Originally known as One I’d Trouser, fronted by Colin and John Angus MacDonald, the Antigonish, NS foursome began playing as most groups do, four highschool friends looking for something to do. The brothers’ deep classic rock roots were the cornerstone of the band’s sound. A close listen can hear influences from the Beatles, Humple Pie, Black Crowes, Rolling Stones and others. “It started in high school, same as most bands, I guess. A bunch of guys bumming around looking for something to do,” John Angus laughed while recanting how it all started.
With brother Colin handling the vocals and forming the dual guitar attack, along with Rose Murphy on drums and bassist Ramsey Clark, the group quickly became staples on the Maritime circuit, and soon outgrew their surroundings. From their earliest beginnings, it was the classic rock sounds that inspired the group, and John Angus said it wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision to be ‘mainstream,’ it’s just the way it happened. “We were never into the Celtic scene. It’s just not the stuff that caught our ears growing up,” he said. “We write and play music that stems from what we were listening to all our lives, which is a lot of ’60s and ’70s rock. Then, being young, you just put a new twist on it just from a combination of your abilities and your wanting to just add to something you know. The music we’ve always listened to has been mainstream from all kinds of genres.”
Some of those influences are shown in their live shows, where the likes of Humblie Pie and Queen are crowd favourites, but MacDonald said it’s a fine line between paying tribute to the bands that laid the groundwork and being a ‘museum band.’ “We don’t want to be a tribute to another era, we definitely want to be a band of our time, but when the core of your influences come from a certain genre, then that’s going to come through. We want to add something to the whole lineage of rock and roll,” he said. “We keep each other in check creatively. But when we’re together it’s like four sounding boards for originality. We all have a similar goal in mind, and we all have something unique to bring to the table.”
After relocating to Toronto, they hooked up with Bumstead Recordings, and released their debut EP, THE TROUSER EP in 1999. While gaining a reputation as one of the most energetic bands on the circuit, they’d shortened their name to Trouser within a year, and changed it again to The Trews shortly after that.
They released a self-titled EP in 2001, and got their big break the next summer when they entered a radio station talent hunt. Winning the contest landed them a distribution deal with Sony BMG Canada. They released the 2-song EP EVERY INAMBITION in ’03, which featured the title track and reworkings of “Confessions” and “So Take What You Can” from the previous EP.
Their first full-length album happened that fall with the release of HOUSE OF ILL FAME. New versions of “Confessions” and “Every Inambition” were released, along with “Fleeting Trust,” and their #1 hits “Tired of Waiting” and “Not Ready to Go” – all which pushed the record gold. A live favourite that wasn’t released as a single was “Hollis and Morris,” about an intersection in Halifax notorious for the night time prostitution. The band received a nomination at that’ year’s Junos for best new group, their first of four Juno nominations to date. In 2004 an extended version of the album was released, which featured five live tracks as bonus.
A cross-country tour ensued, at the end of which Murphy and Clark were both replaced. Jack Syperek was the new bass player and Sean Dalton was the new guy behind the drum kit. DEN OF THIEVES, produced by Jack Douglas, was released in June, 2005. The first single, “So She’s Leaving”, was an instant radio and TV smash. “Yearning”, “Poor Ol’ Broken Hearted Me”, “Not Ready To Go” and “I Can’t Say” followed suit, giving the band their second straight gold record and solidified them one of the top new groups in the country. “It was a bit of a grab bag of stuff. It was sort of like the kitchen sink record. Everything we felt like doing, we did,” MacDonald said. “Not much focus, I guess – but still a good record, I think.”
They released “Hold Me In Your Arms” online and to the radio stations in November, 2007, while debuting it in Toronto at the Grey Cup pre-game show, and made its way to the number one requested song on MuchMusic. A bonus song called “Long Way from Freedom” was included with the iTunes single, but was not released on the album. The album NO TIME FOR LATER came the following February. It was recorded in Toronto and Brooklyn, and marked the first time working with producers Gus Van Go and Werner F.
MacDonald said it was important to get a fresh set of ears while recording the album. “We’ve been together so long as a group, it can really help to have that outside opinion to help cut through all the red tape that builds up when people have been writing and performing together for a long time,” he said.“For example, you tend to have no idea who wrote what bits and who brings what to the table. You can just sit down with an agenda and kind of iron out the details. A new producer can help you just shape what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s what a great producer does. He’s just kind of a sounding board,” he said. “Going with Gus and Werner, they’ve definitely brought more discipline to the table than we’ve ever had in the studio. They pushed us really hard, and that might have been exactly what we needed because we were getting too comfortable with ourselves. They pushed us out of that comfort zone.”
Next up was the second single, “Paranoid Freak” later that spring and again quickly made heavy rotation on radio and TV. That song, along with “Dark Highway,” were both used for the CBC’s Degrassi Jr. High series. Other tracks included “Gun Control,” written following the August, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and “Can’t Stop Laughing,” released as a single in early ’09. “I think we just wanted to make something a little more concise. We wanted to make our heaviest record yet, but still wanted to push our boundaries creatively and artistically as well. It was our goal from the onset to achieve those things, but it’s a bit of tight rope to walk,” MacDonald reflected. “We’re happy with it. But as soon as you put some distance between what you did and where you’re at, you want to see things you might want to change for the next one. That’s how you evolve and get better. Records are like kids, you love each one for its own reasons. So far I don’t look back at any of our records and cringe, so that’s a good thing, I guess.”