SUSTO is taking Americana music in a brand new direction
When asked what kind of music they make, Charleston band SUSTO will always answer "gospel." The five-piece indie rock ensemble, made up of lead singer Justin Osborne, Johnny Delaware, Corey Campbell, Marshall Hudson, and bass player Jenna Desmond, has a sound that blends together classic Americana with subtle hints of Carribbean sounds, bluegrass, electronic, and soul into singer/songwriter verses. "It's some kind of gospel," Justin Osborne jokes.
And maybe that's why SUSTO's music speaks to so many people. Once starting out as a side project, the band was formed after a disillusioned Osborne held onto a number of unrecorded songs from a previous act. Together, he and Delaware produced what would become 2014 titular album: a collection of airy, atmospheric tracks that feel completely raw. The record gave Osborne his second shot at music, and soon SUSTO was fully formed. And since its inception, the group has begun to establish themselves as a key player in the indie genre, amassing fans all over the country including friend and mentor Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses.
Recently, SUSTO has been traveling across the US and taking their music on tour for almost the past year. They also have their second record on the horizon, a collection of songs that they claim will push the envelope on SUSTO's signature sound. And even after a full year of touring, the group is ready to hit the road again for their next big project. As Osborne notes, "I think we're all looking forward to get the next record out to take the touring up to the next level."
During one of their tour stops, we had the chance to sit down with SUSTO about what to expect from their next album, what life has been like on tour, and how they group has collectively been able to create a brand new sound. Ahead, find out how the band first got together, what they wish they could go back in time and fix, and more!
#OnOurRadar is a feature that showcases creative minds and up-and-coming talents. To see more of past interviews, click here.
Take me back to your first musical memory.
Corey Campbell: My parents were really into rock and roll. I remember as a kid -- I must have been about 2 or 3 years old and I couldn't read at the time -- that my parents would ask me to pick out CDs from this huge rack. They would say, "Pick out Metallica!" and I would pick out the right ones and sing along to all the words.
Justin Osborne: I grew up singing in church but when I was five I went to a field trip to a radio station and I sang live on the air. I remember thinking about how awesome it was and that I wanted to keep singing in front of people.
Johnny Delaware: I always enjoyed music and since I was a baby I would hit pots and pans and use broomsticks. When I was six years old I tried to make my first band out of weird utensils. I just knew I loved music at a young age.
Music obviously plays a different function in everyone's life. What role does it play in yours?
Justin Osborne: For me, it's definitely therapy. Also now, thankfully it's a means to making a living. I'm a lyricist and a songwriter first and foremost, and for me it's been a efficient way for dealing with life and making sense of it. It's been a great way for me to work through situations in my mind and in my heart. It's also a way to have community with people, either going to to a show or making music with other people. It's a little thread we use to weave the fabric of life together.
Johnny Delaware: I think it's really interesting that humans respond to music in ways that other animals don't. The fact that we have a gift to write it and communicate it to people is really special.
Justin Osborne: For me, it's linked up to the essence of language and having a form of self-expression. It also makes you feel really connected to other people makes me feel really human.
How did the band originally form?
Justin Osborne: I started the band as a project. I had been in another band for a while before and we had several records out. I started working on the next project for them and then that band ended. Those songs were still there and I really wanted to continue working on them. I also wanted to play with new people and mix it up. Johnny had moved to Charleston and was making his own solo record with a producer of ours and so I recruited his help with production and songwriting. It was really just a studio project. I wasn't really looking to get back into music since I was disillusioned by it with my previous project. I was thinking about just doing this for fun. We ended up making a complete record, started to play shows, and the rest of the band started to join along the way. It started accidentally but I'm glad it did.
What does your creative process look like? What goes into a song from start to finish?
Justin Osborne: It's different every time.
Marshall Hudson: Lots of tears, rage, broken drumsticks.
Corey Campbell: A little bit of blood once in awhile.
Justin Osborne: Everybody in this band is a contributor in their own right. It will be a song that Johnny has mostly written or Marshall has written. Anyone will bring it to the table and we'll work on it from there. Other times, someone will bring an idea and we'll fuse other ideas together. And other times we'll start from the ground up and see what happens. We jam a lot on tour as well during soundcheck since we're on the road so much now. As far as recording, we record with the same guy who is kind of like the ghost member in our band slash producer, it's our friend Wolfgang. We work very closely with him and we record everything in a double storage unit in the middle of downtown Charleston that we've converted into a studio. There really is no structure; we just try to approach things in an authentic way and try to approach it in a way that feels good to us. Although we like to draw on different influences, we don't like to be what's already be done. We're trying to shed a new light on a genre that's already existing.
You all hail from distinctly different musical backgrounds. How do those influences shape or change your band?
Corey Campbell: I'm the only member of the band who went to music school so if there's anything overtly technical or explanation for harmonies that need to be made, I'm the person to do that. And that changes the way that I interact with the band.
Justin Osborne: That's a cool thing about the band is that everyone has their own talents and they have found those talents and developed them in different ways. I was in a touring band for a long time, so the writing songs, testing them out in front of people and live performance is something I know very well. I've been live performing for a decade and same with Marshall; he has extensive touring experience. And Johnny has more songwriting and production experience that helps in the studio. I remember when we first started playing Johnny would come on the stage and it would take us two minutes because he wasn't use to playing live. And now he's a rockstar!
Johnny Delaware: It still takes me a while.
Marshall Hudson: You're also used to writing a song basically every day where as I come from a much more live music background.
Johnny Delaware: Performing is a whole other world.
Justin Osborne: Everyone comes from a live music background pretty much since we've been playing so much in the last year. And Jenna had been working on projects in Charleston as well; she was a vocalist and a piano player and learned the bass to be in our band.
What has the process been like cultivating your sound?
Justin Osborne: I think we made this first record and at the time, we were making what we wanted to do. Johnny are actually the only two people who were involved with making that record but at the time too, we were trying to go with this mixture of indie-rock and country music with this outlaw, psychedelic underlining without it being too jam. We want to form a unique sound and we did a pretty good job with that. For the second record, we're doing the same thing but with different goals in mind. We have this fusion of Americana music and more electronic music and we're making those worlds collide. Not just only those -- we also have Caribbean influence sounds and now that there's more people involved with the process too, there's more influences that come into play. It's can be really hard to define and even to understand what you're going for sometimes, but you just try to find the sound in each other. We're getting really close to being done with our second record and I feel like we've done a really good job. There's always a nervousness to see what people will think; I had that before we put out the first one. We've done more things than I can imagine. I just thought this would be a band that only our friends would listen to, but we've toured coast to coast and had a blast with it.
Marshall Hudson: I think a lot about the band Ween -- and I would never try and compare us to Ween because they're my favorite -- but the indie-rock kids like Ween, the jam-y kids like ween, and the band has an amazing country album. And I feel like our process is similar since when we're in the studio writing a song, we just make things we think are rad. People who like the first album will like the new record, but the the new one will also open more doors for people. We aren't worrying about genre or markets too much.
Johnny Delaware: And when you pigeon hole yourself into a genre, you put yourself outside all the incredible things you could possibly do.
Justin Osborne: It's a big world out there and there are a lot of cool sounds you can use.
You all are currently in the middle of a tour. What is going through your mind when you're on stage?
Jenna Desmond: Well touring for me has been crazy. I've never played live professionally and my only experience has been with this band. And I've found a lot of touring is finding the balance between focusing and letting go to give your energy to people. It's really cool because you're with different people every night and you realize that you will never see those people again. Well, you might! But you give people a show. The real challenge is giving your energy to a crowd that isn't necessarily giving it back.
Corey Campbell: You have to rock a little bit for yourself.
Jenna Desmond: Johnny rocks a lot!
Johnny Delaware: I feel like I get into a car crash after every show.
Justin Osborne: Headbanging takes a toll on you. Screaming too. We're still learning a lot about playing live as we go on tour, which has happening since October. Jenna is a new bass player, but she's come so far because she's played almost 100 shows already. And even though I had a touring background, I was a few years out of the saddle and I don't think I was performing then as I am now. We've also started to play as a band a lot better. We're tighter and more cohesive. The best shows are the ones where you're not only loving songs you knew you loved before you got there, but ones where you're entertained and feel part of something. We try to make people feel like that and make them feel like they're seeing something incredible and are a part of it. People are the only reason we're able to do this, and it's the reason why we do this. It's amazing to have fans who have turned into fans. I think we're all looking forward to get the next record out to take the touring up to the next level.
What has been the most surreal moment so far in your career?
Johnny Delaware: It's really hard to happen because everything has happened so gradually. You have to be so in the moment to notice those things. Sometimes in the band, everyday things can get monotonous. But sometimes when you're playing in the middle of Iowa and there are people in the crowd singing your lyrics, it's wild.
Corey Campbell: I joined the band by accident. Justin was about to do a solo tour and he asked me and a few other musicians in Charleston if we could do a one-time tour kickoff show. Right before we played that show, Justin called and asked if we wanted to open for Band of Horses. This is before I even played any show with this band. We were a bunch of nobodies who gigged around Charleston. So that was surreal.
Justin Osborne: I was a fan of them for a long time, and when Ben they're singer got a hold of our record, he took me and Johnny out to breakfast. Now he's a friend and a mentor, but at that moment it was a pinch me moment. And after this West Coast tour, looking back at the numbers so the shows we played and the people that came, it was a really successful tour. To see that growth and to think about all the shows we played in less than a year, that for me was a highlight. Especially after being in band for a decade, quitting, and deciding to try one more time, seeing it finally work is a surreal moment.
What's the one piece of advice you wish you had received before you started playing music?
Justin Osborne: Not start smoking. I've quit but it's been really hard. Don't smoke -- it's bad for your voice.
Johnny Delaware: I should probably have not sold all of my instruments to pay our rent.
Justin Osborne: One of the guitars he had I sold to him to pay my rent!
Johnny Delaware: Every month, the two of had to sell gear. We love working in a band and playing shows, but we don't want to work normal jobs. But I wish I didn't sell all of that stuff, because I need it now!
Jenna Desmond: This is so new for me. I've only been a full-time musician for not even a year. And I went to college for the past four years of my life. I guess it would be to not fight that as much. I think I held back on playing music more than I just could have.
Marshall Hudson: I've gigged and played drums since I was teen, so I don't have any real musical regrets. Really it would be just put more love into everything. There are moments where I wish I put more love into things, but that's really true of everything in the world. Love more of the moment that was happening, love more of the specific people and the situations around me. Just more love.
#OnOurRadar is a feature that showcases creative minds and up-and-coming talents. To see more of past interviews, click here.
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