by Yasmine Shemesh
Being a fan—a real enthusiast—of a band can be an intimate experience. Their music provides solace on dark days; lyrics hold private significance; chords flood back memories of happy moments. However manifested, the connection between a musician and the listener is both individual and deep. “We’re blessed with amazing fans,” says John-Angus MacDonald, guitarist for rock band the Trews. “We don’t take it for granted. If you can tighten that bond, or make it a little more personal, then why wouldn’t you?” For their self-titled, fifth studio album, the quartet did just that—giving their devotees the ultimate fan club pass by involving them in every step of the record’s creation.
Completely fan-funded through a PledgeMusic campaign, The Trews was built on the fan-to-artist link and acts partly as a motion of gratitude. Anyone who pledged over $100 received a “thank you” in the album artwork and certain donations granted exclusivities with the musicians including a 20-minute Skype Chat, a four-on-four hockey game and a tour of their hometown of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Connecting with their fanbase at such a level, MacDonald says, “was a special thing. I always said if this was going on when I was a kid, I would have been all over it. I mean, I still would be all over it for bands that I love and believe in.” Fans even received the opportunity to join the Trews in-studio, contributing handclaps and backing vocals on a number of tracks, including the hope-fuelled “Age of Miracles” and the epic closer “Under the Sun”—a risk, of course, but one that ended up being a resounding success. “We were a little nervous because we weren’t sure if anyone could hold a tune or sing in time,” MacDonald laughs. “And [then] we put them out on the floor with the microphones and everyone could sing like a bird!”
Although the album (which celebrates 10 years since the band’s debut) is full of the infectious riffs and smashing choruses the Trews are revered for, there’s also a nuance of maturity. “As players and performers and writers, I feel like every element of it has been honed to a great degree,” MacDonald says. “You grow more comfortable in your own skin as human beings and I think that translates into music.” Cuts like “Rise in the Wake” showcase the sonorous strength of vocalist Colin MacDonald while “New King” exhibits sharp guitar, bassist Jack Syperek’s clean lines and drummer Sean Dalton’s tireless precision. Perhaps the biggest moment of all is the tender “65 Roses,” a tribute to the band’s late agent who passed away from cystic fibrosis. “It was tough,” MacDonald admits, of putting the track together. “We played his memorial service in May ‘13 and then a month later we wrote the song, because it took a little time to digest what exactly had just happened.” A portion of the proceeds from their PledgeMusic campaign were donated to Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
Now on a coast-to-coast Canadian tour, the Trews have one more trick up their sleeves, further confirming that they really do belong to the people: a contest giving local bands the chance to win the show’s supporting slot in their hometowns. “To give back to the fans, and to give them a special experience like that,” MacDonald says. “I’m glad we could do it.”
The Trews perform at Union Hall (Edmonton) November 20, Flames Central (Calgary) November 21, Port Theatre (Nanaimo) November 25, Sugar Nightclub (Victoria) November 26 and Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) November 29.
Published in print and online at www.beatroute.ca, November 2014