It’s not unusual to have your identity stolen on the Internet. What happened to Adam Busch is a little less common, a lot less sinister, and a bit more complicated. Busch, who moved to Chicago in 1999 from Saint Louis, lived here until 2014, and during those years he fronted two excellent bands, Manishevitz and Sonoi. Shortly before leaving for Austin, Texas, he made his first solo record, River of Bricks, with assistance from another former Chicagoan who’d headed south, Michael Krassner of the Boxhead Ensemble. As Busch started playing out under his own name and readying the album for release on his Meno Mosso label, he discovered he had an identity problem: there was another Adam Busch.
“I noticed the omnipotent Internet presence of ‘LA’ Adam Busch,” he recalls. “I don’t seek fame or anything, but I was just buried in Google searches and on Youtube.” The other Busch has been acting since his late teens, with recurring minor roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the USA Network’s Colony, among other series; he played one of the leads in TBS’s Men at Work and the character “Indie” on the YouTube series MyMusic. Earlier this year he appeared in Rebel in the Rye, a film about the wartime experiences of J.D. Salinger. He also makes music, sometimes with people Busch knows.
“Turns out he’s a good friend of Tim Rutili and played on Califone’s Stitches, which caused some folks I know further confusion,” Busch says. Fortunately he had another identity to fall back upon. “Ostrar was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was a concert pianist early in life and taught at the Chicago Academy for the Arts until retirement. I’ve always used Ostrar for my publishing name.” Brawls in the Briar, the first record Busch has recorded since moving to Texas, is credited to Adam Ostrar. For clarity’s sake, I’ll switch to that name too.
For Brawls, Ostrar is working with a label besides his own for the first time since 2007, when Catbird Records released Manishevitz’s swan song, East to East. Richard Lynn of Austin’s Super Secret Records came to one of his solo shows. “He bought a copy of my last record and ended up inviting me to play one of the music series he runs, called Austin Jukebox,” says Ostrar. “He became an advocate and was quick to say ‘yes’ when I asked him about releasing my next record. He’s all about you making the record you want to make, where you want to make it, and when you want to make it.”
With a label backing him, Ostrar says, “All I had to worry about was writing good songs, figuring out who I wanted to record with, and where and when I wanted to record. We made a better record because of that.” He demoed the new record at Michael Krassner’s home studio in Phoenix, Arizona, with Krassner on guitar. Along with keyboardist-bassist Wil Hendricks, drummer-keyboardist Stephen Patterson, and violinist Josh Hill, they repaired to Sonic Ranch, a studio in the border town of Tornillo, Texas, where the likes of Swans, Mountain Goats, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top have recorded. “It’s very secluded and you stay on the property and have all your meals there,” Ostrar says. “Point being, there aren’t any distractions. We recorded it live, all in the same room. I guess I made a record the way lots of people have made records, but it was a first for me. I’m used to piecemeal recordings and piecemeal recording budgets.”
With its uplifting melodies and atmospheric arrangements, Brawls in the Briar sounds like a logical extension of River of Bricks. But where the earlier record exudes a warm sense of wonder, the new one conveys unease. “I wrote the bulk of the songs in 2016, which was collectively an awful year for obvious reasons,” Ostrar says. “I was also experiencing cognitive dissonance unrelated to the election, personal stuff. All of it worked itself into the material. I suppose the backdrop of 2016 is the briar. The songs are the brawls.”
The video for “Spare Me,” the new album’s latest single, debuted this week.
The standout track “Cossacks in the Building” layers bright piano accents over gamboling acoustic fingerpicking. Its verses allude to an impotent CIA and bonfires built from tires, and the chorus poses the question, “There’s Cossacks in the building, who let them in?” Ostrar doesn’t come right out and say it, but Russian meddling in U.S. elections doubtless feels a fair bit creepier to you if you’re from a family that has already felt the heavy hand of Russian authoritarianism and racist scapegoating. “I remember my grandfather telling me who the Cossacks were and what a pogrom was. I know there was a pogrom history on his side of the family, and his parents and aunts and uncle ultimately immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s because of persecution.”
Ostrar’s first tour under his new professional name will be solo, not with a band. But since one of the opening acts at Sunday’s Hideout show is multi-instrumentalist Joe Adamik, who used to play with Ostrar in Manishevitz, we might get to hear a bit of their collective past as well.