Pugs and Crows – Meredith Bates, Marin Patenaude, Cole Schmidt, Cat Toren, Ben Brown and Russell Sholberg – performs at the Vault on Friday, Oct. 12. (Photo courtesy Chris Gestrin)

Vancouver art jazz instrumentalists Pugs and Crows to play Nanaimo’s Vault Cafe

Group recently released first album with full vocal accompaniment

Vancouver instrumental art rock group Pugs and Crows has finally found its voice, literally.

Last month the band – violinist Meredith Bates, drummer Ben Brown, guitarist Cole Schmidt, bassist Russell Sholberg and keyboardist Cat Toren – released its first album with full vocal accompaniment, Uncle! On Oct. 12, one day ahead of its hometown album release show, the band will perform its newest compositions at the Vault Café.

Although the group has won awards – a Juno in 2013 and a Western Candian Music Award in 2016 – for its instrumental work, “we’ve been wanting to make a record with vocals for many years now, probably since the beginning,” said Schmidt, who plays upside-down guitars on the new record (more on that later).

In searching for a singer, Schmidt turned to longtime collaborator Marin Patenaude. He said the new songs come from a vulnerable place and therefore it was important to bring in someone with whom he already shared a trust and musical connection.

“I was writing lyrics and vocals for the first time for a whole album and there’s a lot of ego that gets in the way there and it was just nice to have someone to trust with that process,” he said.

Schmidt said the recording process was different for Uncle!, likening it to piecing together a film. He said parts were recorded in sections and once the music was arranged he wrote the lyrics, added Patinaude’s vocals and then assembled everything to accommodate the vocal arrangement.

“Things were recorded in an open way,” Schmidt said. “We improvised, which is something that the band has done for all the other albums, but maybe with less of a shape to it. A shape kind of got created after the fact in the studio when the vocals were all formed.”

Schmidt said Uncle! has a double meaning. On one hand, “Uncle!” is a cry of surrender, in Schmidt’s case a surrender to change. The record is a tribute to an uncle of his who died unexpectedly and had been a musical influence.

That’s where the upside-down guitars come in. Schmidt’s uncle was left-handed and left Schmidt his guitars. Those instruments are used on the album, flipped over and restrung for the right-handed Schmidt.

Schmidt said the record helped him feel close to his uncle and process the loss over the past two and a half years.

“It mostly helped me stay connected to him, which was great…” Schmidt said. “It felt like a healthy process.”

WHAT’S ON … Pugs and Crows performs at the Vault on Friday, Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. $10 admission.


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