By Harriet Kaplan
Justin Osbourne, founder of the Charleston, S.C.-based country-rock band SUSTO, spoke with BoC to promote the upcoming EP release of new music in May and its sophomore full-length solo album, “I’m Fine Today,” to follow in late spring 2016. Singer/songwriter Osbourne, who also plays guitar and keyboards, discussed the origin of the group’s unusual name and how it fits within the context of personal themes explored in the songs, touring on the road versus recording in the studio, the songwriting process, refusing to be pigeonholed and meeting Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses who championed SUSTO and the resulting friendship that continues to this day.
Can you tell me how the band picked the name SUSTO in more detail?
Justin: I (Justin) was studying Latin American culture and came across the term SUSTO which refers to a folk illness where a person can experience prolonged trauma as a result of some event or series of events. The condition is spiritual in nature and literally translates to “soul loss”. The term is also used colloquially to refer to a fright or panic. I felt that the term embodied the themes of the project and the emotions and trauma I was experiencing in my own life (lack of direction, debt, relationship troubles with my lover and also issues with my family over my denouncing Christianity) so I decided to name he album and band SUSTO.
Does the band have a favorite tour stop and why?
Justin: We’ve been fortunate enough to play a bunch of really cool cities this past year and a lot of them stand out as great places to hang out. To be honest though, there’s no place like home and we have a beautiful city to call home so I think our favorite tour stop would have to be our hometown of Charleston SC. The people, the weather, the food…it’s always good to be in Charleston, especially with all the traveling we’ve been doing as of recent.
Does the band like touring versus recording or vice versa and why?
Justin: You know, we enjoy both and both have their pros and cons. I wouldn’t say that one is more enjoyable than the other because they can both be beautiful and frustrating experiences. It’s nice to keep a good balance though, too much touring & not enough creating can kill an artist and too much recording without getting out and touring can hold you back…in our humble opinion – haha.
Can you tell me about the songwriting process. How does the band collaborate together?
Justin: The song writing process in our band is different for everyone song and rarely to we all collaborate at once to create a song or recording, this tends to lead to a “too many cooks” scenario. That said, sometime I’ll bring in a song and it’ll be mostly finished so everyone kind helps me round it out (along with our producer, Wolfgang Zimmerman who is like the band’s ghost member). Other times Wolfy, myself and another member (usually Johnny) we collaborate and wrote together while recording. Sometimes we do a song that someone else in the band has written and I add my own spin to the lyrics. We have two songs on our upcoming album that came about like that. At the end of the day, I maintain creative control of the “SUSTO narrative” but everyone contributes and adds their spin on the songs at some point in the recording process.
Latin American culture and living in Cuba seems to have informed the music. Can you tell me more about that and exactly how so?
Justin: My time in Cuba certainly had an impact on my musical taste and also my decision to pursue music full time. I had moved to Cuba to get out of the music business after being in another band for almost and decade and getting burnt out on the road. Once I got their, I fell in with some great musicians who taught me a lot about authenticity in music and inspired/encouraged me to come back to the U.S. and give it another try with SUSTO. My bandmates share my love for diverse genres of music and there are some Afro-Cuban influences on the new EP and full length, for sure, along with many other influences from all across the spectrum.
What can fans expect to hear as far as the sound or style on the new EP and full-length album coming out?
Justin: As far as what listeners should expect, I think fans of SUSTO will continue to be fans of our new material. We are expanding our sound and exploring genres that we hinted at with our first record. Also I think this record will reach beyond the Americana/Alt-country genre that we’ve been assigned to. We love that people have taken so well to our first record and understand that sometimes people need to label things to help express the pleasure it brings them, but we set out to bend genres and we will continue to do our best to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to place us into any one genre of music.
Are you self produced? At some point down the line do you want to work with a producer and who would that be and why? How did you connect with Band of Horses and do tour dates with them?
Justin: As I mentioned earlier, we work with our close friend and collaborator Wolfgang Zimmerman in the studio. He works with a lot of great bands in Charleston and I personally have been recording with him for a long time with previous bands and so we’ve had a great chance to grow together in the studio. Johnny also plays a very active production role in the studio. We have experimented with working with our producers a little; we spent a day in the studio with Stuart Sikes last time we were in Austin TX and also we’ve been working with John Collins of Destroyer on the mixing for our EP. It’s been fun bringing new folks into the party but I think in the future we will continue to work with Wolfgang even if that means we are co-producing at another producers studio. He is too closely tied to the spirit of the band to not have a part in the recording process.
Ben from Band of Horses lives in Charleston and reached out to us after hearing our record via reference from a friend here in town. I was working at a bar as a line cook and they would play the record all the time when it came out, that’s how it eventually got to Ben.
He emailed me, we met up and he offered to help us in anyway he could. That led to us doing some shows with them and even to us getting hooked up with our mutual attorney Richard Grabel. Ben continues to be a mentor to us and even loaned us tire chains for our last tour into the snow. We are all long time fans of BoH and feel honored to have them as fans of what we are doing. Hopefully we will get to do more shows together in the future, we’ll see. Nothing but love for those guys, they are one of my all time favorite bands and Ben is one of the kindest human beings I’ve met.