It has been more than 15 years on the rock n’ roll highway, but there is no end in sight for The Trews.
Since striking those first chords and belting out those early lyrics in Antigonish, the now highly-decorated band, which has produced multiple EPs, two live CDs and a retrospective, is readying for a tour to promote Civilianaires – their sixth studio album.
“I feel like it is, sonically, a little bit of an update. It definitely has a bit of a modern flavour to the production, which, sort of, firmly puts it in 2018. It has to my ears, sort of, a fresh sound to it,” guitarist John Angus MacDonald said.
In a recent interview with the Casket – his hometown newspaper – the Antigonish native talked about the blueprint for Civilianaires, including the role of “the founding three,” as he described them in the writing and production process.
MacDonald explained he, along with his brother, Colin, and Jack Syperek, wrote most of the record over a three-year period.
“Basically, we were searching around in the wilderness for what was going to be the sound of the next record,” he said.
“We didn’t know what that was going to be, so we took a lot of different approaches and started a lot of different times – had a lot of false starts.”
Civilianaires – like most albums – are keyed by collaboration, including working with Max Kerman of The Arkells, who MacDonald described as “an old friend of the band.”
During visits to MacDonald’s home – they both live in Hamilton – Kerman “offered advice on some songs.”
“We ended up going to the studio together and cutting some demos,” MacDonald said.
Three of them ended up on the album; Vintage Love, Is It Too Late and Jericho.
“It was really fun. Max is a great guy to collaborate with – he is very energetic, positive and has a cool approach to music,” MacDonald said.
Serena Ryder, who has worked with Colin MacDonald on several occasions in recent years, contributed to the title track. He credits the Canadian music star with ‘teaching him the ineffable power of singing softly.’
Described in promotional material as the band’s “most fearless record yet, with personal and political lyrics driven by a refreshing new sound,” Civilianaires also features prominently a new-found relationship with Toronto producer and musician Derek Hoffman.
“The most curveball ones on the record,” MacDonald said of the four songs Hoffman co-wrote – Harder to Love, Bar Star, Time’s Speeding Up and No More Saying Goodbye.
“They are, sort of, the most – not unusual – but most different from what we have previously done,” he added.
How are they different?
“We wrote from having finished music, with no song,” MacDonald explained.
He noted Hoffman put together music he thought was “in the vain of what we do.”
“But, there was no lyrics, no melody, no format or arrangement to the song; just, basically, verse and a chorus of music,” MacDonald said.
“And, from there, we essentially reverse engineered the song(s) to make them sound unique and different from anything we had ever done.”
That process produced the aforementioned Bar Star, which MacDonald chose as his favourite tune on the album.
“I really like it – the whole song is written over one chord. We wrote the whole thing over a drone of ‘C’; there were no chord changes in it, when we first wrote it,” he said.
“So, to me, the vocal melody and the lyrics tell the whole story of the song – does all the dynamic heavy lifting – and we only put chords in way after the fact.
“It was a really fun experiment and, as a result, it is a great live song; the chorus is one of the strongest choruses we have ever had in our catalogue, and we are really happy with it,” MacDonald added.
They penned another – Up Sweet Baby – in his basement with Chris Gormley, the band’s new drummer.
“It has become a live and a fan favourite,” MacDonald said.
Hitting the road
Fans will be able to enjoy that live experience of Civilianaires during an upcoming Trews’ tour, which launches with a New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) date in Winnipeg.
“We are looking forward to getting on the road with these songs,” MacDonald said, adding “they have all been fitting in well with our sets.”
“We are excited about putting in a few months with them, on the road, and seeing how they grow.”
More than 20 dates have been set – running until June 22 in Sarnia – but he noted more shows will be added, including dates in the eastern part of Canada.
“We will be announcing east coast dates. It might not be for a couple more months, but we are going to come back – either in the late spring or early summer. We are working on it and we hope to be back by next summer,” MacDonald said.
He reminded fans that Civilianaires is “the same old Trews, underneath sheen of modernity.”
“In some ways it feels like we are taking a calculated risk, but we also believe we are sitting on some of our strongest songs ever,” MacDonald said, when the album was released earlier this year.
“We are all really proud.”
As for being on the road, one stop for the band over the summer season was familiar – to say the least – a hometown performance during the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games in Antigonish.
“We were happy to be invited to take part in something that special that was happening in our hometown. It meant a lot to be asked and we were so happy to do it,” MacDonald said.
“It was so heartwarming and an event that we were so glad to lend our names to.”
He is glad Antigonish had the opportunity to host such a prestigious event, one that celebrates incredible athletes.
“It was an amazing experience,” MacDonald added.
For more about The Trews, including tour dates, visit www.thetrewsmusic.com