Q&A: John-Angus talks to…us!

Original Trews Fans Network content!

The last string of gigs the Trews did ended mid-March, after the Kid Rock Chillin’ The Most Cruise and their appearances at South By South West in Austin, TX. They’ve done a few one-off gigs here and there since then, but have been keeping a fairly low profile since they officially started writing for a new release. John-Angus was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule recently to answer some questions for us, for which we sincerely thank him.

Trews Fans Network (TFN): So, you’ve been off the road for awhile, how are things in general going for everyone?

John-Angus (JA): Everyone is doing well. Happy and healthy. Everybody has sort of taken on a few side gigs for the fun of it and to expand our horizons. Colin and I have been producing different bands, Sean’s been teaching some lessons and Jack’s been child-rearing!

We’ve also all been doing a lot of traveling lately …

TFN: Are you still writing or have you taken a break?

JA: Not at all, we’re right in the thick of it. It’s one of those tasks that never really leaves you; whether or not you’re actually woodshedding, your mind floats back to it constantly. We’ve taken to setting up regular hours dedicated to songwriting, it’s really the most important part of what we do.

TFN: How is the writing going?

JA: It’s going good. I find that it can be a little uncomfortable to get back in the swing of things as far as writing is concerned but once you get on a roll then the floodgates really open up.

TFN: Can you give us an idea of the GENERAL musical direction the writing is going in, knowing that we understand that this kind of thing is fluid and can always change?

JA: Not really. To me everything sounds really Trews-y! We’re working on some pretty heavy riffs but whether or not they find homes as songs is another issue. I think once we pinpoint who’s gonna produce and how/where we’re going to record then the direction will reveal itself.

Trews 2013

TFN: Has it been an organic, collaborative thing again like “Hope & Ruin” was, or has everyone been bringing in ideas of their own as it has been in the past for you?

JA: Usually the way we work is, someone presents an idea to the group and the other three tear it down and build it back up again! It usually ends up a far cry from where it started but mostly for the better.

TFN: Both methods must have their own positives and negatives; what are they? Which do you prefer?

JA: Positives are that we can take each others ideas out of the box and hopefully to new levels.

The negatives are that you risk diluting the essence and purity of an idea ’cause not everything NEEDS development…

TFN: When you’re writing a new song, how far into the song itself do you tend to get? Do you get right down to the arrangements for each instrument, lyrics and harmonies, or do you work out a basic structure that gives you a bit of room to play with the song when you hit the studio – or somewhere in between?

JA: Exactly. We don’t like to over-arrange ahead of time ’cause that can suck out a lot of the magic when it comes time to record. We’re mostly concerned with getting a strong melody and music combination that also feels original and fresh – to us anyway! Lyrics tend to take a long time and can be quite tedious, to be honest…

John-Angus, Port Colborne, ON, Aug. 2012

Photo by the Trews Fans Network.

TFN: When you’re writing, can you ever tell what producer you’d like to have for the material during the process, or does that come after it’s all done and you look at everything you have together?

JA: For sure. There’s certain songs that would suit certain guys perfectly. Be it people we have worked with before or people we would like to work with. We’re actually toying with the idea of using a few different people for this album – which would be a first for us…

TFN: Do you demo as you go along, or wait till you have a few songs completed to a certain level, OR wait until you have what you consider an album’s worth of material finished to that level?

JA: We do an awful lot of IPhone Voice Memo recordings as we go. It’s important to hear things back as you work. It can be really helpful for lyrics in fact, getting a sense of phonetics that work well. Over-producing a demo in the writing phase is putting the cart before the horse as far as I’m concerned…

TFN: Inserting a great question from a fan, Linda Abshear, here because it’s relevant:

“I’ve always been curious, as a song writer, how do you clear your mind of all the other music and compose something unique? With music playing over and over in my brain, I have never understood how that is possible. :)”

JA: Easy answer: you don’t!

No musical idea exists in a vacuum. It always stems from something else, whether that be conscious or unconscious. I once heard that, when writing, Keith Richards sits around playing his favorite songs until something all his own slips off the end like a drop of water off an icicle…good analogy from a guy who’s written a few good tunes.  🙂

John-Angus, Chillin' The Most Cruise, 2013

Photo by Will Byington Photography. Used with permission.

TFN: What does a “typical” day of writing look like for the Trews, knowing there’s probably no such thing?

JA: We get together at our space around 11 am usually – ’cause that’s when there’s the least amount of ambient noise from the other rooms at our rehearsal space – and we usually work for about 5 hours.

TFN: About how long can the band be off the road before the itch to play live again hits? Do the one-off shows you do help with that at all, or do you ever get to the point where you’re just very ready to hit the road for like a solid 6 weeks or whatever?

JA: I love doing one-offs. Especially during the writing phase ’cause it makes you appreciate the material you’ve got. At the end of a six week tour you never wanna hear, let alone play, some of your own songs ever again! But with the right distance and perspective it becomes really enjoyable again. Sometimes I miss the road life but never the marathon stints because at the end of the day it’s a pretty unnatural way of life, it comes with a unique brand of loneliness…

Not that I’m complaining, it’s a great job and I hope I always get to play live, in some capacity, as long as I live…

John-Angus, Buffalo, NY, 2006

Photo by the Trews Fans Network.

TFN: That last couple of weeks of dates before you got home was pretty intense – the cruise to SXSW to Saskatoon to Listowel. That’s some crazy routing. How long was it after you got home before you started to feel rested and “normal”?

JA: 3 days. That’s my average for decompression and schedule readjustment…

TFN: What do you DO after a schedule like that to decompress and get back to a “normal” life off the road? Do you find it difficult?

JA: Hang out with my wife, walk the dog, unpack, sweep the floors, do the dishes, change the kitty litter, catch up on tv shows that I like…really domestic stuff…

TFN: Before you start the cycle of writing/demoing/recording/touring again, what is a “typical” day for you?

JA: See the answer above plus talk to management, deal with the business end of what we do. Hang out with friends. Drink, go to dinners. I try to find some time to do some leisurely things. I love to surf (when geographically possible), do yoga, play golf, bike, run…

Trews 2003

TFN: Do you keep all of your instruments at home with you when you’re off the road, or do you leave some at the practice pad and some at home?

JA: I keep a few instruments around the house. A couple of electric guitars and an acoustic plus I try and collect a stringed instrument from everywhere I’ve travelled to. I have a bouzouki from Greece and a bouzouki from Ireland, and a Laud from Spain,  a Uke from Hawaii, etc – I keep those around the house because I find them good for writing, but the majority of my instruments live at our rehearsal space.

TFN: What is the best guitar you’ve ever played? If you could have any guitar in the world, what would it be?

JA: I love my 73 Les Paul custom. When I met Les Paul in ’05 he signed it for me. It’s one of the electrics I keep around the house. It’s so effortlessly playable, I really love it. If I could have any guitar it would be an original ’59 burst Les Paul but they’re worth about $250k.

John-Angus, Canada Day, Kitchener, ON, 2012

Photo by the Trews Fans Network.

TFN: If you get song ideas while you’re out and about, how do you keep track of them? Do you write things down or record them on something?

JA: The iPhone Voice Memo has revolutionized that for me. No more calling the answering machine or scrambling around for scrap paper. It comes in handy very often…

TFN: What other, non-Trews musical things have you been involved with lately? We’re aware of Glorious Sons and Molly Thomason…has there been anything else?

JA: I’ve produced some tracks for my friend Thomas Matheson and I’ve just started working on some tracks with Meredith Shaw which is going well.

Trews 2011

TFN: There are people out here that refer to themselves as your fan; you and the rest of the Trews now have people that follow your career regularly and carefully. When you were first starting out as a band, did you yourself ever look forward to the day when you could say that? Now that you can, what do you think about it? Has it affected anything in your life?

JA: I don’t think about that very much. But I guess it’s the secret desire of anybody who creates anything to find an enthusiastic and receptive audience. We’re very lucky, we have great fans who turn out to see us time and time again and seem to genuinely care what we do next. That feels good, certainly it gives you a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility to not piss it all away! The fact that there are people out there who care about our band as much as we do is very humbling.

TFN: There are fans out here who directly attribute their saved lives to your music, the affect it has had on them, and the strength that it gave them to continue on through some very dark times. When you read something like that, what do you think?

JA: It’s very gratifying to hear something like that because I’ve felt that same way about music and the artist that I’ve loved my whole life. To think that I can pay that feeling forward through something that I’ve created is the only reason I got into this crazy business to begin with.

TFN: You’re a very good singer and it’s always a treat to hear you sing lead on things. Do you think you’ll ever sing lead on an entire Trews song?

JA: I don’t know, I mean it’s not like the Trews are short on good singers so it’s never come up. I guess if I ever shouldered the lion’s share of the lyrics on a tune then I might feel compelled to sing the lead.

Trews times 4

TFN: What do you like to do in your spare time, assuming you get some on occasion?

JA: See above. Hang at home with my wife, dog and cats, socialize with friends, surf, yoga, golf, cook, run.

TFN: Do you like to go to the movies? If so, what are some of your favourites?

JA: I love going to the movies. My favorite movie is The Godfather but that’s kind of a typical answer. Here are some more of my favorites : MacGruber, Death Proof, This is Spinal Tap, The Royal Tenenbaums, Anchorman

TFN: Do you like to read? If so, what are some of your favourite books or magazines?

JA: Of course, I love to read and always have a book, or two, or three, going. Helps to pass the travel time. I have too many favorites to list but at the moment I’m reading “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson, “419” by Will Ferguson and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Hemingway.

Once again, sincerest thanks to John-Angus for taking the time to answer our questions, it’s very much appreciated.

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About TUTFN

For the fans, by the fans. Since 2005.
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