Analogue Music | The Trews

The Trews

By Matt Conner

The world is pretty much back to normal.

The crowds are rowdy again, bodies squeezed together, singing along full-throated to their favorite songs. The members of The Trews wouldn't have it any other way, of course, but on the other side a pandemic that shut down the industry, the normalcy also comes with loads of gratitude and perspective—a sense that every show is a gift to connect through their music.

Seven albums into their career, the Canadian band is gearing up for one of their last tour runs before heading back into the studio to write the follow-up to Wanderer (2021). But despite the fact that the rooms are familiar and the road feels like home, guitarist John-Angus MacDonald tells us that this stage of the band's career is greatly informed by the two years of a rewired industry.

Analogue: I know you’re set for a tour run here shortly that I’ll actually catch myself, but I wanted to ask about things in the bigger picture—the fact that we can talk about a tour run as normal again—after the pandemic.

John-Angus MacDonald: I feel like we take nothing for granted anymore, y’know? In February and March of 2020, we were out doing shows. If somebody had tapped me on the shoulder to say these would be your last shows for almost two years, I wouldn’t have believed them. It just seemed impossible to me that you could take us off the road for that long. We’d never been off the road for that long for my whole adult life.

It’s easy to start taking things for granted and accepting that as routine, but they can be gone in a heartbeat. So now that we’re back, I think we’re at our best. No show is taken for granted. Every show is a go show. We’re just trying to do our best, have a great time, and really bring it for the audience. I think everybody really values it again, including the audience, because you realize nothing is for sure, nothing is forever. You could always be stuck at home again. [Laughs] Hopefully that’s not the case, but it’s also a reminder how finite everything is.

So I don’t want to say it’s been good for the band, because I wouldn’t want to go through it again or wish it upon my worst enemy, but we’re coming out of the other side with a whole new perspective on things.

Analogue: What was your first show back out?

John-Angus: Well, I hesitate to call it a show, but we ended up doing a show in the summer of 2020. We came off the road in mid-March and then in late August, we did a drive-in. It was one of those things where promoters were trying anything to bring some kind of entertainment back. We were one of the first up here in our neck of the woods to try to do it that way. It was a relief to just get out and play and see people but it wasn’t really a normal show and that didn’t really happen for another year after that.

Analogue: I saw that drive-in approach by a few bands and wondered how awkward or awesome that might be.

John-Angus: Yeah it was all of those things. It was odd. You never imagine playing for a sea of headlights. It’s like playing for a traffic jam on the highway. But everybody was grateful. That was one thing that we felt in the ‘good’ column was that people were just grateful for anything. We were grateful something was happening. But at the same time, there’s no learning curve or time to get into the flow of what it feels like to play for automobiles. People weren’t allowed out of their cars because of really strict social distancing rules.

It was odd. It was hopefully just a once-in-a-lifetime gig we had to go to get by and bring some music to people at a very difficult time. But I wouldn’t replace regular shows with that kind of thing. Rock shows are so much about connectivity and energy exchange that if you put an audience that far away and inside a steel box, it just becomes a different kind of thing altogether.

Analogue: So when was the first ‘nnormal’ show for you on the other side?

John Angus: You’d probably have to zoom ahead to the next summer, when the world had opened up enough that we were able to get out and do some festivals. Even then I think Canada was slower to open up than the States so there were still a lot of restrictions. They would put people in pods that had their own capacities. It was still fun and I think we had about a dozen shows that way.

You have to go all the way to this summer before you get back to shoulder-to-shoulder, in-your-face, top-of-your-lungs rock show. This summer felt like the real return to normalcy in that it was no different at all, except for those things I mentioned: being grateful to be back, not taking things for granted, playing our hearts out, and the audiences were fantastic. They were really ready for it again.

Analogue: What was it like to release Wanderer in the midst of a changing world?

John-Angus: It was odd but we had nothing else to do but write songs and then think about things. It wasn’t ideal because we weren’t always in the same room, so there was a big learning curve to writing and collaborating over Zoom. Then we had to do our recording sessions in what little pockets of opportunity we could when we were allowed in the same space, oftentimes it wasn’t all five of us at the same time.

So it was weird and unique and not something I’d want to repeat, but it’s also a one-of-a-kind thing with its own story. And I think the material reflects some of what we were going through, too.

"This summer felt like the real return to normalcy in that it was no different at all, except for those things I mentioned: being grateful to be back, not taking things for granted, playing our hearts out, and the audiences were fantastic. They were really ready for it again."

Analogue: You have such longevity in an industry that spits you out pretty quickly. Do you think that allowed you to weather something like this? Did that save you from having your mettle tested like other bands?

John-Angus: It’s possible but it certainly tested us. We were anything but feeling great and secure or anything. Like the rest of the world, it felt like a day at a time. [Laughs] But we never had any designs on packing it in for a pandemic. We’ve always treated business like a lifestyle. We make money but it’s also the way we live our lives and that’s the way it’s been for 20 or 25 years. It never crossed our minds to permanently pack it in. If we had to play Zoom concerts the rest of our lives, I’m sure we would have pivoted to that. Thank god we don’t have to.

I know other bands on the cusp of financial security with what they do, it must have been very, very hard. In those early days, every dime gets put back into the cause and if you don’t have any income to speak of, I really feel for those bands who were on the cusp in this time. You’ve gotta put the pedal to the metal and it’s not as if there’s a bunch of money kicking around or anything. I see why so many didn’t make it through. I feel bad because it’s such terrible timing.

Analogue: Just how isolating was this process? Or how differently isolating was it?

John-Angus: Yeah, a bit. This was our seventh album. If we’d been really green in the studio and needed encouragement or if we were lesser musicians, I think it would have been impossible. You have that producer and engineer dynamic in those early days where the producer is essentially a coach.

I think we’ve gotten to a point where as long as we know what we want, we can pull it off whether we’re alone or together. We’d rather be together, but we’re not totally lost alone. One of the silver linings is that we all became so much better as home engineers and home producers. Certainly, a whole bunch of tracks were done in my attic where I have a makeshift studio that ended up on the final product beside products we ‘d recorded in a bigger studio. Luckily the technology now allows for that.

Analogue: Did this allow you to spend more time on the songs?

John-Angus: We did and we also wrote a lot more. Honestly, we’re not going to do this but we could probably fill three records right now from stuff that we wrote during the pandemic, just because there wasn’t anything else to do. So we wrote a lot.

I still believe in a record cycle as much as it might not make sense with the new paradigm. I believe in putting the best of what you’ve got together once every year or two years and making that the focus because if you’re just constantly releasing, it also devalues it a little bit. But we’re still sitting on a mountain of material because we’d write once a week and then we’re also all writing outside on our own. There was regular output, so now we’re sifting through a lot of it to see what we have for the next record, which we’ll start to record soon.

VISIT: The Trews

Photo: David Bandero