where the alternative rock band Arkells got their name. The band was founded at McMaster in 2004 when lead singer Max Kerman met guitarist Mike DeAngelis at Welcome Week. The members consist of Kerman, DeAngelis, keyboardist Antony Carone, bassist Nick Dika, and drummer Tim Oxford.

Now a decade since their debut album, Jackson Square, the band is set to release their fifth studio album, Rally Cry, on October 19. Kerman spoke with The Varsity about the band’s formative years, their contributions to the sports and political worlds, and what’s in store for Rally Cry.   

The Varsity: What does Hamilton mean to the band?
Max Kerman
: The whole band grew up in Southern Ontario: London, Guelph, Toronto, Mississauga, Newmarket, but the band was born in Hamilton. That’s the way we like to put it. We feel really lucky being a Hamilton band. We got a lot of opportunities when we were coming up that I feel wouldn’t come to us if we were in Toronto.

We had a chance to open up for some of our favourite bands at the local rock-and-roll club because we had good relationships with the promoters, and there weren’t as many bands as there are in Toronto. So I think we got some chances that were unique to being in Hamilton.

The other cool thing, when we were in university — I started in 2004 — it was sort of the height of the ‘great indie rock era’ in my mind. A lot of great Canadian bands, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Constantines — we got to see all those bands at 300 [capacity] clubs, and to see that level of talent up                                                                       close like that — I think it helped shape who we are.

TV: In the summer you played in the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton for 24,000 fans. What do you think the band means to the city?
MK
: You know we have a lot of support from the city, or whenever anybody in Hamilton goes out, and [that] makes an impression on the rest of the country. People in Hamilton are especially proud of that. It’s not like anyone’s going to resent you for that. People like their champion — there’s good stuff that’s produced in Hamilton.

I think [in] the city, we feel like we get a lot of hometown love when we’re there. I think we’re pretty aware of how awesome each community is, [and] how everybody makes it work, whether it’s small businesses or local community advocates, city councillors — not that everybody always gets along. But I do think that everybody adds something to the party. I am appreciative to be part of the ecosystem that is Hamilton.

TV: What accomplishments are you and the band most proud of?
MK
: That’s a good question. It’s funny because in music, you don’t sign up to be musicians just to win awards. It’s not like sports, where you want to win a championship. And there’s a part of me that thinks winning an award for writing a song, quote-unquote ‘beating out the competition,’ is kind of stupid. I don’t think that art should be competitive in that way.

That said, obviously, everyone likes to win awards, so I’m happy about it. I think, for me, the thing I’m most proud of is that we just continue to evolve and grow and remain really curious about what it means to be in a band and have lots of conversations within the group that are like, “What’s the next thing we’re going to do?” We’re always trying to push the “what’s the next thing we can do that would be really interesting and exciting to us” and “how can we get people on board with those ideas or that are part of our live show,” whether it’s a piece of merch or a new song.

The fact that we’ve had a steady upward trajectory since we started, I think that’s what I’m most proud of. We’ve never really stagnated. I’m really proud of that.

TV: “People’s Champ,” “Knocking at the Door,” and “Whistleblower” are not only sports anthems, but are also strong political anthems. Can you share a little bit about the meaning behind the songs?
MK
: Yeah, I mean that’s one thing I think we’re proud of… that we sort of [share] our politics [with] a much broader audience, like a broader audience that might not be up for talking about the politics I’m interested in talking about.

I mean, a song like “Whistleblower” is an ode to journalists who dig deep and dig in a corner and are exposing the truth to a wider audience. “Knocking at the Door” is about the Women’s March and the idea that you have to keep standing up for what you believe in. And, you know, the Women’s March is so inspiring to me, just because it’s sort of all of the things that I think are essential to our lives, equality and acceptance of all different types of people and compassion, and just continue to fight for that.

“People’s Champ” is an anti-Trump song, but I didn’t want to do it in a hit-you-over-the-head kind of way. I kind of wanted it to be a little bit more subtle lyrically. The idea behind that song is [that] I think we should all be disappointed and angry about how the current system works.

It’s okay if you didn’t like Hillary Clinton, if you thought she was part of the problem, I think there is an argument for that. But to believe that Donald Trump would be the guy to sort you out — I don’t think it’s the best route to go, because he’d be the last guy to help someone out, in my opinion.

PHOTO BY MATT BARNES

TV: We’re seeing this hostility toward the entertainment business, especially for those using their platforms to promote political change. Where do you think musicians stand in politics using their platform for change, and what would you say to people who say just stick to music?
MK
: I think of all jobs, artists and musicians are the most expected. People aren’t as surprised. I think it actually was surprising when [we had] the late show hosts like [Jimmy] Kimmel talking about health care, or [Colin] Kaepernick, a football player who was talking about police brutality. I think that caught people off-guard and that’s what made some parts of the population annoyed.

But I think with musicians, I mean, occasionally I’ll tweet something and somebody goes, “Stick to the tunes” or “I liked you better when I didn’t know your politics.” But I think there is a pretty good precedent with people like [Bob] Dylan or [Bruce] Springsteen or Neil Young [who] talk about their politics in their music.

TV: Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind Rally Cry?

MK: Actually, this is my first interview with someone who’s heard the whole record. I think there’s certain subjects that over the years that I keep coming back to. I think I tweeted a month ago, when someone asked about the record, that there are three types of songs that we kind of come back to all the time: political songs, love songs, and then there are songs about friends and people in the community. This record is 10 songs, so it’s like three, three, and four. Something like that.

“Company Night” is a song that was inspired by Sean Spicer, former White House Secretary, and the idea of being somebody who loses who they are, because all they care about is the name they represented, like in the company they work for. With a song like “Hand Me Downs,” there’s a shame you carry with you from where you come from. I think everybody has got a bit of that in them. “American Screams” is about this hysterical conversation between the left and right in America. It touches a bit on gun violence.

The idea of calling it Rally Cry is [that] all the songs have an outward-looking perspective. There’s a message that we want to put out there, and when I think about a rally, it’s a very outward experience. You’re coming together and you’re around people that maybe are like-minded, and that’s why the word ‘rally’ kept coming up over the last year and a half.

Whether a political rally or a sports rally, there’s this idea of being part of the community and I think all these songs are not songs that a guy with an acoustic guitar is singing from the deeper parts of his inner emotions, but [from] thinking about the world around you.

I like guys with acoustic guitars, but we’re trying to do something a little bit broader.

TV: The album is 10 songs and three have been released so far. Of the remaining songs, what song are you most excited for fans to hear?
MK
: You know, we have four records now, and I think as a fan of bands, I want to be surprised by a band. I want to be surprised and hear something I haven’t heard from the band before. But then, I also want to hear parts of the band that I love and that I come back for, and I think the record has got that.

“Hand Me Downs,” to me, is like a “Leather Jacket” 2.0. I think it has that kind of joyfulness, but a bit of sadness. That’s an oxymoron, but the qualities I think people connect with “Leather Jacket,” you’ll find in a song like “Only for a Moment” or “Hand Me Downs,” which I think is comforting as a fan and a listener of our band.

But I also want to challenge them to go, “Oh, I haven’t heard that before.” So a song like “Eyes on the Prize,” I think is a good example of that — that’s us doing something different. This is something that we’ve never done before, but eventually want to become part of our catalogue and become a part of who we are.

Even a song like “Saturday Night” or “Show Me Don’t Tell Me.” I think we always have a ballad or two and I think [they’re] going to be the [ones]. I think the romantics will connect with [those] most.

TV: You guys have mentioned on Instagram that you want to play more campus shows. Have you considered playing at U of T?
MK
: Yeah, we’re going to figure something out. I don’t know, we do have a big Toronto show in the works. So you’ll hear about that when the record comes out. If it’s not [at] U of T, you’ll just have to go down the street.

Arkells’ Rally Cry is set to be released on October 19.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hi? HIGH — listen to these ‘chunnnnes’ when you’re jamming

A playlist for when you’re living your best life

Hi? HIGH — listen to these ‘chunnnnes’ when you’re jamming

We all know how important the role of ‘aux-holder’ is when you get together with your friends to smoke. You need songs that are so great that, when no one wants to speak, you can just sit back, listen, and still have a really good time. Songs to lie back with on a sofa and close your eyes to impressive instrumentals and lyrics clever enough to provide you with something to mull over in your head. 

Bonus points if the song sounds as spaced out as you feel. 

If that’s your vibe, pop to your nearest dispensary — but not until October 17, of course — gather your friends, and stick the following on the speakers.

“Cheer up, My Brother” by HNNY, 2015

Honestly, just a really lovely song — sweet, soothing, simple vocals over a laidback beat and a gentle, sunny melody. Easy listening. Perfect to bop about to while you fry yourself up some perogies.

 “Archangel” by Burial, 2007

When I first heard this song, I listened to nothing else for about two weeks. Dense, incredibly produced minimal garage/post-dubstep, and part of a milestone album that paved the way for future experimental electronic artists like Jamie XX and James Blake. It’s actually a very sad and lonely song — listen with caution or you’ll get a bit lost in your own head. Try to admire the pioneering percussion and unique sound instead of getting lost in a depressive spiral about your ex.

“Silver” by Caribou, 2014

If you feel like an album listening session — a great high activity — check out Caribou’s 2014 Our Love, featuring this track and other bangers you may remember from your youth, like the still-great “Can’t Do Without You.” “Silver” sounds like travelling through a space tunnel or something — the fading in and out of weird trippy synthy sounds, with high-pitched, half-whispering vocals over the top that create a mini spacey dream world in a song. A perfect choice. 

“Alberto Balsalm” by Aphex Twin, 1995

It took me a while to get to a point where I could listen to Aphex Twin in a state of anything but complete confusion — so don’t fear if you feel the same. This song, however, can act as your gateway drug. But this time, instead of leading you on to heroin like your mom thinks weed will, it will lead you to one of electronic music’s most important, creative, and talented pioneers. Get lost in five minutes of music that you would never believe was made 20 years ago. 

“Two Thousand and Seventeen” by Four Tet, 2017

So rich and sweet you won’t believe your ears. Four Tet blew up with his 2017 album New Energy last year and this is one of the best songs off it. Another album you won’t regret listening to from start to finish when you’re baked. 

“North Circular” by Real Lies, 2015

A light garage beat that wouldn’t feel out of place in a club, with that Mike Skinner vibe of lonely, poetic lyrics, practically spoken instead of sung, laced through it. A really, really gorgeous song. Perfect for late nights in your lounge. 

“Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead, 2000

Radiohead, as pretentious as the people who say things like this about them, is perfect for listening to while high. The interaction of the different layers of this song is unbelievable and makes it sound so trippy and just really impressive. Perfect ‘blow your mind’ music. 

“Terrapin” by Bonobo, 2000

If at this point in the playlist, you’re in need of something a little sunnier, then no worries, I’ve got your back: some early Bonobo that I still prefer to pretty much everything he’s made since. Just really, really pleasing to listen to. 

“Marilyn” by Mount Kimbie featuring Micachu, 2017

Once again, a little bit more upbeat and feel-good. Another perfect ‘bop around the kitchen while you cook up a storm’ song. 

“Space Song” by Beach House, 2015

End on a high. Beach House’s famous tune just has everything ­— a lovely melody and vocals, a great hook, some weird synthy things, and lyrics simple enough that you can easily sing along to them no matter what state you’re in. Close your eyes, cuddle your mate, and enjoy. 

Overlooked: Lord Huron’s Vide Noir

Lord Huron commands the heart with their combination of vocals, instrumentals, and lyrics

Overlooked:  Lord Huron’s <i>Vide Noir </i>

Love, in all its forms, tends to dominate popular music. The highs of a passionate new relationship create bombastic celebration tunes, while lost loves produce heart-wrenching ballads.  Yet much of the music we hear fails to capture the sheer power of love and the intensity of the feelings it brings us.  Lord Huron’s speciality is capturing such emotion.

Their latest album, Vide Noir, tells the tale of a lost soul, seeking the love who left him ages ago. Consumed by memory, he travels our world and uses drugs to ascend to another one of magic and deep, all-encompassing emotion. It is the latter world which Lord Huron hails from, each song exploring a facet of our narrator’s beautiful, perhaps mad, devotion to his love.

The best song on the album is “Wait by the River,” a sombre ballad delving into our narrator’s feelings: “If we can’t be together / I will leave this world behind / If I can’t touch your body / Can I touch the sky?”

Singer-songwriter Ben Schneider lays his emotions bare through every crescendo as he begs to the heavens; the girl means everything to him.  To touch the sky is a mere consolation prize, for the world means nothing without love.  His delivery strikes a chord with me, capturing the intensity of the love.

The instruments are as passionate as our narrator. The light guitar and upbeat drums  in “Moonbeam” couple with Schneider’s vocals, capturing the pure joy of seeing his love again, even as a hallucination. The bass features prominently, its melodies carrying us to another plane of existence. It guides the soulful laments in “Emerald Star” and “Wait by the River,” while capturing the raw energy of a high, whether from drugs or passion, in “Vide Noir” and “Never Ever.”

It is this combination of poignant vocals and meticulous instrumentals that conveys everything perfectly, from the magic behind the world to the emotions that govern it all.  Lord Huron commands the heart, drawing out our deepest feelings and letting us relive them in their songs.  By the time the sorrowful guitar of “Emerald Star” crackled through my headphones, I was nearly in tears.

I implore anyone and everyone who has ever felt a deep sorrow, a great happiness, or a love that encompassed their being to give Lord Huron the attention they deserve.

TIFF 2018: The soundtracks

My favourite four musical moments from this year’s movies

TIFF 2018: The soundtracks

If you’ve been anywhere downtown in the last two weeks, you probably have noticed that TIFF season was upon us. Whether you’re interested in seeing the films, volunteering, or on the lookout for celebs, many U of T students find themselves involved. This year, I decided to up my own festival game, seeing 25 movies.

Music is undoubtedly a key element to film, whether it is the score providing support for what’s on screen or a memorable soundtrack moment being forever tied to the scene in which it’s played. The broad range of films at TIFF have an array of musical moments, and I’ve created a small playlist to recognize some of the best that I’ve seen.

Song: “Trying” by Bully

Film: Her Smell

The TIFF film that’s stuck in my mind the most this year is Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, in which Elisabeth Moss plays the frontwoman of ’90s all-female punk rock band Something She. Providing the music for the fictional band is Alicia Bognanno of the band Bully. The Nashville band has garnered acclaim for their music, which mixes an indie and punk rock sound with emotional rawness and directness.

Something She has a few louder songs throughout the film, but they really stand out when Moss’ character Becky Something performs acoustically; the lyrics and arrangements really show Bognanno’s and Moss’ talents. Bully’s song “Trying,” from their 2015 album Feels Like, is a good mix of both.

Song: “Windowlicker” by Aphex Twin

Film: Climax

Gaspar Noé’s film is about a French dance troupe in the mid-1990s, who get together to rehearse and then party. But when a bowl of sangria that the group has been drinking from throughout the entire night turns out to have been spiked, the night quickly descends into paranoia, despair, and a show of humans at their lowest. Before that happens, however, the film is a joyous showcase of people expressing themselves in the way they know best, through dance.

The movie is scored by an assortment of French house songs, which play almost constantly throughout the film.

One of the most recognizable songs is intelligent dance music classic “Windowlicker,” by electronic musician Aphex Twin. In this sequence, we see the film’s main character, played by Sofia Boutella, stumble through hallways, affected by whatever was in the sangria. The song is quintessentially weird, and its bizarre rhythms fit perfectly with Boutella’s physical performance.

Song: “Chandelier” by Sia

Film: Vox Lux

One of the joys of heavy TIFF-going is being able to see the many filmmakers’ different views on contemporary life, and Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux feels like the most modern and reflective of the current world. The film touches on school shootings, pop stardom, media image, a loss of innocence in culture, internet terrorist groups, and art’s relation to trauma.

The film features a bizarre pairing behind its music: pop star turned experimental artist Scott Walker, and indie pop singer turned pop star Sia. Sia’s “Chandelier” is a song that well represents the chaos and catharsis in the film and has already cemented itself as one of the best pop hits of the decade.

Song: “The Shallow” by Lady Gaga

Film: A Star Is Born

Arguably, no film has dominated TIFF conversation as much as Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born remake. Having two major celebrities both take on different jobs from what they are known for in a big-budget and ambitious film is exciting. The film boasts a great trailer, but there are 27 seconds of it that stand out from the rest. I will admit that I did not see this film, and the song featured has not been released yet, but it is worth noting as possibly the defining song of the festival.

Immediately, the viewer is struck by Lady Gaga’s vocals, which are more emotional than most songs or movies this year, without even using words. The song has become somewhat of a Twitter meme, and it shows how it has captured people’s hearts before, during, and presumably after the festival. We’re far from the shallows now.

We want to hear age

Examining the record resurgence

We want to hear age

On my fifteenth birthday, I was gifted a record player and a vinyl of Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album Suck it and See. At the time, I was participating in a trend that was decades in the making. Record players and vinyls were all the rage, and they continue to be so to this day. But after collecting the rest of the Arctic Monkeys’ discography, as well as some of Sufjan Stevens’ and Father John Misty’s, I had to retire my record player, effectively leaving my small yet expensive record collection as nothing more than mere album art.

The fact of the matter was that the music sounded worse coming from my cheap orange vinyl player: songs skipped, background instrumentals were out of tune, and melodies were distorted. I couldn’t help but be confused by the vinyl craze. I wondered why people were looking to progress in most facets of their lives, but regress in their music.

And I was not the only one bewildered. The vinyl trend has inspired many a thinkpiece, documentary, and heated discussion. It has perplexed those that see music as a sum total of instruments, rhythm, and vocals, but has placated those that take into account experience and historical context.

We are not a society of Luddites. We don’t shed earnest tears over the first edition of the iPod or the initial version of Windows. We want our technologies to develop faster, harder, and more often.

So why is it that a person who has the newest Apple products probably also has an extensive record collection? Is it some kind of blinded dissonance or is there something more behind the trend?

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Liam Baldwin, a graphic design student at York University and owner of a record collection numbering in the 100s and passed down through the generations, explains in an email why he loves listening to vinyls: “You get a really pure and visceral listening experience, with a good quality turntable, speakers and 180 gram vinyl, you can catch every little detail in the recording.”

And it’s these little details that make records so appealing: the ability to catch any flaw or imperfection makes for an authentic listening experience, one free of the sterility of modern, mass-produced, digital music. One can only imagine that this all stems from classic rock vinyls.

You don’t need need to dig deep to find statistics that corroborate this record resurgence. In Nielson Music Canada’s 2017 report, record sales saw a 21.8 per cent increase, which also marked the seventh straight year of growth.

Blair Whatmore, assistant manager at Sonic Boom, Canada’s largest independent record store, observes that “the last five years have been really great for the sale of vinyl records; they’ve come back in a huge way.”

When asked about the types of records that are most popular, Whatmore confirms the relationship between medium, age, and genre: “People are always after classic titles records that originally came out on vinyl and were intended to be heard on vinyl.” She explains, “People are always interested in getting copies of those because that’s the way the artform was designed to be heard. We do well with classic releases from the 60s and 70s and 80s.”

This pattern stands out on the charts as well. Of the top ten bestselling records in 2017 in Canada, only Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. was of the hip hop genre. All the rest were either pop or rock. This illustrates the intrinsic and nearly subconscious association between genre and medium.

Rock and pop dominate the vinyl charts partly because of the aesthetic that surrounds records — you know the kind: a Joy Division vinyl spinning somberly on a player, framed à la Wes Anderson — and partly because rock albums were initially intended for the vinyl medium.

Conversely, hip hop, rap, and R&B dominate the streaming charts. According to Forbes, of the top five most streamed albums in the US in 2017, only Ed Sheeran’s Divide didn’t fall into the hip hop or R&B genre. If you were to see a vinyl spinning, you’d expect to hear Joy Division or The Doors, not Kendrick Lamar or Drake. The former incorporate the fractured sound of vinyl records into their aesthetic. The relationship between outcome and production is therefore synergetic.

Even when modern musicians reference and sample old music, they keep the fractured sound. A recent example of this can be found in Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s collaborative song “4th Dimension” from their album Kids See Ghosts, which opens up with a sample from Louis Prime’s 1936 “What Will Santa Bring.” The sample is crinkly and warped; it offers the tell-tale aged sound that is the crucial juxtaposition to the modern, electronic melody that closely follows.

Kanye doesn’t digitally restore the track because it would lose its personality and authenticity. Imperfection is what makes it interesting.

Listening to records is no different than watching a black and white movie in its original monochrome version. We want to see age and we want to hear age. This is what motivated the original record resurgence — our desire to resurrect the sounds of generations past from an archived graveyard, our desire to hear the same sounds as those in the 50s and 60s.

Modern albums selling out on records is just the aftermath; a trend inevitably stretching its influence to the current and the popular. “I think that part of the reason they’ve become so popular again is that there’s a generation of people who have grown up and didn’t have the CD format; there was never a physical element to music at all,” Whatmore explains. “So I think that the resurgence of vinyl is partly due to that generation of people being able to curate something; curate their collection of records, a reflection of their taste and what they love.”

There is novelty in listening to an album from start to finish — a practice nullified by the very concept of playlists — and in collecting limited edition vinyls and album covers. The physicality of holding a record and putting it on a player adds more to the listening experience than clicking on an icon on your computer screen. So does having a physical collection of the albums that you feel best represent and inform you.

But to say that streaming is killing music — and that records are resurrecting it — is facetious at best. Whatmore says that streaming music may actually boost record sales: “We’re reaching a point now where people enjoy buying music, and they’re streaming music because it is a good way to sample something and learn about new things before you commit to buying them.” Baldwin echoes the same sentiment: “I’ve probably found some of my favourite artists through streaming services [from] which I then went on to buy their album on vinyl.”

The resurgence of record players isn’t happening independent of streaming and digital mediums. There’s a lot of overlap and concurrence; they feed off of and help progress one another. Despite the resurgence, however, records still have a long way to go before they are wholly mainstream again.

The landscape for record stores is anything but conventional. Many record stores in Toronto operate in conjunction with other businesses, oftentimes with ones that have a similar niche or customer set. Vinyl Vault is open on the second floor of Sonic Bar & Café, a Chinatown bar, and Female Treble is open in Eyesore Cinema, a video store on Bloor Street.

Yearning to relate to older generations has been a recurring theme in this article; however, the practice of buying and listening to vinyls in the 60s and doing the same now, is different in intention.

Back then, vinyls were solely for utilitarian purposes: they were used to play recorded music. Now, vinyls have a more complex reason for existing. They are not only meant to play music, but they’re also meant to transport us to a time before iPods and Spotify. For better or for worse, they bring back the sound of two generations ago — imperfect, fractured, yet nevertheless, authentic.

The past is never just the past. Be it by the underground or the mainstream, old fashions and trends are absorbed and repurposed to fit into our modernity; we bring back clothes, makeup, and hairstyles, and refurbish them to meet our needs. Take Polaroids as an example. The ability to hold, shake, and touch the picture is just as significant to the experience as the vintage and raw aesthetic. They’re experiencing a resurgence that stems from the same reasons as that of records: people like the physicality and the authentic feel to them.

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

It is easy to blame the record resurgence on hipsters, and to colour record-buying as nostalgic idiocy motivated by those who love 90s indie movies a little too much. But there’s an obvious desire hidden behind the trend: the need for imperfection and authenticity.

In a couple of years, when I can afford a better, state-of-the-art record player, I’m sure my vinyls will be put to good use once more.

Declassifying Classified

The Canadian rapper talks community healing, patriotism, and mumble rap

Declassifying Classified

While many may recognise the catchy tunes and the witty rhymes of Classified’s most popular hits, “Inner Ninja” and “Oh…Canada,” few are truly aware of the Canadian rapper’s lengthy discography.

Hailing from Enfield, Nova Scotia, Classified has been writing music since high school, releasing his first LP, Time’s Up, Kid, in 1995.

Classified is still producing music 23 years after his first LP, with three new singles already in 2018. The Varsity caught up with the rapper to learn more about his approach to music.

The Varsity: I’d like to start by congratulating you on your latest releases, “Powerless,” “Changes,” and most recently, “She Ain’t Got To Do Much.” In your career, you’ve released an album, on average, every one or two years. What do you think allows you to remain consistent in your releases?

Classified: I think I just enjoy making music, you know what I mean? It’s not like, ‘I gotta go make an album,’ and I go get into the studio for two months to make an album. I go to the studio to make some beats, mess around with stuff. It’s still like a hobby to me; it’s how it started when I was a teenager. It’s still kind of the same thing, I’m just chilling, I’ll go mess around and make some music.

TV: Is music producing now the same as it was when you released your first album in 1995?

C: Different tools, I guess. Back in those days it was a 4-track with a sampler and four seconds of sample time. Now, you got a computer. You have hundreds of tracks, crazy samplers. It’s the same thing, just different tools, different instruments.

TV: As someone who has been in the music industry for over two decades, how has hip hop and rap changed since Time’s Up, Kid in 1995?

C: It’s all trap beats, it’s all I hear. I think that getting older with age I notice things being very, very similar. But at the same time, it was kind of the same way coming up in the ’90s. Everything was Boom-Bap. That’s what I came up in, that’s what I was used to.

I think the young people dictate where it’s going to be in the mainstream, which is the way it’s always been. But, it’s still kind of the same thing — still comes from the streets originally. There is definitely a lot more suburban kids kind of into the music stuff.

The biggest thing now though is just — you know, when I came up, you had to write your own shit, you had to write about life. Now people can write about anybody else’s life. You have suburban kids going around with guns, acting like they’re from the hood. It’s accepted now. Before that, shit was laughed at and forgotten.

TV: What’s your opinion on the dichotomy between the popularized mumble rap from artists such as Migos and Future versus the more charismatic rappers such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J Cole?

C: The mumble rap — it is what it is. It’s not really my thing, but I won’t shut someone down for liking something else. But I almost compare mumble rap to R&B. To me, there’s no one spitting that; there’s melody and everybody’s little verses. To me, it sounds more like an R. Kelly record, than a Jay-Z, or an Eminem, or a Nas record. No one’s really spitting. I almost think it’s its own genre, just like country and rock. Yeah, they’ve all got guitars, they’ve all got drums, but what’s coming out is completely different.

PHOTO BY @RILEYSMITHPHOTO, COURTESY OF CLASSIFIED

TV: Through the lyrics of many of your songs, specifically “Oh…Canada,” you illustrate a strong patriotism for Canada. In what ways has your hometown of Enfield, Nova Scotia — as well as the East Coast — helped you cultivate such a strong sense of pride, more than, say, someone born in Toronto or Montréal?

C: I don’t know if it’s more than [their pride]. I think it’s just the fact that not many people come from [Enfield], so you don’t hear about our identity as much. When it comes out, it comes out a lot prouder and a lot louder because we’re hidden away in the corner of Canada. I think it’s just the fact that we’re hidden, the fact that when someone says, ‘We’re going to Canada,’ they’re thinking of Toronto, Montréal, or Vancouver. That’s kind of the norm. I think it’s just the fact that we’re hidden — a little bit more of a secret. It makes us yell a little louder.

TV: Despite this pride for Canada, your song “Powerless” tackles many issues that surround the Indigenous community. What do these issues mean to you?

C: These are just common sense things. I’m not a big political person, but with the Indigenous thing, I have a lot of friends who are Native. My school was half-white, half-Native. We’ve all heard of residential schools, and what happened, and how they were treated, and then even with the missing girls now. This is something I think is really important, and with my connection it really made me want to write something about that — talk about that and really just keep that conversation going.

TV: In your experience, how have traditional-cultural and modern forms of music been able to draw attention to injustice, and act as vehicles to promote personal and community healing?

C: I think just bringing light to it… the amount of people that have texted me and [said], ‘You being a white guy talking about this, talking about our people,’ makes them feel like somebody cares. That’s kind of the feedback I’ve been getting from people that are reaching out and messaging me.

When I’m alone and I write songs, that’s where I really pull to talk about those things I wouldn’t normally talk about. Whether it is the Indigenous thing or more personal stuff, whatever it is, I think just having someone else to relate to [helps]. When you hear someone talking about it in a song or music, it makes it relatable. It makes it real. It makes it seem like, ‘I’m not the only one going through this.’

TV: In one of your latest releases, “Changes,” you talk about a fan who reached out to say that you’ve saved their life. Many of your fans, as well as other listeners, have found refuge through your music and lyrics. Was that ever a specific goal of yours or was it a positive surprise?

C: No, it definitely wasn’t one of the things that I was hoping [for]… It was really, you know, hanging out with friends, writing raps, and trying to come out with clever things. I think the first song I wrote that I noticed really hitting somebody was a song called “All About You” probably about 12 years ago.

It was a song about saying don’t worry about other people, be happy on your own standards; you’ll never make everyone happy. Twelve years later, I still get people that message me about that song, going, ‘I heard that song, it changed my day, changed my life.’ Just seeing that a song can pick somebody up or calm them down opened my eyes to a whole different side of music that was like, ‘Okay, shit. I didn’t realize music can do this.’ It’s pretty powerful stuff.

TV: As a result of that realization 12 years ago, has that become a hidden motive?

C: Totally. Not on a whole album, because I’m not trying to write a whole album on stuff like that. But, every album I have, I’ll have at least one or two tracks that really hit on something specific; something is usually a little bit more different, a little bit more serious, something that people talk about. Yeah, I definitely consciously make an effort to get a song or two on every release.

Classified’s The Days Things Change tour starts October 11, 2018. He will be performing in Toronto on November 16.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

A night out with the Arctic Monkeys

@ the Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?

A night out with the Arctic Monkeys

Going to your first alternative rock concert is a life changing experience you won’t regret. Going to an Arctic Monkeys concert, however, is an experience that cannot be put into words, or even an Instagram story.

On August 5, I went to the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Tour at Scotiabank Arena. It was a concert that brought fans back to the band’s early days, while also combining new elements to showcase their new aesthetic.

After four very long years, the beloved English indie rock band made their awaited return to Toronto following the release of their new album.

You’ve probably heard of the British indie rock band through a mutual friend or at least recognize their AM album cover in an old blog post. I fell in love with the Arctic Monkeys as an angsty 16-year-old, after an old boyfriend introduced me to their third album, Suck it and See.

I recall replaying “Piledriver Waltz” for days and obsessing over the band on artsy Tumblr blogs. Three years later, I am still in love with the band and relive those days every time I hit ‘replay.’ Their ‘70s punk rock influences, compelling charm, and poetic lyrics seem to still resonate with indie music fans after all these years.

I stood in the second row of the arena floor in awe of the epitome of cool that was frontman, Alex Turner. At the same time, I tried my very best not to fall into the growing mosh pit as lead guitarist, Jamie Cook, played the opening riff of “505.”

The group had returned from a hiatus in 2014 after their AM tour, which followed the release of their fifth studio album of the same name. During that time, members pursued individual projects.

Alex Turner worked with the group, The Last Shadow Puppets, releasing an album in 2016, and also with the LA indie pop band, Mini Mansions, who opened the Monkeys’ Toronto concert. The group played hits from their 2015 album, The Great Pretenders, opening the concert with “Freakout!” and “Creeps,” a melancholic indie pop tune of a former romance.

 The Monkeys took the stage at roughly 9:00 pm, opening with “Four out of Five,” the sixth single in Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Of the songs included in the setlist, only five were taken from the band’s latest album.

While the band tried to change their music style to the likes of artists such as David Bowie and indie folk-rock artist, Father John Misty, it was a risky move. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino received many polarising reviews from fans, commenting on the band’s experimentation of lounge and psychedelic pop and use of ‘70s style synthesizers rather than the prominent guitar riffs, a staple to the band’s unique sound and image.

Much of the songs in the tour’s setlist were older fan-favourites from albums including AM (2013), Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), Humbug (2009), and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006).

The hardcore guitar riffs of songs such as “Brianstorm” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” combined with the flashing lights and fog made for a great performance reminiscent of the band’s earlier days as an alternative rock band in the mid 2000’s.

Turner sported a new buzzed cut, saying goodbye to his signature coiff. Alternating between lead guitar and keyboard, Turner’s stage presence added to the band’s ‘cool factor’ and edgy aesthetic.

After 10 minutes of the concert’s supposed end, the Monkeys returned to the stage for an encore performance following the audience’s never-ending cheers. The group performed “Star Treatment”, “Snap out of it,” and finished with “R U Mine?”, an alternative rock-pop song of unrequited love and obscurity in a budding relationship.

After a packed house and a ‘lovely’ subway ride home, I’d like to say I learned to look good on the dance floor, without falling into the drunken mess that is the mosh pit. The Arctic Monkeys proved to be a unique experience and the ultracool, indie vibe of their concerts are indescribable in any way.

Jams for your first week back at school

The night is young, the music is loud, and before you know it, we’ll be meeting up at Con Hall

Jams for your first week back at school

Do you have that one go-to track you play almost every night? I do! Call me old school but nothing gets me dancing like a dig in the dancing queen, and nothing ever will.

Your first week of school can be bittersweet — mine usually is. While you’re happy to reunite with your friends, you reminisce about waking up late and the few responsibilities that come with the summer season.

September has creeped up on us, so you should listen to this playlist in an attempt to commemorate your summer memories.

These popular tracks are perfect for your first week back at school. The night is young, the music is loud and before you know it we’ll be meeting up at Con Hall.

“Freaky Friday” by Lil Dicky featuring Chris Brown, 2018

This is a really a hit or miss kind of song, but for me, it’s definitely a hit. Sometimes a tune is more than enough to get grooving. A little bit of base, a little bit of pop and a whole lot of rhythm. Not to mention, the music video is hilarious!

“Partition” by Beyoncé, 2013

We all need at least one Queen B song in our playlist and here is one of my favorites! Beyoncé’s nonchalantly flawless, untouchable vocals in sync with a mood changing rhythm definitely makes this a top favourite on my playlist.

“Girls Like You” by Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B, 2018

Your new inspiration is here and it comes with a sweet touch of Adam Levine’s voice! And once again, here he is with a song that I just can’t get out of my head.

“In My Feelings” by Drake, 2018

It’s only one of the most played songs of the summer. Literally. Yet somehow I’m not sick of it and so I’d rather have a song that makes me skip a step over one that makes me fall asleep before a three hour lecture.

“Shotgun” by George Ezra, 2018

Imagine your windows rolled down, the blazing sun and cool pop riding shotgun to your favorite beats. Oh, and on blasting volume of course. Here is a favorite that I play every time, and cheesy but true – most definitely when I win shotgun. You ride shotgun to class, no?

“No Brainer” by DJ Khaled featuring Justin Bieber, Chance The Rapper, Quavo, 2018

The “I’m The One” team is back with yet another one! What a reunion! It’s a no brainer that this song will keep you good company on your long walks to class.

“Level Up” by Ciara, 2018

Talk about one of the most viral and popular songs of the season! This already has me levelled up in my seat and I’m sitting on my couch still in my PJs. Need the perfect wake-up call after eight hours of class a day? Here’s one!

“1, 2, 3” by Sofia Reyes featuring Jason Derulo, De La Ghetto, 2018

I forgot all the Spanish I learned in high school until this beat came on, so it only seems right to have it back a few hours before class starts! It’s perfect for the first week back playlist.

“Capital Letters” by Hailee Steinfeld, BloodPop®, 2018

A packed social calendar in the summer calls for a night out every day. The semester, unfortunately, doesn’t bring us this luck. So here is a track for your first weekend back, a club ready, rushing pop, and smooth song for your playlist. Whether you’re dancing at a nightclub or in your PJs before bed — this is a mood changer!

“Dancing Queen” by Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again cast, 2018

This is a cover of a 1975 ABBA song. You know what they say: save the best for the last. You didn’t think I’d leave this out, did you? Summer is never complete without a little bit of “Dancing Queen”; words don’t do justice to this masterpiece. In lieu of a throwback to the 1970s, here is a Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again version of your favorite “Dancing Queen”! The first week of school may bring assignments, but with this song, at least you’ll be in a good mood when you write it.