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Inside Ryan Bourne’s Castle of Plants 

The psychedelic pop wizard on living in a castle and those full circle moments.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Rebecca Reid

A few years back, Calgary psych-pop multi-instrumentalist Ryan Bourne had the opportunity of a lifetime. Along with his partner, Rebecca Reid—who he creates art installations and weirdo synthwave with in the band Hair Control—he got to live in a castle. Specifically, The Maillot Castle, a building in Southwest Calgary built in the 1940s that was renovated in the 1970s with a cylindrical facade and turret to make it look fit for royalty.

Bourne and Reid started using the castle as a studio space in 2018, making their installations and props as part of their work as visual artists, but were asked to move in fully because of zoning laws.

“We basically dropped everything and had to move in quite quickly, but how could we say no to living in a castle,” Bourne laughs over the phone as he’s walking his cat. “It was affectionately dubbed ‘The Art Castle.’” 

Bourne brought his Tascam 246 multi-track cassette recorder (for that lo-fi sonic aesthetic) and began demoing the bed tracks for his upcoming sophomore album, Plant City, a psychedelic garage pop odyssey in the same vein as The Arcs or The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The project is made up of Bourne’s newer material and a few song ideas that stretch back through his last decade of songwriting. Many of the songs came from Bourne’s dreams. He recalls waking up in the middle of the night multiple times with a new melody in his head, rushing to record a voice memo in his phone. 

It was an intuitive record making process, and the inspiration flowed out of him like a well— probably due to living in an Arts Castle. “Writing music for me is like blissful madness,” he says.

“Writing music for me is like blissful madness.”

When it came time to think about the new record, Bourne sent his friend, producer, and bandmate Chris Dadge (who he collaborates with in a number of projects along with Chad VanGaalen) around 20 songs.

“Some were just sketches and some are more kind of fleshed out demos that I’ve done in all kinds of different spaces and contexts,” Bourne says. “I wanted it all to feel cohesive even though some of the material is quite old.”

Bourne and Reid also filled their castle with plant life, but that’s not where the title of the new record came from. Bourne actually had the title a decade or so before he had most of the songs. The name came from a plant shop he used to live by. 

Photo: Jared Sych

“I was always intrigued,” he says. “It looked like a magical jungle realm inside and had these big hand-painted letters spelling “Plant City” on each of the big street-facing windows. At some point, a light bulb went off and I knew that would be the title of the new record.”

As a visual artist and musician, Bourne has always been fascinated by signage around him. The name for his first album in 2010, Supermodern World of Beauty, came from a nail salon he also used to see from time to time. His album titles are almost a way of creating an artistic homage to his own life. “I guess it’s kind of full circle with both of these albums being named from shops I never went in, but was always attracted to,” he says. 

Bourne has assembled a five piece band—known, of course, as the Plant City Band—for the May 6 album release show inside Contemporary Calgary’s Dome Theatre. He’s excited to unveil a stage installation titled “Cryptoflora,” which he concocted along with Reid in collaboration with Bamff Studio, as well as witness the avant-pop opener, Cîpayak ᒌᐸᕀ, made up of his Ghostkeeper bandmate, Shane Ghostkeeper, and Métis artist Sarah Houle.

“Me, Rebecca, Shane, and Sarah were actually among the first group of artists that did a residency at Contemporary Calgary, so that’s another full circle moment,” Bourne says. “That’s been happening a lot recently.”