How the Junos Started an Unlikely Friendship Between Arkells & Jeremy Dutcher

Arkells' Max Kerman and Jeremy Dutcher
Mark O'Neill/CARAS/iPhoto Inc.

Arkells' Max Kerman invited Jeremy Dutcher (winner: Indigenous Music Album of the Year) to come up on stage and finish his acceptance at the 2019 Juno Gala Dinner & Awards in London Convention Centre on March 16, 2019. 

When Jeremy Dutcher went onstage to accept his Juno Award for Indigenous music album of the year at the untelevised Juno gala dinner on Saturday (March 16) in London, Ontario, the cut-off music began just as he started to talk about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. But then later in the Canadian music awards ceremony, a stranger, Max Kerman, frontman of the band Arkells, invited him back up to the stage when they won rock album of the year.

“Isn’t that a metaphor though for everything that has been going?” Dutcher told Billboard on the red carpet of being silenced. But then the younger generation listens.

“The Arkells, as they won their award, they came over and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Come finish your speech.’ What a moment of holding space, of opening up a dialogue, and using their platform to lift up voices that don't often get a platform like that. This was a very big act that they did. So I’m excited to call them friends now.”

Kerman told Billboard, “I was blown away by his earlier speech and ran into him on the way to the bathroom. I’d never met him before but I said, ‘My name is Max. What table are you at?’ He said, ‘72’ and then when our name was called for rock album of the year, I spotted him and we just grabbed him. 

“He had so many interesting things to say and at that point in the night, I don't think we did,” Kerman laughs. “I think it was more important that he had the chance to finish his speech. You could hear a pin drop; he was so captivating, he's a real presence in the audience.”

His speech had begun with a message to the Canadian Prime Minister (not in attendance): “Justin, Mr. Trudeau, a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like pipelines,” he said. "A nation-to-nation relationship does not look like sending militarized police forces into unceded territory, and a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like in 2019 [putting] our communities under a boil water advisory. So this means so much to them. I hope to continue to share and use this platform to tell truths. We can all do better."

When he returned with Arkells, Kerman said, “Don’t start the f***in’ music. Give him as long as he wants,” then Dutcher concluded. Of reconciliation, he said: “It's a lofty goal. It’s a dream. It doesn't happen in a year. It takes time. It takes stories. It's a shared experience. It takes music. I have hope. I have to.”

Dutcher, who also won the 2018 Polaris Music Prize, will be heading out on tour beginning March 22. The pianist, who composed songs in the near-extinct language of Wolastoq, will continue to support the Juno-winning album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa with live dates across North America, Europe and the U.K. He will follow those with an orchestral tour, which has not yet been announced.

“I'm teaming up with orchestras to present this album and this work in concert halls with orchestras. For me, this is the natural end to this life of this project that started with piano. I have no doubt that we will be headed southward as well,” Dutcher says.

As for a follow-up album, he says, “I’m in no rush to get past it. I spent a half a decade working on this album. I'm going to take the time to play it and let everybody hear it. I really look forward to continuing to play this music, and I'm still writing new stuff too, but we can't talk about that yet.”

Arkells have been nominated for 12 Junos since 2010, winning new group that year, then group in 2012, and group and rock album this year; they’ve now reached arena-headliner status in Canada. The band continues to tour behind the Juno-winning album Rally Cry.

They played a stadium last year, Tim Horton’s Field, in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, to raise money for a refugee organization and will headline Toronto amphitheatre Budweiser Stage for the second time this summer. Through the Arcade Fire-associated Plus 1, one dollar from every ticket sold will go to Rainbow Railroad, which helps LGBTQI people around the world escape persecution and violence. Also via Plus 1, their current run in Canada donated the money to Canadian Council for Refugees and, in America, Al Otro Lado, which is a organization that helps refugees at the southern border get access to legal services. “The spirit of both organizations is very similar. Let’s help newcomers get welcomed properly into the country,” says Kerman.

And while Arkells’ profile continues to rise in Canada, they are working on the U.S. too. “We just played Chicago and Detroit on Thursday and Friday,” Kerman says. “For us, our whole band's career has been a brick by brick operation. Every time we come back, we just hope the show’s better than the last time we were there. And that's how it's been.”