Canadian Rockers the Trews Rock Hard Even When They Unplug

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COURTESY OF SKH MUSIC
  • Courtesy of SKH Music
Let’s do the numbers. The Trews, one of Canada’s most popular hard rock acts, have released five consecutive Top Ten studio albums in its native Canda.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 in Canada. That’s not a bad run when you consider that singer Colin MacDonald originally thought he’d become a truck driver.

“My first job when I was a kid was in Alberta I was working for my uncle at his truck driver training school,” he says via hone from his Toronto home. “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. But 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.”

The group initially came together back in 1997. MacDonald, bassist Jack Syperek and guitarist John-Angus MacDonald all lived on the East Coast of Canada.

“When we were coming up, there was a good scene in the early ’90s with the Halifax pop explosion,” he says. “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."

That was the early 2000s. After moving to Toronto, they ended up getting a record deal, and they’ve been making albums on major labels since. With 2003’s House of Ill Fame, an album of hard-driving alt-rock anthems with quivering, Pearl Jam-meets-Tragically Hip-inspired vocals, they had some significant success.

“We came out of the gates swinging,” says MacDonald. “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. 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.”

The group started writing the songs on its most recent studio effort, 2014’s self-titled disc, back in 2013.

“The approach we took is the approach we’re still taking to this day,” says MacDonald. “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. 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.”

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.

“We weren’t planning a release,” says MacDonald. “We had just finished touring behind our third record. We did this acoustic show 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.”

Since the band writes everything on acoustic guitar, it made sense for the guys to start playing acoustic shows.

“We love to sit around and sing and play guitar,” says MacDonald. “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.”

And yet even, the acoustic records still rock 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,” says MacDonald.

Later this year, the band has a greatest hits record coming out in Canada and it just recorded four new songs for that. It’s also been gathering demos that it’s made over the past year and getting some songs together for a new studio album. Nearly 30 years on, the band continues to plug along.

“We love it,” says MacDonald. “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.”

The Trews, Oldboy, 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 6, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $10 ADV, $12 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.


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