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Bluesfest: Interview with The Trews

By Stephane Dubord on July 11, 2019



Back at Bluesfest for the first time since 2012, The Trews blew the audience away with a spectacular show Tuesday night. We caught up with brothers Colin and John-Angus MacDonald before the show for a chat about what they’ve been up to and where they’re heading (beyond playing the Calgary Stampede the following night).

Apt613: Thanks for taking the time guys, I know you’ve got a busy schedule these days.

We did a cross-Canadian tour this year already in support of Civilianaires that came out in September, but it hadn’t brought us to Ottawa yet, so this will be our first Ottawa show since the album came out. Happy to be back at the Bluesfest.

So in 2016, you put out your greatest hits compilation Time Capsule, and then you had a change in drummers. Was there any doubt at that point whether you would keep going?

It was always a fear, or a potential reality, but we still felt compelled to keep pushing forward and to try to do something else. That’s always an option, but we still had that desire to forge through and make another record. It wasn’t just about doing more shows, but [trying] to write more songs, and we managed to write a bunch more.

We definitely took a while to find our footing again. Beyond Sean (Dalton) leaving the band, we split ways with our manager shortly after, and we’d been working with him for 15 years too. So there was a time where things felt a little wobbly, creatively, business-wise… everything. But two things make us really lucky: one, when we get together, we can still manage to write a few songs, which is nice, since we like writing songs and making records. And people still want to come see us. We don’t take that for granted. Then, by the time the stars lined up, and we did the new record deal with Cadence, and we found our new manager, we met Derek Hoffman who produced the album, by then we were on a whole new stride. We felt like we’d found our second wind. And that’s carried us through to now. Last summer’s shows were incredible, the tour was incredible, and now we’re having these great shows this summer, so it feels good.

The first single off the new album was “The New U.S.” What was the reception like down south?

Not good. We’ve been disinvited and banned from Donald Trump’s America (just kidding).

We thought that we were saying what everybody else wanted to say. When we wrote that song, we didn’t think “Oh, this is going to cause controversy.” We thought this flagrant narcissist preaching lies was pretty obvious to everyone. Then we put the song out, and got all these people writing in: “You just lost a fan.” It was our first taste of the new reality. It was actually very polarizing. It surprised me. I figured we were just saying what’s going on, and that’s what rock bands have always done. But not anymore. They just seem to be ignoring everything. We just went for it, and put our hearts on our sleeves. It wasn’t the reaction we were expecting.

We thought people would be “Fuck yeah, it’s about time someone said something!” 50% of people reacted that way, and the other 50% didn’t. We’ve had songs that were political before too–we have a song called “Gun Control.” But now everyone’s got a platform where they can react through. So we had a lot of people unfollow us. It is what it is. If you’re going to hang it all out there, you’ve got to be able to take both reactions.

The bands you would expect to speak up, aren’t, so the bands you don’t expect (like The Killers) are stepping up.

I think what’s happening now is there’s this moral exhaustion. People are so bombarded with how outraged they should be, it’s like being in an emergency situation for an extended period of time, your body just shuts it out. I think that’s why some of these political songs aren’t having as much impact as they should in this culture. There used to be a time, when Neil Young’s “Rocking In The Free World”, or even when Pearl Jam came out with “Bushleague,” people reacted. But now, people are just exhausted by opinion, so I don’t know if they want to turn to music for more opinion. It’s not going to change our approach to having an opinion in the songs we write and having a point of view. But it just doesn’t have the same impact. The world is just in a chronic perpetual state of anxiety.

You were flag-bearers for Canadian rock for a long stretch, with not a whole lot happening, but then in the last half-decade or so, there’s been a boom of international attention for Canadian rock bands, including your pals The Glorious Sons who were here Saturday.

It’s been cool! A lot of those bands’ approach is similar to what ours was the whole time. It’s a credit to our old manager that we just got away with doing our own thing for as long as we could, and we’re still on that. That’s what I see in The Glorious Sons, July Talk, and all these bands–they’re doing their own thing and cultivating their massive audiences. The Sons are just so incredibly big right now, and we took them on their first national tour with us. We knew Brett (Emmons, the lead singer) was gonna be huge, no matter what. I don’t want it to sound like we’re taking credit for that wave or carrying the flag, like we discovered him at a Battle of the Bands or something.

Actually, I talked to Jay Emmons of The Glorious Sons, and he mentioned how it’s great Canadian rock bands are getting international recognition now, but that there were always great Canadian rock bands paving the way.

Canada is a good rock place. There’s always a good happening rock band at any given time. I’m not sure why that is? It might have something to do with beer. And hockey. We’re kind of a rough-around-the-edges culture. We’re very humble and quiet until we’re not. Canada is a rock town. I wouldn’t even say it’s a rock city. It’s a rock town. You’ve got to play hard, and you’ve got to play heavy. You’ve got to be visceral. Like Bryan Adams said, “The kids wanna rock,” and that’s very true of Canada. Kids in the smaller towns in Canada want music that kicks ass. There’s the shoe-gazer kind of city bands, but that’s a whole different scene. Most of Canada is more on the country side, and they like bands that can kick the shit out of their instruments up there.

When it comes to Civilianaires, you had three singles (“The New U.S.,” “Vintage Love,” and “Bar Star”). Any plans for a fourth? Or moving on to new music?

We wanted to do a fourth. We always think every song on every one of our albums could be a hit single, but the labels have their own thoughts and opinions and schedules and budgets. So it’s not looking like we’ll do another one, but we are hopefully–and this is a scoop–going to be doing a standalone track or two before the next album comes out, and that could be as early as in the next couple of months. We’re still working out the details, but that’s sort of the plan.

We waited four years between our eponymous The Trews and Civilianaires. We did the greatest hits, but that only had four new songs on it. So we’re bound and determined to never let it go that long again. We’ll have a couple of songs floating out there for six months, and then maybe a new record in another six months, or something like that.