The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

COLIN MACDONALD

OF THE TREWS

speaks to MARK ROCKPIT

 

Colin caught the sun in Australia

 

The Trews is one of those bands that suffer from simply not being American. If they were then there is no question, they would be huge. As many Australian bands have also found out: for a rock band to break big in the States is one part perseverance and three parts luck, no matter how popular you are at home. The Trews has released three studio albums since 2003 and in addition last year they put out the wonderful ‘Acoustic - Friends and Total Strangers’ live album. Each successive release seems to offer the listener something more than the last and adds a new layer to the story.



TheRockpit.net caught up with singer/songwriter Colin MacDonald whist the band was over in Perth where they were part of the One Movement Music Festival. We saw them deliver a blistering set on Friday night down at the Indi Bar in Scarborough before they motored off to the city to do it all again later that night. On Sunday after our interview they tore it up at Jeff Martin’s birthday party where they hit the stage with Jeff (of Tea Party fame) and rolled off some Zeppelin; ‘Rockin’ In the Free World’ by Neil Young, ‘Poets’ by another great Canadian institution the Tragically Hip amongst others. We all just looked on knowing we were seeing something really special. I challenge anyone to go and see The Trews live and not enjoy themselves. Plain and simple these guys ROCK.

 

It’s Sunday lunch time and I slip away from a BBQ with some of Perth’s Hard Rock hierarchy to speak to singer/songwriter Colin MacDonald. We find out we have the same musical hero; I knew I liked the guy!


Mark: Being from Antigonish, Nova Scotia must be a bit like being from Perth, Western Australia?

 

Colin: Yeah it’s pretty remote – we are from a small town of 3000 people. One of the benefits though of being from a small town is the boredom! You know, the fact that there’s not much to do, all of the girls like the sports guys so all there is to do is rehearse and jam and play rock and roll. I think a lot of great bands have come from small towns for that reason.

 

Mark: I read that you started off being called “One I’d Trouser”, was there ever a “snake” on the end of that name?

 

Colin: There was. Back in high school we were big Monty Python fans so yeah, we did originally have ‘One Eyed Trouser Snake’, then ‘One I’d Trouser’, then ‘Trouser’. We actually released an EP as Trouser back in 2002, but received a ‘cease and desist’ order from another acid jazz band of the same name, and we were the Trews from then.

 

Jack and John-Angus

 

Mark: You played the SXSW Festival in Texas earlier in the year how did that go?

 

Colin: It was cool. America has been weird for us. We do well in the Northern States, like upstate New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, parts of Ohio, places like that but when we go down South it’s like starting over again. But we had two great sets down there and lots of people showed up. We do a lot of writing down there with our buddy Gordie Johnson from Big Sugar and he’s going to do some of the songs we wrote on his new album.

 

Mark: To me your band has more of a Southern flavour, so you should go well down there. There are a lot of musicians from the eighties that are playing music with more of a retro or rootsy feel to it now. Did you like any of the big eighties bands?

 

Colin: Growing up I really liked Guns ‘n’ Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, all the big names then I kind of forgot about all that and started to listen to the rock of the sixties and seventies.

 

Mark: A saw that you slipped in a bit of Humble Pie, one of my favourite bands, into your set last night!

 

Colin: Yeah, Steve Marriott is my hero. So when you hear that southern rock sound in the music that’s just me trying to sound like him: and he’s from England!

 

Colin MacDonald hits all the notes

 

Mark: We have something in common then he’s always been my musical hero; I have the same birthday as him. I was lucky enough to get to see him years ago in a bar just like this, maybe even a little smaller, back in the UK when he was sort of at the height of his decline in 1989. Something I’ll never forget.

 

Colin: There’s a great DVD they put out of him and his band doing a bar show, I’m not sure where?

 

Mark: Maybe the Dingwall’s show?

 

Colin: Could be, he had overalls on and didn’t look the best but he did one of my favourite songs – “Fool for a Pretty Face”. I have to cover that one! For years he and Otis Redding were my absolute heroes. I like all the great soul singers, but I could never put myself into a category with Otis he’s just so unbelievable. But Steve Marriott…

 

Mark: The best white soul voice ever!

 

Colin: Oh definitely. You know his other band the Small Faces we covered that song (singing) “(Tell Me) Have you seen her”.

 

Mark: I love that song it’s a pretty early one, I thought that you might try something like maybe “Tin Soldier”

 

Colin: A great song too.

 

Mark: You do a lot of things for the Canadian Military, I heard you were out playing to the troops a while back, and that the proceeds of your last single “Highway of Heroes” went to the Canadian Hero Fund which provides scholarships to the spouses and children of troops killed in conflict.

 

Colin: Yeah the song was about Nichola Goddard the first female Canadian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan in 2006, she was from my hometown. They just wrote a book about her and my mom was interviewed for it as it’s a pretty small town where everyone knows everyone else. She reminded me of the story on the phone one night when we were on the eve of our Canadian acoustic tour. John-Angus and I wrote the song down the phone in like 15 minutes. We toured it for while then recorded it back in February this year, put it out as a single, and it’s done real well.

 

John-Angus joins the crowd mid-song

 

Mark: So what are your plans next? You’ve just done the acoustic album and shows, you’ve put out three great hard rock records, you aren’t going to go all Americana like the Black Crowes are you?

 

Colin: No we just finished our new record it’s in the can right now, it’s just been mixed by Mike Frasier up in Vancouver who did all the AC/DC stuff. It’s just like a combination of really hard rock and acoustic, we wanted to make a record a bit like Led Zeppelin III – kind of schizophrenic!

 

Mark: I can’t wait to hear that!

 

Mark: You remind me a lot of an Australian band called Powderfinger, not just the sound but just as much the circumstances. They started off with a similar bluesy base to their sound to you then found their own voice as you guys have. They are incredibly popular over here. As you are in Canada and it must be frustrating for you both to have that kind of domestic success but not be quite able to break big in the States or Europe.

 

Colin: I love that band! I’ve never really met them but I totally feel that we are similar type bands. I remember back in 2004 in Canada they were working that single “Baby Got You On My Mind” and I remember think that this is a bad ass song! And I used to throw it into jams onstage. Then they never really took off in Canada which was a shame as they were such a good honest rock band.

 

Mark: So how did you get hooked up with the One Movement Festival?

 

Colin: That was just an accident really, there was a band from the UK that cancelled and we were asked if we would like to play.

 

Mark: I see that you have a tour version of the incredibly cool live acoustic CD with a sort of ‘Greatest Hits’ bonus disc, is that just for Australia, it will surely be a Canadian collectors item!

 

Colin: Yeah that is just for Australia.

 

Mark: Talking of this fair country is there anything in particular that you wanted to see whilst you were over?

 

Colin: Well we’re going out to see the Bon Scott statue tomorrow down in Fremantle, then over to the wineries and we’ve been surfing since we’ve been over. We kind of figured if we were going to try it we might as well do it in Australia! We did some surfing in Cronulla.

 

Mark: I used to live there when I was in Sydney.

 

Colin: We also did some down at the beach here but it’s hard though man, I’m in so much pain and I got too much sun!

 

Mark: I tried when I came over from the UK, but I gave up after a few years. All my friends were just naturals and it took me a year to stand upright. That’s what it’s like here though, everyone’s been surfing since they were kids!

 

Mark: We talked a little about Steve Marriott before. As far as guitarists are concerned who have been your biggest influences on your style?

 

Colin: I like the great rhythm guitar players, like John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Neil Young. I like the way Springsteen plays and how Tom Petty does. I find that all of the songwriters who play guitar seem to find these unique ways of playing guitar. Whereas Lead Guitarists always play like the guitar is the most important thing in the world, when guys who write don’t care! As a result they come up with really interesting ways of playing and I think I’m that kind of guitar player; a unique sounding player because I spend all my time trying to sing or write songs! So I guess I have a kind of neat way of playing and I know that I wouldn’t have if I kept running scales all the time!

 

The Trews live in Australia

 

Mark: That was a nice Tele you were playing the other night.

 

Colin: That Tele was just a Mexican Telecaster I bought for about $400 in 1998 and it’s just great. Now most of those guitars are really shitty, but I just got a good one and the wood and the fretboard is great. I’ve taken it to a few guys and they’ve told me wow this is great but they can’t tell me why! My other Tele is worth four times that amount but sounds nowhere near as good. And that Union Jack sticker I have on it comes from Rick Parfitt from Status Quo. We opened for them in Germany and France in 2007 and we were looking at his guitars and wondering where he gets them all from, but all he has are these stickers that he puts on them so they look like new guitars all the time! He’s a great guitar player and they are killer live man!

 

Mark: Yeah they were just out this year and one of the first bands I ever saw. A great English institution.

 

Colin: And still doing great business, everywhere we went with them they packed the arenas.

 

Mark: What sort of things are you listening to at the moment?

 

Colin: I really like the ‘Band of Horses’; I really like ‘Elliott Brood’, a band from Canada, ‘The Respectables’ another Canadian band is cool. But generally I listen to a good combination of older stuff and newer stuff. I’ll listen to stuff like the Small Faces, The Stones and led Zeppelin and then I’ll be out there trying to find new stuff that’s out there too.

 

Mark: It says on the back of the CD here that you thank the Canadian Government, is there some sort of grant they give to artists?

 

Colin: Yeah there’s a grant that they sometimes give you to help put out records.

 

Mark: So what are your impressions of Australia now that you’ve been here a while, I saw you coming back from the beach again this morning when I pulled up in my car.

 

Colin: I love it. I really feel at home, and even though you can’t get much further away from home I feel more at home here than when I was in Europe or the UK, Japan. Here it feels just like a bunch of Canadians, just in warmer weather!

 

Mark: You should get a job promoting tourism! What is it the laid back atmosphere?

 

Colin: Yeah everyone just seems so cool, really easy-going. No one is out with a big attitude you know!

 

Mark: Apart from Bachman Turner Overdrive, Neil Young…

 

Colin: We just played with Bachman Turner Overdrive at a festival in British Columbia. It was only Bachman Turner though I think there was a problem with the name.

 

Mark: Yeah I think one of them isn’t there anymore.

 

Colin: Yeah Overdrive was missing!

 

Laughs

 

Colin: They killed it man they were great, I love that song “Roll on Down The Highway”

 

Mark: They did some great songs, they seem almost as ubiquitous as say Status Quo are in England. They did some great songs.

 

Mark: OK so apart from BTO, Neil Young, Heart, The Guess Who, Honeymoon Suite, Streetheart and Rush what has Canada ever done for Rock music?

 

Colin: Rush is pretty good. But we have all the best song writers! Dylan was from Minnesota which may as well be Canada! It’s funny ‘because bands like the Black Crowes will come to town and they’ll be crapping all Canada and then in their set they’ll play two Neil Young songs and a Band song! I’m like ‘do you know Robbie Robertson’s from Winnipeg! Canada has all the best song-writers and I think Canada brings that to the table.

 

Mark: You’ve opened for the Stones, Robert Plant, Guns and Roses, even people like Ace Frehley what’s it like getting on those big tours, what do you get from it?

 

Colin: I don’t know it’s like a crazy game man, some of the best players in the world are playing in a bar to ten people and other guys become legends it’s really weird. Robert Plant was very cool though I love the way that for someone who is such a legend he’s not caught up in himself, he’s always pushing forward doing new things and he was great when we were on tour with him. When we opened for Guns 'n' Roses we were told by Axl’s handlers, ‘Don’t go near Axl, don’t look at him, and don’t talk to him’. I mean who has done more Robert Plant or Axl Rose? And there was Robert Plant drinking tea and talking to us about System of a Down! He was a great guy. I think what we get is that you are lucky to be doing this at any level and there is no need to be a weirdo about it!

 

The Trews

 

Mark: I just had a look on the internet this morning and there are some great descriptions of your sound: you’ve been described as Black Crowes meets Zeppelin.

 

Colin: Oh wow that’s some big boots to fill.

 

Mark: Then they went on to say ‘meets Audioslave’

 

Colin: You know I don’t get that we wrote this song ‘Hold me in Your Arms’ where we were trying for Zeppelin meets Humble Pie but as it was 2007 when we wrote it I guess that’s where that came from.

 

Mark: Then there was a rootsy Cheap Trick, now I love Cheap Trick but I don’t get that one.

 

Colin: I love them too but me neither. We’ve opened for them a few times.

 

Mark: And John once said you were the lovechild of Slade and Kings of Leon which the more I think about it sounds about there?

 

Colin: Maybe. We were just trying to fit in with the Kings of Leon thing and we all love Slade so you know!

 

Mark: You have a couple of vaguely political songs on the last studio CD: ‘Paranoid Freak’ could be read as political and ‘Gun Control’ I’m sure goes down well in America: what sort of reactions do you get, is it good to stir up a bit of controversy?

 

Colin: Yeah we played ‘Gun Control’ to Ace Frehley’s audience when we opened for him in the States. There was this one night that was kind of creepy. We were in Spokane and I saw someone running to the stage and I though oh my god someone is gonna shoot me, but it was just the sound guy trying to get our attention!

 

Laughs

 

Mark: I love the lyrics to ‘Paranoid Freak’, where did they come from?

 

Colin: You know what inspired me to do that? Neil Young put out an album called ‘Living with War’ And he was on CNN one night talking about how no young bands were really saying anything at all. And I looked at some of our songs and thought, you know maybe I’m not really saying anything just the, you know, the ‘she broke my heart’ kind of thing, just typical tunes like that. So I decided that maybe I would write about a few things I felt strongly about, so ‘Gun Control’ came after the Virginia Tech massacre. And ‘Paranoid Freak’ is really just about the state of fear in North America at the time under the Bush administration; you know all the signs when we would cross the boarder that said ‘If you see something, say something’. So that was our little attempt to say something!

 

The Trews rock out at Jeff Martin's birthday party in Perth WA

 

Mark: It’s not really gone away though; even now there are warnings about travel to Europe.

 

Colin: Yeah the day we left to some to Australia there were travel warnings for all Americans going to the UK, saying expect attacks.

 

Mark: I think Perth and Nova are pretty low on the list of targets.

 

Colin: and that isolation makes it easier to comment on it you can see it from a distance.

 

Mark: How was working with Jack Douglas on the Den of Thieves’ album. Did you hear any great Aerosmith stories?

 

Colin: He was great, but the coolest stories were the John Lennon one’s when he was working on ‘Double Fantasy’. Just how funny Lennon was and what a great guy he was to work with, we just sat there and listened and tried to take it all in!

 

Mark: So what are your plans for world domination? (I can tell immediately that I have asked the wrong question!)

 

Colin: I don’t know man, I’ve been asked that so many times. Our manager always says that if you don’t go out and try something there’s one guarantee – that nothing will happen. So we come down here and play; go over to the UK and play; try some new places in the States. I mean we do really well in Canada and we’ve been able to sustain that for the last seven or eight years. We’ve had some help, we’ve had tons of radio play there, we play sold out shows which is great. But man I really don’t know. We’re kind of stubborn at the moment where we just want to make the music that we want to make, and hope that people will like it.

 

Mark: I think that’s the only way you can go. Because if you don’t stay true to yourself you’d have to question your motives for making music.

 

Colin: I think you’re right. If you’ve made that conscious decision to devote your life to making music it’s kind of in for a penny in for a pound. You know we’ve experienced some great successes but a lot of bumps along the way. But we committed to doing this a long time ago and we feel that we’ve still got a lot of songs in us and the desire to want to find out if we have great songs in us: which is what keeps us going back to the drawing board. We still love playing music you know, and I know lots of the best guys in the world who play to ten people and that’s cool too but...

 

Mark: I saw a guy once playing in a little pub in the UK up on a tiny stage, just reeling out these killer blues tunes, still one of the best shows I have ever seen. I was amazed that this guy wasn’t the biggest thing ever! I found out a month or so later that this guy: Guitar George was the guy who had given Mark Knopfler guitar lessons!

 

Colin: That’s killer man, another great there: Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits, ‘Rock of Life’. Awesome.

 

Mark: Many thanks for talking to us Colin, just to wrap up. If you could have been involved in the creation of any piece of music at any point in time what would it have been?

 

Colin: Tommy (The Who), or Blonde on Blonde by Dylan. We actually met Al Cooper last year in Boston, he got quite into the band and turned up at our sound-check. He told us that he and Dylan, when they were making that album, would be sat there, holed up in this hotel in Nashville and Dylan would have him play those songs again and again on piano while he sat there writing the lyrics to what is such a seminal album.

 

Mark: And the final one: What is the meaning of life

 

Colin: There is one: Getting over yourself! That’s the meaning of life!

 

Mark: That sounds like a real Aussie answer there! Once again Colin thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of the tour and we’ll see you at Jeff Martin’s birthday party later.

 

Colin: Cool, see you there.

 

LINKS:

Website: http://www.thetrewsmusic.com/ Go there to buy some Trews now!

The Trews Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=161602400536249&id=513041923&il=0&notif_t=share_reply#!/thetrewsmusic


Colin MacDonald and Mark Rockpit at the Indi Bar Perth WA

 

Mark Rockpit

OCTOBER 11 2010

 

all images by Mark Rockpit except where otherwise noted