The Arkells talk about their start, Searchlight and shopping carts

Frontman Max Kerman and bassist Nick Dika shed some light on how the Juno-winning band got its start.

80 Hamilton bands have signed up for the CBC Music: Searchlight competition

Lots of bands come from humble beginnings. Hamilton's Arkells are no exception.

One of the band's first shows was a battle of the bands at McMaster University — and they ended up using shopping carts to lug their gear over to the campus pub.

"I just have this memory of going through in the middle of winter with all our gear stuffed in a grocery cart," said Max Kerman, the band's frontman.

Students used to steal shopping carts from nearby stores to get their groceries back to residence, Kerman says — but in a pinch, they're just as good to move amps and drum hardware.

"It was our first and only carbon-neutral tour," joked bassist Nick Dika.

Now, the Arkells are opening for the Tragically Hip at stadium shows. No shopping carts to be found.

Their advice for young bands starting out in CBC Music's Searchlight Competition? Never dial it in.

The band learned that lesson in 2007 when playing Toronto's NXNE music festival. The Arkells were playing at 12:30 p.m. —hardly a coveted spot for any band — but they soldiered on anyway. Shawn Creamer, the owner of Toronto's Dakota Tavern, happened to walk by the stage when they were on and the band piqued his interest.

"I think he was pretty hungover, but he happened to like the sound of the band," Kerman said.

Creamer bought six of their demos, and "made it his mission" to get the band noticed, Kerman says. Eventually, that demo ended up in the hands of Joel Carriere from Dine Alone Records and the rest, as they say, is history.

"One thing led to another, and that's kind of how we got our start," Kerman said.

Now, Hamilton bands have their own shot at nationwide attention in CBC Music's Searchlight competition.

So far, 80 Hamilton bands and artists have signed up alongside almost 1,800 nationwide.

Musicians have until Feb. 14 to head to and enter by creating an artist profile on CBC Music, selecting one original song to represent them in the contest and agreeing to the contest rules and regulations/consent form.

Then starting on Feb. 18, people who enter the competition will compete for online votes for their song against other artists from Hamilton. From March 11 to April 12, finalists from all over Canada will go on to compete in a national vote for the grand prize winner of the contest.

The national grand prize winner will receive $20,000 in music equipment from Yamaha, an opening act slot on a high-profile music showcase in Toronto (including transportation and accommodations) and an audio/video session that will be featured on CBC Music.

For more information and to sign up, head over to

With files from Vish Khanna