Italian songsmith and multi-instrumentalist Gianni Serusi, known in the obscure music world by the name of his “country rock primitive one-man experiment” The Blues Against Youth, has cultivated a very specific sound for the better part of four years. “Old road flavored compositions for the long lost ones” is how he refers to it. That is actually a fair description, too, as one can listen to his songs and easily detect the musical presence of both blues and rock’n’roll, along with a touch of country. At first one might be tempted to simply insert The Blues Against Youth’s sound under “roots rock,” but that doesn’t quite do it justice. Nearly, mind you, but not quite.
With a hollow-bodied electric six-string guitar, kick drum, voice, whistle, hi-hat, and an unusual piece of stomp percussion he calls his “invisible iron snare,” he has developed his sound from a slower, more organic and traditional one to what it is now — raw, gritty blues coupled with dirty, primitive rock’n’roll and outsider country.
True to the typical one-man band practice, Gianni works all of the instrumentation simultaneously, strumming, picking, stompin’, and singing. Certainly not the easiest way to play music, the one-man band approach isn’t for every artist, mostly since only a select group of songcrafters and multi-instrumentalists can do it, and do it exeedingly well. With his Blues Against Youth endeavor, Gianni Serusi has proved time and again that he is one of those select individuals, indeed that he is among the other noteworthy blues punk and roots rock artists in the scene, such as Pete Yorko, Lonesome Joseph, Birds Are Alive, Scott H. Biram, Reverend Deadeye, Honkeyfinger, and the like.
In addition to a 7-inch release and a split with The Ribeye Brothers, Serusi has a full-length studio album out titled Pure at Heart Blues. Although its ten songs wouldn’t exactly appeal to blues or country purists, they are undeniably “pure at heart.” That is, The Blues Against Youth’s sound, though a wild jumble of styles, is pure in both its conception and delivery. And with such great originals as the title track “Pure at Heart Blues,” “When the City is Dead,” “It Must Have Been the Devil,” “Miss Another Train,” “Tevere Delta Blues,” and “Just Don’t Call My Name,” Pure at Heart Blues is a remarkably solid full-length release which suggests the very real possibility of even better material in the future.
Recently I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Gianni Serusi of The Blues Against Youth. What follows is the content from that interview in its entirety.
Let’s begin by providing the readers of this interview with a bit of information on you, Gianni Serusi, both as the one-man band The Blues Against Youth and the individual?
Hello James. Hello readers. I’m Gianni. I come from Roma, Italy, and The Blues Against Youth is my solo project…and yes, I’m an individual. I perform as one-man band, and I’ve been doing this since 2008. It’s mainly country-rock-blues stuff…with other different influences. I’m a graphic designer in the underground music environment and also sing in a band called The Orange Man Theory and…oh, this is what second question is about!
So what inspired you to take the one-man band approach to songwriting and performing as opposed to the full band one?
After many years of rocking and touring with the hardcore-metal-noise combo The Orange Man Theory, I guess I needed to express myself in a more personal way to give a tribute to the music I grew up with. I first started The Blues Against Youth with my friend Remo Fulgenzi (who used to play bass in my band) in 2006. The first line-up consisted of me on acoustic guitar and vocals, and this other guy was playing electric slide guitar and harmonica. We started the project just for fun in order to perform at our friend’s birthday, but it immediately became a real project as we started writing songs and playing shows in our hometown and shortly after in our country. Our first two-piece band incarnation came to an end two years after because Remo moved to Spain and we didn’t get along so much anymore on anything. So, I added drums, turned to semi-acoustic guitar, started performing as one-man band.
It took some practice since I had never played drums before, but once I realized I was able to do that, I found it better than a full band because I was the only to make things happen. No more compromises, just me and the music I wanted to play. I can get the all the money and credit; and on the other hand, everything’s on my shoulders, and if something goes wrong it’s just my fault. I personally like it because everything flows, no opinions in the band, everybody agrees on the song arrangements, which record to play during the drives, which gas station to stop, and so on. Ahahah! This reminds me of Merle Haggard singing, “For he who travels fastest goes alone.” Drives are too long and boring at times, but the one-man formula is practical, fast and financially favorable. That’s it.
What instruments do you play in order to create your sound?
My set consists of my guitar and amplifier, my voice, a bass drum, a wasted hi-hat I ruthlessly stomp on with my ironed-foot, also known as the “invisible iron snare.” A fistful of beers or liquors beside me can make everything sound better.
Your sound is a pretty evenly balanced combo of blues and rock’n’roll. Were there any particular influences or life experiences that prompted you to embrace such a sound?
One of the first rock albums I loved in my teenage time was Live Album from Grandfunk Railroad, 1972. It made me realize what groove was. Then I’ve listened to tons of records that I won’t list because it would be very sterile. I just grew up with ‘70s rock and blues in general, and even though I’ve experienced different kinds of music, Grandfunk’s groovy sound was always printed in my mind. I’ve been rocking with The Orange Man Theory since 2003 and we play extreme and aggressive music, but there’s rock’n’roll in it. In my life I’ve gotten to know good albums, good bands, something I liked but it was…not so special, you know? Some other times there have been such original artists that blew my mind and pushed me towards new inspirations. For example, when Hank Williams and country in general crossed my path, they taught me what rock’n’roll spirit used to be, made me understand other attractive shades in music. This is where I started from with The Blues Against Youth. Then come the Bulimics from Austin TX, who explained to me once again what rock’n’roll is. But this is another story.
Why the name The Blues Against Youth for your one-man band project?
“Blues” meaning the primordial cry of everything that came afterwards, “Youth” as the brainwashed mass we experience nowadays, the consequential loss of the true meaning of playing music.
Once rock’n’roll bands could change history and society since they had something to say. What about now? Where’s our Captain Beefheart? Where’s our Mississippi John Hurt? Where is our GrandFunk Railroad? They’re just a memory lost in the past. Today it’s all fucked-up with aesthetic matters, trends, no substance, no good music. Yeah, some good bands here and there but nothing that changes the world! I guess it’s because people started to make music to make other people think they’re cool. It’s a perverted approach, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, if people like my music I’m happy, but there must be a reason behind what I do, otherwise I’d stop. My project name is strictly related to this concept. It’s obliviously a venomous, provoking name, I guess, and I like it so much. Can’t avoid quoting my favorite Bill Hicks about his “I want someone who plays with his fucking heart!” which explains what I mean more than a thousand words.
Anyway, I want to be honest, forget those pseudo-intellectual speeches, the truth is that The Blues Against Youth will be the perfect name for me when I’m old. Old and bastard.
In the artwork on your recordings and on your website I noticed the recurring deer image. Is that the symbol you’ve chosen to represent your project, or…? I’ve even noticed the deer setup attached to your drum kit in the pictures of your live performances.
Regarding the shining beast I placed on my bass drum, it’s a lamp made of foam rubber, created by Emiliano Giayvia. It was originally without a face, so I only carved its eyes and nostrils, and it officially became my symbol, and recently the Deer It Yourself Records logo.
I’d say that deer and any species of horned-best happen to be recurring characters in my existence. I have started elaborating on it since I was questioned about that too many times. It’s a kind of “life mythology,” I just let it get out of me and it naturally became my symbol and my scenery on stage. Although the first thing that comes up in my mind is the Devil, there are many different aspects. Blues and country music are completely devil-soaked, that’s a fact, but I would say that my metal background and the experience with The Orange Man Theory is also responsible for this devilish scenery, as well as many issues I’ve had throughout my life…call them coincidences, call them the best records I’ve heard…for some reason, I don’t know, I have tripped over the Devil every time I’ve moved in any direction…I mean more than the average! ahahah…
With Oranges we toured South America in 2006 with a Mexican trash band called Anton (from Anton Lavey), and by playing over in those countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile) I got to know what Satan means for them, and it goes beyond any trendy, stereotyped conception we can have in the “western world.” Those people are truly against the system, and South America is the only country where the Heavy Metal environment turned out to be such a political philosophy that makes people think and struggle for their freedom. On the road in Ecuador we got to see the “El Poder Brutal” monument, which is the Devil’s face sculpted into rock by some unknown Satanist. It’s big, big and terrible! Check it out.
Then, my friends, the Bulimics, have a close relation with Satan himself, and the European tour I made with them was called “Bringing you closer to Satan.” Indeed…
Last but not least, I’m originally from Sardinia from my father’s side, and there’s a character in Sardinian pre-Christian tradition called “Su Boe,” who wears a wooden bull mask with long horns (it looks like a goat!) and represents life energy and the animal rising up against his owner, a clear Luciferian theme. If you want, check it out here. I have countless anecdotes to bore you with… It’s a part of my life and I feel comfortable with it. I’m not into any satanic cult, but I like the sense of antithesis and provocation that the Devil’s myth evokes. Evil and good, all mixed together, archetypical fight between light and darkness, and so many other things.
Just recently you returned from a five-week tour of Europe. And apparently you’ve done quite a bit of touring and gigging before that. To date, what have been some of your most memorable touring/gig moments?
The most exciting one was with the Bulimics because we really had fun together and raised hell (especially them, who are violent scum), but I also had a great time on this last European tour.
I could list some best shows like Graff Hugo in Feldkirch or Zoro Fest in Leipzig or the Holland tour with my friends Reverse Cowgirls. Even the worst shows left me something positive. Definitely, there have been many good and bad memorable moments in the last three years of relentless touring.
In recent years there has been quite an increase in the number of one-man bands throughout the international scene, with large clusters in France, Italy, and certain places in South America. Now, one cannot deny that there are some really exceptional artists in the scene, like Bob Log III, Scott H. Biram, Honkeyfinger, Dead Elvis, Bloodshot Bill, Reverend Beat-Man, and so on. But what are your thoughts on the scene as a whole, in addition to the many styles that are represented throughout?
I would not see it as a “whole scene,” even though they’re (or we are) many and sometimes connected on the Internet. I think everyone’s got his own path, his influences and commitments. Then came labels and categories, thanks to record stores shelves, thanks to music journalists! I got the chance to see some of the artists you mentioned, most of them are into the same blues-rock pattern as me, but everyone’s got his own style.
My favorite one-man band is Richard Johnston from Memphis, TN. He performs traditionals from his Hill Country blues heroes but adds something very personal, just as Bob Log III or Honkeyfinger do. As far as I’m concerned, despite of the kind of music, we share a certain loneliness that is maybe our strength at the same time. I mean, let us be free to create music in our own shape.
I know that you have released a bit of material, including a full-length album, a few 7-inch records, and a split with The Ribeye Brothers. And I also saw that you are about to travel for a handful of gigs in Portugal. Is there anything else of note coming up for The Blues Against Youth in the coming weeks, months, etc?
I’m about to release “Pure At Heart Blues” on vinyl LP. It will hopefully be out in January 2012, and it’s a co-production of Deer It Yourself Records and two other Italian independent realities, Sonatine Produzioni and Primitive Records. The Portugal tour is next to come and I have touring plans for the whole year. This is actually a very productive time, lyrically too… I wanna release a new 7″ record soon!
Lastly, if there’s anything you I failed to cover, or if there’s anything you would like to discuss or express, feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours, Gianni.
I would like to thank you, James, for this interview. I hope I’ll get the chance to meet you, maybe touring the USA in the future. I’m sure we have covered almost everything…maybe even too much talk…now your readers need some action! Come to my shows and dance! And in general go to see the bands you like, buy their records and keep it real. Stop watching videos on YouTube and chatting on Facebook. There’s a world full of shit out there, and it’s all to explore! If you live in Rome and don’t feel like going out because there’s no spot for parking and public transportation sucks, it’s a good excuse though, just don’t move, somebody will come to visit you. And if you have no friends and you’re feeling old, you can play your own blues. Push the blues against youth!