The Trews is Out There
One of Canada’s most popular hard rock acts, the Trews have released five consecutive top ten studio albums. That streak includes House of Ill Fame (2003), Den of Thieves (2005), No Time for Later (2008), Hope & Ruin (2011) and The Trews (2014). The live albums House of Ill Fame – The Live Cut (2004) and Acoustic – Friends & Total Strangers (2009) complete the band’s discography. A total of 16 of the band’s singles have charted in the top ten north of the border. The band recently announced a deluxe re-issue of the band’s Friends & Total Strangers Live Acoustic in Canada; it arrives in the U.S digitally prior to the upcoming North American tour. Singer Colin MacDonald recently phoned us from his home in Canada to talk about that release and the band’s remarkable run.
When you were young, was there that moment when you knew you wanted to play music for a living?
Yeah. My first job when I was a kid was in Alberta I was working for my uncle at his truck driver training school. It was a good job. It was fun. I was cleaning trucks and stuff. I would listen to the local rock radio. I thought that might be cool to be on the radio. I went home and we started a band. When we first started, the big bands in the mid ‘90s would have been Oasis and R.E.M. We were influenced by those guys early on. They’re great bands with great songs. That would have been the current bands when we were just kids. We grew into different influences and got into different studio.
Did living in Canada make you gravitate to Canadian bands?
I like all music from everywhere. There are influences that are unavoidable growing up in this country, especially in the age before the Internet when you only had the radio. Obviously, Tragically Hip is an influence on a lot of bands up here and bands like Big Sugar and Sloan. It’s unavoidable. Neil Young is Canadian and we love him. We were influenced by Beatles and Aerosmith and the Black Crowes, good rock ‘n’ roll bands.
How’d the band initially form? Was it back in 1997?
We were a high school cover band. It was me and [bassist] Jack [Syperek] and [guitarist] John-Angus [MacDonald], who are still in the band. We lived on the East Coast of Canada. We decided to move to Ontario in the early 2000s and take it seriously and ended up getting a record deal. We’ve been making albums on major labels since about 2003.
What kinds of covers did you play?
We played a lot of ’60s and ’70s rock.
Do you still play any of them?
Our joke is that we started off as a cover band so anytime we break into a cover song, we’re doing our early stuff.
What was the rock scene like in Nova Scotia back in those days?
When we were coming up, there was a good scene in the early ’90s with the Halifax pop explosion. There were bands like Sloan and Thrush Hermit. That was dying out when we were starting out. There wasn’t a heck of a lot going on at the time. We wanted to go where there was something more going on so we decided to come up to Ontario.
With 2003’s House of Ill Fame, you had some significant success. Why do you think that album connected so well with fans?
It came out of the gates swinging. It certainly wasn’t planned that way. We just went and make a record. We didn’t know what was going to happen. It had a couple of big singles that are still getting played up here to this day. We built a career starting there. We’re grateful for it. In hindsight, it was totally unexpected and much appreciated.
Why did fans respond?
We just worked really, really hard. We toured a lot. We didn’t have a back up plan. We were all living hand to mouth. We rented this shitty old house in Niagara Falls because it was the only place we could afford. We just jammed and wrote everyday and gigged at night. We lived and died for it. That came out on the recording. We meant it. We made it at Phase One Studios in Scarborough, Ontario. It’s a pretty famous studio up here.
Talk about when you started writing songs for the self-titled album.
That record is getting a little old now but it did really well for us. We started writing it in January of 2013. The approach we took is the approach we’re still taking to this day. We came up with riffs, melodies and lyrics. We did that for about three months. We looked back on our demos and started to piece songs together. We took the bridge from one song put it to the chorus of another. It was a record we pieced together. Next thing you know, we had an album in the can.
What was the recording experience like?
We recorded at Noble Street Studios in Toronto. It was really, really quick. We did so much work outside of the studio. We were there for about two weeks and got it all recorded.
I like the single, “Under the Sun.” What inspired the song?
That’s a road song. We tour all the time. It will inevitably show up in our music. That was a song we wrote after a long stretch, feeling pretty burned out. It reflected that feeling of walking through the airport at two in the morning after being in three different continents and trying to get your head together.
You recently announced a deluxe re-issue of Friends & Total Strangers Live Acoustic. Talk about that album and what it the concert was like.
That was our acoustic record from 2009. We weren’t planning a release. We had just finished touring behind our third record. We did this acoustic show at the CBC and recorded it live. It sounded great. We put it out and it became really successful and we started doing acoustic tours. Now, every time we finish a record, we do a three or four week acoustic tour. They’ve done really well for us. It was another unexpected surprise that worked out. We’re about to do an acoustic tour up here after these upcoming American dates and we reissued with the album with four new tracks.
What prompted the concept?
We write everything on acoustic guitar now. We’ve always loved to do it. We love to sit around and sing and play guitar. That’s a big East Coast Canadian thing if you’re not familiar with that part of the world. It’s a really kitchen party sing-song culture and we come at it naturally. It was always effortless and fun. When we recorded it we realized it was so easy and came out so well. We were selling out theaters across the country, which was really great and a nice break from playing clubs and bars all the time.
When you wrote the first record, did you write using acoustic instruments?
Some of them. The songs all start on a riff that they wrote on an acoustic guitar. We did a lot of jamming back in those days when it was just the four of us in a living room making noise.
The album still rocks hard.
You put on a band on the road playing hard rock for ten years and, even if you give them acoustic guitars, that will still be in there.
What do you have planned next?
We have a greatest hits record coming out later in the year up here. We just recorded four new songs for that. We’ve also been up in our space listening to demos that we’ve made over the past year and getting some songs together. Usually a record takes shape on its own. We don’t know what it will be yet but we have a bunch of songs.
What has kept you going?
We love it. It’s fun. It beats working a day job. We’re obsessed with music. We want to get better at and start making better records. We’re really passionate. That’s what keeps us going.
Upcoming 2016 Shows
Nashville, TN – Basement
Louisville, KY – New Vintage
Cleveland, OH – Beachland Tavern
Rochester, NY – Montage Music Hall