The Trews
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The Trews

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The best kept secret in music


"Blues-rocking Trews like to keep things interesting"

Niagara Falls­based guitar-rockers the Trews have a memorable bio making the rounds in the music press. Sure, the quartet's Sony Music promo sheet is typical in that it comes off as a rave about the band, but the way it's done is unique. For example, bassist Jack Syperek is described as "a forty-foot boner squeezed into Montgomery Clift's haircut", and the group as a whole is labelled as "four saucer-eyed and clueless pixies". As singer and rhythm guitarist Colin MacDonald explains from a van en route to Medicine Hat--after a gig in Lethbridge, opening for Nickelback--the Trews had gonzo Vancouver scribe Adrian Mack pen the bio. "He's just a really great writer, and we wanted something kind of funny and entertaining to look at," MacDonald says of the John Ford drummer, who contributes a caustic column, Adrian Mack Is an Idiot, for local music monthly the Nerve. "Like, the last thing anybody wants to see is: 'Colin was born on May 31, 1978, and he likes Metallica.' "

Any fanzine-style portrayal of the 25-year-old MacDonald would also point out that he and his mates are really into AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. In fact, it may have been the Trews' fondness for bluesy, guitar-driven rock that led them to acquire the production services of Gordie Johnson. After meeting the Big Sugar frontman in 2001 at the Jeff Healey­owned Healey's Bar in Toronto, where the Trews had a weekly gig, they got him to produce, engineer, and mix their debut CD, House of Ill Fame.

By all accounts, Johnson brought his radio-friendly approach to the sessions: the disc's first single, "Not Ready to Go", was recently No. 1 on Canadian rock radio. Local noisemakers CFOX put the tune in heavy rotation and have booked the Trews to join the likes of the Offspring and Bif Naked at FoxFest, scheduled for the Plaza of Nations on Saturday (April 10). The quartet will also play a free first-come, first-served show at the Media Club on Monday (April 12), then take its rollicking racket to the Fraser Valley for a gig at Abbotsford's City Limits Cabaret on Wednesday (April 14).

MacDonald, his younger lead-guitarist brother John-Angus, and Syperek formed the Trews in high school in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and drummer Sean Dalton--a cousin of the MacDonalds--moved over from Newfoundland to join them two-and-a-half years ago. The band's tight family ties extend beyond the human realm. There's a shout-out in the CD's credits to "the ambassador of love, Paul Steven Caillou", the brothers' beloved Labrador retriever. Sadly, he got hit by a car and killed four months before the release of House of Ill Fame. "His name was just Caillou," MacDonald explains, "but we added the 'Paul Steven' for humorous effect, 'cause there's nothing funnier than a dog with a really big name."

- Steve Newton - The Georgia Straight - April 8, 2004

"Trews stay true to their fans"

A Juno nomination and marketing dollars might sound good for bands like the Trews, but what they seek can be earned only by performing in front of a crowd

It's easy to believe Colin MacDonald when he says he didn't expect the Trews to win the Juno for best new group last week. Considering his state of mind on nomination morning in February, it's even easier to believe the singer when he says his band didn't expect to be in competition at all.
"We were asked to attend the nomination ceremony," MacDonald said. "We just figured Nickelback and those guys wouldn't show up, so (Juno organizers) needed guys who look like they're in bands to sit there at 9 in the morning as seat-fillers. But sure enough, in the last award they announced - best new group - we were one of the five nominees."

Billy Talent ended up with the mantel decoration, but MacDonald isn't bitter. The nomination got the Nova Scotia-by-way-of-Ontario quartet's name on more lips, and even better, it got more people out to the shows - as did Not Ready to Go, currently one of the top songs on Canadian rock radio.
Industry recognition and hits are the destination for other bands; for this one, they're the journey. As with Sam Roberts, the Trews are a live act first, playing accelerated rock with a dose of soul - like the bastard child of the Tragically Hip and Big Sugar (Sugar daddy Gordie Johnson produced the band's debut, House of Ill Fame). There's a fervour in their music, suggesting the desperation that came with writing the album in seedy Niagara Falls digs - and also suggesting the knowledge that fans have to be earned through the live show, rather than bought through marketing dollars.

"The only way we really measure success is by the number of people coming out to our shows - and by the reaction to the whole set, not just the single. Being a live band's always been our motivation; it was never to get music videos on television. The only really good thing about having that is people know the band, and more of them will come out and pay $10 to see you."

Whether opening for Nickelback or fighting to win over an audience of 12 in some backwater burg, it seems as if the Trews can't wave off a chance to get on stage. Their manic tour itinerary looks like it was plotted by a blindfolded cat, and MacDonald would have every right to sound drained of the will to live.

He doesn't.

"I never want to turn down a show. That's what our job is, and I love my work. I don't want to call in sick."

MacDonald crams as many words into a breath as he can while there are still breaths to take. Despite the band's success, he sounds like he expects the whole thing to go bust at any minute - like he's afraid to take a break lest fans take one as well. There will be a respite from the road in May to work on new material, then it's back in the van.

"I think we're working harder than any other band right now, but it's the only way to keep people aware of who the Trews are," MacDonald said. "It's good to leave as much of an impression as you can while you've got Canada listening. Maybe the next single won't do great, but maybe with all the touring we've been doing, we'll still have a fan base to go and play to."

- Jordan Zivitz - The Montreal Gazette - April 15, 2004


The Trews have scored 2 Top-10 hits in Canada, including 'Not Ready to Go' the #1 most played track at Canadian Rock Radio in 2004.

Currently recording new record with Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon) - Release TBC

House of Ill Fame (Bumstead/Sony-BMG), released August 12, 2003

s/t EP (Bumstead), released 2002


Feeling a bit camera shy


Niagara Falls is an unnecessary city situated at the fundum of Canada’s southern border. It has, over the years, produced a tragic assortment of killers, scam artists, and petty-thieves – as well as providing, for most tourists, a perfect contrast between the majesty of nature let loose and the ignominy of bad-taste let-looser. This is also the city that the Trews call home, in its thriving crack district, where demented rats sometimes three feet in length feast on the cadavers of American tourists unprepared for the potency of Canadian narcotics.

They are Niagara’s second wonder.

Jesus Christ. The Trews piss me right off. For one thing they’re younger than everyone else I know and for another they don’t appreciate how much God loves them. While the rest of us are consumed with earthly troubles like eating, sleeping, and fixing our credit history - the Trews blithely fart about, dripping talent and blowing the rest of us off the stage. How many girlfriends do they have to steal before somebody finally takes a machine gun to these feckless little satyrs? What proof does one need that the universe is a hostile, random and brutish place, other than four saucer-eyed and clueless pixies behaving as if it isn’t – and getting away with it.

Take singer and keyboardist Colin, for instance – he’s like a fairy-tale character…or a magical eunuch who floats in and out some somnambulant trance to unleash a voice marked by its fathomless beauty and sense of joy. His band-mates are apparently afraid to look at him for too long, lest his spooky gifts evaporate or worse, kill them.

Meanwhile, John-Angus MacDonald wields his guitar with the certainty that it will at least save his life and at most save the world itself. In a corrupt and savage century it is incumbent on each and every one of us, striving towards any kind of rationality while the air around us conspires to bring death and sorrow, to protect, cherish and foster John-Angus MacDonald. His kind is rarer than miracles.

Bassist Jack Syperek is like a forty-foot boner squeezed into Montgomery Clift’s haircut. He plays like a sixty-minute man and acts like a homeless and barely sentient enigma who can chew the glass off a long-neck beer in a bar fight. Or a dime-a-dance kinda pretty boy all lost and beautiful, out of some anthropological survey of Times Square back in the days of Toilet Dating.

As if that’s not enough, you also have Sean Dalton, whooping it up on the drums with nary a thought for the rest of us who have to practice for half our goddamn lives only to discover that it will never matter. This kid is so fast that I actually saw him finish a song before he even started it. Fittingly, he was both the first and the last member to join the Trews, starting the band long before the others were born and then showing up late. Such are his inexplicable time-keeping skills.

And the music? Well it hardly seems to matter now does it? But, for the record, it’s perfect, seamless, blue-eyed soul that buggers off into chunky rock and back again with a tightness found only in nature, like an un-neutered bulldog observed from behind. Swinging, braying, good-time stuff that makes you wanna start your own band. Then you do and it’s terrible and difficult and you realize with the kind of certainty that makes suicidal madmen out of French poets that some people just have it, and you don’t.

Sadly, there are laws out there to protect the likes of the Trews. So, breaking fingers and smashing their heads in is not an option. Better to get on board and love them now so that when they’re bigger than the country that spawned them, and I have finally found some measure of peace in the cold, cold ground, you can run around and tell people that I was right all along.

-Adrian Mack
April 2003