The Trews live at the Drive-in is coming to the Ancaster Fair Grounds for the next round Saturday October 3rd. Originating from Nova Scotia in 1996, The Trews have been among the top 150 selling artists and top 40 selling bands in Canada. Their resume consists of multiple Gold studio albums and countless of popular singles hitting the charts. One can also not forget about the handful of awards including several JUNO nominations. We got a change to sit down with guitarist John-Angus MacDonald. We talk about the band, their music and joining the Live at the Drive-in series. Take a read and see what he had to say.
Good day John-Angus, how did you get on board with Live at the Drive-In series?
Good day to you too! We were offered the show and jumped at it! We did two drive in shows in September, in Toronto and Ottawa, and they went great. It felt so good to be back on stage with the band again, we’ve never had this much time off! So we were happy to get the opportunity to do it again.
This is not your first COVID related performance, as the band has been involved in a variety of at-home online shows, and drive-ins. How do you feel the performances differ from standard fares for you as musicians?
The drive-in shows are much closer to a regular show than the online stuff is. At least at the drive in you are getting real time feedback from people who are actually in front of you, albeit at a distance. That feedback usually comes in the form of a honking horns, which, I can tell you, is a heck of a lot louder than a pair of clapping hands! It’s like rocking out in a traffic jam! The online stuff gets old quick. It’s a nice way to keep connected with your fans but ultimately, it’s just you playing for your phone, which starts to feel a little silly after a while
In an era of digital streaming services and live streaming, etc. do you think that shows like this will gain traction over the next couple years. Kind of going back to 90s pay-per-view almost?
Maybe, I think anything is possible, and I’m sure some people will get really creative and exploratory with the medium. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of being there live – for the audience or the performer.
As a band, you have been actively raising funds for those affected by COVID, namely the GOD SPEED REBEL charity. Tell us a bit about that passion project?
Well we had that song in the can when we went into all of this. It was destined for our next record. However we figured people could use the entertainment and the pick me up, so we decided to put it out. I had, what I thought was, the brilliantly original idea to do a music video over Zoom. I had just heard about for the first time a few weeks before – turns out I wasn’t alone :).
It turned out fun, so we put that up on You Tube as well. Since we knew we were heading into tough times for all people connected to our industry we decided to donate the proceeds generated from sales and streams of the single to Unison. Unison is a cause that we’ve worked with a lot over the years and is near and dear to our hearts, it’s a way that we, as musicians, can take care of our own.
The Trews are subjectively one of the more prolific contemporary acts. I mean, I still remember watching your videos on Much Music, especially “Not ready to go”. Do you look back on those early years and laugh or cry?
Mostly laugh! It took me a little while to get there but I’m pretty proud of our output from those early days now. As we were living it, we were so fixated on the next thing and bettering what we were doing that we never fully appreciated what we were up to and the good fortune we were having. Plus, those songs still hold up live and are, in many ways, the bread and butter of our set.
What has it been like being together for so long as a band?
Well, truthfully, I wouldn’t know any different. This is all I’ve ever done, and these are the guys I’ve always done it with. In a way it comes with a sort of arrested development, I suppose, but I think we’re getting better at getting along and communicating with each other. And I also feel that the writing and playing is the best it’s ever been.
The Trews have always been strong advocates in the local scenes, especially out in your home province of Nova Scotia. How do you think growing up in the Maritimes shaped you?
Being from Antigonish was a blessing and a curse. A curse because we felt trapped and isolated in our little hometown. A blessing because there is all this free time to play, practice and write cause there was nothing else to do! Even if we wanted to go see a show we had to get to Halifax, which is a two-hour drive away! So, we put our heads down and worked hard from a very young age. But also, the relationship that music has to the culture is unique down there. It seems like everyone plays something so musical gathering are more of a communal thing and less of a performer/audience dynamic. I supposed we carry some of that with us wherever we go.
“Touch” and “God Speed Rebel” are your only released singles in 2019 and this year respectively. Are we hinting at a new album in the works?
Yes. We are definitely working towards that. It was supposed to be out by now but all of the sessions we had planned for late spring/early summer were cancelled when the world went into lockdown. We are slowly putting the plans back together but it’s doubtful it will be out before next year. And Touch and God Speed won’t be on it. We’re treating those as stand-alone singles.
Local music venues have been closing in Canada for years now. With COVID now with us, do you think musicians and the touring/festival industry is heading into an obsolescence? What do you think can be done?
I hope not! We’re definitely going to be the last to go back to work but, at some point, Covid won’t have the grip on society that it does now. One thing is certain about pandemics, they come, and they go. So, whether it’s a vaccine, a treatment or it slowly integrating into our seasonal flu, eventually this WILL go away. That’s not to say it won’t seriously rework the venue, festival and musical landscape in the meantime but if people have an appetite to come out to shows again then you will see venues and gigs crop up to fill that vacuum. And I believe that will happen.
If you could give any advice for the average Canadian at home that feels overwhelmed and does not know how to help the music scene during COVID, what would it be?
I would say look for opportunities to give back to your favorite venues, music stores, labels, musicians etc. They need you as much as you need them and most everybody is doing something to try a stay afloat. Be it merch sales or, like us, launching a fan club via Patreon.
What are some of your personal/favorite local haunts that you want to give a shout out to/shameless promote?
Well I live in Hamilton so there’s lots. I’ll shout out to Smalls Coffee, Saint James, the Mulberry, The Burnt Tongue, The Brain, The Mule, Shorty’s Pizza, Into the Abyss Records … there’s a lot of good spots in the hammer right now so it’s hard to narrow it down!
What do you want to say to your fans?
We love you and REALLY appreciate the support you’ve shown us through these difficult months by subscribing to our Patreon, tuning in to our live streams, listen to and buying our music and merch. For those coming to the drive in on Oct. 3, we’ll see you there, for everyone else, just know that we are actively looking for ways to get out there and play in a safe and responsible way. We miss you and hope to see you soon!
Big thanks to John-Angus for joining us for The Trews live at the Drive-in. Make sure if you get a chance you get to the show and enjoy some amazing Canadian rock music.
Check out more articles and more coverage from the Live at the Drive-in on our blog right here.