Pugs & Crows return to the nest

..something fans of adventurous creative music can get excited about. The Province (Vancouver)

Just in time for holiday gift-giving, Pugs & Crows releases its third album, Everyone Knows Everyone, on Thursday.
Featuring 15 new compositions from the young quintet and emeritus member guitarist Tony Wilson, the double album is something fans of adventurous creative music can get excited about.
After emerging on the scene with its excellent 2009 debut Slum Towers, the band — comprised of pianist Catherine Toren, violinist Meredith Bates, bassist Russell Sholberg, drummer Ben Brown and guitarist Cole Schmidt — won the 2010 Galaxie Rising Star Award for best new group. Its second album, Fantastic Pictures, took home the 2013 Juno Award for top instrumental album.
Listing all of the other projects the members are involved in could fill pages. Schmidt admits that putting together the new recording took some coordinating with the tour schedules, geographic locations of members (Toren is presently tearing it up in New York City) and other project obligations.
“We’ve been making it work for about the last three or four years, although we have all certainly found ourselves stretched over a lot of projects,” says Schmidt. “There just seems to be something in Pugs & Crows which keeps us all excited and maintains this forward momentum. It’s pretty cool how committed we’ve all been to this and we’re really happy to be releasing this Chris Gestrin-produced album featuring Tony and Debra-Jean Creelman at a show with our good friends Inhabitants.”
On any given night, members of Pugs & Crows could be playing in their other groups on specific nights booked by Schmidt. His production wing with Eric Mosher, titled NoSchmo (Noschmo.com), has booked (and helped build) the local creative music scene at venues from El Barrio (2009-2013) to the Sick Boss Mondays at the Lido (recently ended) and Wednesdays at the Emerald. In November, a new twice-a-month series titled Singles Night kicked off at the China Cloud Studios — a vital space for local musicians (facebook.com/liveatthechinacloud).
“Stuff comes and goes, but it’s really great that the Emerald (emeraldsupperclub.com) has allowed something steady to develop over the past two years without freaking out about those nights when it might be a bit quieter than others,” he says. “With Pat’s Pub (patspub.ca), Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar [frankiesitaliankitchen.ca] and those crucial artist-run spaces, it feels like pretty good times.”
With places to play come the kinds of chops you hear on stunning Everyone Knows Everyone tracks such as The Treatment. Starting with a piano and violin interplay, the song settles into the sort of constantly shifting, confident grooves you would expect on a recording from a senior statesmen such as John Abercrombie. Pugs & Crows is always about expecting the unexpected, so from expansive instrumentals you find Waltz for Two. With its caustic lyrics and smoky vocals from Debra-Jean Creelman, the track feels like an archival gem rediscovered from some bombed out Berlin cabaret.
“It’s a big step up in terms of compositions, with twice as much music as the first two records,” says Schmidt. “The tunes break down into sessions in 2012, coming from a place where we were really entering into something special with Tony as a collaborator, and then another in 2013, when Tony is in the band for all intents and purposes and that’s inspiring. It seems deeper than the last two, as everyone is working on their own music and developing as much more as ensemble players.”
Great groups attain a comfort level that enables them to make music together unlike anything they create with other musicians. This is certainly true of Pugs & Crows, who appear to be entering the next level of what one hopes is a very long career.