Until earlier today when I coincidentally came across a CBS This Morning clip on Facebook, I had never heard of SUSTO. And, no, while Mr. Zuckerberg apparently is trying hard to stop spreading misinformation, I’m happy to report this ain’t fake news! If you’re like me and basically have given up on most contemporary music because you feel it sucks, I suspect this may be your first time to hear about SUSTO and the latest studio album Ever Since I Lost My Mind, which came out on February 22nd on Rounder Records.
Okay, who or what exactly is SUSTO? While technically being a five-piece alternative rock-oriented band, SUSTO really is a music project by singer-songwriter Justin Osborne. The above mentioned clip captured a performance of the album’s opener Homeboy. There was something about this tune that grabbed me immediately – the catchy melody, Osborne’s voice, the fact that it involved real musicians, meaning folks who actually know how to play an instrument instead of programming a computer. I don’t know exactly. I’m fairly confident it wasn’t because I lost my mind! 🙂
Osborne, who if I correctly interpret his Facebook page is 32 years old, hails from Charleston, S.C. According to the bio on SUSTO’s website, he wrote his first songs at age 14 on his grandpa’s parlor guitar he wasn’t supposed to touch. “So I’d go steal it out of my dad’s closet whenever they were out of the house,” Osborne recalls. “It only had like three strings on it. I remember figuring out how to do barre chords, and I wrote a three-chord song about a girl I liked.” Apparently, his family’s concern was about ensuring he and his young brothers wouldn’t break the inherited instrument from their grandfather, not Justin’s early attraction to music.
Osborne played in bands throughout high school, military school and college. SUSTO was established in January 2013 – just in time. After years of booking and playing gigs and a feeling of going nowhere, Osborne was about to call it quits. Prior to leaving for a foreign semester in Havana, Cuba as part of this anthropology studies, he set up a website for SUSTO, “a holding tank for demos he couldn’t quite bear to toss.” While Osborne was in Havana, he became friends with Cuban musicians and artists, who apparently convinced him to stick with music.
Six months later, Osborne returned to the States and recorded SUSTO’s eponymous debut album that appeared in April 2014. According to Apple Music, following the release of sophomore & I’m Fine Today in January 2017, SUSTO had their TV debut, which was also on CBS This Morning. This was followed by a tour with The Lumineers. Ever Since I Lost My Mind is SUSTO’s third studio release. Osborne catalog to date also includes a live record, two EPs and a couple of singles.
BTW, in case you’re wondering about the meaning of the name, according to SUSTO’s website, the word describes an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul––an ongoing, spiritual panic attack. All of the letters of susto also appear in Osborne’s full name. “SUSTO was this combination of phonetics and meaning––it felt like me, like a name for myself,” he [Osborne] says. “I chose the name SUSTO for the project because the meaning behind the word––that deep fright––was something I was experiencing, and songwriting felt like it was helping me cure it by helping me to process what was happening. Personally, it was a time of so many powerful transitions: abandoning my religion, losing touch with my family, and just having a general sense of being lost, without direction.” With that explanation being out of the way, it’s time to get to some music!
Let’s start with the album’s above noted opener Homeboy. The ups and downs in the song create a nice dynamic. I think it’s a cool tune, even though it gets bit grungy at times, and grunge is generally not so much my cup of tea. Then again, I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, who obviously has written many songs that couldn’t be more grungy. Oh, well, I suppose there are always exceptions to rules! 🙂
Here’s the record’s second track If I Was, a quieter tune setting a nice contrast to the opener. It’s got a soothing feel to it, which I like. This somewhat contrasts the lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: …But I am just a singer/With electric guitar in my hands,/ Trying to work through my own set of problems,/Trying to do the best that I can,/The best I can./ And I’m your man…
Livin’ In America is another rocker.
Next up: The album’s title track, another mellow sounding tune. The music and lyrics are credited to Osborne and Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman, Osborne’s longtime creative sounding board, who also co-produced the song with the album’s lead producer Ian Fitchuk.
Let’s do one more: Cocaine.
“Ever Since I Lost My Mind is very personal,” Osborne notes. “This collection of songs came together over the course of a couple of years, and they all represent different moments. It felt cathartic writing all of them, and they were also all fun in different ways.”
According to SUSTO’s website, while it began as a band and still benefits from collaboration with peers, the new record also positions the project finally and firmly as what it’s really always been: Osborne’s vision. “I come from a background of being in bands, so it’s hard for me to be comfortable taking complete control,” he says. “Even being the only person in a promo photo was a hard thing for me to get used to. It’s taken years for me to realize what SUSTO should be––what it really is.”
In addition to Osborne, SUSTO’s current lineup features Dries Vandenberg (guitar), Steven Walker (keyboards), Jordan Hicks (bass) and Marshall Hudson (drums). The band has a pretty active tour schedule. After a gig this evening in Washington, D.C., they are off to a series of shows in Europe before returning to the States in mid-May.
Sources: Wikipedia, Justin Osborne Facebook page, SUSTO website, Apple Music, YouTube