Shauna Tohill has just finished her hospital shift when Classic Rock calls her one rainy Thursday in August. Since lockdown put her/Rews’ touring plans on hold, the singer/guitarist has been working there as a physiotherapy assistant.
“I’m a massage therapist on the side of music,” she says, “so it made sense to do something like that and help people out as much as I could at this time.”
That empathetic streak is reflected in Rews’ new album, Warriors, which taps in to the sort of anxieties and relationship turmoil most of us face. A matured step up from their 2017 debut Pyro, it’s a melodic, urgent mash-up of prime-cut 90s sensibilities and the sort of sounds Blondie might have made if they’d jammed with Queens Of The Stone Age.
Warriors captures the best bits of the 90s.
When they started out as a duo, Rews were often compared (with good reason) to Royal Blood. Warriors has retained the distorted grooviness that brought those sorts of comparisons, but mixes it with a buzzy, addictive spread of Nirvana and Garbage-esque tones – from the ballsy, emotive drive of Monsters to the stirring Bad Habits.
“I pull a lot of inspiration from Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor generally, and I love nineties music,” Tohill says. “I think it’s always going to be in the core of my songwriting.”
Shauna Tohill is Rews.
Since parting ways amicably with drummer Collette Williams last year, Tohill has become the face of Rews. In the background this didn’t change things a great deal (she already did much of the writing herself), but leaving the relative safety of the duo framework has involved some adjusting for the shy frontwoman.
“I’ve never really wanted to be right up in front,” she admits. “I love writing and creating, and sometimes I would love to just be in the background. I miss the concept of the band, but I feel like it might come round to that at some point again, it’s just [a case of] making sure that the right people come on board.”
The secret of her on-stage confidence is the child within.
Anyone who has seen Rews’ high-octane rock show will know that Tohill is no wallflower when under the spotlight. Growing up in Northern Ireland, it was Avril Lavigne and Evanescence’s Amy Lee who pulled her out of her shell. Now she hopes her songs can offer that help to others.
“When I first started writing songs, I sort of pretended I was like them; I wanted to be rocking out the way they did,” she says. “That kind of thing really helped me as a child. I found it difficult to even talk to people without blushing. But now I just get lost in an ‘inner child’ within me. That sounds really hippie, but it works.”
It all began in rural Northern Ireland.
Born and raised in the small town of Magherafelt, Tohill was “thrown” into music. Her grandmother was the celebrated folk singer Eileen Donaghy, and her parents played in a showband. As a child Tohill would jump in during their rehearsals.
“Probably developed tinnitus at about that point,” she says wryly. “I don’t think anyone was really aware of how sensitive ears are at that point.”
By the time she was 13 she was writing songs and going to pub gigs. “There was a bar called Brysons, which was kind of a rock bar, that I started going to when I was about thirteen or fourteen, which is very young but it was fine at the time.”
As a session musician, Tohill played to thousands with Snow Patrol.
In her early twenties she moved to Cirencester for a four-month artist residency, where she “lived off the land” and worked in rehab centres and care homes. Meanwhile, the seeds of Rews began to germinate. Inspired, she moved to London, where she worked as a session guitarist, bassist and singer for a range of bands before starting Rews.
“I got to sing with Snow Patrol at the EMA awards, and it was the first time I could really feel the audience’s voices,” she recalls. “It blew me away!”
It’s all about the running, not the raving.
Out on headline tours – as well as supports with the likes of The Darkness and Halestorm – Tohill appreciates early nights and morning runs. It’s been an ideal way to experience some of the cities she’s travelled to, when free time is often short.
“I go for a run most mornings and it sets me up for the day. I love Germany and it’s so beautiful to run around.”