New Trews album born of ‘pretty big shakeup’

IN CONCERT

What: The Trews with Altameda
Where: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m.
Tickets $32.50 at Lyle’s Place, and Ticketweb.ca

Tour the country, write songs, book recording sessions — that’s been the rhythm of the better part of 15 years for Nova Scotia rockers The Trews.

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At the start of their journey, few bands in Canada worked harder. The Trews toured Canada five times in 2004 alone, a rat-race pace that eventually broke them to a wider audience, with the help of a new-group-of-the-year nomination at the 2004 Juno Awards.

Several rock-radio hits (Not Ready to Go, Tired of Waiting, So She’s Leaving and Poor Ol’ Broken Hearted Me) further elevated their profile, along with concerts opening for Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

“If you go down the rabbit hole, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic,” said guitarist John-Angus MacDonald, who co-founded the group with his brother, singer-guitarist Colin MacDonald, and bassist Jack Syperek. “It puts it into perspective.”

The band’s 2014 album, The Trews, hit No. 3 on the sales charts in Canada, the highest position of their career. But changes would hit the band within a year of the album’s release.

Drummer Sean Dalton, who had been with the group since it formed in 2002, exited the band on amicable terms, while members moved around Ontario. Hamilton and Toronto are now both listed as home base for the group.

The Trews also changed management and signed with a new record label around the same time.

“That was the beginning of a pretty big shakeup, which is why it took us four years to get to this record,” MacDonald said. “A lot of things were in flux. We wanted something fresh and different. Stasis scares the s--t out of us.”

The band, whose membership includes drummer Chris Gormley and keyboardist Jeff Heisholt, returned with a new mindset on Civilianaires, its sixth album and first in four years. They tweaked their approach to the studio, adding new layers to their classic-rock sound.

Studio sessions with Max Kerman (frontman for the Arkells) and Metallica producer Bob Rock provided a foundaztion for the album, but it was the inspired work of up-and-coming Toronto producer Derek Hoffman that brought the project to completion.

Producers the band had worked with on previous albums — Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar and Gord Sinclair from The Tragically Hip, among others — were rooted in traditional rock. The sessions with Hoffman for Civilianaires presented an entirely new experience for the group, MacDonald said.

“We arranged the music before the melody and the lyrics for some songs, which is an approach we’ve never tried. But that led to some unexpected surprises, and some pleasant surprises. It’s about the result in the end.”

The search for new inspiration led to a sober realization during the making of Civilianaires, according to MacDonald. The connection between The Trews and their rock ’n roll roots is deep and unbreakable, which they grew to accept and embrace. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get those influences out of there. They are in deep. The Who and The Kinks and Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, it’s part of our DNA. Even when we try and do a ‘modern’ thing, it ends up coming out with a certain rootsiness. I don’t want that to go away.”

A decade and a half of experience has provided other insights as well. “I heard a great quote the other day — ‘Lasting is the new making it’ — and I thought that was very appropriate for us,” MacDonald said with a laugh.

“The music industry is a never-ending s--t show, but I think it’s been particularly confusing in the last dozen or so years. That we managed to survive and sell tickets and records is something that I don’t take for granted. I have enough perspective on what it takes to build something that lasts, and have some gratitude for it.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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