The Trews didn’t set out to make an acoustic record, nor did it come about by accident. Those who know the band a little will know them as an electrifying and electrified rock band; those who know them well know their acoustic side, long a staple in the live set but less heard on album. Friends and Total Strangers is the result of a recording that demanded to exhibit other colours of The Trews’ broad artistic palette. To tell this story, we need first to travel back in time to Japan, in the late summer of 2008.
The Trews were on an indie music junket to the east along with other artists and were given the opportunity to play an acoustic set at the Oscar Peterson Theatre in the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. The band had previously stripped down segments of shows for acoustic presentation of their songs but hadn’t approached an entire concert solely from that vantage point. Doing so took some of their audience by surprise and no less intrigued were the band themselves. So compelling was this rearranging of material that they decided to reprise the format for their fans on home turf. John-Angus MacDonald explains, “we thought that it was different enough from what we do to merit its own 90-minute performance. A lot of these songs are strummed on acoustic guitars first anyway. It's where they've come from.”
Colin MacDonald expands further: “we've always had this other side of us, which is 3 acoustic guitars and a hand drum. We used to busk in this way and people would stop to listen to the harmonies. It shines a different light on the band; it's not just the loud, in- your-face bar rock. I don't think there are a lot of bands out there who do the harmony thing, outside of pop groups.”
It followed that The Trews booked themselves into a theatre named for another famed Canadian pianist in Toronto’s Glenn Gould Theatre for two nights in late January 2009. It so happens that among the venue’s appointments of great sound and intimate atmosphere is also a first-rate recording studio. With a long history of chronicling their activities both audio and video, the decision seemed natural to record and film the shows. If the results were good, they would be used in some manner down the road, says John-Angus. “We wanted it to be good first. We wanted it to be worth putting out, worth listening to if you were a fan of the band or were first being introduced to it.”
Watching and listening to the results afterward, the band was so impressed as to be convinced the music deserved to be shared widely as a CD and DVD, showcasing the Friends and Total Strangers of their hits, as well as previously unreleased rarities and new songs. John-Angus illustrates: “’The Pearl’ and ‘Montebello Park’ from our second record were given brand-new treatments. Those songs, for whatever reason, never became staples in our electric set and they speak volumes in the acoustic set. There's also one or two songs that were never recorded but have been around for a couple of years: ‘Locked Doors’ and ‘How's Everything’. And there was the brand new stuff like ‘Sing Your Heart Out’ and ‘Happy Day’ in ‘Yearning’ that were written for the show or around that time. Echoes Colin, “’Sing Your Heart Out’ is a fully-realized southern rock kind of tune. After a record of paranoid freaks and gun-control lobbyists, that we figured lighten up and give something nice to sing along to.”
The album is different, sure, but no less Trews. Because it’s seemingly a step outside of the established path, there’s a temptation to explain the document. Ultimately, if it were your first introduction to the band, it would stand on its own. If you were already a fan, this shows something both familiar and new. Concludes Sean Dalton: “I just love the acoustic set anyway. If we were at a house party at 3 in the morning, we'd be doing same. It's nice to sit around and sing the songs and hear them in a different light. It makes you a better musician too. You have to try harder, stay in tune, be more articulate. It's a challenge for us. With the acoustic, we're a lot more strict. It's easier to hide behind the electricity.” Listen for yourself to Friends and Total Strangers, which has nothing to hide and radiates with an electricity all its own.