The first thing you hear on the brand new EP from Fort Collins punk duo Plasma Canvas is the wild, visceral scream that kicks off opening song “Killer Majestic”. It’s a burst of pure, primal emotion that sounds like vocalist/guitarist Adrienne Rae Ash’s actual throat is escaping from her body into the big, bad world outside. A blistering re-recording of a song from the band’s 2016 debut album, it’s a bold mission statement that reasserts who the Plasma Canvas is now, and what the band is all about. Even more forceful and raw than the original recording – which captured all the angst, frustration and confused emotions that were swirling around inside Ash’s mind and heart until she came out as trans in 2015 – it firmly reasserts the powerful identity of Plasma Canvas.
“That scream came from the fact that it was the first album I had gotten to do completely on my own,” says Ash. “It was the first time I’d ever put together a full record of any kind with any band. I’d been out as a trans woman for a couple of years at that point, so I felt like I’d been standing on a springboard for the first 25 years of my life, and when we recorded that song it was all of it coming out at the same time. When we re-tracked it, I knew that it had to be that intense. I wanted it to feel like what accepting your transness feels like, which is terrifying. It’s like you’ve had someone holding your head under water for your entire life, and then you finally get up the strength to release yourself and take a deep breath and scream really loud.”
While Ash, with drummer Jude McCarron by her side, has now found that strength, and worked out how to channel her life experiences into brash, cathartic and emotional melodic punk songs, it wasn’t always so easy. She moved from her small hometown in rural Missouri to Fort Collins, Colorado from in late 2015 to escape anti-trans violence, but even there it took her a while to find somebody willing to play her songs with her. Eventually, she found a drummer called Dave Sites and the seeds of Plasma Canvas were first planted. The pair released their eponymous debut album in 2016, but Sites left the band in June 2017. It was after that that McCarron stepped in, and the current incarnation of Plasma Canvas was cemented.
“Dave and I had been playing a bunch of shows at this punk bar called Surfside 7 in Fort Collins,” remembers Ash, “and Jude was always upfront, smiling and rocking out, and I remember thinking it was a shame he probably doesn’t play any instruments because he’d be really fun to be in a band with. When Dave quit the band and I was in despair and just so fucked up and sad about that, our friend Zack Hill from Copper Teeth recommended Jude. When I found out he played drums, he was in without even a tryout because he was just the coolest person.”
“I distinctly remember Adrienne shredding a guitar solo in my face when I went to see them,” laughs McCarron, “which led me to the decision of asking to joining.”
“When we first jammed it was a bit rusty,” admits Ash, “but I could tell there was something there.”
That’s an understatement. The chemistry between the two was already evident on 2018’s No Faces EP, the first record the pair made together, but has been thoroughly solidified with this EP. Recorded at The Blasting Room with the legendary Bill Stevenson (“As a drummer,” says McCarron, “it was very intimidating, but he was patient and understanding and willing to help, and very much about making it stay fun.”), the five songs completely lay bar every facet of who Plasma Canvas is, both as a band and as people. Matching the in-your-face aggression of that opening track is the angry self-loathing of “Rot”, on which Ash explores her bi-polar disorder to a surging, raucous melody that builds towards a crushing
“That’s about the hardest times in life,” she says, “when you’re battling your own brain. Because of my bi-polar disorder, I deal with a lot of suicidal ideation, and that song is about feeling low, but also looking at this clod of dirt where you’re one day you’re going to be at rest again, and remembering that it doesn’t have to be today that you end up in that dirt. So I hope it’s also a hopeful song, if also very angry and afraid.”
Elsewhere, “Saturn” is a chugging anthem full of optimism, closing track “Firecracker” is a frenzied and mischievous pop-punk track about “having a crush on straight girl when you’re a lesbian”, while Flux” reflects on the malaise of being stuck in a job that fails to satisfy your soul in any way, the frustration of which comes across in just as visceral a way as that scream at the start of “Killer Majestic.”
“Jude and I both do very intensive labor jobs,” explains Ash. “I work in a factory and I’m sore at the end of the day, and Jude works in an industrial greenhouse. So we’re doing this backbreaking work and then going to The Blasting Room and pouring our souls out into this record. You can trust me when I say that every word about being disappointed and feeling stuck in my factory job and thinking about how much I want to leave is totally authentic, because I sang those lyrics after a long-ass day in the factory.”
“It’s very therapeutic,” adds McCarron. “I’m very much an introverted person. I keep a lot of things from my friends and family, so playing music is a huge release for me, and that’s how it always has been, ever since I started playing 12 years ago. It’s kind of unnecessary how hard I hit my drums, but the energy I have onstage – and even when I practice at home – is releasing all that stuff that’s been building or is pent up that I have to find a way to deal with. It’s extremely fitting that Adrienne and I are in a band together, because we have something important to say and I feel very empowered by that.”
That sense of empowerment and catharsis is a constant throughout this EP’s five tracks, and something which infuses it with a real depth of meaning. Yet as much as it’s an insight into what Ash’s day-to-day existence is like, it also serves as a portrait of being a marginalized person in the USA in 2020. As such, even though these songs aren’t explicitly political, they are also inherently political, because, as Ash points out on the band’s Facebook page, for her, even just existing is an act of rebellion. “People have asked me why I always write political music,” she says, “and the answer is that I don’t. Every single song on this new EP is completely apolitical, but the fact that I’m a trans person and my existence is up for debate even in left-wing circles. We have a lot of love songs and songs about depression and songs about wanderlust and wanting to do better for yourself before you’re dead, but it all comes through as political just because of the fact that I live and I speak and I am. A lot of it is also the commentary I say at live shows because I get so pissed off at the state of the world and how trans people are treated and how people of marginalized identities all over are treated. We live in Fort Collins, where 100 miles away there is an ICE concentration camp, and the fact I get to sing on a stage while people are sitting in cages just makes me feel so gross. I feel if I don’t use that platform to do something
positive that might help somebody, then I’m wasting it. I don’t want to be another punk band with mohawks and leather jackets with studs on drinking PBR and doing coke in the bathroom. We want to be a little bit more than that.”