Blink Twice

Arkells

Blink Twice

Two years into the COVID-19 outbreak, “the pandemic album” has become a genre unto itself, implying a certain isolated atmosphere and introspective tone. But Arkells’ Blink Twice is a different sort of pandemic album—one that’s less a product of aesthetic impulse than strategic circumstance. The Hamilton, Ontario, rock polymaths’ eighth album is actually a savvy way to extend the shelf life of their seventh, 2021’s Blink Once, which dropped just as the band was taking its first, tentative post-lockdown steps back to the stage but didn’t get to enjoy the full muscle of the Arkells’ stage show to support it. As singer/guitarist Max Kerman tells Apple Music, “We were looking around and just seeing friends’ bands put out albums that kind of evaporated into thin air because you couldn’t tour them. So, we were like, ‘We don’t want that to happen. How do we put out some music [with Blink Once], but then also have more music coming so that, when touring does resume, we’re able to have something fresh, and it doesn’t just feel like we’re touring a record that came out a year and a half ago?’” But Blink Twice is no quick-serve batch of reheated leftovers. Like all great sequels, it takes the defining qualities of its predecessor—the soul-baring, Springsteen-schooled songcraft, the rap-flirtatious production, the crossover collaborations—and blows them up to IMAX proportions. And to help them realize that maximalist vision, Arkells lined up more guest features than a DJ Khaled project, corralling a parade of formative influences (Joel Plaskett, Tegan and Sara), alt-pop peers (Lights, Cœur de pirate), and newer connections (Jake Clemons, The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz) that functions as a This Is Your Life microcosm of the Arkells’ unlikely journey from indie underdogs to Canadian radio stars. “There’s so much fun collaboration that happens in basically every other genre outside of rock ’n’ roll, and I get jealous of it,” Kerman says. “And also, I’m kind of tired of my own voice. I just feel like, ‘Do I need to hear myself sing another 12 songs?’ I think we’re always trying to learn from new experiences, and so the process of reaching out to some of our heroes and figuring out how to make a song with them made this a very unique experience for us.” Here, Kerman talks through each of those pair-ups on the album. “Past Life” “I liked the idea of using the lyric ‘I’m a little wallflower/Singing ‘One Headlight.”’ It captures that idea of being on the open road and singing your favorite song—you’re sort of shedding your past life and all the problems from an earlier time in your life and just driving away from it. And then Nathan [Willett, Cold War Kids singer] reacted to that. He liked that idea of, ‘How do you get out of the shadow of your family’s history, or from your dad?’ So, he wrote his verse with the Jakob Dylan mention, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is great—it ties everything together.’” “Human Being” “Lights has been very open about her personal experiences and things she struggled with, so when we were working on this song, I thought of her immediately. It kind of sounds like a Lights song. She wrote the bridge, which is my favorite part: ‘Tell me that you’re high or something/Show me how your lips can function/I wanna hear new songs, I wanna meet new people/And move on if it don’t move the needle.’ That’s fucking great. Whenever there’s a collaboration with that kind of swagger, I always think of Watch the Throne, with JAY-Z and Kanye going back and forth at each other—and that was definitely the energy we were going for.” “Teenage Tears” “I’ve been a fan of Tegan and Sara’s forever. I had their voices in mind for it. It’s funny: The last time I saw Tegan and Sara was at their show in Toronto [in 2019], when they were touring their book called High School, and they had just recorded an entire album of songs [Hey, I’m Just Like You] they wrote as teenagers. And then, we found out later that their new album is called Crybaby. So, to have them on a song called ‘Teenage Tears’ is a match made in heaven.” “Nowhere To Go” “People think of The Lumineers as this Denver band, but they’re actually from Jersey originally. So, we started talking about Jersey music and Springsteen and Bleachers, and [Wesley Schultz] was saying, ‘That’s some of my favorite music.’ I sent him this song and said, ‘This is a little bit more in the rock ’n’ roll world than what you normally sing on, but it’d be really cool to hear your voice on this kind of song because it’s very Springsteen.’ And he said, ‘I really like this, but lyrically, we need to be in the same world a little bit more.’ So, I took his feedback and rewrote my verse, and then he wrote his verse in response to it. But we were still missing a bridge, and we thought, ‘How can we make the bridge interesting and exciting?’ We have a bunch of mutual friends with Jake Clemons, so we asked him, ‘Do you want to wail on this?’” “Dance With You” “I thought, ‘What if we tried to write a French song?’ I reached out to Béatrice [Martin, aka Cœur de pirate], who I didn’t know particularly well at the time, and I was like, ‘Béatrice, I need you to teleport yourself to a Parisian nightclub. It’s 1 in the morning, and there’s a lot of great energy in the room.’ And she was like, ‘Well, I just had a kid, so that’s really the furthest place from my mind right now. But I can give it a go.’ She wrote the lyrics and sang them, and I thought, ‘What if we trade lines?’ It took me a long time to get the French enunciation down, but we did it. My favorite artists always surprised their fans—like when Bowie put out Let’s Dance, I’m sure people were like, ‘What the fuck. This does not sound like Bowie!’ l like the idea of Arkells fans being like, ‘What is this?’ But then, by the third listen, they’re like, ‘I love this!’” “Something’s Gotta Give” “I still remember when I was 17 and walked into [Toronto record store] Soundscapes on College, and they had the listening stations in the front, and I put on Joel Plaskett’s Truthfully Truthfully because the cover looked kind of cool. And from there, I became a huge fan. I think he’s the best that this country has to offer when it comes to songwriting. I thought it’d be fun to have a song that’s just B-A-E [chords]—very meat ’n’ potatoes. So, I started working on this song, and I realized, ‘This is actually kind of like a Joel Plaskett tune.’ So, I sent it to him and asked, ‘Would you want to do anything with this?’ He sent back a bunch of guitar tracks, and it was amazing. Getting to share a song with him is just about the coolest thing for me.”

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