When I met Justin Osborne of SUSTO at Music Hall of Williamsburg he was wearing a bejeweled weed leaf necklace that might be found at South of the Border. It’s the sort of thing you’d find at any travel plaza on the road, where SUSTO has spent the better part of the last two years touring its eponymous debut album which caught listeners by surprise and not let them go.
Musically, SUSTO is like a deep-fried Deer Tick, where Justin Osborne’s smoky, whiskey-flecked growl dives into the hollows of southern life as deeply as Flannery O’Connor or Padget Powell, but with the occasional acid flashback. And while the debut album, SUSTO, grapples the fear of uncertainty, Osborne says the band has turned its energy towards embracing life, or as he calls it, “the SUSTO gospel.”
Recently, the Charleston, SC band announced its second album, & I’m Fine Today, as well as a tour opening for The Lumineers. But for all the stomping-folk bands that have taken SUSTO on tour, the band has also found patrons in acts like Band of Horses, Futurebirds, and Heartless Bastards. With the band’s audience growing at a feverish pace, and new music set to stream, the road will be the band’s home for the foreseeable future, making Osborne kitschy weed necklace less an ironic token and more a badge of a contemporary road warrior–who likes smoking weed.
In our interview, Osborne talks about helping grow a music scene in Charleston, his thoughts and reflections on the shootings at Mother Emanuel church, and how he and his friends became the “Acid Boys.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Brendan Finn: Justin, first of all, how was that fucking show man?
Justin Osborne: It felt really good, it was really fun. We love playing in NY. This is a really cool venue too, the crowd was into it and we felt really good about it. It was one of the more fun ones of the tour, I’d say.
BF: I think my first question I want to ask is, what’s coming from SUSTO? I know there’s a new album coming.
JO: We also got some big tour new coming up that we’re gonna be announcing next week and you know, lots of cool things, lots of 2017 news. We’re still gonna be on the road most of this year, and we’re gonna be on the road next year too, but the album is gonna come out really early in the year and so it’s gonna be a big year and it’s gonna be fun, so: new music, new tours, all kinds of new stuff.
BF: You’re talking about being on the road, you’re on it for pretty much this entire year, and it sounds like you’re gonna be out on it again–
JO: Probably the next two years.
BF: What has this tour life been like? Is this the most you’ve toured and how are you getting through it?
JO: You know when we first started hitting the road, with Susto, like, I had been in touring bands before, and I thought I knew about touring, I thought that I had toured a lot–I had no fucking idea. We have toured a shitload. And it’s been really great because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s how we grow the band, but yeah it does get long… But our band gets along really well together and I think that’s the biggest thing that helps. We’re a diverse group of people. Diverse in age, diverse in personality type, and from different parts of the country, and I think we kinda get each other through it. We get along really well, that’s key because I’ve been in bands before where we were friends when we started the band and not friends by the time we ended it because we just couldn’t stand each other.
But yeah, I think having each other’s back. And also, you know when we do get to go home it’s nice, we live in a great place, and so like when we do get to go there it helps us recharge and also what helps is seeing the crowds grow, and seeing the progress, and that makes you feel like you’re out there for a reason.
BF: One thing you mentioned was being able to go back to an awesome place in Charleston. If you could just speak a little bit to like watching the Charleston scene grow, what has that been like? And what it means to you now?
JO: I’m really really proud of everybody. There’s good music being written, there’s a lot of people supporting it, the whole city has really just like supported the shit out of us and helped us by being a cool city that comes out to see us play. We’ve been able to show trade with bands and they’ll come play with us and put us in front of their crowd and there’s a lot of beauty in the people that live in Charleston and it’s cool to see the music scene growing.
And being a part of it, we’re very thankful to be a part of it and want to continue to be a part of it, and help out. Hopefully when we get up to a certain tier we can take Charleston bands out on the road with us. It’s been cool to be right in the middle of it, people we’re all very close with have been playing key roles in this development of the scene. So we’ll see what happens, it’s still really young.
People will come through, and if they’re just visiting Charleston, they might go to a show and go “Fuck!” And there’s a college there too, there’s a big house show community, so the show-going community is very big and that’s kind of what making people move there to work. I think the city draws people in and it’s just a cool place to live and the quality of music being made and being exported out of Charleston is attracting people to Charleston to play.
BF: Apparently the thing right now is “preaching the Susto gospel,” can you tell me a little bit about the gospel? What, are we talking John, Paul, old testament?
JO: Hahaha, it’s a brand new gospel, not “new,” it’s a gospel. It’s a gospel people have believed for a long time, you know, positivity and accepting yourself. There’s a quote, “be good to your bad self.” And, the first album, it’s a lot about panic and being frustrated and scared with where I was in my life, and this one is more about getting to a place where it feels good, and then it’s looking at the world and thinking about how delicate is it and how we can change things by being positive to each other–and we all go through hard times, and hard times are gonna come.
The Susto gospel is just truth and love of mankind and love of the planet that we all get to inhabit, you know? It sounds like some hippie shit and it probably is but… Well, I think a little more peace and love in the world is not gonna be a bad thing.
BF: Your lyrics and everything are very direct. There’s a lot of direct influences, a lot of direct stories, things that have happened to you or so it seems in the characters of these stories. Writing from a place like that, is that just how you approach songwriting?
JO: That’s how I approach songwriting. One thing that’s very important to us is being authentic and that comes with stories. Like “Waves,” there’s pieces of experience that happened, like this day I was surfing with my friends, but it’s real world questions about this state of mankind, you know?
In the first line of waves, “Is there anybody in there? Smoking weed with God / Or are you hiding out with guns somewhere, I highly doubt that.” There’s so much violence in the world and so many people, just bad things, even if it’s not violence–if it’s things people can’t help.
But still, at the same time, we still exist on this rock that is spinning around this ball of fire and it’s just far enough away that the grass grows and we breathe! It’s super fucking weird that we exist! And so, celebrating all that we find shit to argue about and you know maybe we just need to take a step back and look at how things are.
BF: Talking about “hiding out with guns,” obviously, it reminds me of the situation you guys were in not even two years ago, the situation in Charleston with Dylann Roof. You guys are very much part of the fabric of that city, of the creative community, what was that like?
JO: We were on tour when it happened and it was super weird, it was right when we started touring, it was our very first tour, it was just three pieces, it was just me [SUSTO guitarists] Corey [Campbell] and Johnny [Delaware]. And we were on tour with some Australians, which, guns are illegal in Australia so we had plenty of conversations about it. We had to cancel the rest of the tour and go home because it was too weird. If you’ve ever lived in Charleston you know how tight the community is–and it’s not a perfect place–but people are pretty chill and caring–and the shooter wasn’t even from Charleston, he drove down from Columbia.
We canceled the last shows of the tour and went home to go and join in this unity walk where they walked over the bridge from one side to the other, and we all met and held hands and something really interesting happened: it was really moving to see the community respond in that way, in a positive way. And I was walking back down the bridge and an older black lady I heard her talking to somebody saying one of the people that died was a family member of her’s and I heard her say, “if those that died could see what it did for the community, they would have gladly given their lives.”
To hear somebody say that, I just broke out crying–I’m about to now–because it’s such a beautiful thing, we all have a lot more in common than we realize. Gun violence is a thing that’s a really big issue and it’s not just jihadists, it’s people that walk into nightclubs and shoot people or in theatres, and it’s like what drives someone to that why is that a thing in our society, and why don’t people just smoke more weed and chill out?
BF: Finally, can you give us a little oral history on the Acid Boys?
JO: Oh, the acid boys. So there’s a pretty tight group of people we work in the studio with, it’s myself, Johnny, and our producer Wolfgang. So, when Johnny moved to Charleston we lived in this house we called the “Australian Country Music Hall of Fame” and a lot of musicians lived there, and the storage units we recorded in were right down the street. So we were all just kind of mid-20s, fucking shitheads–none of us were doing anything really successful with music yet, we were just kind of tinkering around and trying to make our record. And we were just taking acid, and we would ride around on beach cruisers at night in Charleston on Friday nights–and we were broke too, so it was much easier to buy a hit of acid than go to a bar and spend 40 bucks.
So we would take the acid and ride around and put our acid clothes on, just crazy looking shit and we’d ride around. I had a beach cruiser it was this trek beach cruiser that was fast, it had a skull bell on it and shit. We had pride in our bikes and this is what we’d do! We’d trip acid and we’d ride around, everybody would be out on Friday nights, just looking at people the lights would be crazy and we’d go down to streets in the old neighborhoods which would be pretty empty and quiet. There this one street in Charleston, it’s the only street in Charleston where you can see the Ashley river and the Cooper river and it’s long, it cuts the entire peninsula. And we’d just get up going really fucking fast and stand up on the bikes.
We were just a bunch of just dudes that were all going through breakups. So we’re hanging together, tripping acid, being broke shitheads and chasing college girls and shit. So I was writing a song about the breakup I was going through, where there was this whole situation where I pulled a gun on this dude because I was drunk, [the ex-grirlfriend] lived below me in the same house. And this “Acid Boys” story happened when she came over with a dude and they were fucking right up under me and it was driving me crazy. And I was drunk on King Cobra, so I was angry drunk, and I went out and pulled a gun on the dude, and they called the cops on me and they put me in the back of the cop car.
So I was singing about that and what went wrong in my life and “I been running with the Acid Boys” just came right off the dome–that whole song I just freestyled. That’s kind of a technique I’ll do. I’ll freestyle it and it’ll be 80% of the way there and I’ll tweak it, but I think that’s the best way to not overthink lyrics and to get something that’s really what’s going on. I can feel it whenever I have to say, so we’ll get like a few parts of it and I just referred to us as the acid boys and everyone was like “Yeah! We are the fucking Acid Boys!” And we started calling ourselves that and printing it.
And whenever I decided to start doing this full-time I was in school and it was exam week on my last semester and I had already passed two of my classes and I had one class left, but I was booking this tour, and Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses had hit me up and said “hey you wanna go on the road with us?” And I was like fuckin’ A. So I wrote my professor and I was like, “dude, I know this is the only thing that’s keeping me from graduating but I don’t wanna graduate–I don’t give a shit. My life is happening right now, I don’t have time to write this paper or go take your exam.” And he was cool about it, and failed me! But the next day I went and got my knuckles tattooed and started touring. And here we are, this worked!
SUSTO Tour Dates
October 5—Tupelo, MS—Blue Canoe
October 6—Dallas, TX—City Tavern
October 7—Austin, TX—Austin City Limits Festival
October 10—New Orleans, LA—Gasa Gasa
October 12—Baton Rouge, LA—Varsity Theatre
October 13—Mobile, AL—Callaghan’s Irish Social Club
October 14—Atlanta, GA—The Earl
October 22—Huntington, WV—VClub Live^
October 23—Wilmington, DE—World Cafe Live^
October 25—Baltimore, MD—The 8×10^
October 27—Burlington, VT—Higher Ground^
October 28—Portland, ME—One Longfellow Square^
October 29—Asbury Park, NJ—House of Independents^
November 11—Raleigh, NC—Southland Ballroom
November 12—Greer, SC—The Spinning Jenny
December 10—Columbia, SC—The Music Farm‡
December 31—Charleston, SC—Charleston Music Hall†
February 28—Grand Prairie, TX—Verizon Theater*
March 2—Sugarland, TX—Smart Financial Theater*
March 3—New Orleans, LA—UNO Lakefront Arena*
March 8—Duluth, GA—Infinite Energy Arena*
March 10— Indianapolis, IN—Bankers Life Fieldhouse*
March 11— Cleveland, OH— Wolstein Center*
March 14— Pittsburgh, PA—Petersen Events Center*
March 16—Uncasville, CT—Mohegan Sun Arena*
March 18—Montreal, QC— Bell Centre*
March 19— Quebec City, QC—Videotron Centre*
March 21—Ottawa, ON— Canadian Tire Centre*
March 22— London, ON—RBC Theatre, Budweiser Gardens*
March 24— Des Moines, IA—Wells Fargo Arena*
March 25—Milwaukee, WI—BMO Harris Bradley Center*
March 28— Winnipeg, SK— MTS Centre*
March 30—Saskatoon, SK—SaskTel Centre*
March 31— Edmonton, AB—Rogers Place*
* w/ The Lumineers
† w/ Shakey Graves
‡ w/ Futurebirds
^ w/ Langhorne Slim
# w/ Wild Child