John-Angus MacDonald of The Trews is an old soul (2011)


At a time when commercial radio is fraught with the nauseating drone of auto tune and other recycled pop maladies, The Trews are committed to keeping it real.

Instead of caving to the sycophantic know-nothings that currently dictate what is acceptable listening fare, the Canadian foursome has stuck to its guns and continued to release album after album of no-frills alt-rock reminiscent of the glory days of 1970s rock radio.

Their latest record, “Hope and Ruin,” was released back in April, and, unlike previous works, was recorded in the relaxed confines of The Bathouse, a converted old house outside of Kingston owned by The Tragically Hip.

“We were just looking to run away a little,” says lead guitarist John-Angus MacDonald.  “And we wanted to do something fun and organic. Basically, we just wanted to be a band again.”

The change of scenery appears to have been just what the guys needed, because the wondrously eclectic collage of sound on this album suggests a self-aware band looking to stretch the creative fibers beyond anything they were previously used to. Songs such as “Dreaming Man” and “If You Wanna Start Again” appeal to their softer side while “People of the Deer” and “The World I Know” are destined to become invitations to jump during a live show.

“We introduced a lot of sonic textures on this album that essentially cleared the path for everything else we wanted to do,” says MacDonald when discussing the band’s musical approach.  “I’m sure that some people felt we were one-dimensional, but we wanted to maintain the dignity of the music and elevate our sound to a new level.  One of the things we’re most happy about with this record is that we feel like we forged new ground and not just beaten the old formula to death.”

As for how audiences have responded to the new material, MacDonald says the reaction has been as welcoming as anything they could have hoped for.

“Overall, the fans have been great,” he says. “We use the road as a litmus test for songs, so crowds have really gotten into the new avenues we’ve explored on this record.  We don’t use a lot of electronics or overdubbing. There’s no safety net on stage, so we’re constantly pushing ourselves to deliver once-in-a-lifetime experiences and I think fans appreciate that authenticity.”

Another key element to the album’s success was the overseeing presence of Hip bassist Gord Sinclair, who inspired the band to flesh out a full 12-song album and received credit as a co-producer.

“Gord’s an unassuming talent,” says MacDonald. “He offered to come out and help facilitate with the space and that turned into him collaborating with us. That was last January and we came out with five songs; we did a song a day and we didn’t know what we were gonna do with them. It was like anything was up for grabs. We went to Bath to try and figure out what kind of record was in us which, in my mind, is just playing till in feels right.”

As it turns out, John-Angus’s feelings were spot-on; the album’s title track has reached number five on the Canadian Active Rock Chart, and the band has been opening for The Hip and Kid Rock on recent tour dates.

On Wednesday, July 6, The Trews will play a free show at Artpark, a spot they’ve come to adore since first headlining there back in 2009. With a concert schedule as overstuffed as western New York’s, why should someone spend their hard-earned free time venturing out to see an old-school rock band from Nova Scotia?

“In my opinion, the good thing about our band is we can all really play well and we’re really tight,” says MacDonald. “We don’t need technology to fool people. We don’t like to have everything super hashed-out ahead of time. It’s one of those things where we’re working and making music that we want.”

Speaking as someone who has seen the band five times in two years, I’d say that John-Angus’s assessment couldn’t be more appropriate.


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