One of Nashville’s hottest new acts, Brothers Osborne didn’t even need an album to get a Grammy nod. Single “Stay a Little Longer” (No. 4 on Country Airplay) nabbed a best country duo/group performance nomination weeks before their EMI Nashville debut, Pawn Shop, arrived Jan. 15. John, 34, and T.J., 32, share the unlikely people (Babyface!), places (Maryland?) and history (hanging with Kacey Musgraves) that inspired their sound.
The Osbornes make laid-back country with wry tales of blue-collar life and jammy rock flourishes, but Pawn Shop is the product of much broader listening habits. “I love Toni Braxton and Babyface,” says T.J. “I didn’t even know what genres were until embarrassingly late in life. If it was good, I listened to it. And that’s how we tried to make the record: What makes it cool? It just feels good.”
“We go to pawn shops in almost every city we visit,” says John of their album title. “It’s a race to see who can find that one cool steal. They’re kind of sad places, actually. But every story’s sad until you find a bit of humor in it. Humor is the only thing you have sometimes.” Adds T.J.: “We go straight for the guitars. We walk in and scan every one within seconds — we’re like the Terminator.”
Classic Rock Duos
With John on guitar and T.J. on vocals, the pair looks to similar duos for inspiration. “It’s an old-school rock thing, like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page [above] or Joe Perry and Steven Tyler,” says John of their music’s guitar- and vocal-heavy arrangements. “It just made sense to play to our strengths. I think we got nominated for that Grammy because we had these two strong elements.”
“Almost like a musicians’ dorm” is how T.J. describes the East Nashville hangouts the brothers once shared with Kacey Musgraves, her bandleader-boyfriend Misa Arriga, Charlie Worsham and other rising musicians. “It was incredible. We were always at jam sessions with Kacey. We’d hang out, smoke weed and play until four in the morning. Surprisingly, the police never got called.”
The Osbornes came up playing dive bars in their hometown of Deale, Md. “Everyone asks, ‘How’d you get into country in Maryland?’ ” says John. “But it’s just as country as anywhere else. Everybody’s got a mailbox hanging by a thread and cars in the yard. Dad had this old Mustang — it was a haven for rodents. Deale’s gritty and tough; that’s why our songs are gritty and tough.”
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of Billboard.