Plenty of grand boasts can be made about The Wanderer, the blazing seventh studio album from rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights The Trews and easily their fiercest and most accomplished, garlanded as it is with enough marquee credits and potential smash-hits to spin even jaded heads.
But The Wanderer’s most striking claim may be this: it could not have achieved its acrobatic feats of sonic power had it not been for the lamentable, awful but also weirdly inspiring and motivational global pandemic which made touring impossible and writing and recording the only games in town.
Talk about a silver lining. At least in retrospect.
“This is a really strong rock record from start to finish. Every song was mulled over extensively,” guitarist John-Angus MacDonald says. “The pandemic bought us more time which you always need with songwriting. There are songs that would not be on this record had it happened another way.”
Adds singer/guitarist Colin MacDonald, “We accidentally honed our recording skills because there was no live show to get to.”
Really, who could have predicted that electrifying recording sessions begun in Nashville in December 2019 with Black Crowes guitarist and long-time Trews friend Rich Robinson would be curtailed by an unprecedented Canada/U.S. border closure, resulting in just three songs being completed?
Or predicted that that maddening roadblock and an ensuing lockdown would fortuitously lead, nine months later, to sessions at Jukasa Studios in Caledonia, Ontario opposite Derek Hoffman, yielding three more songs with the fast-rising producer who brilliantly helmed Civilianaires, The Trews’ widely acclaimed forerunner to The Wanderer. And the story didn’t end there.
With the Robinson/Hoffman sessions banked, six additional songs — including blistering COVID-themed corker and lead single “I Wanna Play” and the barn-burning title track — demanded additional studio time in Toronto in late 2020 with producer Eric Ratz. Yes, he of the Gargantuan Rock Sound as evidenced by his much-lauded work with Monster Truck, Arkells, Big Wreck… and now The Trews, whose playing throughout The Wanderer sounds positively atomic.
“This is very much a guitar record. I mean, all our records have had guitars, but we really put the focus on, forgive the cliché, getting back to our roots with stand-out riffs and solos,” John-Angus MacDonald confirms. “Rich is a walking riff, and Eric is a big guitar guy, so that’s just the way it happened.”
In the end, those three disparate, COVID-dictated sessions forced the chart-topping, globe-trotting crew, which includes bassist Jack Syperek, drummer Chris Gormley, and keyboardist Jeff Heisholt, to cohere as a band as never before. The results speak for themselves.
Indeed, even veteran fans of The Trews will be flattened by the gale force of the before-mentioned single and storming album opener “Where Do You Go,” both cut with Ratz and featuring unabashedly dweedly (but oh-so-cool and air guitar–worthy) guitar solos.
“I love ‘Where Do You Go,’ which is so out-there for us with its weird time changes. And ‘I Wanna Play’ is perfectly indicative of the times: funny, sad, passionate, and it rocks,” says Colin MacDonald, who test- drove the single with fans during Friday night Instagram Live sessions while in lockdown at home.
No new way of working was off the table during sessions for The Wanderer. For example, the three songs recorded with Robinson in Nashville (“Faith and Fumes,” “Permission,” “Hidden Gem”) were cut without a click track, standard studio procedure and the easiest way of tracking changes but also something of a production safety net.
“The songs with Rich were all about committing to the moment,” John-Angus MacDonald says, “and they sound freer as a result.”
“Our paths had been crossing with Rich’s for years,” Colin MacDonald explains of the genesis of the collaboration. “We opened for his side project, the Magpie Salute in the States in 2017, and he opened for us solo acoustic in Canada in 2016. Plus, the Black Crowes are one of our favourite bands.”
Further underscoring their cohesion, The Trews cut the songs on The Wanderer together as a band rather than piecemeal which, like the click track, is de rigueur — and very much the way Civilianaires was constructed. But that method did not reflect the band’s headspace in 2020 even if trading audio files from home-studio safe havens would have been much easier.
“We toured for two years with Civilianaires and we wanted to capture that well-oiled band in studio,” John-Angus MacDonald says. “The older I get, the more I realize strengths like that are not a dime a dozen. We wanted to leverage that chemistry.”
Attentive listeners might also notice that the buoyant, pealing “Enemy” features not Colin MacDonald on lead vocals but John-Angus, a Trews first. “Plus, that song is technically a co-write with my then-five- year-old son Elliott because he’s a killer drummer,” he laughs. “He just bashes away with glee, and he came up with some of the lyrics.”
At the other end of the sonic spectrum is the downcast, mournful “Another Year Zero,” a song Colin MacDonald delivers with such furrowed resignation you can practically smell the bourbon on his breath.
“That song is about things taken for granted because something else seems just around the corner,” the singer says. “Other shows to do, other people to meet… but we didn’t factor in a global pandemic.
“It’s a reminder that you can’t take anything for granted, and it’s a reflection of what happens when you’re forced to sit at home alone with yourself.
“This is a transitional album,” Colin MacDonald continues, “and it encapsulates these twin realms of possibility and impossibility. It’s trying to find light during these massively dark times through music. This record was our safe place. We hope it helps others, too.”
“And we cannot wait to tour, which may not happen until 2022,” John-Angus MacDonald says. “We just want to play again.”