Blink Once

Arkells

Blink Once

“Not gonna lie, I’ve been f**ked up/Not gonna lie, it’s been a long year.” When Max Kerman sings those words on the last song of Arkells’ sixth album, he’s not just being dramatic. Blink Once was born in a period of grief—and that was before COVID hit. Completed in the pre-lockdown dawn of 2020, the album partly serves as a eulogy for two friends who passed away the prior year, while exploring all manner of dysfunctional family dynamics and characters in need of emotional support. But by waiting to release the record until the band could safely tour again in the fall of 2021, Arkells have seen these deeply personal songs acquire a more universal resonance. “There’s a lot of songs here about loss and dealing with strained relationships,” Kerman tells Apple Music, “and I think that’s something we’re all dealing with on some level.”
That said, it’s simply not in Arkells’ nature to wallow in misery—this is, after all, a band that feels most at home on an arena stage, flanked by a horn section, backing singers, and pyro effects while Kerman works the crowd in his rainbow-fringed leather jacket. On Blink Once, the Canadian group reframe sadness as celebratory, seize-the-day anthems that inspire you to make the most of your time while you’re still here. And for Arkells, that means further reformulating their cocktail of classic-rock earnestness, modern indie aesthetics, and Top 40 pop-rap swagger to produce a record that boasts fiery guest verses from alt-pop dynamo K.Flay (“You Can Get It”), channels the funky piano grooves of George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” (“One Thing I Know”), and name-checks The Beatles over a brassy Chance the Rapper-inspired beat (“Swing Swing Swing”). In the spoken-word snippet that introduces the latter track, Kerman announces Arkells’ mission in no uncertain terms: “I want to try doing one of those songs where people are happy and dancing, but everyone’s really f**king sad when they listen to the lyrics.” Here’s his track-by-track guide to ballin’ and bawlin’ through Blink Once.
“Liberation” “This song feels like it’s waiting to explode—there’s a lot of pent-up energy, because the drums don’t kick in for a minute and a half, until after that first chorus. ‘Liberation’ is about dealing with loss and sickness. With this song, and ‘Strong,’ I had the same person in mind: my friend, Dr. Barbara Tatham, who passed away in 2019. When somebody is sick, it’s just a blurry, chaotic time and it’s hard to have any clarity. So, ‘Liberation’ is about those few moments of clarity you have when you’re in the s**t.”
“You Can Get It” (feat. K.Flay) “I do this podcast, Mike on Much, and we interviewed K.Flay when she was rolling through Toronto, doing press. I think it was the day we recorded [2017 single] ‘Knocking at the Door.’ And she actually came into the studio to do the interview. She’s very easygoing, super smart, and just a great hang. So, this song came out of a natural friendship; it wasn’t like the label put us together. And it turned out that she knew one of our producers, Tom Peyton, from the Bay Area. We were working on the song and it kind of had a Kanye-inspired piano loop, and even though K.Flay is more of an alt artist now, she has a rapping background, so she can just come up with stuff quickly. This is the first feature we’ve ever done, and I love it. Her feature kind of reminds me of ‘No Church in the Wild’ from Watch the Throne, where Jay-Z does the first verse, and you’re like, ‘When are we going to hear Kanye?’ And then, he finally comes in two minutes later, and he just slays it. So, when K.Flay appears, you’re like, ‘Holy s**t! Now we’re off to the races!’ She totally elevates the whole thing.”
“All Roads” “This song is about trying to find a place of comfort, and trying to find your way back to some kind of truth. So much of our job is traveling, and it can feel somewhat chaotic, so this song is about the feeling of finally coming home and being at ease.”
“Strong” “This is about my friend Barbara’s life and her relationship with her family and her friends, so we definitely wanted to get it right. We deliberately didn’t want to put any schmaltzy strings on it or add a ton of harmonies—we wanted it to be as minimalist as possible. We don’t have a song like this in our entire catalog, where it’s just a piano and a vocal with no bells and whistles. It definitely feels like it suits the tone.”
“Little Moments (Interlude)” “Before Barbara passed, she led a series of talks with physicians about what it means to be a doctor who’s also very sick with terminal cancer. It was a very educational thing, because she knew what it was like to be on both sides. So, we used a bit of one of those talks here—that’s actually her voice underneath the acoustic guitar.”
“One Thing I Know” “Sometimes it’s fun in a song to take a few different stories and make each verse a different version of the same theme. I was at a party with my friend [CBC Radio host] Tom Power and he was talking to a fellow Newfoundlander, our friend Jeremy. When Newfoundlanders talk to each other, I’m just so charmed, because they really lean into their accent. And I remember saying, ‘Guys, why don’t you talk like this to me?’ And they said, ‘When you come to Toronto, you have to hide your accent a little bit.’ And that’s such a bummer—this idea that someone is somewhat ashamed of where they came from. The second verse is about some friends of mine who had a really hard time coming out to their family, and just how sad that idea is to me. So, I was thinking about the idea of shame, and how the way you get over shame is to be proud of exactly what you’re made of and where you’re from.”
“Truce” “I heard a story through a friend about someone my age who hadn’t talked to their mom in, like, 11 years. I get that family relationships are often the deepest and the most emotionally intense, so that could lead to somebody not talking to their mom. And so I thought, ‘How do you get over that? How do you reconnect? Can we call a truce? How can we get to that point where we don’t care anymore to hold the grudge?’ Our friend Dennis Passley wails a very emotional sax solo, which suited the mood.”
“Nobody Gets Me Like You Do” “I was thinking about a couple of my best pals, and just that mood of when you’re catching up while you’re going for a walk on a nice day. You’re able to just recap things that have been going on in your life, and there’s no judgment. So, this is kind of an ode to those people in your life that offer that kind of comfort. A good day with your best pals is unbeatable.”
“Swing Swing Swing” “Obviously, I’m not a hip-hop artist. That said, the music genre that I probably listen to most right now is hip-hop. This song is definitely a tip of the cap to Chance the Rapper, especially his earlier stuff with Donnie Trumpet. There’s a pace and a rhythm to the way those guys can operate, and there’s just so much melody in there. There’s more wordplay, so you’re slightly less precious about what each word is supposed to mean, because there’s just more of them in there. I was liberated by that idea.”
“No Regrets” “I’m very attracted to new experiences. I always tell everybody, ‘You have to leave the f**king house, because when you leave the house, stuff happens!’ I like talking to everybody. I like having little moments of love and connection, even if it’s a fleeting thing where you meet somebody for 15 minutes. So, I was just leaning into that idea. On the bridge, there’s this over-the-top vocal moment where I sing, ‘My love is true!’ and I wanted a ’90s New York City dance groove. When it comes to certain moments within a song, we’re often like, ‘What does this sound look like to you?’ And sometimes it’s ‘shaggy-haired, bearded guys rocking out on guitars.’ And sometimes it’s ‘the club scene in New York City in 1995.’ It just kind of depends on the moment in the song.”
“Years in the Making” “This is about just embracing the journey. Even if things don’t turn your way right now, all the s**t you’re going through hopefully informs the next thing, and that will lead you to some kind of goal that you have in mind. We didn’t know when we put out this song [as a single in February 2020] that it would feel particularly relevant right now. Whether it’s a wedding or a job or a vacation that got postponed by the pandemic, this song feels appropriate.”
“What the Feeling Was Like (Interlude)/Arm in Arm” “Mike Veerman—who I do the podcast with—and his brother Greg are dear, dear friends of mine and their dad, Roy, suddenly passed away at age 60 of a heart attack. He was a very lively guy who loved live music. His favorite song is [Creedence Clearwater Revival’s] ‘Proud Mary,’ and we ended up covering it at the next batch of Arkells shows in honor of him. And when I think about Roy, I just think about him being arm in arm with his boys, singing that song. Music is such a connective tool and a really important way to bring people together. So, ‘Arm in Arm’ is in memory of Roy and it’s about how, even in the hardest of times, if you can come together with your loved ones and sing a song, there’s some healing property in there. The intro is Mike and Greg talking about their dad and what it means to come home and have to figure out all the logistics of a funeral and just how hard that is, but it’s followed by a song of celebration.”

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