Susto is the creation of Justin Osborne of Charleston, South Carolina, and he and his band are no strangers to Alabama. They’ve spent much of their time in the state in Waverly performing at the Standard Deluxe. On this visit, they’ll join Alabama natives The Brummies and Anderson East to ring in the New Year at the Alabama Theater.
They’ll release their latest effort, Ever Since I Lost My Mind, on Rounder Records in early 2019. Before the visit, Osborne chats about his local scene, friends and mentors like BJ Barham of American Aquarium and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, his relationship with Alabama and the therapy within his own songwriting.
Charleston and South Carolina have been fast rising in the Americana/folk scene over the past decade or so, but it’s a fairly new development. Who do you credit that scene to and what local artists inspired you to do this for a living?
Man, I think it’s really been the result of a lot of people working together towards a common or similar goal. I think there have always been creatives in Charleston; recording, performing and all that. But, in recent years there have been pieces of the puzzle coming together that have made things pop off in a really cool way. You’ve got my buddy Wolfgang Zimmerman who’s been recording artists and connecting people around town in a really cool way these last 6 or 7 years. He has been responsible for some really great records being made, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to make the first 2 Susto albums. There’s also Shovels & Rope who came out of Charleston and showed everyone in town that if you pair talent with hard work, and really commit to promoting yourself on a bigger scale, you can get out there and make it. I know for me personally their story has been hugely inspirational. There’s also larger bands like Band of Horses and Hootie & The Blowfish who have members living in Charleston, and all of those folks are so supportive of the local scene. There’s also great venues and venue owners. I’m personally partial to John Kenney and The Royal American, because I used to work there, but there are several great venues with great people behind them, supporting the local scene and hosting shows of all sizes. I think these things, plus great local press outlets and a pool of amazing talent residing in town, are big reasons why things are vibrant right now in our hometown music scene.
Ben Bridwell and Band of Horses played a big part in your early career. How did you guys hook up?
Yeah, so I met Ben just after the 1st Susto album was released. I was working in the kitchen at The Royal American and Ben’s dad (David Bridwell) and our mutual friend James Hynes would come in every weekend for brunch. The folks at royal we’re always super supportive so they would have my album playing all the time, and when DB and James heard it they started talking to me and eventually shared the album with Ben. He was really digging it and hit me up and has just been super helpful ever since. He’s a friend, but also a mentor and a sort of big brother to me. He helped out in a ton of different ways by helping us make connections in the biz, taking us on tour, and he even gave me the electric guitar that I play. He’s also a great ear to have in the studio. Wonderful human, love him and his whole crew.
BJ Barham is another guy that’s been very supportive. How did you guys connect and collaborate?
BJ and I actually go pretty far back. Before Susto, I had a band called Sequoyah Prep School and we would open for American Aquarium sometimes. I kind of disappeared from the scene for a while when I moved to Cuba in 2013, but when I got back and finished the first Susto album BJ was one of the first people I sent it to. It took him a minute to get around to it [laughs] but when he did he really enjoyed it and promoted the hell out of it! BJ has a very dedicated following and so him doing that was huge. Almost every show we go to someone tells me they heard of us through BJ. Love that guy and so thankful to have him as a friend and mentor. We’ve fortunately been able to tour a bit together recently and that’s always a good time. His new album Things Change is sooo good!
You’ve spent a bunch of time in Alabama, but it’s largely been at Standard Deluxe. How did you meet Scott [Peek, owner] and how did you grow so affectionate of that place?
Oh man, I’ve loved that place since the first time I laid eyes on it. We came down for the [Old 280] Boogie a few years ago and the food and the people had me feeling at home immediately. It just reminds me of where I grew up I guess. I love going back. I met Scott that first time we played the Boogie, maybe even before that too, but he’s a great host and knows how to throw a good show/party out there in such a cool environment.
How did the Stories record come about?
Honestly, when we first started doing it, we were trying to buy ourselves some time before finishing and releasing our second album. It had been a while since the band had put out any new music so I wanted to give fans a taste of the record we were working on (& I’m Fine Today) and also some content to keep people interested in the band. Then the whole project, which was originally just a YouTube series, became popular with our fans so we released it digitally earlier this year on all the major platforms. It really acts as a companion piece to our second album & I’m Fine Today because it provides some background on a few of the songs along with stripped down renditions.
You’ve tackled some topics that are kind of uncharted territory where you come from; for instance on a song like “Gay in the South.” Why do you feel like it’s important for you to tackle social issues like that and what kind of reaction do you get from it as you play rural places…like Waverly, Alabama?
I really wouldn’t say that I’m writing about social issues because I feel like it’s important for me to tackle them, at least not in a public sense. Songwriting for me is a way to work through my own problems and so all the songs we put out, even the ones dealing with issues like this, are just me trying to understand and come to terms with what’s going on in my life or in the lives of people close to me. I think the fact that these things come out in songs is just evidence of how relevant the topics are, generally, because if I’m faced with these things, and I’m writing about it and people are responding to it, then lots of other people must be faced with the same issues and concerns. I think that translates anywhere you are, big cities, small towns and rural America. People are people everywhere you go.
How did the Christmas song happen?
[laughs] We’re going straight from a serious question to a silly one; love that. So I should have said “most” of the songs we put out, in my last response because this is the one exception. This song is one that is pretty much entirely made up, but I still relate to it. So I had just gotten home from a full year of touring (2016) and had another full year of touring ahead of me. I was glad to be home, I always am but especially during the holidays…and I was stoned and thinking what it would be like to be in a band from the North Pole. If you were coming home and going to your favorite bar, seeing all your friends but everyone is bummed because Santa died [laughs]. I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s what the song “RIP Santa” is about. So yeah we put that out, it’s weird but it’s not unlike Susto to do weird stuff.
Susto joins Birmingham natives The Brummies and Athens, Alabama native Anderson East at the Alabama Theater on New Year’s Eve. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m. The event is presented by Birmingham Mountain Radio and tickets are available through the box office and Ticketmaster.