Conductor-turned-gliding instructor-turned-cellist of anti-orchestra tells his story to The Peak
Dress Led Zeppelin up in a crisp white shirt and tie and you get Bryan Deans of Plastic Acid Orchestra. Sipping espresso in JJ Bean, Deans revealed the mechanics behind the 45-piece orchestra that blends Soundgarden with Shostakovich.
“It’s rock-art fusion. A full symphony sound but with an edge,” said Deans as he described Plastic Acid, accurately named after the collaborative, wacky mixture of elements the group employs. The orchestra is an evolving amoeba of sound, and will soon be fused with the folksy artistry of Maria in the Shower.
Deans began conducting for the graduate students of the University of Victoria’s music program after he was asked if he could switch up his style to accompany some new songs that were weirder than their usual repertoire. “I was like, what does it require, a chainsaw and a little bit of rock and a weird thing here, a weird thing there? So I said yeah, what the hell.” After conducting for three years with UVic, Deans was able to meet tons of student musicians and eventually figured he could do his own show. This spawned the beginnings of Plastic Acid, and the upcoming collaboration with Maria in the Shower.
Martin Reisle, frontman of Maria in the Shower, came to Deans with the idea of collaborating in an unusual place.
“I’m actually a glider pilot. I teach gliding in the Columbia Valley. I was flying gliders up there and this guy came out, this really skinny, little human comes out and said he heard that I played the cello,” Deans relayed. Reisle was looking for someone who was innovative with the cello. After singing the song he had in mind out loud to Deans (one can only imagine this scene occurring on the edge of a cliff somewhere, gliders in the background, two quirky musician cartoon characters humming to each other), Deans agreed. The song, “Train of Pounding Hours” is now done with the full symphony, tying up the end of the show.
Plastic Acid has gone on to play in various bars and clubs in Vancouver, including Caprice. A video online shows the smoky, cramped club filled with music stands and Deans, standing in a corner swinging his conducting baton as the crowd shouts along to “Black Hole Sun”.
“I wanted to change it up so people can see it in a bar environment. Really trying to stay away from standard big time. We have a different setup overall, different genres.” The unique experience of Plastic Acid is meant to be as the name implies: semi-akin to doing acid. The aggressive, brassy pieces are not meant to be absorbed passively in a plush theatre seat, with arms crossed and eyelids drooping; but to be rocked out to and engaged with. This time though, they are moving back into the theatre, taking the stage of the Vogue. “We really want people to yell out and scream and participate,” Deans says. Plastic Acid, infused with Maria in the Shower’s cabaret folk, is anything but your standard, classical orchestra. It’s the rejuvenation of a tuxedo -filled theatre, but in this scenario, audience members are more likely to be donning faded Pink Floyd T-shirts.
Now that the group has come full circle, acquiring a large enough fan base for the Vogue, the anti-orchestra has reached out to be a service group for the Junos. “The organizers want to see interest in the group, as well as a concert series lined up before they do anything.” It’s immediately clear that if Plastic Acid is going to make as large an impact as they should, it’s going to be up to the audience’s participation and adoption of the genre-defying symphony.
“Let’s say Plastic Acid has a few pieces, our own songs. Or we play for other artists. I’d pick Arcade Fire, or Mother Mother, and we arrange some pieces together, so when you’re nominated, we can back you up. Or even go with Maria in the Shower. A bit of a Canadian play.”
Plastic Acid belongs in the group of innovative Canadian artists, slowly making their mark on the international market. Arcade Fire is one such colourful mix of musical geniuses, utilizing every instrument under the sun. The beauty of Plastic Acid is its ability to transform; it’s a moveable creature, adopting sounds and genres and vaudeville along the way. “Already, people are coming up to me with ideas, asking how we can arrange it. A heavy metal band approached me for the year after. It’s already developing and we haven’t even gotten to this show yet.”
Plastic Acid Orchestra plays the Vogue Theatre with Maria in the Shower February 25.
Originally published in The Peak, February 20, 2012