The Georgia Straight - - Movies - > MIKE USINGER

To get a true han­dle on how far 2

Arkells has pro­gressed since form­ing at Hamil­ton’s Mc­mas­ter Univer­sity in 2006, lis­ten to singer Max Ker­man re­count the group’s his­tory of live shows in Van­cou­ver.

“The band has grown in baby steps over the years,” the en­gag­ing front­man says, on the line from his home in Steel­town, On­tario. “It’s never been one day where we’ve gone, ‘Holy shit—we’re sell­ing out a 5,000-cap arena.’ It’s all been very in­cre­men­tal. The first time we ever played Van­cou­ver we played a strip club dur­ing some fes­ti­val [Mu­sic West] that doesn’t ex­ist any­more. I think that was 2008. The next time we came back we played to 100 peo­ple, the next time 300 peo­ple, then 500 and 700, and then we sold out the Com­modore.

“And then we sold out two nights at the Com­modore,” Ker­man con­tin­ues. “So it’s al­ways been re­ally grad­ual, but al­ways headed in the right di­rec­tion. And that’s a re­ally healthy way of go­ing about it, be­cause you never feel like you’re in a spot that you can’t han­dle. It’s never ‘Oh my God—i’m to­tally over­whelmed right now.’ In­stead, it’s more ‘This to­tally makes sense.’ ”

That Arkells’ up­ward tra­jec­tory con­tin­ues in 2017 can be mea­sured by the band’s play­ing the 8,000ca­pac­ity Thun­der­bird Arena at UBC this time through town. Ad­mirably, the quin­tet’s pulling that off on the back of its most un­re­pen­tantly am­bi­tious record to date.

Last sum­mer’s Morn­ing Re­port took the chances that no one saw com­ing. After build­ing a de­voted Cana­dian fol­low­ing with an un­fussy brand of pop-friendly alt-rock, Ker­man and his band­mates—gui­tarist Mike Dean­ge­lis, bassist Nick Dika, drum­mer Tim Ox­ford, and key­boardist An­thony Carone—de­cided to un­leash their in­ner art stars. The au­da­cious­ness on Morn­ing Re­port starts right off the top, with “Drake’s Dad” an ADHD blur of Mus­cle Shoals soul, far-away-eyes coun­try, and string-laden baroque pop. “My Heart’s Al­ways Yours” em­braces clas­sic new wave ev­ery bit as pas­sion­ately as John Hughes’s Pretty in Pink did, while the synth-swooped “Pri­vate School” sug­gests that some of us took the death of David Bowie far harder than oth­ers.

Fit­tingly, Morn­ing Re­port doesn’t stick to one tem­plate lyri­cally. So while Ker­man starts out re­count­ing real-life booze-blitzed road trips and rag­ing par­ties on “Drake’s Dad” and “Pri­vate School”, more straigh­ta­head num­bers like “Pas­sen­ger Seat” and “Come Back Home” re­flect on re­la­tion­ships and the emo­tional trau­mas they in­evitably cause.

“The first batch of songs that emerged on this record were the sad songs,” the singer re­calls with a laugh. “That’s sort of the place that I was in, and the things that I was in­ter­ested in writ­ing about. Then at about song num­ber five I sud­denly went, ‘Good lord, does the world re­ally need an­other sad white guy mop­ing around?’ I kind of got sick of my­self and went, ‘Lighten up al­ready, man—this is not all of who you are.’ So I got a sense of hu­mour, which is where songs like ‘Pri­vate School’ and ‘Drake’s Dad’ came from.”

What Morn­ing Re­port shows is that Arkells’ mem­bers are fans of mu­sic that tran­scends North Amer­ica’s rock-ra­dio playlists. As sure as the band has slowly worked its way up from the Pen­t­house to mid­size hockey are­nas, Ker­man is con­vinced fans are loyal enough to be in it for the long haul. Call that one of the ben­e­fits of build­ing a fol­low­ing one small-club show at a time, rather than on the back of a sin­gle ra­dio smash.

“I knew with a song like ‘Pri­vate School’, the first sin­gle, that peo­ple were go­ing to be scratch­ing their heads and go­ing, ‘Well, what the fuck is this? That does not sound like ‘11:11’ or ‘Leather Jacket’,” Ker­man says, re­fer­ring to past Arkells hits. “But I had faith in the song, and faith that over time peo­ple would stop scratch­ing their heads. Even­tu­ally, it will just be part of our cat­a­logue in the same way that Billy Joel has a ton of dif­fer­ent kinds of songs. I’m sure that the first time he put out ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ that peo­ple went ‘Whaatttt? He’s kind of rap­ping right now.’ But over time it just be­came an­other hit.”

Arkells head­lines UBC’S Thun­der­bird Arena on Wed­nes­day (Fe­bru­ary 1).

I came for the tigers, but stayed for the mu­sic. Call me shal­low, but I was hooked on Banda Magda the mo­ment I saw the glo­be­trot­ting quar­tet’s promo photo, which de­picts an ami­ably fer­al­look­ing Magda Gian­nikou crouch­ing in front of a woman in a striped dress and two be­suited guys in tiger heads.

Gian­nikou—a Greek-born, Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic–trained, and New York City–based poly­math—has al­ready es­tab­lished cre­ative part­ner­ships with the jazz-fu­sion in­no­va­tors in Snarky Puppy and the eru­dite in­ter­na­tion­al­ists of the Kronos Quar­tet, de­spite fly­ing so far un­der the radar that her Van­cou­ver de­but is go­ing to take place in the in­ti­mate con­fines of St. James Hall. But she’s not go­ing to stay an un­der­ground sen­sa­tion for long, for her vis­ual flair is as com­pelling as her suave mix of mu­si­cal styles.

“I’m a very vis­ual per­son: when­ever I sing or I com­pose or I write, I see things, and I try as much as pos­si­ble to con­vey these things vis­ually for our au­di­ences, so they can have a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence,” Gian­nikou ex­plains, reached in Buenos Aires, where the singer, ac­cor­dion player, and sound en­gi­neer is pro­duc­ing com­poser Javier Zacharias’s first al­bum of songs. “That’s why our pic­tures are very vi­brant, be­cause I feel those colours in my in­ner eye.”

It’s promis­ing, then, that Banda Magda’s soon-to-be-re­leased third al­bum sports a lengthy but re­veal­ing ti­tle: TI­GRE: A Tech­ni­color Col­lec­tion of Songs, In­stru­men­tal Mu­sic and Short Films About Courage and Fear­less­ness. In seiz­ing the mul­ti­me­dia day, Gian­nikou is hon­our­ing her synes­the­sia—a con­di­tion in which the dif­fer­ent senses in­ter­twine in the mind—as well as of­fer­ing just what the world needs in this time of ever-es­ca­lat­ing worry.

“I re­mem­ber a re­ally cold win­ter in New York, three years ago, when the idea came into my mind,” she says. “We’d played a gig that didn’t pay much, and I was hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing ends meet, and al­though I feel very pas­sion­ate about my work, there had been mo­ments where I’d been ques­tion­ing it, like, ‘What am I do­ing here? This is nuts! I don’t have money to pay my rent, but I’m book­ing a tour…’

“We’ve made many choices in the past that were com­pletely in­sane, but we’re still here, and we’re still do­ing it,” she con­tin­ues. “And more and more I re­al­ize that there’s no way back any­more. We’re in it for real.”

The strength to con­tinue comes, in part, from the re­cep­tion that Banda Magda’s mu­sic has been get­ting. “It’s from sim­ple mes­sages of peo­ple say­ing ‘Hi! I re­ally love your mu­sic, and I play it in the morn­ing, and it makes light,’” she says. “If you hear five peo­ple say­ing that, it makes you want to not stop.”

But Gian­nikou draws on more than fan sup­port. A ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion for her mu­sic is Brazil, where—be­gin­ning with the bossa nova and con­tin­u­ing on through the Trop­icália move­ment of the late 1960s—artists have of­ten found warm in­spi­ra­tion in less-thanideal con­di­tions.

“I love mu­sic that has that el­e­ment of see­ing the joy through pain or suf­fer­ing, and [Brazil­ian] artists have that,” she says. “You lis­ten to Elis Regina and she might be singing a song that talks about chal­leng­ing things emo­tion­ally, but then there is also this joy that comes out of her. An­other artist who does that is Edith Piaf. I ap­pre­ci­ate and I ad­mire those kinds of artists. Their way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their au­di­ence is not trans­mit­ting their pain, but rather open­ing some kind of win­dow to light. So if you lis­ten to the al­bum, it’s about fear, but the way it comes out, it’s with a smile. It’s not with a frown.”

Could you use some of that light right now? Yeah, me too. Banda Magda plays St. James Hall on Sun­day (Jan­uary 29).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.