From sweet and smooth classics, to new names, to old names with new music...the focus here, is to shine a little light on some damn fine music.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Canadian Exchange: An Interview with The Trews' Colin MacDonald

The Trews (L-R) Jack Syperek (bass), John-Angus MacDonald (lead guitar), Sean Dalton (drums), Colin MacDonald (lead vocals,guitar) Photo by David Bastedo

The Plan seems to be working.

  • Form a band with family and friends. Check.
  • Win a radio station battle of the bands. Check.
  • Release an album, have it certified gold. Check.
  • Watch a single reach #1. Check.
  • Do it again. Check.

The Trews have done all of the above… and much more. Originally from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, brothers Colin and John-Angus MacDonald, cousin Sean Dalton and long-time friend Jack Syperek, have moved up the ranks from a small town band to a must-see act north of the border... as well as Australia and Europe. Along with non-stop touring in their own country, The Trews are now working their way through the United States in support of their 2011 release Hope and Ruin. Slowly but surely, they are building a loyal fan base by delivering high energy performances and lots of media work.

With 12 singles in the Canadian Top 10, including two #1 songs, The Trews have enjoyed a successful career, spanning four studio and two live albums. Over the years, The Trews have shared the stage with Guns N’ Roses, Kiss, Cheap Trick, The Tragically Hip, Kid Rock, Southside Johnny, Robert Plant and oh yes, The Rolling Stones.

Awards? They’ve had a few. Canadian honors include being five time nominees of the Juno Award, and being four time winners of the East Coast Music Award. The Trews are also two-time winners of the U.S. Independent Music Award.

At the tail end of their latest trek through the lower forty-eight, Trews lead vocalist Colin MacDonald graciously spent some time answering a few questions about music, influences and life on the road.

Kat’s Theory (KT): The Trews have made inroads in Europe and Australia, and are now stepping into the American music scene. Given the present state of commercial radio in the States, do you feel college radio or classic rock stations offer the greatest opportunity to get airplay?
Colin MacDonald (CM): Radio is still important but there are many ways for bands to break these days. We like getting radio play but we also connect to our fans through social media and an INSANE amount of touring

KT: Social networking has definitely changed the face of PR in the music business. The band seems to have a knack for it and is using it in some interesting ways. Thoughts on internet promotion?
CM: Social networking is only useful if you are making great music otherwise it's a waste of time. I happen to think we make great music, so it is helpful to spread the word about our band. But I get sick and tired of celebs that tweet their every meaningless whim and thought, that's just silly

KT: The Trews are doing a couple of more weeks in the U.S. then heading back to Canada. Bouncing in and out of the states and traveling by van is a slow, hard way to build a new fan base. It also shows your determination to make that fan base a solid one. What have you learned from your approach?
CM: Touring this much makes you weird and insane but we love to play and we love the people who support our band.

Photo by David Bastedo
KT: In 2009, The Trews released a second acoustic album called Friends & Total Strangers, and you did a 30 city tour in support of it. How hard was it after being on stage for a week or so, not to kick it up and go full out rock?
CM: The acoustic shows were a welcome change for us. It gave us a chance to focus on different aspects of our sound and explore our musicality, and not just rely on high energy rawk. It was also a welcome break on our tender ears that have all been damaged from INSANE amounts of touring.

KT: The Trews have shared the stage with The Stones, Guns ‘N Roses and Kiss, among others. Opening for Robert Plant across Canada had to be a thrill. Can you tell me a behind the scenes story.
CM: It was a dream come true, and of course a thrill. Robert Plant got mad at us for covering "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Edmonton Alberta. He reprimanded our drummer Sean in Calgary, and Sean's quote about the incident was "If you told me ten years ago that'd I'd be on tour with Robert Plant and he'd be reprimanding me backstage for covering "Bohemian Rhapsody", I would have said not in a billion years”.

KT: There have been descriptions of your sound being influenced by everyone from the obvious Canadian choices: The Guess Who and BTO, to Bob Seger, and my own thoughts of some REM and early Springsteen. Who were your early musical influences
CM: All of those guys, I am very flattered by these comparisons. We also like a lot of newer bands like 'The Shins' and 'Cadillac Black' . We are all big 'Tragically Hip' fans as well.

KT: Diverse is a word I would use to describe both your musical style and career. From hard rocking tunes like “Hold Me in Your Arms” to releasing a couple of acoustic albums, to easy rockers such as “If You Want To Start Again”, The Trews have produced quite an interesting mix of music. Has your sound come about from each member bringing in a different influence or is it a natural progression on the band?
CM: It’s a bit of both. Hope & Ruin was definitely a more collaborative effort so it was a combination of influences, whereas in the past, I have been a little more dominant in the songwriting process.

                       "take me away from all of this,
                        take me away with just one kiss."

KT: I recently saw an interview with the band where you mentioned your writing does not usually come from personal experiences. But hearing the lyrics and haunting vocal of a song like “Stay With Me”, it’s hard to think it wasn’t inspired by real life. Tell me a bit about how that song came together.
CM: “Stay With Me” was a melodic idea developed by Sean and John-Angus. The song is about love and obsession and not wanting to ever let go.
KT: In April, I saw The Trews open for Southside Johnny in my home state of New Jersey. It was the week of Levon Helm’s passing and both acts paid tribute to The Band’s drummer. The Trews joined Johnny at the end of the show for “The Weight.” With the 2 bands on stage and the entire audience standing and singing, it became one of those moments at a show where the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. What was it like for the band?
CM: You described it perfectly, what else can I add, the hairs in our beards stood up.

KT: Working with your brother, cousin and good friend has both an up side and a down side. When you’re not touring, are you all able run away from each other for a while, or do you just go back to writing and hanging out together?
CM: Every time we get off the road we stay away from each other for about a week, but we end up hanging out again after that. When I get home, I don't want to look at a guitar for about a week, I need to get away and clear my head.

"tonight I'll drink until the sun comes up,
             cause I don't care no more,  I'm  gonna fill my cup.
              Life isn't fair for sure, it's clear I've had enough
              and I can't stop laughing"

KT: A good drinking song is hard to find these days.  “I Can’t Stop Laughing” is a great one. 
CM: We wrote that tune about a bar in our hometown of Antigonish called Pipers Pub. We used to get drunk there all the time and I like that we commemorated it in a song.

KT: This tour has been in support of Hope and Ruin, which has had four singles released, that’s a pretty good shelf life in today’s age of the download. Are there plans for another single to be released?
CM: Personally, I would like to release one of the ballads, but we'll see….

KT: Multiple Choice: Taking the stage, watching the crowd sing your songs back to you, or the standing ovation at the end of the show…which one of the three gets your heart pumping the hardest?
CM: All of the above, nothing tops the energy of a great crowd.

KT: Finally, Speaking to an American audience, give me your best PR push for the music of The Trews.
CM: As said by an American seeing our band live for the first time: “Y'all are pretty good for a bunch of Canadians”.

Indeed they are. 

Many thanks to Colin MacDonald for taking the time.
Eternal gratitude... or something like that to Jeff Kilgour of the Tijuana Gift Shop and John Porter of Mood Indigo Entertainment for the heavy lifting.

For more information on The Trews:
The Trews Website 
The Trews on Facebook
The Trews on MySpace
On Twitter @thetrews

Article first published as A Canadian Exchange: An Interview with The Trews' Colin MacDonald on Technorati.


  1. Great interview. Unlike many you ask the 'right' questions. I will without a doubt, be checking out their music. Canada has produced some great band of late. Nice going Kath. MTC

  2. thanks's great to see another generation rockin' hard and workin' hard at it. wanting something and doing what you need to, don't always go hand in hand. the trews do it and do it well.

  3. Wish more hard working bands 'made it'. I hate to see the instant success of the commercial 'artists' when the real talent is often neglected.