By David DeRocco
Colin MacDonald probably wasn’t thinking about his music when he originally sat down with his bandmates in THE TREWS to write the single “Man of Two Minds” for their 2008 album No Time For Later. Yet 14 years and five albums into their amazing career, it’s obvious The Trews are operating under two distinct musical mindsets: one that inspires the hard rocking electric side of their music, and the other that champions their hugely popular acoustic side.
It’s the later incarnation of The Trews that returns to the band’s adopted home of St. Catharines March 10th, part of a short cross-Canada “Trews Acoustic Tour” of select soft-seat theatres that has them rolling into FirstOntario PAC. The tour coincides with the deluxe reissue of their 2009 live acoustic release Friends and Total Strangers, an unplanned album that emerged after an acoustic tour in Japan that MacDonald says has “kind of accidentally” become one of the band’s most successful releases.
“We were on the tail end of our third album cycle for the band,” said MacDonald. “We didn’t have enough songs for another record, so we said ‘let’s go and record a couple of live acoustic shows in the Glenn Gould Theatre in Toronto.’ We recorded two nights there. We didn’t really fix anything. It was all live; we selected 14 tracks and put out a live acoustic record. It sold really well and sort of launched this whole other thing for us, which is the live acoustic side of The Trews.”
No matter what side of The Trews are on display, it’s bound to be both enjoyable and successful: the band has landed 16 Top 10 singles on Canadian rock charts since 2002, the year they earned their big break by winning the “Rock Search” competition hosted by St. Catharines radio station 97.7 HTZ-FM. Since then they have remained one of Canada’s most consistent rock acts, both in terms of musical output and live performance. And while the “dark highway” of the Canadian music industry is littered with the wreckage of many promising bands that couldn’t live up to their own hype or the ills of fame, The Trews – other than having gone through four drummers – have avoided the speed bumps that often wreak havoc on naïve young bands. Do they owe their success to tenacity, talent, luck or a Robert Johnson-style deal with the Devil?
“A little of all four,” laughed MacDonald. “We’ve always worked really hard. We’ve always made this our main priority. We don’t really have a back up plan or day jobs or anything like that so we’re always focused on The Trews and writing new music and getting better at what we do. We certainly are lucky to be able to sustain a career in this country as long as we have and we’re grateful for it. It’s just been taking it one day at a time and one song at a time and one album at a time and one tour at a time. And
While The Trews continue to build their careers on a foundation of big rock riffs, their songs are easily adaptable to the acoustic format that will be on display at the PAC March 10th. MacDonald says that, as musicians, there’s an ongoing appeal to the acoustic tours the band has been intermittently giving fans over the years.
“I find that when we’ve done a lot of loud, electric bar and club shows, I find myself wanting to mellow out a bit. It’s the same thing at the end of the acoustic tour; you tend to want to go find a bunch of festivals to play. It’s a little ‘column A column B.’”
On the other hand, as a musician who’s spent a great deal of his life on the road, MacDonald suggest there’s an added benefit to partaking in an acoustic Trews’ tour.
“The cool thing about doing the acoustic thing is you play really really nice venues, soft seat theatres. The backstage accomodations are really nice. When you’re doing the bar thing, as much as I love it, as much as it’s been a part of what we do, some of the venues can be a lot of hit and miss. The backstage can be a little dicey you know. It’s kind of a luxurious way of touring. Not to sound old, but the set times are a lot earlier, you’re done by 1030. In bar shows you’re not going on till 11 or 1130 at night.”
The deluxe re-issue of the band’s live album will feature four songs pulled from the same performances at Glenn Gould Studio that were previously unavailable on the original release or the accompanying DVD when it was first released in 2009. Those bonus performances included ‘Every Inambition,’ ‘Makin’ Sunshine,’ ‘No Time For Later’ and the concert favourite ‘Not Ready To Go.’ As an added bonus, the band is making Friends and Total Strangers available on vinyl for the first time in a double LP format, something the band was truly excited about according to MacDonald.
“We love vinyl. I feel like the people that do buy music now are like diehard music fans. And diehard music fans like good quality recordings. Vinyl’s still the best way to listen to music. A lot of people are just streaming music on their Spotify and apple streaming accounts. For the people who are diehard we figured it would be good to have some vinyl for them.”
Returning to their old Niagara stomping grounds is always a treat for members of The Trews. MacDonald says the band looks back fondly on the years they spent busking and performing in St. Catharines/Niagara, and they still manage to weave imagery from those days into their songs. One of the best examples is ‘Montebello Park’ from their Den of Thieves album, which puts The Trews in the same category as RUSH for having immortalized a Garden City park in song.
“When you’re writing songs and you’re looking for lyrics people like to look up into the clouds. No, the answer is across the street; it’s in the road signs, it’s on the billboard, it’s the place you walk around every day. That’s where the songs are for me. We stopped trying to float around the ether too much and looked at what was right in our faces. It was Montebello Park.”
While performing for the first time at the new FirstOntario PAC will be a highlight for the band, it definitely is not their biggest. That designation might still belong to the band’s opening up for The Rolling Stones at the Phoenix nightclub, part of a secret show as part of the Stone’s Bigger Bang Tour. It was a gig MacDonald remembers was up in the air until the time the Trews actually walked on stage.
“It was kind of ‘you can open for the Stones tomorrow but it’s not for certain.’ The show almost didn’t happen because Charlie was not feeling well. He had a cancer scare at the time. The show finally happened and their road manager came to the backstage area where we were hanging out and said you can meet the guys, we’re going to see how they feel after your set. I guess they liked it. We met Keith and Mick and Charlie and Ron. Keith came in and he had this little ukulele, and he said ‘a tiny guitar for a tiny gig.’ To which I replied, this is the biggest fucking gig we’re ever going to do!”
His meeting with the Stones is just one of a thousand memories MacDonald says have helped make his musical career with The Trews so rich with unforgettable experiences. When asked to consider how he’d like The Trews to be remembered when that day finally comes to hang up their touring hats, MacDonald offers this simply epitaph.
“I’d like to be remembered as a great band, guys who did things the right way you know…for all the right reasons.”