It was three years ago this spring when we filmed a series of acoustic sessions in Charleston where we were first introduced to the project that would become Susto. Justin Osborne had just posted a song to his personal Facebook account that Valentine’s Day titled “Friends, Lovers, Ex-Lovers Etc.” and little did we know then that we were hearing Susto for the first time. His band then Sequoyah was still active, but starting to scatter as members began to go their own way, with guitarist Jordan Hicks going on to join Brave Baby and Johnnie Matthews leaving the band to start his own project, Elim Bolt. In many ways Sequoyah’s album Spells laid the groundwork for what Susto would become, but as good and important as that album was, it was an attempt to flee the Prep School shadow. Spells was important for several reasons: it was Wolfgang Zimmerman’s first notable full-length recording project, the closing track “Suits” was not only a telling song for the band, but introduced us to Elim Bolt and Matthews signature warble, and the album showcased a more serious side to Osborne’s songwriting ability. It was the first time since the spotlight was on him that he was able to write the album that he wanted to write. It didn’t exactly catch on with the long time Sequoyah Prep School fans.
So, Osborne traded in all those years of touring and hard work and started over from scratch. It took time to rebuild, but the relationships he built stood strong. While Sequoyah brought along fellow bands over the years by sharing opening slots, bands like Brave Baby repaid the favor doing their part in boosting Susto back to where they are today. They’ve also built new relationships with the likes of Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses who not only reps Susto’s “Acid Boys” merch line, but brought the band on the road with them opening several dates last year. Like Bridwell did on tour, he’s lent his vocals to “County Line” on the live recordings. This album Live from the Country Music Hall of Fame brings things full circle. It celebrates the one year anniversary of their self titled debut, and opens with “Friends, Lovers, Ex-Lovers…Whatever”, the song which started the whole thing.
Read our full Q&A with Justin Osborne of Susto below.
Where did the idea to record the live album come from? Did it mean a lot to record something like this in the same space where you wrote the songs?
It started off by me really wanting to release something on cassette tape. I started a conversation with Fuzz Row Records in Missouri and at first I wanted to send them some house recordings I had made & call it “Live from the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame”, but eventually we decided it would be cool to do an actual live performance and coordinate the release with the one year anniversary of the debut album. It was a lot of fun to have such an intimate show in the house where most of the songs were written. It was actually a very emotional experience for me, I had to struggle to keep my composure during the set. I kept looking out into the crowd and seeing faces that I hadn’t seen before the first record came out, and there they all were singing along…it was a really special moment for me and Johnny (Delaware) too. Some great musicians guest appeared, singing in my living room with Ben Bridwell who has been a hero of mine turned friend, it was all just very overwhelming and special in the best way. It felt like all the stories in the songs had come full circle, like the struggle of life had somehow worked out in our favor….if that makes sense.
What was the set up like? It seems like mostly a solo live album with guest spots and it works really well to show what each party contributes to the song.
Well we moved all the furniture out of our living room and set up three chairs kind of in the corner. Steven (Walker) from Brave Baby (who lives with us) had set up his recording gear so it was like this little corner cut out with mics, chairs, and instruments and the rest of the house (kitchen/living room/foyer/porch) was packed with people. We used my girlfriend and my room as a green room. As you can hear, it was a kind of rotating line-up throughout the show. I played and sang on every song but we had different people like Corey, Johnny, Jordan & Matt (who have all been a part of the band at some point) sitting in on different songs where I felt they most fit and it made for a cool diverse type of show. Ben expressed interest in wanting to join in on a song so we decided on “County Line” for him since he had performed it with us live before. I think every person really added to the songs they were on and made each one unique.
The biggest part about being a creative type person is taking chances. I feel like you’ve done that throughout your musical life in different ways, changing the from SPS to just Sequoyah and now to Susto. That first Susto album went through a lot of demos, are you happy with how it’s been received in its first year?
Yes, taking chances has been a part of life for me, especially in the last few years. Ending SPS was hard to do but it has been really rewarding. SUSTO has given me a clean slate creatively and allowed me to rebrand myself and my art. I couldn’t be happier with our first record and the response to it from listeners. I think as an artist you go through years of trying to find yourself, and I feel like I’ve finally found my voice and gotten to a place where I’m comfortable being honest lyrically and vocally.
Did the Acid Boys branding take off more than you imagined? I feel like there’s some serious camaraderie there with it being tattooed on you and has turned into a symbol of support in not only Susto, but the SC music scene. It’s a bold shirt.
The whole ACID BOYS phenomena has been a pleasant surprise. The term came about in the writing/recording of our song “Acid Boys”, I was kind of free-styling lyrics trying to finish out the verses & the term just kind of popped out of my mouth while in an attempt to describe myself and my group of friends (at the time we were experimenting with LSD & riding around on dirt bikes, it was rad haha). We started referring to ourselves as the “Acid Boys” and eventually I got the tattoos mostly as a promise to myself never to get a real job and as an homage to our years of experimenting and coming of age. Then when we started printing T-shirts & sweatshirts and the whole thing became pretty popular in the local/regional scene, which is great because merch sales help keep my rent paid and my stomach fed. Now we’re branching out into Skateboards and we’ve got more ideas and projects in the works for the Acid Boys brand. We’ve even been approached by some folks about documentaries and a TV series, so I’m excited to see what the future holds and thankful that this brand just sort’ve fell in my lap. We’ve got some great photos of Sean Moeller (daytrotter), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), You (scenesc), and other artists wearing Acid Boys, it looks good on them. I love it.
After this release you have the split 7 inch with Johnny Delaware coming out. Are those both new songs on that split? What do you have in the works after that?
Yes! We are really excited for this split because it’s our first release with our friends at Hearts & Plugs. It’s also kind of an interesting dissection of our sound because on one side you have Johnny D’s solo stuff that he was recording during his hiatus from SUSTO and on the other side you have SUSTO sans Johnny D, so it’s kind of like SUSTO split in half because the collaboration between Johnny and myself is crucial to the sound of our debut album. The SUSTO songs on this split are meant to be fun. One is a new song called Circle Fountain Medley which is about shagging at the Circle Fountain (Florence, SC) with my stoner granddad and using social media as a dating tool, it’s for fun and has a sun groove. The other song is a Calypso version of our tune Black Jesus. We listen to a ton of old Calypso music here at the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, so it was really fun to do a Calypso version of that song. I think the release will be timed really well with the coming of good weather because our side of the split if very much a fun, summery, party side of SUSTO.
I think this live album really solidifies you in a big way in the Charleston music scene and beyond, as if the album wasn’t representative enough. There seems to be some serious chemistry between you and Johnny, Jordan, Thomas, and everyone who came up and performed with you on the album. What do you chalk that chemistry up to?
I hope you’re right, it’s hard to tell sometimes who’s listening, but the local community has for sure been really supportive of our work and has been really receptive of our sound. Like I mentioned earlier, everyone who guest appeared on the live album (except for Ben) has been in the band and performed live with the band at some point in time. Johnny and I obviously have a great friendship and made the record together so singing those songs, in the house was very real and special to us because we wrote a lot of them together in that very room. Jordan and I have played several shows together as a duo and really have a great time playing off of each other vocally, plus we’ve become really great friends in the last year. Corey and Matt and I also have played a lot of shows together since for a while the 3 of us and Gordon Keiter were the live line-up. The chemistry I think comes from the friendships that I’ve formed with all of them through performing these songs live together and being on the road. We’ve all become closer through performing and working together.
Ryan (Zimmerman) mentioned this weekend that he was talking to someone who was a big fan of Susto, but had never even listened to SPS. Do you think you’re shedding that shadow more and more?
I think so, there are definitely a lot of folks who have followed me from SPS to SUSTO (and plenty who didn’t) and I’m grateful for those people but it’s also nice to be finding new fans who have never heard of SPS and probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. It’s nice to have SUSTO fans, I think the project is better than what we were doing with SPS and it deserves its own fanbase without an asterisk. On the other hand, some people who have heard SUSTO and looked back have been really into the last album we did as Sequoyah Spells. A lot of people who were familiar with SPS but not fans and are now fans of SUSTO wonder where the change came from, but I think it’s because Spells really flew under the radar. If you listen to SPS, then listen to Spells, then listen to SUSTO it’s easier to hear the progression. It was a segway that a lot of people missed, which may have turned out to be a good thing. It left me in a position to start over, and that has made all the difference.