Charleston band, led by Justin Osborne, will play a sold-out show at The Radio Room this weekend
The upward arc of Charleston singer/songwriter/guitarist Justin Osborne and his band, SUSTO, has been startling to watch. Beginning with a self-titled, and essentially self-released album in 2014, Osborne has more or less created his own genre, mixing wistful, melodic folk music, anthemic, heavy rock and intensely confessional songwriting with a palpably dark atmosphere. Many of the songs on SUSTO and the band’s 2017 follow-up, & I’m Fine Today, are soaked in a mysterious, twilit glow, giving an eerily otherworldly feel to Osborne’s first-person tales of addiction, confusion, heartbreak and hope.
It’s a singular sound that has carried SUSTO from hard-scrabble indie-band to a berth on Rounder Records, home of Alison Krauss, Blackberry Smoke, Bela Fleck, and the Indigo Girls, among many others. It’s allowed them to tour the world and pack shows in the Upstate, from Fall For Greenville to The Spinning Jenny to the Radio Room, where they’ll be playing a sold-out show on Friday night.
SUSTO’s success also inevitably takes Osborne away from Charleston for more than 200 days a year, away from his wife and his close circle of friends. There’s an interesting dichotomy in play in Osborne’s life right now; he’s essentially living his dream, playing in front of a great band to huge crowds, but he’s away from the home he loves; that’s where we find him on SUSTO’s new album, Ever Since I Lost My Mind.
Working with longtime collaborators like Charleston’s Wolfgang Zimmerman (who co-produced and played drums), co-producer Ian Fitchuk (on keyboards, percussion and guitar) and bassist Jordan Hicks, Osborne has essentially combined the strengths of the first two SUSTO albums, mixing the atmospheric intimate moments of the first record (on “No Way Out” and “Cocaine”) with the wide-screen hard-rock moments of the second (on “Homeboy” and “Last Century”). Lyrically, just about every song mentions travel, and there’s a sense of isolation throughout.
“I think over the last few years, I’ve been estranged from my wife and my friends and my hometown,” Osborne says, “and I’ve questioned what was I getting myself into. But I was loving it at the same time and feeling lucky and really free. When I listen back to this album, it’s how I’ve been feeling the last couple of years. There’s a homesickness that’s there.”
Some of that homesickness stems from the fact that Osborne has a lot more to come home to now.
“I got married last year,” he says, “and I immediately had to go back on the road. I wasn’t home for more than a couple of weeks between my engagement and my wedding. I try to be really careful not to complain, because I’m not miserable. I’m experiencing something that comes naturally from what I’m doing; there’s a certain amount of transience in my life, unless I make a major change, and I don’t want to do that.”
That’s the conflict in play on Ever Since I Lost My Mind, a conflict that plays itself out throughout the record. And necessarily, since the songs on the album are virtually all autobiographical, the process of writing and arranging them was almost entirely a solitary one for Osborne.
“This one was written alone,” he says. “I made the demos at my house. I was pretty selfish this time, and I needed to be. I had a lot of songs flowing out of me, which wasn’t the case with the second record. I was in a prolific period and I needed a project that I could fully curate.”
The conflict between home life and road life isn’t going to be settled for Osborne any time soon. He and his wife are expecting their first child as Osborne begins the inevitable heavy touring cycle for Ever Since I Lost My Mind. But it seems like the new album has exorcised some of the doubts that Osborne was feeling, or perhaps he’s just thrilled with how it came out.
“Things are pretty sweet right now,” he says. “This is what all of us want to be doing, and we want to work as hard as we can and play the best shows we can. I feel like we’re in a really good place. I’m 32 and I don’t want to be spinning my wheels, and I don’t feel like I am. New people are hearing SUSTO every day, and the songs are still coming. I feel really fortunate to be where we’re at. I’m at peace.”