WHO NAMED THE BAND? The Trews wear the pants

When people are constantly asking about your band name, chances are you have a silly one.

Ask the Trews about their name. Go ahead. They won’t mind. The band whose name means “trousers” in Scotland – not to be confused with “pants,” which the Brits call underwear – opens for Kid Rock at Rexall Place on Saturday night (buy). The Trews still get some funny looks when they play in the UK, where people know what Trews means. There was one memorable London newspaper headline in 2009: “GREAT BAND, CRAP NAME.”

Guitarist John-Angus MacDonald says they wanted to pull the quote and use it, “but our manager talked us out of it.”

At this point in their career, at least in Canada, the Trews is well-known enough that their name rarely draws notice. It’s “just the name of the band,” as all bands with silly names say. This is another aspect to the fascinating topic of rock band nomenclature: The potential of even the most ridiculous name to transcend itself and become synonymous with the band’s music. Foo Fighters was pretty silly, too, but no one talks about Japanese UFOs anymore.

Ditto the Trews. This sturdy, Tragically Hip-like foursome from Antigonish, Nova Scotia is perhaps best known for a rollicking rocker called Not Ready to Go that seems to be about a party guy whose girlfriend recently turned straight-edge (what a drag) or maybe it’s a metaphor for not wanting to die. Works either way as a show-ending rock singalong. The Trews are touring now behind their fourth album, Hope & Ruin, and few Canadian fans ever associate the band with trousers.

The Trews used to be called Trouser, and before that, in high school, One-I’d Trouser. The lads were convinced to drop the “One-I’d” by mentor Bucky Baxter (Steve Earle’s Dukes, Bob Dylan), who, for some unexplained reason, vacationed in Antigonish. So Trouser it was. As MacDonald tells it, the band moved away from home to the Big City, got a record deal, made an EP, got it mastered and had the artwork all ready when a letter came in the mail. It was a dreaded “Cease and Desist” from a Mississauga acid-jazz band that had already taken Trouser. MacDonald and his band-mates had the weekend to come up with a new name.

“Now that’s a really hard thing to do,” he says. “It’s hard thing to do when you have all the time in the world. Naming a record is hard, let alone naming a band.”

They threw around some ideas, nothing stuck. But then bassist Jack Syperek’s mom back in Antigonish came to the rescue. She said they should just translate their old name. She suggested the Trews.

“We thought that sounded pretty good,” MacDonald says. “There was a little bit of a double entendre to it, rolls off the tongue nicely. And since we only had a couple of days, it was the best one we had, so that was it.”

There is a theory that one’s given name can affect what the person does in his or her life. The same must be true with a rock band. MacDonald points out that the creative chemistry of his band was established well before they were the Trews – but of course they were operating as “One-I’d Trouser” at the time. What’s clear is that these guys don’t take themselves too seriously, that they’ve developed a thick skin necessary to survive in wacky world of rock ‘n’ roll where rabid music fans can be personally offended by music they don’t like. MacDonald says such rage is uncalled for, but some – OK, me – disagree. I don’t like having my time wasted with mediocrity. Life is short.

But when you’re on the other side, making the music, “the sooner you see what a big game it is, the longer you’re going to stick around.”

So what’s in a name? John-Angus has a personal experience to share:

“Early on in my childhood, I was always John-Angus. Coming out into the world meeting people on my own, I’d say, ‘Hi, I’m John-Angus,’ and they’d say, ‘John.’ I’d be like, ‘No, actually, my name’s John-Angus.’ So I have to effectively introduce myself to everybody I meet twice. Maybe that’s why I’m more extroverted than my siblings.”