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Inside the Brain of a Canadian Rock Songwriter

By:Lily C | Published:4/4/2011

With four albums in seven years, two of them gold; 10 Top-10 singles, two of them No.1 and one gold; multiple awards, for best single, video and live group; and close to 800 live shows under their belt, including support slots for the Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, Guns N’ Roses, Nickelback and KISS, the Trews are the Canadian rock band that never rests.

Brothers Colin and John-Angus MacDonald, recently graced the S.A.C.’s Bluebird North Toronto showcase performing some gems from their recently released acclaimed acoustic album, Friends and Total Strangers.  Colin, lead vocalist and one of the songwriters of the band, took some time to answer 20 questions about his thoughts on songwriting.

1. What got you started writing songs? I was just always interested in songs I just tried writing in my teens and loved it and kept going with it.

2. What comes first– the music or the lyrics? It usually starts with a riff, melody and chorus line. I work on the lyrics right up until we’re in the studio recording the song.

3. At what point do you think about the arrangement of the song? When we feel like we have a good riff and melody we start thinking about compelling way to present the song.

4. Where do the lyrics come from? Sometimes it’s just me and other times I’ll co write with Gordie Johnson or Simon wilcox. Both excellent lyricists.

5. Have you ever written to a pre existing lyric? I’m always on the lookout for good words or lines in books, movies, magazines, newspapers, blogs. If I see something I like I jot it down and sometimes it ends up in a song.

6. Have you ever written to a pre existing track? No

7. What are your favourite themes to write about? Relationships of any kind

8.  Is there a concept that you have yet to write about that you’d like to write a song about?I’d like to write a good song about my hometown or old neighborhood

9. Are there any rules to songwriting that you consistently adhere to? Rules kill creativity

10. Is there a songwriting rule that you continually ignore? Discovery is key, when you are inspired by a new sound, song, tuning or instrument you come up with new and interesting things

11. Is there a genre specific “rule” that has enhanced your last couple of cuts? No.

12. Ever suffered from writer’s block? Yes it comes and goes.

13. Any remedies for writer’s block? Alcohol and coffee. Listening to some new music or reading a great book

14. Do you work with a producer on demos or do you self produce? We self produce our demos and we hire producers for our albums

15. What was the track you least expected to place? Our song ‘when you leave’ was placed in a budweiser commercial years ago.

16. What’s the most obscure royalty cheque you’ve ever received? I just cash the cheques

17. What’s your favourite studio experience? Bathouse in bath Ontario was very conducive to the creative process

18. What’s the lamest comment you’ve ever heard in response to one of your demos. I don’t hear a hook

19. What’s the longest period you’ve gone without writing? A month or two, I usually always have something on the go,

20. What’s the strangest co-write experience you’ve had? I wrote with Maestro Fresh-Wes, it was awesome!

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