ALWAYS a hugely popular regional touring band in Savannah as well in their native Charleston, SUSTO is poised for national success with the release of their third album, Ever Since I Lost My Mind.
The new record isn’t only significant because it is the band’s debut on Rounder Records. It also represents arguably the first full acknowledgement that SUSTO is without question Justin Osborne’s project.
SUSTO has always revolved around Justin’s engaging vocals and his intriguing, conversational songwriting style that blends classic Southern storytelling with a modern outlook and voice.
Though Charleston born and bred, Osborne has been deeply affected both musically and personally by his travels to Cuba, which began with a study abroad trip while attending the College of Charleston.
He comes to town with what is for all intents and purposes an all-new live SUSTO, though many of his bandmates have been longtime collaborators.
SUSTO’s Stopover appearance is one in a series of gigs on a large and ambitious tour to promote Ever Since I Lost My Mind — including several shows at SXSW.
After all that, Osborne returns to Charleston where his wife Meghan is set to give birth to their first child this summer.
We spoke to Justin the same day this leg of the tour was set to begin in Charleston.
This tour is jam-packed with gigs. Is it a little bittersweet, maybe a last hurrah type thing, since you’re welcoming a new baby right after it ends?
Osborne: I'm glad you appreciate how intense it's going to be! It is a very packed tour schedule. My job is being in a band. Quitting that is not an option. We've been touring hard the past few months, getting out there before I'll come back home and sort of settle down before the baby gets here a couple of weeks after the tour. I'll take some time off for that, obviously, but otherwise we're going to keep the train rolling. My wife and I have talked about this a lot. She's extremely supportive.
The new album is – and I mean this in the best way – much more polished and intact than the previous albums. Tell me more about how it came to be.
I'm excited to finally have this album out. It's a product of a couple of years of weighing things and navigating the whole process. I had a clear vision from the beginning, and I had full control of this one. It hadn't always been that way in the past. It was very rewarding. I'm very happy with this particular group of songs – I narrowed it down to 12 songs out of 30 or 40 I had ready. They all tell stories – this is all very autobiographical.
You have many musical influences but never run away from being a Southerner, or a Charlestonian.
I'm a product of the South and I'm not ashamed of it. I don't necessarily go around boasting about it. But I'm a very Southern person, there's no getting around that, nor do I try to. It seems like growing up in South Carolina, you're always around storytellers, and you have that Southern Gothic tradition. I'm fortunate to have lived a charmed, blessed life in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
How did the Cuba trips impact your musical journey?
I connected with a really great group of players, and we shared songs together. There were three that ended up on the first SUSTO album. The great thing about that experience was being there made me lose the notion of worrying so much about the business side. It was lyrically very playful. Very simple, straightforward. I have reconnected with some of those guys over the last few years. I've always appreciated those friencs that set me on this path.
I enjoy how you don't attempt to put on a perfect Spanish accent in 'Esta Bien.'
It's obviously a gringo's attempt at singing a song in Spanish. It's just a song about friendship, about those friends that really got me going down in Havana.
Not to get into too much drama, but there have been a lot of personnel changes leading up to this tour.
I had already talked with everyone about making a record separately. I wanted to work creatively with people who were more comfortable in the studio setting. The last record was kind of a nightmare in some ways, frankly. I wanted the final say with this one.
Most notably I guess is Corey Campbell and Jenna Desmond leaving to form Babe Club.
They wanted to do other things creatively, and SUSTO just wasn't that kind of outlet for them, largely because they spent so much time on the road with us and didn't have time for much else. And like I said, I really needed more control. So we have two new guys on tour, including a "new" bass player, Jordan Hicks – who's not really new because he played on all the records.
What can we expect from this new incarnation of the band at Stopover?
We'll tour as a five-piece this time, with Steven Walker on keys and synth to fill out the sound. I contemplated a four-piece, but I really wanted to capture the complexities of the record in the live sound.