SUSTO is a name you’re going to want to remember.
The South Carolina-born band is creating a sound that is undeniably infectious. They blend Americana and alt-country with tinges of modern alternative, Caribbean, psych rock, and indie rock and turn them something wonderfully familiar, yet immediate and relevant. The soulful songwriting and vocals of band leader Justin Osborne evokes memories of early Dylan if he were backpacking and recording in the Appalachian Mountains.
SUSTO’s music isn’t long for being under the radar. It’s the type of sound destined for bigger, more impactful things in the world of music, and popular culture.
That’s we were lucky enough to catch up with Justin Osborne as he and the band readied themselves to perform at House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ tonight.
When researching the band online, one of the first things you see is the SUSTO Wikipedia entry about a cultural illness primarily found in Latin American countries. It’s a condition of “being frightened and chronic somatic suffering stemming from emotional trauma, or witnessing traumatic experiences lived by others.” Why did you feel this was the best name for the band, and why?
In 2012/13 when I was doing the first writing and recording the first demos for the first album, I was in a transitional part of my life. I had walked away from my religion, my family, a long term relationship, and a band that I’d been in for almost 10 years. So I felt like some weird new, unresolved version of myself. I was studying anthropology at the time, using my student loans to pay for recording time, but also learning a lot. I discovered the term SUSTO, and also learned that it can translate as “Soul Loss.” I felt like that pretty much defined how I felt and the mood of the songs I had been writing and so I chose the word susto as the name of the project, and it stuck.
How did your time in Cuba influence the music (lyrically, and sonically) you set out to create with SUSTO?
The biggest influence on me from living in Cuba was in a lyrical sense. I learned to be more candid and fearless in my songs. I made an agreement with myself not to let my worries about other peoples opinions or reactions stop me from being honest and as raw as I need to be. Obviously, my time in Cuba had a lot more impact on me than just that, but I think the lyrical shift is an influence that has really shaped the bands narrative and will continue to.
Your sound is almost hard to label. Some call it alt-country. Some call it Americana. Others will mention Caribbean, psych rock, and indie influences. Does being put into a certain music genre matter to you? Does it matter at all in today’s modern music scene? And why?
I think it does matter, but I’m not really sure how or why. It would be great to be able to so “Oh we are ‘this kind’ of band” when people ask, but then its so boring to be one genre. Usually I just tell people we are a rock band, and leave it to them to find our music and label it themselves. For me, and the band, we are just trying to expand our sound and have fun, regardless of whatever genres we may be flowing in and out of.
Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses was a pretty immediate fan of the band, he even e-mailed you to tell you how much he dug the band. Can you talk about the feeling of receiving an e-mail like that from a popular musician who is a fan of your work?
Like I said earlier, I was in school when I was making the first SUSTO music, and was in my last semester when I self-released the first album. I was also working in a bar kitchen and trying to book myself a 10 week tour for the summer after I would graduate.
I got the email from Ben towards the end of the semester, I think maybe even the beginning of exam week. I got his email, and realized that I had been acknowledged and reached out to by someone I really really admired, the singer of literally my favorite band. That day, I made a decision to just fucking go for it. I had one exam and a long paper due for my last class of college. I emailed that professor and told him I was dropping out to concentrate on promoting the album and booking a tour. That same week I got ACID BOYS tattooed on my knuckles and soon after I hit the road. That was four years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Ben’s email was really my green light, and I’m forever thankful for it.
You’ve toured with Band of Horses, and The Lumineers so far in your career. What did you take away from being on big tours like those, and what was the best wisdom either of these bands gave you?
The best thing about those opportunities was being able to see those bands do what they do, and learn from them. We’ve learned a lot about performing from the people we’ve toured with. It takes a long time to refine those entertainment skills and we are always learning and improving. Every bigger tour is an opportunity to improve and also a chance to play for big new audiences. We’ve been very lucky to be on some amazing tours and we’ve enjoyed it so much.
Say someone is interested in seeing the band perform, but have never heard your music before. What song would you recommend they check out so that they could fully get what the band is all about from either a sonic or lyrical perspective, and why?
My favorite song of ours is ‘Hard Drugs,’ and I think it does a good job of bridging the gap between our first album and some of the material on our second. I think also lyrically it’s a good intro to SUSTO song, that song for me summarizes a lot of what happens in our music. It’s sad, but real and hopefully hopeful.
Can you talk about the Susto Stories web series? What was the inspiration behind this?
We have some very talented members in our band, one of them is our guitarist and videographer Dries. Dries and I started working on the video series before he was even in the band and we really just had a great time creating unique versions of the songs, in interesting locations. Releasing the stories was also a way for us to connect with our audience more, to give them a little background behind each song.
What do you love about being in SUSTO?
I love connecting with people, thats why I’m doing this and its what keeps me going even on the roughest days of a long tour. Being able to connect with people for a living is really a dream come true and I’m so happy to be doing it. The performances are my favorite part of this whole thing. For an hour +/- I’m just suspended in this place with the audience and the band and theres nothing else like it.
What are you most excited for in 2018?
We’re making a new album this year, we’ve already begun the early steps towards creating it and I’m just really really excited about it. It wont be out until 2019, but it will be made this year and I’m excited for the whole process.