Tony Wilson stirs Pugs & Crows.

..clearly rewarding. Georgia Straight

If there’s a downside to making a record with a beloved mentor, it’s that the junior partner’s contributions can sometimes get lost.
That’s not an issue on Pugs & Crows’ new collaborative effort with Hornby Island guitarist Tony Wilson, Everyone Knows Everyone. After all, bandleader and Wilson aficionado Cole Schmidt is solely responsible for writing six of the double CD’s 16 tracks, and he composed another six with his band’s esteemed guest. But there are times, at least on first hearing, when it can be hard to tell which guitarist is doing what.
“That’s influence,” Schmidt says on the line from his East Van home. “I’m impressionable, and I’ve been hanging out and listening to Tony’s guitar-playing for years, and I can hear it coming out in mine. I’m influenced by his sound, and then I’m taking that and trying to add my own to it.”
The process, which has included many six-ferry expeditions to Hornby and time spent playing together in the late Elizabeth Fischer’s DarkBlueWorld band, has clearly been rewarding. Everyone Knows Everyone, which inhabits an attractive and mysterious zone between psychedelic rock and avant-garde jazz, is marked by Wilson’s melodic elegance, but it also sports a degree of sonic ambition that surely derives from the band’s five younger players, who include violinist Meredith Bates, pianist Cat Toren, bassist Russell Sholberg, and drummer Ben Brown, in addition to Schmidt.
Still, Wilson has a few habits that the latter doesn’t intend to adopt—or pass on to the even more impressionable kids he deals with on a daily basis. “I’m a guitar teacher, and when I analyze Tony’s technique, I’m like, ‘Oh man, these are all the things I tell my students not to do!’ ” Schmidt says with a laugh. “The way he holds his pick, and his flat fingers… We joke about that, but he’s got the touch. It’s just that thing that happens after you’ve played for 30 years, I guess.”
Landscape is another major influence on the Pugs & Crows sound. Schmidt aptly describes Everyone Knows Everyone as having a “West Coast, foggy feeling”, and although some tracks depart from that—notably “Goya Baby!”, which is as Iberian asjamón serrano—most swim in a decidedly oceanic atmosphere.
“I can’t say that I go out there and sit by the water with a guitar and write the music, but I’m sure I’m picking up on that feeling,” Schmidt says. “So I’m definitely reflecting on that a lot—and missing it when I’m away from home. You know—that thing where you kind of complain about your surroundings, but when you leave for a couple of months it’s pretty loud and clear what you’ve been taking for granted.”
One aspect of Vancouver life that Schmidt refuses to complain about is the music scene. Like just about all of our working musicians, he’s got multiple bands on the go, playing in the Sands, Copilots, and the NOW Ensemble, among others, and he notes that Everyone Knows Everyone is both a commentary on and a love letter to his community. That’s especially apparent on the title track, which closes the sprawling set in anthemic fashion, thanks in part to a horn section—featuring Brad Turner on trumpet, Jon Bentley on tenor sax, and Jeremy Berkman on trombone—borrowed from cellist Peggy Lee’s long-running sextet.
Including them on the disc was both a generous gesture and a necessary one. Mostly, though, Schmidt says that the new record reflects Pugs & Crows’ fruitful partnership with Wilson, and its own growing maturity.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to put out there, it’s that this has been a great process for us, even if it doesn’t reach everyone,” he says. “Artistically, we’ve moved a great deal forward—and, selfishly speaking, I’m pretty happy with how the band’s getting along and playing together. I think it’s going to be a fun year!”