In the wake of their newly released "exploratory" Americana album, & I'm Fine Today,
and their upcoming tour with The Lumineers
is a band that is definitely looking to make some waves with their honest and fluid approach to traditional Americana songwriting. I was able to have a little chat with Justin Osborne, the band's sweet and overall cool frontman.
MATT GUYOTTE: I'm really excited to talk to you today. When I heard I was interviewing you, I went and listened to the new album right away, and I was really loving what I was hearing. In past interviews, you've said that it is a big departure from your last album. This new record sounds a lot more confident. Can you go into this confidence, and what it means to you?
JUSTIN OSBORNE: When the first record got made, I didn't know that I was going to be in a band, now, 3, 4 years later. So I was in this place from my mid to late 20s; I've been in bands for almost a decade before, and I tried touring. It was like treading water, and I wasn't getting anywhere, so I quit playing music. Well, I stopped entertaining dreams of getting anywhere with music. And from there, I was like, 'well, what I am going to do with my life?' All I've been trying to get at was just writing songs and touring; so I started going to school, working in restaurants, working at the bookstore too, and I was living with a bunch of our shit head friends, who were all kind of lost. And the songs are kind of confessional.
I was like, 'I'm this age, I'm don't know what I'm doing with my life'; a lot of my friends had jobs, had college degrees, and even some of them had kids. And I was just... lost. And so when the debut record came out, we just made it a studio project. There wasn't even a band to go along with it. It was just some friends, and a bunch of random people in the Charleston music scene. And when it came out, people started liking it in town, and before I knew it, we were having packed shows in Charleston, and I was like, 'maybe I should give it another chance, maybe I should go back on the road, and try again.' And also, after the record came out, I started writing. I starting to find me, and my place in the world. It took away some of that anxiety, but it was still a big concern. Shit was still happening to me, happening to my friends, but a bunch of good stuff happened too. There's just more of a grounded narrative in this most recent record.
And honestly, people have validated me too. I went out and tested things as far as subject matter and asked, 'are people willing to talk about this? Can I talk about drug abuse, and race relations, and cultural change?' And then, I got going, and after the first record, I found a voice in a lot of ways, but also an audience to build from, that gave me a voice. They gave me a platform and were like, 'yeah, we want to hear what you have to say.' And I try to never take that for granted, because I looked for it for a long time. An audience.
And also with the new record, we knew that it was going to be released. We're a band now; we tour, we have stuff that we've released, and we're going to play shows, and we knew that we were going to at least have some people that were going to buy it. So, the difference of the first album, not really being in a band yet, just making a record, and kinda going for it, and seeing what happens. Then the second one, and having that green light, and you go ahead and make something really wonderful that you know people are going to listen to. I can't stress how much that means.
MG: It sounds like a lot more of a natural process for you now, now that you know what your place is with this band, and that you're doing more for you --
JO: Well, we were doing that on the first record too, but we have freedom to be even more natural now.
MG: Speaking of that, I noticed the new record has a wider palate of sounds, and a wider range of influences than you had on the first record, and it just sounded really full. I was wondering what some of the influences were for you and the band members in terms of making the new record.
JO: I don't know that I can point to specific artists. Everyone is involved in making the record, everyone in the band, and the two co-producers, have a pretty wide-ranging palette and interests in lots of music, and backgrounds too. We don't want to be pigeonholed. We wanted to be explosive in moments, you want to be a whisper in some moments; you want to create soundscapes that are almost cinematic. And you can really uplift the lyrics. But, I think we drew from a lot of different things, we drew from funk, to rock 'n' roll, country, from Caribbean music. We didn't want to make the same record again, you know? But you know, SUSTO started as a roots Americana band. There's definitely some psychedelic elements in the first record too, and different things that defy traditional Americana. The band will morph again into something. But, we wanted to make sure there was some cohesion between the two albums, and I think we made that happen.
MG: That's definitely heard on the album. So, when you guys sat down to write this record, you came at it with the idea that you wanted cohesion, and you wanted expansion; but how was the writing process for you guys? Did you jam it out, or did you sit down and write the lyrics first and then work from there? What was that like for you guys?
JO: We don't have a process, you know? We let songs reveal themselves in whichever way they want to. Going into recording, there were some songs that were almost basically finished, and we just had to record and produce it. And there were some where I had ideas, and I'd come in with the band mates and the producers and we would co-write and finish the song. And there's a song on the album that our drummer wrote, he brought that song basically fully written, and we just produced it and added a groovy edge to it. 'Diamond's Icaro' was the one that he wrote. And one of my former band mates turned co-producer, John Delaware, had most of them written, and I kinda added another verse and other things too. So there were definitely people bringing songs in that were almost fully realized songs, and then I'd say about a 1/3 of the album was an idea that I brought in. We like to be a bit open-ended. We'll even walk into the studio with nothing and say, 'well, let's see who comes up with the melody first' or Jeff could freestyle some lyrics over this, and we'll go from there.
MG: So you said you're coming up with ideas for the band to expand on. What are some of those ideas, and what do you take inspiration from for your songs?
JO: Whenever I'm doing a demo or just trying to get ideas out at my house, I just have my phone recording, and I just freestyle. Lyrically that's how I come up with lyrics - stream-of-consciousness. And I'll go back and edit it to make it make sense. I'm usually pretty comfortable and good with just speaking about what's on my mind. A lot comes from freestyle and our producers, who help smooth out the edges and stuff. That's my preferred way to write songs, to not think about it too much. I feel like when you're sitting down with lyrics and writing them out, it can feel too forced.
MG: Since you're one of our artists to watch in 2017, is there anything you want people to know about you?
JO: We're up-and-coming, but we take what we do very seriously, and we feel very fortunate to be given what we do. We make music for people's enjoyment, but we also care about social change and people coming together and creating a positive universe for us all to live in. And we really love meeting people on the road, so when I'm out on tour this year for this album, I'd encourage you to come out and see us. We love meeting people. Let's be here together, you know? I don't really know what to say other than that.
We ran out of time shortly after this, but when we got to briefly ask Justin about going on tour with The Lumineers, his reaction? "Arena tours? We never knew we'd get to do that."
Check out their upcoming tour dates HERE