Published on May 12th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
SUSTO Explores the Personalized Pop Side of Country
Fronting the luxuriously twangy group SUSTO, Charleston-based musician and bandleader Justin Osborne has figured out how to be a sincere pop songsmith with genuine country attitude and swing. What started out as a side project veering away from his previous rock band Sequoya (a.k.a. Sequoya Prep School) gradually took shape as a full band with a uniquely personalized tone. SUSTO’s story began in 2012 as a casual studio collaboration between Osborne and his longtime studio colleague Wolfgang Zimmerman, a Charleston-based musician and studio engineer who currently keeps time with Brave Baby (another Sequoya Prep School spin-off project). By late 2013, Osborne’s vision for a new band and songwriting outlet was becoming a reality. “Wolfgang and I started working on demos about two years ago,” Osborne says. “I wasn’t sure if the songs might end up on a Sequoya record or not because the band winding down last year. Jordan Hicks [also formerly of Sequoya and currently of Brave Baby] did some of the guitar and bass work, and things started coming together.”
According to the band’s bio, the name “Susto” refers to a type of “folk illness” in terms of the Americana/folk musical styles. Listing to the 11 tracks on their newly released self-titled debut album, the American roots music influences are on full display. As Osborne’s SUSTO songs and sketches started come to life, he eventually invited like-minded colleagues to assist as contribute. When local singer/guitarist/keyboardist Johnny Delaware signed on, things really clicked well. Osborne had recently completed a lengthy academic residency in Cuba, and he was eager to get rolling with the final tracks and of his new project. “Johnny and I found that we really enjoyed singing together and harmonizing with each other,” Osborne says. “Johnny’s touch on the record really made it what it is. Between his ideas and Wolfgang’s production and direction, it worked well.” Guitarist/drummer Taylor McCleskey and bassist Eric Mixon — both of twangy pop/rock band the Tarlatans — joined in with Osborne and Delaware shortly after. All members contributed additional ideas for arrangements and harmonies. The full official lineup of SUSTO was solid, as was the sound of the group. The headquarters for SUSTO action was at Zimmerman’s cozy downtown studio facility, the Space, located just off of Line Street. “We liked the way Wolfgang recorded and the way we all worked together,” Osborne says. “Wolfgang gets a great sound, and I loved the way we sort of took things as they came. It was easy to work together. There’s no pressure or stress. It’s more about doing things by the song or by the whole project rather than by the hour. If we went in and got a little bit drunk and only got a few things done, it was totally okay.”
A times raw and sparse, the overall sound of the new tracks on SUSTO is airy, atmospheric, mysterious — and intentionally far from slick. “I’ve done records that, looking back, sound overly-produced — even in a lo-fi kind of way. I didn’t want to do that again,” Osborne says. “We’d all done that before. I wanted it to be a little lo-fi-sounding, but also not too busy. We recorded extra stuff for many of these songs, but ended up pulling a lot of them out.” Osborne says they tracked much of the album’s vocal takes and overdubs along the way — oftentimes while the studio was hosting small get-togethers and parties. “Sometimes, a lyric would come to us on the spot, depending on who was hanging out and what we were all doing,” he laughs. The listener can easily pick up on bits of Gram Parsons and the Byrds here and there, a few classic Tom Petty or John Lennon twists in-between, and a hint of Wilco’s cheerful side sneaking in from time to time. Things easily go from a relatively straightforward country-rocker like “County Line” to a dreamy/clickety love song pop anthem like “Dream Girl.” The production quality reflects the organic elegance of Zimmerman’s studio skills demonstrated on recent releases by local acts Johnny Delaware, Jordan Igoe, Company, and Zimmerman’s main band Brave Baby. “The SUSTO album ended up being more than I ever could have imagined,” Osborne says. “It turned out even better than I expected. We are going for a kind of cosmic cowboy sound. My original demos were only a few simple tracks, but they leaned toward that sound, too, with reverb and a wave-washiness to it all. Johnny and Wolfgang went in and painted things that way, but they helped make it more beautiful. It was like I had a box ready to gift-wrap, and they brought the bow and helped me wrap it.” SUSTO will share the Music Farm stage with Brave Baby on Tues. May 13 at 8 p.m. Admission is $5. Osborne and his bandmates will hit the Royal American in Charleston on Wed. June 11. They’ll head up to the New Brookland Tavern in Columbia on Thurs. June 12 and the Radio Room in Greenville on Fri. June 13. Check out susto.bandcamp.com and reverbnation.com/susto info, updates, and music.
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