By Lisa Morgan

SUSTO was a band that I think I’ll be forever grateful to Stagecoach for.  In this flooded music market, even the cream has trouble rising to the top.  Thanks to Goldenvoice, SUSTO came onto my radar, and has made my list of new bands worth watching, and my gut tells me it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.  The best way I know how to describe SUSTO is this:  If the timelessly talented pioneers of alt-country, Uncle Tupelo, had all gotten along instead of splitting up into Wilco and Son Volt, grown old as the best of friends while raising their kids together, and those kids formed a band together, I imagine they would turn out a lot like SUSTO.  This South Carolina band of dedicated troubadours has captured something that may be lost to many young artists in this technologically advanced generation.  SUSTO pours simple yet delicately mastered classic yet edgy sounds into a cake pan and ices it with fearlessly honest songwriting.  A tasty blend of folk and angst ridden rock, SUSTO turned a dismal crowd into a full, energetic and inspired gathering of followers.  The relatively new band owned the Mustang Stage, and the delight of the crowd was tangible.

CV Weekly had a chance to interview lead singer, guitar player, and song craftsman, Justin Osborne,
prior to Stagecoach 2016 as well as hang out with him and his very cool bandmates Johnny Delaware, Corey Campbell, Marshall Hudson and Jenna Desmond after their show.

CVW:  “How does one go from a full time student studying anthropology to a full time musician?”


Osborne:  “I played music for a long time – since high school.  I worked really hard trying to tour with a band I formed back then until my mid-twenties.  I wasn’t getting anywhere with it and kind of got chewed up and spit out by the music industry, so I went to college instead.  I’d always been interested in Latin America, Latin American politics, culture and social movement.  I chose Anthropology to study people in the world, the different ways of living and different ways and means of expression, with an emphasis in Latin American culture. That let me to going to Cuba and studying Cuban revolution, life and culture. It was fascinating place for me.  As Americans, we’re so cut off from Cuba, even though it’s only 90 miles from the tip of Florida. I had decided that music and rock and roll was a foolish endeavor and decided to something more conservative.”

“I almost immediately I fell into this incredibly vibrant art scene.  I met a guy named Camilo Miranda, who still lives there.  We co-wrote two songs that are on our debut record.  He began introducing me to people and taking me to shows.  I actually formed a band while I was there, and played shows in Havana and other cities.  I even did a little recording.  Just being around the musicians down there was eye opening.  They were so invested in their music.  Their music wasn’t the only thing they did, but it was the thing that defined them.”

“I took a lot away from the experience; when I was playing music before, I was giving it a lot of effort but I was always on the fence as to if I was going to do music or something else.  Cuba inspired the notion in me that this is what I really want and need to do and where I feel comfortable – around other musicians, in front of crowds, writing, playing and traveling.  I also learned a lot about songwriting – authenticity and honesty in lyrics and songs – being brave and not being afraid to go places that you or the listener might need to go, even if it’s frowned upon by society or isn’t cool in regard to progress or politics. That’s something a lot of Cuban, Trova style songwriters really embody.   I miss it.  We plan to go back and record a live album there after we release our second studio album.”

CVW:  “According to the title of your second album, you performed Live at the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame?”

Osborne:  “You would think so, but I’ve never been to Australia.  SUSTO was not only birthed in Cuba, but in Charleston as well, where I lived with and met the rest of the members in the band.  There’s a house that’s about a block away from these storage units where we all record (our album was recorded in a storage unit by the way).  We shared the house with members of other bands, producers and bartenders – about 12 people in all.   We just started calling it the ‘Australian Country Music Hall of Fame’ randomly.  So after our first record came out, we wanted to an intimate live recording in the house where all the stories on the record happened.  We recorded it in the living room. We were trying to keep it small – only 15-20 people were invited, but Charleston is a small town, so word travels fast. There ended up being about 50 people there, which was fine.  We had Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses there (because he’s from Charleston too) and he’s on the record.  We just called it, ‘Live from the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame.’ People in Australia started seeing it, and we ended up touring with some Australian artists here in the States.  We actually send a lot of merchandise to Australia – we look forward to going there sometime in the future, but it’s cool how the name we gave to our house is now immortalized.”

CVW:  “Where does the name SUSTO come from?”

Osborne:  “When I was studying Latin American cultures, I learned about term susto; it is a folk illness found in the Latin America culture.  It might be translated as PTSD, or panic in North America.  In the Catholic culture in Latin America, it’s considered spiritual trauma where your soul is separated from your body for an indefinite amount of time after going through a traumatic experience.  This term and concept was just fascinating to me.  We had this group of songs that started out as a studio project, and the album was supposed to be called, Susto.  I felt that panic was sort of an underlying theme of the songs because I was in a lost place trying to find direction at the time. The name for that group of songs just became our band name.  It continues to be a very fitting name for the band.  It definitely embodies what our music and the search through life is about.”

CVW:  “You’ve been fortunate to tour with some very relevant bands- case in point, Shovels and Rope.  How did that come about and helped you on your path?”

Osborne:  “Michael and Carry Ann are also from Charleston.  Touring with them is its own beautiful thing to do because they are so gracious and good to us.  We’re glad we can do shows with them and cross network fans, but what is really cool as a fellow Charlestonian, is seeing them pull themselves up and put themselves out in the country and become what they have in the last couple of years.  It’s really inspiring and helps us do what we do.   We saw Michael and Carry Ann make it. To see someone you know go through that process and come out successfully is so powerful.  It’s a big country and even bigger world that you’re trying to reach, but watching them makes you see that it is possible.  I have so much love for both of them and their management team.  They are all really great people.”

CVW:  “So what was different this time around, re-entering the music industry that had chewed you up and spit you out before?”

Osborne:  “Obviously the experience in Cuba was a big deal, but it was also finding the right people.  I found myself in my mid-twenties surrounded by other people my age or older who had been trying to make it, and who collectively said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to do this. We’re not going to let it get us down; we’re not going to quit and go do something else; even if we do, we’re going to come back and be better at doing this.’  I think finding the right people who will push and inspire each other to be all in… well, I can’t put a price or value on that.  That’s just something that is part of the Charleston music scene.  It’s a very tight knit group of people making music in the same neighborhoods in the same storage units.  That’s been a big thing.”

“Also, when our record came out, Ben from Band of Horses reached out to us and invited us to go on some shows with them and meet some people.  I had one class left in college – one test and a paper to finish in earning my degree.  I had to decide whether to do that, or finish booking a nationwide tour for myself.  I went to my professor and said, ‘I thank you for everything.  I listened to everything you taught me, but I’m not going to write this paper and I’m not going to show up for the exam.  I am not going to get my degree – I don’t want it. I want this. From here on out I’m putting all my energy towards music.’  Funny thing is, he totally understood. He said, ‘You know, I can’t argue with that.’”

“It wasn’t one big moment but a series of things that lit up the path, not just for me but for my band mates too, and so here we are.  We’re in a band, we’re travelling, we’re making music.”

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