Knocking at the Door: How Arkells wrote a bona fide sports anthem

From the Super Bowl to Major League Baseball and Hockey Night in Canada, Arkells's "Knocking at the Door" has been embraced by sports fans all over.

Arkells hit nominated for a 2018 Juno Award for best single, video of the year

Arkells were just nominated for a 2018 Juno award for single of the year for "Knocking at the Door." (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's early in the second quarter of Super Bowl LII. The Philadelphia Eagles are up by two, on their way to a historic triumph over the heavily-favoured New England Patriots to capture the city's first ever Super Bowl title.

And there, as NBC heads to commercial, is a little slice of Canada — Arkells's hit Knocking at the Door blaring through TV speakers into millions of homes.

The band didn't know it was coming, but at this point, it shouldn't be a shock. The song has become a bona fide sports anthem that has now been featured on NFL, NHL and MLB broadcasts.

Since its release, Knocking at the Door spent a whopping 14 weeks at number one on the Canadian alt/rock charts, and was just nominated for Juno awards for single of the year, engineer of the year and video of the year.

(Other local nominees this year include Terra Lightfoot, Steve Strongman and Brad Cheeseman.)

Knocking at the Door has quickly replaced Leather Jacket as the band's marquee song during live performances.

But it has also taken on a life of its own in stadiums and arenas across the world. A song with its origins rooted in civil protest and women's rights has quickly become a go-to, pump-up jam in key moments for sports teams and broadcasters.

Now, it just feels right to hear Knocking at the Door next to staples like Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, Queen's We Will Rock You, Lose Yourself by Eminem, and even 2 Unlimited's certified jam Get Ready for This.

There's a fearlessness to it that I think a lot of sports fans and teams want to feel.- Max Kerman

"We know from experience it's hard to know what songs will resonate with people," frontman Max Kerman told CBC News.

"You just try to write good music, and hope that the culture gods smile at you.

"But there's something about the nature of [this song] lyrically — there's a fearlessness to it that I think a lot of sports fans and teams want to feel."

Arkells bring you back to 1969 with their version of I Want You Back from The Jackson 5 3:10

'I'm thirsty, for more, for more, for more'

Ideas for the song began percolating last year, when the band was crisscrossing Canada and the U.S. on a tour with British folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner.

They were playing a James Brown-style interlude in the song Hung Up, backed by a horn section and backup singers dubbed The Arkettes.

The lyrics went:

When times are tough

And you keep spinning your wheels

You've gotta keep knocking on the door

Arkells pose backstage with their award for rock album of the year for "High Noon" at the 2015 Juno Awards in Hamilton. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

The initial inspiration for the song was born from the Women's Marches that sprang up around the world in the wake of Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president. Kerman and the band were seeing them firsthand while on the road in early 2017.

At its core, the song is about "standing up for good, decent human qualities," Kerman said.

From that initial mid-track interlude, the rest of the song came quickly. It began with a drum loop from drummer Tim Oxford, and the band built up from there. The lyrics came just as quick, with Kerman sitting as his piano, recording voice memos on his phone.

The band tracked a demo of the tune at Threshold Recording Studio with producer and engineer Michael Keire.

Then the Blue Jays and beer came calling.

Making it in the big leagues

Budweiser and Canada's sole Major League Baseball team were looking for local music to use in an ad as part of the kickoff to the 2017 season. The band submitted the demo, and the beer giant and the Jays said they wanted it.

Now Arkells had a deadline to get the finished product out there. They hit the studio with engineer Eric Ratz in mid March, and got the finished product into their hands.

Within three weeks of its release as a single, it jumped to number one. Since then, it's gotten play on MLB broadcasts, Hockey Night in Canada, and the biggest night of the year for NFL fans.

Though it wasn't written with the intention of becoming a jock jam, Kerman had an inkling that the song might resonate for sports fans. "I always love seeing a good song in a good montage," he laughed.

That the band is full of sports fans just adds to the allure. Kerman is big on the Jays, Leafs, Ticats and Raptors, while bassist Nick Dika is a noted baseball fanatic.

"Everyone's kind of homers," Kerman said. "We've also sort of made friends with a lot of NHL guys over the years. A lot of them are just like good old boys from London Ontario, you know?"

That list includes the likes of Hamilton-born defenceman Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers, man of the wild Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, and Scottie Upshall of the St. Louis Blues.

"He brought half the team to our concert in St. Louis," Kerman said.

But through all this success, it's important to note that Knocking at the Door isn't the band's first foray into the world of sports. There's always a more local option, where you can park on the lawn:

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.