When asked to describe SUSTO’s music, Justin Osborne replies by calling it “cosmic country. Others have called it dark country. It’s basically whimsical Americana.” Osborne creates this unique brand of “whimsical country” with the other half of SUSTO, Johnny Delaware. However you want to frame it, though, what these two create together is extremely good. “Some of our music is sarcastic, girl-crazy, senile, depressed, happy, adventurous and in love,” Osborne adds. ”These are all parts of my personality.”
Before connecting together with Delaware, Osborne was the lead singer (and songwriter) for Sequoyah Prep School for a decade. Amazingly, SUSTO’s debut album marks the 10th recording Osborne’s participated in already. He hails from the whimsically named Puddin’ Swamp, South Carolina. “I grew up in the rural South,” he explains. “I left home to go on tour with a band I started in high school. The road is where I learned about life.”
SUSTO’s other half is Johnny Delaware. Delaware’s from South Dakota (not Delaware), but has followed his musical muse all over the country, including stops in Albuquerque, Nashville and Austin. Both men now call Charleston, South Carolina home. They met through mutual friend/producer Wolfgang Zimmerman, and quickly began making music together.
Osborne was originally introduced to music quite informally. “When I was 12,” he recalls, “my granddad left me his guitar when he died. My dad kept it in his closet. When no one else was home, I would sneak in to play it even though it only had three strings. I would still try to write songs.” There was no stopping him then or now. Three strings were more than enough to get his creative juices flowing.
Osborne may call his music “whimsical Americana,” but his songs are far more serious than such a description may initially lead you to believe. At least that’s the impression left by the group’s debut, which will be released (no joke) on April 1, 2014. During one song, “Motorcycle Club,” he admits, “There’s a demon in me in a holy city,” on a song that includes a bevy of religious imagery. “I grew up in a religious household,” Osborne explains, “but now I am an atheist.” The song title alludes to one of Osborne’s favorite pastimes – riding motorcycles. Religion is also referenced in one titled “Black River Gospel” and another called “Black Jesus.”
On the wilder side of the lyrical spectrum, Osborne admits, “I love to experience as much of life as possible and tell stories about it through songs. I like to drink, smoke and experiment.” However, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if Osborne is being sincere, or just pulling your leg. “I was married in Havana once,” he notes. “The marriage lasted for about three months. She is a music journalist and we are still good friends.” Is this the real Justin Osborne, or just a little Jack White coming through his personality? You be the judge.
In some respects, though, Osborne’s Havana story makes some sense. He graduated from College of Charleston with a degree in Anthropology and minors in American studies and Latin American and Caribbean studies. So who knows?
Many musicians form bands to meet girls, while others join groups to attain fortune and fame. For Osborne, though, his goals are far more simple, reasonable and practical. “Being able to tour and make a descent profit” is one of his hopes. “Getting at least nominated for a Grammy would be nice, too,” he adds.
SUSTO may not be able to brag about winning that Grammy quite yet, but they’ve already impacted one of their musical heroes. “Ben Bridwell (of Band of Horses) called our record a masterpiece and it made me cry.” Such are big words from a highly respected Americana musician. It certainly reveals that SUSTO is on the right track. Osborne has come a long way from being that kid with a three-string guitar, to creating music that even makes rock stars cry. It will be fascinating to see where this talented duo goes from here.