Susto Founder Justin Osborne Talks Band's Growing Music Career

Paul Chelmis
Susto

Susto's music has been garnering a lot of attention as of late, recently landing them a coveted performance slot on CBS This Morning. It seems that since the band released their album & I’m Fine Today (out on Acid Boys/Missing Piece Records), that word of Susto’s talents are spreading around the United States like wildfire. That’s music to founder Justin Osborne’s ears. Currently in the midst of a tour that brought them to Nashville recently, he tells Billboard that Music City plays a huge role in the band’s career.

“It’s been one of our markets that we have tried to build up since I started the band in Charleston, South Carolina,” Osborne said in an interview at Nashville’s Grimey’s Record Shop. “I wanted to hit DC, Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte, because those are the four places near us that have professional sports teams, so that’s my rule of thumb. But, Nashville is such a big music town.” He admits those artistic roots play a role in his earliest musical memories.

“I grew up with my parents and grandparents watching The Nashville Network. I actually have a TNN belt buckle that my granddad left me. A lot of our team is here in Nashville, so it’s always fun to come back. It’s good to see them, and the Cannery is always a great place to play shows.”

Osborne says the reception the band has gotten on their tour has been great, if not a little bit of a pleasant surprise. “We didn’t really know if we would have a fan base, because we have done a lot of opening for people last year. We’ve been out for three months, then opened for The Lumineers for a run, and have been back headlining for about a month. it’s nice to be able to sandwich that support slot with two headlining stints. We got to play to our crowds, and see how the fan base has gtown.”

When asked about the learning curve between being an opening act and now a headliner, he says the lessons have been plenty.

“I think we learned a lot more about performing and being entertainers, and making the music translate live to people. We’ve also learned about different crowds, which has been great to be able to navigate between different crowds. We’ve also tried to take it to heart that every night is special, and always step up our game. It might be one of several shows for us during the week, but that’s not going to be the case for everyone. We just want every show to be better than the last. We take what we do seriously, but we also want to have fun, enjoy it, and be in the moment. It’s important to be present and with the audience, and to be present in the city that you’re in when you’re there, because you’re only there for a short time, so you try to make the most of it.”

A listen inside the new album reveals a band that seems to be in a pretty good spot right now. Osborne says that while he doesn’t want to use the word contentment, he is definitely at a place in his career and life where he is a little more settled. “Life is continually changing. I am as happy as I feel I can be, but I think you come to terms that life is full of suffering, and it ends. Not trying to ignore that, and acknowledging that, is a place that I think I am at. There’s a million things going wrong in the world, but you’ve just got to take it as it comes, and not get too stressed out about it. As far as I can tell, you only get one life, so why spend it worrying? It can be taken away at any second. The music is a story of coming to terms with those things as they come to life in real time. Our music is very much a narrative of real life, a group of experiences that are happening. It’s almost like a chronological diary.”

Things weren’t always as comfortable for him growing up. “I dropped out of college twice. The first time, I toured for a while, and got burned out by it. The second time, it just felt like I needed to go back to the touring. Hopefully, my friend and producer says that I live on a pendulum, bur hopefully that pendulum will stay to one side for a while. I feel like I have a certain understanding of what I’m doing musically, It could have gone a lot of other different ways, but I’m definitely happy with it now. We’re playing shows all over the country, and the world soon, and that’s something that each of us have wanted for a long time.”

It’s a question that no artist particularly likes to be asked, but given their diverse musical stylings, Osborne chuckled when asked how he would classify the band’s sound. “I think it depends on what day you catch us on as to how we would describe it. I feel that as a basis, there’s kind of an Alt-Country / Americana feel to it, which closely mirrors Indie Rock, as far as our background. There’s also the bluntness of what we’ll talk about sometimes, which lends itself to a little bit of Punk Rock. We also like to incorporate different styles musically. We also have strings and synths. We’re comfortable in the Alt-Country / Americana genre, but we’re also comfortable pushing those boundaries. I don’t know what people might call us, but we’re just an American band that is trying to make music that we know how to make, but at the same time, always be expanding what we are trying to do.”

That bluntness in their lyrics come across in “Gay In The South.” Osborne admits that while the song is timely, he is glad that society is a little more open than in the past -- particularly in his native area. “I feel like as a society, thankfully, we are becoming more accepting. I’m not gay personally, but I have a lot of friends and family members who are, and seeing them face that, and not really have the chance to be themselves -- especially in small southern towns where I come from, it’s hard. Thankfully, that conversation is being had. We’re just a part of it. There’s a lot of people who are doing more than what we’re doing to move the ball forward. But, the world is not where it needs to be yet. We can all work together to get there,” he says.

That’s not to say that some of his lyrics aren’t a little controversial. But, he stresses he’s not trying to force his opinions on anyone. He just wants to start a conversation. “I think that where people take more offense to our songs is where I say that I don’t think that Hell is real, and where I’m questioning the religious framework of our society. That can be even touchier for people. People can make concessions in their cultural views, but when you start to shake the foundation of someone’s universe and how they understand it, that’s sometimes a more difficult conversation to have. And, that’s okay. I don’t want to have an argument as much as I want to have a conversation about it. I come from a place where I’ve had to rearrange my life because of certain things that I feel like I have realized. I think the backlash comes from people who don’t agree with me about the nature and the origins of the universe and the existence, where we go when we die. That’s okay too. I just want to be able to feel free and able to say how I feel.”

Osborne allows that the band works because of their differences -- in influence as well as sound. “We got very lucky, because everyone has very different experiences. It’s not like a band where you all went to high school together, and you’re the same age. We’re all spread out in location, and also in age, and we also come from different influences musically. I think that mix brings about a good balance. We are all very serious about our craft, and are approaching it professionally. We’re trying to learn from each other.”

In keeping with the band’s mentality of enjoying the moment, Osborne simply hopes to keep things going. “I’m real happy right now with the growth that has happened in the past three months, and I hope that people continue to respond to it positively. Maybe, it helps start conversations with people like it has in our lives. If you had told me three years ago that we’d be on a national tour right now, selling out shows, that is success to me. We’ve already achieved goals, but trying to formulate what the new goals should be is very much an ongoing process. We’re just having a good time, and just trying to make quality music. I just want to continue to do what we love, and not ever hate it.”