Interview with Colin MacDonald and John-Angus MacDonald from ‘The Trews’

Featuring vocalist Colin MacDonald, guitarist John-Angus MacDonald, bassist Jack Syperek, and drummer Sean Dalton, the Antigonish, Nova Scotia-based quartet, the Trews, is fast becoming one of Canada’s most popular rock bands, as evidenced by the success of their latest release, ‘No Time for Later,’ the large collection of awards the band has racked up for their efforts, and the impressive list of “rock royalty” acts they’ve opened for. Trews guitarists (and brothers) Colin and John-Angus recently talked to Guitar Site.

the Trews
Photo By Nancy Desrosiers

How did the Trews come together?

COLIN MACDONALD: We've been together for many years. We've all known each other since childhood. Sean is our cousin and we've known Jack since he was three years old. In high school we played covers in bars around our hometown of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. We had to have guardians at the shows because we were all underage. Jack, John Angus and I have played together since 1996. Sean joined in 2001. When Sean joined that's when we got our songwriting chops together, and by 2003, we made our first album, which spawned three top ten singles in Canada and went gold. Since then we've made two more gold selling records and have had six more top tens. 

What does “the Trews” mean?

COLIN MACDONALD: The name sounds a lot cooler than it's actual meaning. When we were a cover band we went by the name One Eyed Trouser, when Sean joined we shortened the name to Trouser. When it came time to release our first album we were sent a cease and desist from another band that claimed they had been going by the name Trouser for years. Jack's mom suggested we change the name to Trews, which is the name for Scottish trousers. We figured, given our Scottish heritage, it would be “fitting”. We've had a lot of success with the name so we're stuck with it!

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: It's Gaelic for ” bloody good rock band”….

How would you describe the Trews' sound, and how does it fit into the current rock scene?

COLIN MACDONALD: The Trews are a rock n’ roll band with the ability to write hook laden pop rock. There will always be a place in the music scene for hook filled rock music.

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: Unpretentious rock n' roll with a twist of lemon or the love child of Slade and Kings of Leon.

Who are some bands the Trews has toured with, and what are some interesting memories/stories?

COLIN MACDONALD: We've opened for the Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, the New Guns N’ Roses, and Ace Frehley. We were the opening band on Robert Plant’s Canadian tour in support of his album with the Strange Sensation. It was a great tour and he was a really cool guy. He showed up to our soundcheck at the Montreal show looking for us but unfortunately we were off doing press so our crew got to know him before us. Eventually, we hung out with him at other shows on the tour. I remember watching his band rehearsing “Going to California” at a soundcheck in Calgary; it was a beautiful and surreal moment. When we opened for G n’ R we were told by the road manager that if we tried talk to Axl we'd be kicked off the tour. Axl ended up giving us a shout out from the stage and JA talked to him at a party after the show and said he was a really cool guy. We opened for the Stones in a small bar in Toronto and met the band. They were amazing! Charlie and Mick watched our set from side stage.  

Who are some of your chief guitar influences?

COLIN MACDONALD: My chief influences on guitar are John Lennon and Neil Young. I like chunky rhythm players.

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: Jeff Beck, Rich Robinson, Rory Gallagher, Slash,  Joe Perry, Jack White, Keith Richards, Gordie Johnson.

How did you each start playing guitar?

COLIN MACDONALD: We both started playing guitar at the same time – I was 13 and JA was 11. Dad bought us a blue Washburn electric guitar and a Rock tech amplifier. And it was all downhill from there!

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: Hearing the guitar solo for “Mr. Brownstone” by Guns N’ Roses for the first time when I was around ten was when I realized “I have to figure out how to do that!”

What guitars, effects, and amps do you use?

COLIN MACDONALD: I play through a Morris head. Glen Morris is an independent amplifier maker from Welland, Ontario. He makes hybrid amps using the best parts of Trayners, Marshalls and other great amps to make great, unique tones. I don't use any pedals, unless you count the tuner.

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: Gibson Guitars. I have 4 Les Pauls – my main one being a standard ‘59 historic re-issue that I used on pretty much every track on NO TIME FOR LATER. I have twin black Les Paul Standards (more Paul and less Paul – more is equipped with p94 single coil pick-ups) and a ‘74 custom that I had Les Paul sign when I met him in New York City in '06. I also have a cherry red ES-335 that I love, two SGs and an army of Gibson acoustics, my favorite being the hummingbird. Wizard Amps. I have two 50w Wizard Vintage classics with matching cabinets. Pedal Board. Fulltone wha pedal, MXR micro-amp, Boss octave divider, Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, Roto-vibe Leslie simulator/chorus pedal, Whammy pedal and Boss Tuner pedal.


Memories of writing/recording 'No Time for Later'?

COLIN MACDONALD: ‘No Time for Later’ was longest we ever spent in the studio making an album. We recorded everything separately, we did the drums and bass in Toronto and did the vocals and guitars in Williamsburg New York. JA and I spent the summer of ‘07 living in a flat in Williamsburg and had a great time hanging out in such a cool neighborhood. We'd wake up at the crack of noon, walk to Gimme Coffee, get a large cappuccino, walk to the studio, record till 1 am, go back to the flat, wake up the next morning, and do the same thing over again. Awesome.

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: Recording the solo for “End of the Line.” Compositionally, I feel it is the best solo I have ever recorded and it was great collaborating with producers Gus Van Go and Werner F on that one.

Favorite songs and why from 'No Time for Later.'

COLIN MACDONALD: “Paranoid Freak” and “Gun Control.” I think “Paranoid Freak” is a great song that can work as either a big political statement or a personal statement about being neurotic. I consider the lyrics dark comedy, like a Coen Brothers film. “Gun Control” is a very political song that gets a lot of positive and negative reactions, I like songs that cause a bit of controversy. It's definitely our most controversial song.

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: “Be Love.” It was recorded as a demo when us and Gus (producer Gus Van Go) were still feeling each other out. Over two days at his Brooklyn studio we cut two songs “Be Love” and “Ocean's End,” both of which ended up on the record in their original versions. I pick “Be Love” ‘cause of its immediacy and energy and also cause it was the song that made us realize “We gotta work with these guys.”

Future plans for the Trews?

COLIN MACDONALD: Right now JA is producing a live Trews acoustic album that combines songs from all three of our albums. We played and recorded two acoustic shows at the Glen Gould Theater in Toronto in late January. We plan to release it some time in ‘09. Other than that we hope people in the US like us enough so that we can get down there and tour. We opened for Ace Frehley on a cross America tour in early ‘08 and we loved playing in all the great cities. The drives are a lot closer between towns and cities then in Canada!

JOHN-ANGUS MACDONALD: 1. Take USA by storm, 2. See what happens…


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