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Arkells' Max Kerman on the Tragically Hip
By
Kiah Welsh

Published

August 4, 2016

Genre

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The national celebration of the Tragically Hip's Man Machine Poem tour, held in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday, Aug. 20, will be a momentous time for Canadians, and the CBC will be there to broadcast it to the whole country, commercial-free, across our television, radio and digital platforms. For details, head to cbcmusic.ca/thehip.

In the lead-up to the event, we asked celebrated Canadians, from Geddy Lee to Clara Hughes, to tell us how the Hip has impacted their lives, and share stories and reflections they have of the band.

Below, Max Kerman from Arkells tells a handful of memories of the Tragically Hip, from sharing the stage with the band to one-on-one rants with Gord Downie.

On covering 'Grace, Too'

"A few years ago we covered 'Grace, Too' for a special show at the Horseshoe and we got Paul [Langlois] and Gord to come up and play it. So, Gord played bass, which is a very signature part in that song and then we got Paul to strap on some old crappy Strat guitar, but they didn't care they were super nice about it and played the song. I did my best Downie rant imitation — it was not very good, but it was very fun doing it."

On Downie's storytelling

"We toured with [the Hip] and we were hanging out — I think it was somewhere in interior British Columbia and we were all staying at the same hotel and the crew and the band were all hanging out at the hotel bar. Gord Downie has always been very generous with his time and just available if you want to reach out and he's been very complimentary to us. He was telling me a story about driving around Prince Edward County with his son and they were driving around some back-country road and the Who was playing and he told his son, 'All right, when we get to the climax here you have to turn it up to 11 cause when Daltrey screams that is the apex, that is what rock is all about.' So, [he] turned it all the way up and screamed with Daltrey and [his] kid was stunned and looking at [him]. But [he said] it was awesome!

"I was thinking this is such a charming story about being in the car with his son and introducing him to music. And, then two nights later, in the middle of a classic Downie rant, he tells that story to the crowd. And, I loved that because I didn't know if he was work-shopping the idea on me to tell a couple nights later or if he just thought of it in the moment and thought, 'Oh, that might be a good idea for later.' But, either way he's living it. That's what makes him the best is that he's always thinking about 'How can I perform, how can I put on a great show?' It's no surprise to me as to why he's so revered. If this guy's mind is always working that way, then good things are going to come from it."

Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip performs on Day 9 of the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest on July 17, 2015 in Ottawa, Canada.

'Don't go big, go small'

"There are so many Tragically Hip songs that I love and adore but, one song that sticks out to me and is a great example the way Downie writes is a song called 'In View,' which is off their 2006 record. I love it because Downie is really good at being very specific about a scene and then letting the listener paint the rest of the picture. So, the chorus is 'phone rings once/ phone rings twice/ phone rings three times.' On a certain level, that's a mundane thing but, if you've been there and you're waiting for somebody to pick up the phone each ring builds suspense and climax. And, the fact that he made that into the chorus basically. He has so many lines like that where he's just painting a little scene. I always think about that when I'm writing lyrics is, 'Don't go big, go small,' because sometimes the smallest, most intimate moments end up saying the most."

On Now for Plan A

"A pretty common thing for touring bands is you end up getting attached to the specific album that they're promoting. So, we toured with [the Hip] in 2012 when Now for Plan A came out. I got really attached to those songs and there was a song called 'We Want to be It.' There's a line in there, in the chorus, where it's like, 'We don't want to do it/ we want to be it.' And, I love that line because [Downie]'s always been living in the art. Everything he does has been about the craft and truly living the life of an artist. He's not living the life of a business person, who's trying to figure out how to get his band off the ground. He's been an artist through and through. And, I love that line, 'We don't want to do it/ we want to be it.'"

Lead singer Max Kerman of the Arkells opens up for the Tragically Hip at Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2013 in Toronto, Canada.

On recording at the Bathouse 

"When we were trying to figure out where to do our second record, Michigan Left, the opportunity came up to do it at the Bathouse — in Bath, Ontario, which is a little outside of Kingston where the Tragically Hip have recorded a bunch of their albums and they own the place, and offer to other bands when they're not using it. It was really fun because you sleep on the second floor and there are a bunch of beds. One morning we came down and the Gords [Downie and Sinclair] were there because they had to pop in and take care of an extra vocal take that needed to be cleaned up for their next record. It was so cool to hear Gord Sinclair giving instructions to Gord Downie about if that take was good, or that take wasn't good. It was just so cool to see them working together because they've been working together at that point for three decades. That's just a memory that sticks out just to see a band in the studio working together as colleagues — very, very cool."

For more details on the final Hip concert, click here. You can also tune in every weekday to CBC Radio 2 Drive with host Rich Terfry at 6 p.m. (6:30 N.T.) and read a short history of each of the Tragically Hip’s albums to date.

More to explore:

The true, tragic and inspiring Canadian stories behind Gord Downie's best lyrics

Readers' poll: what is the best Tragically Hip song?

The Tragically Hip's albums, ranked

25 things you didn't know about the Tragically Hip

Is the Tragically Hip really the most Canadian band ever?