The Trews on the 'desperation and frustration' of their pandemic-laced rock anthem

TORONTO — Canadian rock band the Trews have something to show for the depression and anxiety that’s lingered over the past year: a rousing pandemic-themed rock song.

As the live music industry remains locked down bythe COVID-19 pandemic, the Hamilton-based act has unleashed "I Wanna Play," a boisterous rallying cry for a time when concerts can return.

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"It encapsulated all of the longing, the desperation and frustration of the last year and a half in my life and the life of the band," singer-songwriter Colin MacDonald explainedin a recent phone interview.

"I guess that's why people are connecting to it."

There’s also something deeper going on with "I Wanna Play," a darkly comedic spin on a traditional breakup song that couldeasily double as a sing-along for Canadians who miss having fun like they used to.

For the Trews, some of the humour is more subtle. After all, they’ve chosen to release an epic arena-ready rock anthem at a time when Canadian health regulators wouldn’t dream of letting people back into the stands.

But "I Wanna Play" also grapples with MacDonald’s own trampled hopes for the past year. For instance, the track opens with: "I wanna get on a train in a global pandemic. I wanna go so far away I can’t get back."

The line came to him shortly after the band learned their in-person gig aboard the Canadian Pacific holiday train was cancelled late last year.

"It started as a little bit of a joke... and then we followed it through," he said. "The song ended up happening in about 10 minutes."

"I Wanna Play" captures some of the tumults in MacDonald’s personal life, alongside more universal experiences such as the very-relatable line when he supposes he might binge the entirety of Netflix before the pandemic is over.

"How often has the whole world been on the same page about something?" Colin’s brother and guitarist John-Angus MacDonald mused of this historic moment.

"This is a world of rabbit holes that is the internet. It's weird to have this one pervasive emotion running through the background which is kind of like a low-level anxiety or low-level depression — if you're lucky it's low-level."

The song culminates in a roaring guitar solo by John-Angus, who wanted to give a passionate sendoff to Eddie Van Halen, the electric guitar virtuoso who died last October.

Along with country singer John Prine, who died in April 2020, John-Angus said he’s been mourning the loss of many legends of rock who’ve died in the months of the pandemic.

"These are some of the best guys in our industry and they spent the last years of their lives not playing for their fans but … hiding in their houses," he said.

"It's not anybody's fault, but it's heartbreaking."

The Trews shot the music video for "I Wanna Play" on the empty hockey rink inside Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre. It features late musician and photographer Bob Lanois as the building’s grouchy janitor who rocks out to a cassette tape of the band's tune before kicking them out of the building.

Lanois, who got his start alongside his music-producer brother Daniel Lanois at Hamilton's fabled Grant Avenue Studio, died suddenly at age 73 on Monday afterbattling various health issues. It marked another loss for the rock music community and one that hit especially close to home for the Trews.

"Bob was a unique spirit — a one-of-a-kind eccentric genius," said John-Angus.

"He brought a ton of joy to this video.... We're going to miss him a lot."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021.

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