A unique Italian musical export, The Flawless Avenger is the sophomore album from the band Bushi, led by songwriter and guitarist Alessandro Vagnoni. Bushi’s existence serves as homage to Japanese and Samurai culture, further challenging the band by basing the collection’s lyrical concept on Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. As if that was not complicated enough, the album verses, sung in English, are constructed according to haiku and stay even more faithful to the source material.
Born as a trio, with guitarist Vagnoni, Davide Scode (lead vocals, bass) and Fabrizio Baioni (drums, backing vocals), Bushi is now a quartet with the addition of tenor saxophonist Sergio Pomante (ex-Ulan Bator, String Theory). The group’s music transcends genres; therefore, saxophone-infused, freestyle alt-prog-metal must suffice as a description. As you can guess, this is not typical head-banging metal music that just chugs along, especially since Bushi prides itself on the improper tuning of the guitar with each string in G. The result is a controlled chaos often featuring slow, hypnotic singing backed by fast-paced, choppy guitar work and dynamic drumming.
For a sample of The Flawless Avenger, check out the band’s first official video and single, “Don’t Stop Where Your Heart Does [XI, 145],” directly inspired by Hagakure, exploring and overcoming “the trauma of separation.” The digital album drops via Infinity Entertainment on Feb. 14. The physical format will be available on Bandcamp as a CD with an accompanying illustrated book whichvincludes the lyrics and credits.
Intrigued and impressed by the album, musicinterviewmagazine.com spoke to Vagnoni about Bushi’s writing approach, performing, various projects and how the guitarist maintains a career as a rock and metal multi-instrumentalist in a country known for its rich historical contributions to the arts.
Music Interview Magazine: Does someone need to be a fan of Samurai culture to enjoy The Flawless Avenger?
Alessandro Vagnoni: I don’t think so. When I started writing the first songs I immediately realized that the imagery had to recall something epic, martial and tragic at the same time. And the Samurai epic contains these three features. But apart from this, I think this is music for everyone, otherwise I should be a serial killer fan to appreciate the band, Macabre.
What is it about Hagakure that inspired you?
In the first album [self-titled and released in 2017] I tried to write lyrics inspired by Hagakure and Yukio Mishima’s books, related to the Samurai tradition and Japanese culture in general, often linked to the scorn of death to pursue high ideals in defense of traditions and homeland. I’m not a nationalist and I don’t like this kind of approach to life and sociality. But I’m very intrigued by what, for me, is a very different culture. I think we must know what to take from every culture so we can expand our vision of the world, making it clearer.
Why tune all strings to G? How did you know that tuning would be effective and help you realize the sound and goal?
Many years ago I was looking for a different approach to the composition with the guitar and in the end I realized that having all the strings playing a note in unison on different octaves could have potential. So I wrote the first tracks trying to explore the possibilities of this tuning and so the first record was born. It’s like with non-Euclidean geometries; you modify the rules of the game and open up unexplored roads. With Flawless Avenger I have tried to expand the palette of melodic and harmonic solutions and this also has allowed the vocals to have greater expressive freedom.
To Bushi’s credit, as busy as the songs are, the vocals remain even and consistent without any screaming. Was that a conscious effort?
Having clean vocals was a conscious choice because I was tired of screaming vocals. I find them very limiting. Having low and distorted guitars with a quasi-martial gait, together with clean and harmonized, almost psychedelic vocals, is a particular and destabilizing combination. One wouldn’t expect that. In this record there is a wiser use of the vocals and it was difficult to find the right balance in leaving no room for monotony and keeping the melodies interesting.
How was writing in haiku challenging? In what ways did it spark creativity?
I decided to write short lyrics from the beginning and the choice of the poetic form of haiku turned out to be adherent to the imagery of Bushi. Even Samurai devoted themselves to poetry. I think this particular poetic meter, which includes three verses of 5/7/5 syllables, is not an obstacle to creativity. Indeed, it’s a super-imposed rule that forces creativity to choose paths that are unpredictable and unusual. The same goes for the particular tuning of the guitar I mentioned earlier. Perhaps in the future I will move myself away from this practice, because it would be foolish to go ahead with the same choices.
Why did you add a saxophone to the group?
Having two guitars in a four-piece combo was something I wanted to avoid. The arrangements are very dense and the instrumental parts are very complex and multi-layered. Having in general, another tone, has certainly helped the musicality of the songs.
How do you compose Bushi’s songs?
Each song comes out with this kind of G tuning and the lyrics and vocal structures are placed after my instrumental pre-production. This time I left Davide to come up with his own ideas, as he is better than me on finding effective vocal melodies.
“A Man from China” is a song that has a choppy, almost rock-pop feel. What was its writing and composing process?
That was the first song on the new record to be written. I can’t describe its writing process. It’s something that comes out naturally to me. I usually start writing a song and then finish on the same day. I let a little idea generate other ideas, like in a domino game. Then I listen again to the songs months later and if I’m still captivated that means they are okay.
Do you play these songs live? What are the tour plans for Bushi?
During 2017 and 2018 we made around 30 gigs, only in Italy, in small venues. It was difficult to plan gigs in foreign countries because at the time we had no money to invest in good promotion and booking around Europe. And this is the same condition right now, sadly.
For now, there is nothing planned. Organizing gigs for my projects is always complicated due to activities with other bands and it can be very frustrating when you have time but your band mates don’t. It’s a matter of luck sometimes. But we will see what happens.
You are a member of several bands and projects. How do you manage your time effectively? Do you get ideas for one group while working in another?
I play in many other bands such as Bologna Violenta, Ronin, Drovag, which is my one-man-band project and I do some drum or mix sessions from time to time. I make a living from all this stuff and that’s why it’s difficult to schedule gigs with my personal projects. All these bands play different music and I like to be involved in different musical worlds, even if they don’t particularly influence each other.
So much good rock and metal originates from your side of the world. To what would you attribute so much high-quality output?
Europe has always been an interesting musical forge. I can’t tell you why. I can speak for myself saying that I constantly try to come up with personal ideas, away from the clichés. But this is a double-edged sword, because when you are alien to the standard, you are easily ignored by the big crowds. But it’s not a big problem when you are almost 40 years old.
How did you get started in the music industry? What was your local scene like? How has it changed and what remains unchanged?
Well, industry is a huge word. I wouldn’t call it that [laughing]. But I started touring with bands, including Infernal Poetry and Dark Lunacy, to mention the most active since 2005. And I’m still doing it. There’s a lot of music now, thanks to the internet revolution. But the more bands come out, the more difficult it gets when trying to book concerts or ask for contracts. Also, the gigs are not well paid now, partly because people are not interested in underground concerts. They save money for the big ones and this is absolutely understandable. We still live in a big crisis and that’s not only about money.
You mentioned there are no immediate tour plans. What does the future hold for Bushi? It seems like a trilogy would be fitting.
I already started composing new material, but I can’t tell what will happen in the future. Hopefully this new record could open some doors. Who knows?
Finally, how do you think a Samurai would react on hearing The Flawless Avenger?
[Laughing] He would certainly cut my head off with ‘A Well-Aimed Blow Of Naginata.’
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Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.