'Everyone Is Their Own Universe' : Plasma Canvas' Adrienne Ash On Collaboration And Inclusivity

Let's call Plasma Canvas a Punk band with wide-ranging sonic interests, many of which are made evident on their new EP from SideOneDummy, KillerMajestic. As lead singer and guitarist Adrienne Ash revealed in the previous installment of our interview with her, the title track has a long history and a complex, interesting layering of the band's different sounds and ideas.

Drummer Jude McCarron is just as eclectic as Ash in musical exploration, and together they've taken the band to the next level of distribution, touring (when COVID woes have passed), and releasing quite entertaining, maybe even thought-provoking music videos.

Adrienne Ash joins us to finish this conversation with an insider look at the video for the song "KillerMajestic", a very specific discussion of the ways in which a band's ethos affects fans, and why she's so happy about the place that Plasma Canvas stands right now, creatively.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Let me ask you about the "KillerMajestic" video which you all released, which was live action and you were in that. Was the idea in the set up for that influenced by lockdown? Because it’s all set inside a house and a back yard.

Adrienne Ashe: It was actually filmed before anyone was taking precautions or anything like that. It was kind of a fun idea we had for a video, like “What if our friend Chase has this song stuck in his head and he can’t get it out?”

HMS: That’s great. A super loud song too!

AA: Yes, imagine waking up to me screaming. Like, that sucks!

HMS: My interpretation as a viewer, the way that I subjectively interpreted it, was like what’s going on inside someone’s personal world inside their head versus what’s going on in the world outside and around them. Every person’s a universe, and we have no idea what’s going on inside someone.

AA: I’m actually really, really happy that you said that because that was one of the ideas behind the concept and it’s actually an idea that me and my partner talk about all the time: that everyone is their own universe. The absurdity of a hardcore band playing to no one in a kitchen, and a bathroom, and a back yard, and a field. I thought that was a funny thing, but we did what we wanted to do with that video because there are a lot of emotions mixed up together in that song. It’s definitely kind of an angry song, but it’s also a mischievous song, and also kind of a rebellious thing, but also anxious and neurotic as well. I think we did pretty okay with communicating all of that in the video.

HMS: I think you did a great job in a very limited setting. The absurdity was great. I think the toilet was hilarious. I don’t even know why, but my favorite part is where he gets the pot and puts cereal in it, and just walks away. It felt so normal and weird at the same time.

AA: One of the things that I was kind of proud of was that "KillerMajestic" was the second video that we did with Little House of Sound as a production company. They also did our video for our other "Context". And what’s neat about that is that at the beginning of the video for "Context", there’s some music playing, where you see me in the car writing in my notebook. And that was a song by us called Just Homies, which we had a lyric video. So this other song was referenced in the "Context" video, and then in the "KillerMajestic" video, Chase is sitting watching the "Context" video.

HMS: Ah, okay! Yes. I saw that he was watching something that looked like a music video.

AA: Yes, that was the other music video we did with them. It was pretty fun. They are cool folks.

HMS: Between your previous EP, No Faces, and now, what has changed for you, musically, over that time? What are the main differences between that EP and this one?

AA: All of the records had a pretty substantial amount of personal and musical growth in between, but No Faces was the first record that Jude played on, and you can really hear how much more comfortable we’ve gotten together on KillerMajestic. The way that the band has worked is that I am a very introverted person, so I would just spend a lot of time alone and I would bring songs to Dave [Sites], or Jude, or whoever was playing with me at the time. No Faces was very much like this: I wrote all these songs, and Jude wrote the drum parts, and we went and recorded them.

But KillerMajestic was something that we got to do after Jude and I had been playing together for over two years. Jude’s my best friend. Not only are we comfortable with each other as musicians, but Jude is my best friend, so the fact that we get to play music together is just awesome. You can just hear how much we gel together on KillerMajestic.

I think part of that is owed to the production: Bill [Stevenson], and Andrew, and Jason also did an amazing job on the mixing and the editing and everything. In terms of the songwriting, Jude sings a little more on this record, and though I’m a little bit biased, I think you can hear between listening to that record and listening to this record, just how much more comfortable we’ve gotten working together.

HMS: Is it a relief to work with someone is interested in as many different sound directions as you are, so that you can go on all these tangents and try stuff out?

AA: Yes, that is a really cool thing about working with Jude. After Jude joined the band, it was after Jude had shown up to a million shows that we did. I remember playing a show at Surfside 7, and Jude was just up front, smiling, and headbanging, and drinking a beer, and moshing with everyone. I remember thinking, “Wow, that person seems really cool. What a bummer they probably don’t play an instrument.” And lo and behold, when Dave quit, Jude was the first person to try out. I was like, “I’ll be damned. I guess you’re in!”

But as soon as we got working together on music, I could tell that we had a lot of the same influences, and they were all over the place. We both liked a lot of mid-2000s Post Hardcore stuff, and a lot of the Classic stuff too, a lot of Skate Punk, a lot of Emo music. We connected on that level and the same general attitude of, “Let’s not say ‘no’ to any ideas. Let’s just try to be creative and let things come to us. We can just finish the song and decide stuff later, but we’re not going to shoot anything down.” The fact that Jude’s been so willing and so excited to always do that with me, it’s just a really rewarding thing to be able to work with someone like that.

HMS: That’s awesome. So do you find that if you’re trying to describe a sound you’re thinking of, you can reference music, and you’ll have the same references?

AA: Yeah. I’ve always been into writing, so I try to use a lot of descriptive words that I think will get across what I’m trying to say. That can be really hard to do with music sometimes. I can talk about how, “I want this song to sound like it’s in a certain place. Over there.” Maybe a dark, “reverby” thing. And I’ll talk to Jude about a Smashing Pumpkins song, and we’ll both be on the same page pretty quickly.

HMS: That’s really cool that you use writing to try to describe mood and atmosphere for songs. I don’t know many people who do that. Like you said, it can be a struggle to do that with music. I find even when writing about music that I have to make up and create words, since there often isn’t established vocabulary for it.

AA: You know, I really appreciate you saying that, because most people just tell me that I’m very weird!

HMS: [Laughs] Well I wouldn’t want to discount that you might be weird. I’ll leave that door open. No, I hear musicians talk about how hard it is to describe a sound they are going for, so usually they have to try to mock-up the sound somehow and present it to bandmates so they can hear it. But you and Jude seem to have worked that out in a really good way.

AA: Well, that’s true. I am a manic depressive, so I have more thoughts flowing through my head than I can grab and throw out of my mouth. If anything, I have too many descriptive words for what I’m trying to do and we have to work that out. The other important thing to say about Jude is that he is always an incredible listener and always so excited to hear what I’m trying to do. He’s very much into saying, “Let’s try it out!”, rather than, “I don’t know how to do that.”

HMS: Which can be a brick wall, and end to a conversation rather than a beginning.

AA: Yes. I’ll even acknowledge a difference between, “I don’t know how to do that.”, and “How are we going to do that?” Jude is very much the latter.

HMS: What do you think about being open and direct about the things in your life as part of your public image? We’ve talked about manic depression, you’ve previously talked about the experience of being a trans woman, and queer. Why do you think the importance is of talking about those things openly, for yourself, or others?

AA: I think there are a few different types of bands and I tend to like most of them, but there are some bands who want to give very little away, to convey a sense of mystery. And I love, and respect, and appreciate that approach. Then there are other bands that want to give everything away, and I also respect that approach. I really do try to keep it somewhere in the middle.

Jeff Rosenstock has a song where he talks about having an egg white and using the stationary bike. I don’t necessarily want to tell people what I had for breakfast, though I do appreciate that honesty and sincerity.

But I do want to talk about the deep truths of my experience as a person. To be honest with you, I used to very much enjoy male privilege. For me, it feels very good to acknowledge the ways in which we take privilege for granted. I remember so much about my experience of walking through the world as a man, and then whenever I transitioned, people treated me way differently. Even if I “passed”, which is a whole other conversation…Gender isn’t a test and I don’t need anybody to grade me.

But being perceived as a woman and being treated differently by men, especially in the world of music, means that I’ve had people ask me if I was the merch person before, or if I was on the road with my boyfriend. That kind of stuff. Some things are not a huge deal, but experiences like that, which I never had to go through before. As much as I like educating people, it’s also that anything that I write is going to be sort of political because I’m writing about my life. And even if I’m not talking about transgender issues, or queer issues, or mental health issues, those are the things that color by perspective on the world.

Something that I’ve been told by our fans who are cisgender is, “Hey, it really opened my eyes to things I didn’t understand before.”, and “Going to your shows is a really welcoming environment of people who care about each other.” I feel like that is one of the most important things about being open about my experiences. There are people who don’t necessarily have the same experience but become more empathetic from going to the shows. And there are people who do share the same experiences, who feel a little bit stronger because they like our music.

HMS: That’s a great point. The effect that you’ve just described is that your own fandom creates a space that is a positive one because you’re the leader of that fandom, and you’re speaking from your own experience. You’re influencing and creating a positive environment for people.

I’ve come across that quite a few times. The way that band members live their lives and the way they come across on social media does influence the fandom that follows them. Like a lot of Heavy Metal bands seem really dark and heavy, for instance, but you find out that the band members are the sweetest people with the kindest ideas, and then the fans are too. You find a lot of great environments at these shows. The way the band acts ends up affecting fans in one way or the other.

AA: I would have to agree with that. It does make a difference how you live your life. Myself, as a trans person, I don’t feel safe anywhere. So whenever I’m playing a show and I’m given the floor for 30 minutes or an hour, I want everyone to know, “I am a trans woman, I am a queer person, I am a lesbian, and I am proud of all these things. I want everyone here to know that this is our space for the next 30 minutes or an hour. And we are going to own this shit!”

HMS: Right! You’re saying, “This is what we expect from this environment. Please make that happen.”

AA: Yeah. I’ve made it a point to call people out for being creeps in the mosh pit. I’ve had to get people kicked out for groping people or throwing up Nazi salutes and stuff.

HMS: Oh my god. That sucks.

AA: There have been a whole lot of weird, basement experiences that we’ve had to deal with, but the main, important thing is that we make sure to make everyone feel welcome who isn’t creating violence or an air of distrust in the room. We are always trying to keep everyone feeling safe, even if there is a crazy mosh pit in the room. We don’t want people to feel like there is going to be violence and trouble because that’s not the kind of Hardcore we’re about.

HMS: Right. Very well said.

AA: When you said that these bands that have this dark, angry, music are also the people with the kindest hearts and the kindest ideas, I definitely agree with that, because with a lot of these super heavy bands, it takes a lot of emotion to convey that kind of energy. At least to me, it’s very hard to play that kind of music if you aren’t feeling things very, very deeply.

HMS: That makes total sense.

Are you someone who collects physical music, like vinyl, or cassettes, or are you more digital?

AA: I have to approach all of those kinds of questions with, “I am a poor person.” I’ve been a factory worker and restaurant worker my whole life. A lot of the stuff that I have are things that are really special to me. I do have some vinyl and I have a lot of CDs, but a lot of the CDs are just local bands that I play with, indie or DIY bands. I can go to Walmart and I can buy, Disturbed, Down with the Sickness. But I can’t go to Walmart any of the amazing independent or Garage Punk bands that I play with. So I try to grab their CDs or their cassettes if I can.

I really do like physical media. I like to be able to grab it and hold the art in my hands and look at it closely, to see if I can find all the easter eggs and stuff. As a kid, I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I would look at a lot of liner notes. I really do like that stuff, but I also do have a ton of digital media because it’s easier to obtain. 

HMS: I think for a lot of musicians, it’s easier to be curious and sample widely digitally. But a lot of smaller bands are starting to sell their own cassettes online, and it’s more of a boutique experience. As you say, if you’re into a local band, you’re going to get it from them, and that’s great because the money goes directly to them from fans.

AA: Yes, that’s a really cool thing. We’ve always been very much about that DIY ethos of putting money directly into the gas tank for bands. But there’s also a lot to be said for, “You have done 500 tours in a 1988 Chevy…And there’s a hole in the floor. And you’ve put a merch order in, but your buddy isn’t going to be able to print them all in the next two days…” So there’s also something to be said for having a label help you figure all that out so you can just focus on making cool records.

HMS: Definitely. Especially if you’ve been through the ranks, you’ve earned something a little better, hopefully. And I know you’ve really earned this release from SideOneDummy, by the way, a label you’ve liked for a long time.

AA: Yeah! We have SideOne and Big Picture Media in our corner, and why would you turn away helpful tools when people are wanting to help you do as much as you can do?

As one of my friends put it, “Hey, one less starving trans woman in this world is good enough for me!”

HMS: That’s great.

Tower Records’ motto is “No Music, No Life” and “Know Music, Know Life”. What do you think of either of those, applied to your life?

AA: Without music, what are we doing? I think music makes life worth living, man! That’s the most hippie shit I’m going to say all day, but I’m going to throw it out there. I live in Colorado, make of that what you will. Music is worth living for, man! Music is cooool.

HMS: That’s good enough for me. I’ll take it.

Was there ever a time you considered not doing music?

AA: NO.

HMS: Wait, now I have to know, when was the first time you played music? How far back does this go for you?

AA: Well, as a kid I was always noticing music. I was really a musical kid, singing all the time, and tapping on things. I was always naturally into it. I got a toy electric guitar around age 6. My cousin got the same one, and there’s a picture of us standing together. He’s just like, “Look at this thing I got.” But I’m swinging it around my arms, and holding it like a rock star, like, “Yeah! This is my guitar!” I got my first guitar at age 12, and I started taking it really seriously around age 13. I played my first show at a birthday party at age 14, and we played a bunch of Green Day and Metallica songs.

HMS: Wow! That is awesome. What a great story.

AA: The fact that I’m almost 30 years old, and finally got a deal with a cool label, and finally got stuff together enough to make it really happen is just a really cool thing. I’ve been doing this for, literally, over half my life and it’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do.

The fact that I get to play with someone who is incredibly open-minded and sweet, and amazing friend and listener, is just so cool. The fact that we get to put out an album with SideOneDummy when I had their sticker on my guitar amp when I was 19, that’s a really cool thing, too. I couldn’t be happier with how things have paid off after really grinding at it.

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