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Mace & Crown | February 21, 2018

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Chasing Souls with SUSTO

Amy Poulter
Arts and Entertainment Editor

Justin Osborne talks lost religion and love before SUSTO’s first appearance in Norfolk

A few years ago, Justin Osborne was working as a short-order cook at a bar called The Royal American in Charleston, South Carolina, while recording music with his band, SUSTO. The bar’s owners would frequently play the band’s music over the house speakers to show support for Osborne’s work.

Word of SUSTO’s music spread throughout Charleston, finally reaching Ben Bridwell – founder of indie-rock outfit Band of Horses – and he invited Osborne’s band to open shows in Atlanta, Charlotte and New York City. On Saturday, Nov. 14, SUSTO will play in Norfolk for the first time at O’Connor Brewing Company.

SUSTO’s self-titled album was released on April 1, 2014, though prior to its release, Osborne wasn’t planning on getting back into the music scene. He had previously been involved in another band, but wanted to start a new project. Beginning in 2011, collaborations with musicians Johnny Delaware, Jordan Hicks and Wolfgang Zimmerman gave rise to material that Osborne would end up taking out on a solo tour in early 2013 under the name SUSTO.

By August 2013, a full band lineup was created, including Delaware on lead guitar, Taylor McCleskey on drums, and Eric Mixon on bass. Garnering local attention, the debut album was released the following spring on Peninsula Records.

“We put the album out and it started to get really good feedback, and we were able to start booking tours on it,” Osborne said.

Taking the band’s name from a Spanish word that means “a loss of soul from the body,” SUSTO’s album largely reflects what Osborne was going through in his personal life. He cites struggles with losing his religion, trying to make ends meet in his mid-twenties, lost love and familial issues as sources of inspiration.

“Aimlessness is probably the theme,” Osborne said. “I kind of felt like I was in a period of my life where I was just floating, and I didn’t have any kind of direction.”

The album has a strong sense of Southern Gothic appeal. Osborne’s voice is gritty, soulful and whiskey-drenched on tracks like “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wine.” The album’s opening track, “Black River Gospel,” includes Baptist hymns, while “Motorcycle Club” talks of inner-demons and a river of blood. On the only love song on the album, “La Mia,” Osborne’s voice transforms into a lullaby-like purr.

“It’s nice to be lumped in with some timeless American artists outside of rock-and-roll, but have had a huge impact,” Osborne said, “Like a voice from a region that transcends a place, connecting us to authors like Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor.”

Between tour dates, SUSTO is recording their second album, tentatively scheduled for a Spring 2016 release. Osborne said that the new album will serve as a follow-up to the lyrical content of the previous album. They’re also being featured in a documentary that will follow the band on tour and into the studio as they prepare to release “& I’m Fine Today,” which is the working title for their sophomore release.

With shows in Atlanta and New York City just before they stop in Norfolk, SUSTO is winding down their fall tour. With just a few dates left, they are scheduled to open for Lauryn Hill in Columbia, South Carolina at the state’s largest free New Year’s Eve celebration.

“We’re really looking forward to coming to Norfolk,” Osborne said. “We’re really excited to be playing in front of some new faces, and to see where the road goes.”

To hear SUSTO’s music before they play in Norfolk, tune into ODU student Haja Kabba’s WODU radio show, titled “The Best Kind,” on Friday, Nov. 13 at 3 p.m., or head to their Spotify channel to stream the album.

The 21+ show on Nov. 14 at O’Connor Brewing Company will also feature FUTUREBIRDS from Atlanta. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., with live music scheduled to kick off at 9 p.m. from Norfolk-based band The Mirrors. Tickets are $10 in advance via EventBrite and $12 at the door.