A few weeks ago, Indio, California, hosted its annual Stagecoach festival where a multitude of diverse artists played their music for the very first time in front of thousands of people. Among the Stagecoach newcomers was SUSTO, a Charleston, South Carolina-native group that swept festival goers off their feet with their enthralling indie, country sound.
I sat down with the band's lead singer and founder, Justin Osborne, and chatted with him about their Stagecoach experience, the group's background and what music they have in store for us all next.
“It’s been really amazing. Stagecoach is the first major festival that we’ve ever gotten to play, period. It’s the first major festival I’ve even been to, so when we found out we were gonna play, we were really stoked,” Osborne said. “Not only because it’s one of the premier festivals in the world, but because we’re from South Carolina, so we don’t get to come out here and tour that often. It’s really good for our West Coast presence. We’ve gotten a ton of press from it; we even got an endorsement from Wretched guitars.”
The way SUSTO came into the limelight is something out of the ordinary, but their timeline is something quite unparalleled compared to other indie bands in the industry.
“I had been in a band before, and I was phasing that out and trying to start a new project,” Osborne said. “I had some songs, and Johnny Delaware — who’s our tall guitar player — had moved to Charleston. We hit it off as friends, then we also started collaborating, and then I was like, ‘man, well how about we just make this record together if you want to be a permanent collaborator,’ so we did. We finished the record independently; we didn’t have a label or anything like that. We were pawning sh*t to pay for the recording, and it was still cheap because our friends was recording it; before we knew it, we had a record. We put it out and started touring, and in the last two years, there’s been a really big grassroots response to it. It just kind of came out of us being friends.”
Before SUSTO became a nationally acclaimed band, Osborne uprooted his life and embarked on a spiritual, self-empowering journey where he rediscovered himself through loss, love and music.
“After I left my old band I had these songs that would later become part of the SUSTO record, but I was really frustrated with the music industry in general, and so I was just, like, I quit,” Osborne said. “I ended my old band and I moved to Cuba. There was a couple Latin American leftist movements that I wanted to become a part of, and thankfully that didn’t happen or else I might be dead right now. I’m actually; now, I’m pacifist. I went there and I got into a school program there, and I figured I could go there and learn more about social movements and make basic connections. I ended up making musical connections when I got there; I immediately started playing with people and just fell right back into music.”
Cuba has very strong ties to the band, as it is where Osborne grew SUSTO’s sound and truly brought life to their music.
“I ended my old band and I moved to Cuba. Some of the first SUSTO shows that were ever played were in Havana with different musicians — Cuban musicians. I’d already known about the concept of SUSTO, which is a Latin American folk illness that literally translates to your soul being separated from your body, but it’s supposed to represent when you go through a prolonged traumatic event in your life, and you sort of manifest physical symptoms. You get physically sick because trauma has happened to you, and that’s called SUSTO.”
“The songs were all really about being lost and kind of not knowing what the f*ck I was doing and really almost feeling the pain of it and easing that pain with substances and quick love affairs. The concept seemed like it really fit the project. At first, the album was going to be called SUSTO, and then the band became called SUSTO, too,” Osborne said.
What grew out of Havana, was only the beginning of what would fully become SUSTO. When the group solidified, they started out playing smaller venues as they were trying to make their way up in the industry.
“The first show we ever played as SUSTO that was full band was in this little bar a block away from the house that Johnny and I were living in,” Osborne said. “It’s this little place called Cutty’s Bar, and it’s a tiny bar; we wanted a place that we knew we could sell out. We wanted our first show to be a sellout, so we told all of our friends and we charged something like $3 to get in. There was a pool table and we were literally behind the pool table and around it, and it was sold out.”
After the release of their self-titled and self-released album back in 2014, it wasn’t long before they captivated audiences across the country with their spirited and soulful music. The 11-track album was everything you ever wanted from SUSTO and more.
“Over the last two years since the record came out; almost from the beginning of it being out, people started really responding to the record, so we started getting opportunities,” said Osborne. “We were playing places like our first show, and then people in Charleston were wanting us to be on their shows; we were opening up for bands on bigger stages and then we even got a chance to go on tour with the band Boston.
"It’s all still something that we have to get used to. Some bands reach a stage that they get used to playing just big stages, but we have to be versatile. I don’t really know how to explain what it’s like, but it’s fun because we’re still at a place where we play a different sized stage every night. We just have fun with it; it’s good for us, I think, and hopefully one day we might only be playing only big stages. You get better and you get tight just by having to be on your toes," Osborne adds.
SUSTO is currently in the works of making their second album, and we know this will definitely be a release you don’t want to miss.
“Our first record came out independently, and we’re almost finished with our second record now that we’re hopefully going to release with a label this time and get some more traction,” Osborne said. “We have 20 songs, they probably won’t all get released. We love all of them, so that’s going to be the hardest part. Our sound is kind of like a genre-bending sound that I think definitely has a home in country music. We’re incorporating some electronic stuff, and we’re experimenting with that and it’s coming out really well. There’s some really solid and fun songs, and I think really important songs that we’re excited for the world to get out and see.”