I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Colin and John-Angus MacDonald of The Trews and talk about their new album Hope and Ruin. A cool surprise was that Jack Syperek (bass) and Sean Dalton (drums) sat in the round table talk as well!
nightMair Creative: I’ve listened to the new album and absolutely love it. I wake up at 3am sometimes, and the songs are ingrained in my head – it seems to be a completely different direction than your last album. How did you decide what you wanted to do? Did it just happen?
Colin: The thing I love the most about this album is there was literally no preconceived notion going into it. We just started to fall in love with how this one felt, and what we were doing out at the Bathouse. We thought it was really good – that it was all coming together nice and easy. Everyone was involved in the creative process all the way up to the end, and it was a really fun album to make. And in a way it took on a life of its own because the jams and songs that were coming out of it, were happening, and sounding cool, and didn’t sound like anything we’d done in the past. At that point, we could have either freaked out and done the same thing we’ve done over and over again for the last 10 years, or just say ‘no’ and “we’re going to embrace this new direction and full steam ahead, and let’s take this out of a whole new door.” We did that and I’m quite proud of the fact we did. And I think we got a good record out of it – it’s a human album, it’s personal, and it’s universal, and it’s all the things I hope the critics say it is, so I don’t have to say it (laughs).
nMC: I listened to the album before watching the ‘Song by Song ‘ videos you posted on Facebook because I didn’t want a preconceived notion of what the songs were before I listened to them as a whole. I was getting something very different from the album – to me the album seems to be dealing with heart issues; breakups, love in its purest form, adult relationships,, etc. Did you guys have a definite feel for the album or is it more that each song stands on its own?
John-Angus: Those ‘song by song’ videos were sort of done in our awkward early morning on-the-spotness. We just fell back on the technical aspects of what it took to make the record. I think we really tried to avoid talking about the lyrics too much. If we sounded cold (on the videos) that’s probably why – we stuck more with the technical stuff. Either that or we were hung over or hadn’t had our coffee yet! (laughs)
nMC: I’m wondering what your idea of the overall album is? To me it sounds like someone who has gone through a rough patch, a break up, a difficult relationship etc… and come out the other side intact and un-jaded.
Colin: Well, it’s funny because it’s very true, but it’s also that I think … when the lyrics came up and we would start jamming tunes, I think it was a subconscious thing because I wasn’t trying to write a break-up album – it was more that the lyrics were going where the music was – “if you want to start again”, the next line… it could work for relationships. Maybe that’s just where my heart was going because it was pretty unconscious. It wasn’t like “I gotta write this f*** you letter to this girl” or something. I think it had a lot to do with everything. It wasn’t just about a person, I think it was about trying to rejuvenate as people- as we all get older. The band – you know we’re not just a bunch of young bucks from Antigonish anymore. We’re all men now and I think the album is just about how to sustain and rejuvenate and keep going. And I think it’s in the guise of a lot of relationships. It sounds like we are being very personal with the lyrics and that’s maybe where people’s hearts and heads will go… but I think it’s more just about life in general. That’s where I was going with most of the lyrics and whether if its talking about a girl, or an inspiration, or a muse, or something to keep you going – it’s so easy to give up at every juncture and it’s hard to keep going and stay enthusiastic and stay inspired, and I think that’s what this album is about. It’s just about getting to that next place.
nMC: The song ‘You Gotta Let Me In’ seems to be a very grown up view about love – the entire album seems to be that to me – love from a very adult perspective – someone that actually, really ‘gets’ it. The only song that doesn’t seem to fit in with my own overview of the album is ‘People of the Deer’. (Colin laughs, “ yeah”) All of a sudden this song comes up, and I love the sound of it, but the lyrics… it’s like.. “wait a minute! What the?” It doesn’t fit in with my idea of the rest of the album.
Colin: Yeah its a very eccentric song (smiling and laughing as are the rest of the guys). It’s probably my favorite song that we’ve ever come up with ever!
nMC: it’s growing on me, and that’s the song that hits me at 3am in my sleep.
Colin: Yeah (still smiling). Yeah… We just had the music and jammed… and it was going great and it sounded wild and really good. Sean was looking at a Farley Mowat book called People of the Deer and he said, “we should call this (song) People of the Deer,” and I had the reaction of “NO!” and then “Definitely!” It was like at first I didn’t think it was a good idea and literally 30 seconds later I said yes, that this was the best idea ever! It’s fun to have a really new rock metal-ly kind of song with a really eccentric lyric – I think it’s a really good marriage, I love that.
nMC: in one of the ‘song by song’ videos you said that you put Jack on drums – how did that come about?
Colin: ah….. never.
(lots of laughing and looks back and forth, and overlapping comments from the guys at this point)
John-Angus: no, no, we did, no you’re right – it was when Sean had food poisoning or something and…
Sean to Colin: and you were sick as well.
John-Angus: It was when me and Jack and Sinclair (producer) were at the jam phase. Jack was on the drums, I’m on guitar, and Sinclair was on the bass, and Jack and I did this half-time funky mix to try it out
Jack: and we never ever recorded me playing drums, we just jammed it
John-Angus: Wow! Good one –that’s awesome.
nMC: How did you guys come up with the idea of doing these small cool intimate fan parties?
Colin: This is our fourth time watching a new album release and so, for one; we wanted to do something different. I also think that this material lends itself to being debuted in a more intimate environment than maybe a hockey rink, at least for the first time out… until people know it.
Sean: It was also a thank to our diehard fans… these intimate shows have been so great because it’s just people that really, really love The Trews; because unless you really love the band you wouldn’t go and buy a ticket and cd even before the album came out – we’re happy to do it. It’s also our way to say thank you to the die hards who have supported us so many years… we’re happy to do these shows.
nMC: I have a confession to make
John-Angus: uh-oh. What is it?
nMC: The Nakusp Music Fest last year is the first time I saw The Trews, ever… I wasn’t a fan up till then. Nakusp was pretty good… but then I saw you in Kamloops
Colin: Ah… the acoustic.
nMC: Absolutely blew me away!
Colin: We get that a lot (smiles widely). I think we carried some of that acoustic vibe over to this record. Seeing how well people reacted to it, getting new fans like yourself at every stop, we took some of that looseness and relaxed-ness that comes along with us playing acoustic, and interjected it into this new record.
nMC: How has the first single, ‘Hope and Ruin‘, been received so far?
Colin: It’s done really well on radio and on iTunes… it’s been selling well. I noticed a little bit of a backlash amongst the fans that want more of a hard rocker from The Trews but we’ve led every electric album with a big hard rock song. We wanted to try something different, try my voice in a different range so that it’s not like every other Trews song on the radio – I really like the song… it felt good. We put it out to the label and mgmt, friends and family, and said “hey what do you think could be lead off single for this record?” And everyone said ‘Hope and Ruin.’ its that much different than everything we’ve done but still kind of Pop, and accessible, and it’s got some gang vocal parts that stick in your head and I liked it. It was like a slow song played fast.
nMC: It’s very different
Colin: Yes its very different (smiles) but I think that’s good. I think that at this point of our career it’s good to lead with something that’s not predictable… I mean we could have led with ‘Misery Loves Company‘ or something that’s a typical Trews song – but we wanted to do something different. Especially in Canada which is a small country, population wise. I think you have to work twice as hard in Canada to get as far as American bands. We certainly work extremely hard on our music and try to keep it fresh and different for our fans every time around.
John-Angus: Also the tune sort of has a little of what the album offers – it has a little upbeatness to it, a catchiness to it, but it also is indicative of finding ‘Dreaming Man‘ or ‘You Gotta Let Me In‘ or ‘Burn’.
Colin: If we would have put ‘People of the Deer‘ as first single, people would have been like..” there better be 12 more of those!” (laughs)
John-Angus: Angry metal heads (laughs)
Colin: We respect and love our fans very, very much, but we’re not going to ever allow anybody to dictate where we are going to go musically… we’ve been doing this on our own forever so we’re going to go where we want to go. Sometimes people are going to love it, and sometimes people aren’t going to love it. But you’re not going to be much of a band if you’re always just chasing your tail trying to cater and trying to please everybody. That’s just a total wastes of time and it defeats the purpose of what you are doing… there’s still an element of “no we’re doing this because we’re going to carve our own path and that’s it”… if you like it sometimes, you’re welcome aboard, and if you don’t like it sometimes, you can hop off and go find someone else’s train for awhile and we’ll see you back in a couple of albums.
nMC: if you weren’t in the music business what would you be doing?
John-Angus: Making Comfort Dolls (laughs). I have the hardest time answering that question.
Colin: it’s kind of a scary question because I’ve been doing this for so long. I’m too old to start again
nMC: How old were you guys when you started out?
Colin: When I started playing music I was probably about 15 or 16. When I started with these guys in our first band I was 18. Now I’m 19…(deadpans – other guys laugh).. I’ve been doing this for a year (smiles). If I wasn’t doing it – I really don’t know… I’d like to think something good for the planet at least – something that is contributing in some way.
nMC: You guys do a lot of charity stuff (including Comfort Doll Project charity)
Colin: Yeah… pretty soon we’ll be doing charity for The Trews (smiles). No, we’re proud to help out in any way we can… I’d like to do something that is helpful and contributing… I feel like music is helpful and contributing to life. I think that if you’re doing good music you’re providing a service to people, you’re helping people through times, you’re being a sound track to their lives and relationships and stuff. I hope that our music does just that.