When a songwriter cites Chopin, Scott Walker, The Carpenters, ABBA and "Shostakovich and the Russians" as inspirations, it's a good bet you're not in pop-song Kansas anymore. If you've ever heard local maestro Todd Busch in any of his musical incarnations over the last decade-plus, then that doesn't come as shocking news.
But an official release bearing his name and featuring his nine-piece mini-orchestra, Buschovski? Well, that qualifies as news-worthy, as does the Buschovski CD release party being held on Dec. 20 at Neighborhood Theatre, which also features The Houstons and Athens' Hope for a Golden Summer.
Busch fronted Flyweb in the late '90s, a guitar-bass-and-drums trio known for their eclecticism -- syncopated reggae beats one moment, folk or hard rock the next and occasional twang for balance, sometimes within the same song. Flyweb finished a record but never released it, and by the time the act had run its course, Busch was fed up with rock 'n' roll's shackles.
"I was really sick of the straight, American 4/4-time rock 'n' roll song," says the 38-year-old Busch. "I didn't want to do that anymore. It was all about the way I felt -- I didn't want to be 'in the moment,' I didn't want to be of these times. I wanted to do something older. I was romanticizing -- you can romanticize about Elvis and stuff, that's cool and all, but I was going back a little further."
That's apparent the moment Buschovski -- recorded locally at Sioux Sioux Studio -- starts shifting styles and time signatures with determined abandon. Busch's compositions blend elements of pre-World War II European cabaret -- tarantellas ("Soldier in Iraq"), tangos ("Nationality"), Eastern folk music ("Death By the Rope"), musical theatre ("Pegasus") and balladry ("Ghost") -- with classic rock touches (note the Brian May-like solo on "Private Investigators Don't Cry") to create richly textured tableaus that exist independent of any era.
"It's completely original stuff," says drummer David Kim, with whom Busch is temporarily residing. "He's a true artist. He plays eight, nine hours a day. He'll play me five songs, all written around the same couple of days, but all completely different. Yet there's still this thread of 'Todd' going through them all."
Buschovski began as a four-piece -- Kim (Benji Hughes, Bruce Hazel & Some Volunteers), bassist Shawn Lynch (Lou Ford, Bruce Hazel) and guitarist Peter Gray (Benji Hughes, South Career) -- and still occasionally does a country-rock set in that configuration. But in the last couple of years the lineup has expanded to include cellists Brent Dunn (ex-Vetiver, Alternative Champs) and Nicolette Emanuelle, Ben Kennedy (Tenspeed) on violin, Molly J. Brown (Bruce Hazel) on tuba/trombone and Brent Bagwell (Black Congo NC, The Eastern Seaboard) on reeds.
"The band is kind of like this enhancement -- I can perform by myself or with a band, but I'm going for the orchestral kind of bigger sound, to satisfy the grandiose feeling I have inside," chuckles Busch, who's also writing full-orchestra pieces, including an oratorio, requiem and symphony.
"It's trying to bring in the European traditional music, trying to make it something new, to freshen it up -- I mean, it's always fresh to me," adds Busch, who chose the band name from an old spelling of his family's original Eastern European name, "but trying to do something different with it, my own thing. I'm American, you know, so there's always that in there."
Busch's subject matter, too, is the pointed type you won't find in the average pop song-writer's bag of lyrics tricks. Few would tackle -- in ballad form, no less -- an examination of a suicide bomber's reasoning, or a theatrical ode to a concentration camp heroine, "Mala Z," complete with dramatic "Back to Auschwitz!" chorus. But for Busch, the themes are universal, so why shouldn't the music be as well?
"It's not like a concept record or anything, but when I was writing them I was definitely interested in politics, and I've always had a war thing going on," Busch says of the topics he addressed, like the Iraq war and World War II. "But I'm trying to break away from the folk tradition, the Dylan thing, and do something new with that."
That's one certainty Buschovski -- the record, the band, and the songwriter -- have firmly, and forever, established.