Calgary veteran Ryan. Bourne to play East Town Get Down Festival

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Earlier this month, Ryan Bourne held his release party for Plant City, a record that was five years in the making.

It was a suitably epic affair. It was held at one of Calgary’s coolest venues: The Dome Theatre at Contemporary Calgary, the former Centennial Planetarium. The opening act was the newly formed avant-pop project Cipayak, made up of Sarah Houle and Shane Ghostkeeper. Videos for songs from Bourne’s new album were played. The stage design – described as “Crytpo-flora” – was created by Bourne and Rebecca Reid and included massive monoliths based on designs by Calgary-based designers Bamff Studio. Both musical acts used visual projections during their performances.

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“It became very immersive,” says Bourne. “It was an extremely intently focused audience. You could hear a pin drop.”

It seems appropriate. Bourne is not only a visual artist, his history in the Calgary music scene goes back to the early 1990s when he played guitar for the groove-heavy Interstellar Roots Cellar. He has since played with Devonian Gardens, Ghostkeeper, Samantha Savage Smith and Chad VanGaalen.

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Still, despite his long tenure in the Calgary scene, he doesn’t see his music as being particularly reflective of it even if it’s hard to imagine it without him. Bourne will be playing both the East Town Get Down on May 27 and at Sled Island on June 20. They are festivals he has played before, albeit perhaps more often as a side musician than solo act.

“In some ways, I felt like an outsider, not in a negative way,” Bourne says. “I’m always hesitant to comment on the Calgary scene because it seems so indefinable to me. It’s vibrant and healthy. ”

Vibrant and healthy seems to be a good place to start when discussing Plant City, which began in 2018 as a follow-up to Bourne’s 2010’s Super Modern World of Beauty. Since 2018, Bourne has been working in studios owned by VanGaalen and Chris Dadge, a multi-instrumentalist who also plays alongside Bourne in VanGaalen’s backup band. Many of the songs began life as rudimentary recordings from a four-track cassette recorder. Bourne sent Dadge 15 or so rough stripped-down voice memos to full demo-ed songs.

These were built upon using synths, guitars and some unique in-studio techniques to get what Bourne calls “textural layers.”

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“We crunched dry leaves for one song,” Bourne says.

Singer-songwriter Ryan Bourne.
Singer-songwriter Ryan Bourne. Photo by Jared Sych. jpg

“We pretty much deconstructed everything,” he adds. “I’m really proud of it as I feel like it’s a cohesive document. It almost feels like a concept record to me. The sequence just feels totally right to me. They detach themselves from the chronology of my life and they feel like their own thing. They still feel really fresh to me. The collaborative aspect is a big part of that, being able to bounce it off such amazing creative minds as Dadge and VanGaalen. Chad has such a keen ear for pop and hook. Most of the harmony lines and harmonic counter-point lines were mine, but a handful were Chad’s: Synth lines that tie a chorus to a bridge or something.”

While Bourne’s sound is certainly singular, he does possess an adventurous spirit that recalls the work of collaborators VanGaalen and Ghostkeeper. Like those acts, he offers sturdy songcraft and melody beneath experimental sonic excursions. The songs also cover plenty of ground stylistically, from the dark synth-pop of Blackhole to the fuzzy guitar-pop of Anemone Sound, Beck-like psych-folk of Entropy, to the album closer Dream Club, which starts as a breezy instrumental before surging into unhinged epic pop with chanted vocals. Bourne showcases his knack for Beatlesque melodies on the ballad Hopeless and the Brian Wilson-inspired snapshot, Pink Light.

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“I love the juxtaposition of playing around with some non-linear forms but coming back to the hook,” he says. “I love the Beatles, early McCartney, Pet Sounds. I just find it super exciting to play with that. I think we just chose the songs and went for it. We didn’t really look back. There are almost post-punk vibes on Black Hole and then the full-on almost Pet Sounds, (Eden Ahbez’s Eden’s Island) kind of stuff of Dream Club.”

Lyrically, Bourne says there is a “thread of devastating, multi-layered love songs. There’s a lot of heartbreak in it. I like to play with that, with more universal themes. With Hopeless, there’s the very personal layered within this apocalypse anxiety layer.”

“I’m happy with the span of the vibes on it, lyrically and sonically,” he adds. “It feels buoyant and joyful at times but it’s also pretty heavy at times. I resonate with records like that.”

Ryan Bourne plays the Kokonut Kove Pub and Grill at 11:30 p.m. on May 27 as part of the East Town Get Down Festival. He plays June 20 at the Commonwealth as part of Sled Island.

East Town Get Down lineup

More than 50 acts will play 10 venues along “International Avenue” (17th Avenue SE) on May 27 as part of the East Town Get Down Festival, which offers a feast of indie music and international cuisine.

Acts this year include New Brunswick-based singer-songwriter Jon McKiel, Brooklyn art-punkers Grim Streaker, Montreal garage-rocker Priors, Edmonton singer-songwriter Jesse Northley, singer-songwriter Dana Sipos and Saskatoon’s post-punker Grimelda.

Other acts include singer-songwriter Carter Felker, DJ Catfishthewizard, folkie Heather May, funk/soul act Deicha and the VuDudes and Calgary’s indie-rocker Kue Varo.

For a complete lineup, list of venues and schedule visit easttowngetdown.ca

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