With the success of their first platinum single, “Stay a Little Longer,” the Brothers Osborne have come a long way from growing up in the Chesapeake Bay town of Deale, Maryland. There, they listened to country music and composed their own songs, reportedly in a shed behind the house where they grew up. Blending the strengths of T.J.’s strong baritone vocals and John’s extraordinary guitar playing, the song received heavy play on country radio and a surprise 2015 Grammy nomination even before their debut album, Pawn Shop, had been released. By going platinum, “Stay a Little Longer” firmly placed the previously obscure duo on the country-music map.
Then, last November, the Brothers Osborne were the surprise winners for Vocal Duo of the Year at the CMA Awards, beating out superstars Florida Georgia Line. Now they have been nominated for a second Grammy in the same category, this time under Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their current single, “21 Summer.” Not bad for a duo that released their debut single in 2013.
Interestingly, they are the only nominees without a “featured artist,” such as Dolly Parton and the a cappella pop group Pentatonix, or Kenny Chesney and P!nk. Calling the nomination “awesome,” T.J. says he feels encouraged that the brothers had been nominated just as themselves, “a true duo.” The long guitar solo in “Stay a Little Longer” emphasizes the lyrics’ passion and wistfulness without feeling gratuitous. T.J. simply calls his brother an incredible guitar player.
Although T.J. admits fans’ enthusiasm can sometimes get “a little over the line,” he says the brothers still love interacting with their audiences. Recently, they handled a logistical nightmare with aplomb by redirecting a cancelled California concert to an impromptu performance on top of their tour bus, which drew the attention of Rolling Stone. When there was a problem with the venue’s ceiling, T.J. explains, bassist Pete Sternberg quipped that they should just play on top of the tour bus. The brothers don’t like to cancel shows, he adds, and so were forced to improvise. “Before you knew it, we had speakers and played up there, and it was great,” T.J. says.
Produced by Jay Joyce, who has worked with other country heavyweights such as Eric Church and Carrie Underwood, Pawn Shop ranges from the upbeat “American Crazy” to the requisite drinking song (“Rum”) and the moving “Heart Shaped Locket.” But aside from the addictive “Stay a Little Longer,” the standout is “Loving Me Back,” featuring Lee Ann Womack; having her on the album, T.J. says, was a real “bucket-list moment.” Describing the life of the musical artist as “a strange kind of fix,” the lyrics posit that only love can compete with the allure of performing something for which “I give more than I’ll ever get back.”
Songwriting is a never-ending quest for something that “suits us,” explains T.J.; normally he writes with his brother and maybe another person “to keep me and John from arguing,” he jokes. But it is a team effort, and one that the brothers take seriously. “Everyone can experience love, or heartbreak, but in a different way,” T.J. says. “If you can write something and it seems genuine, that is what people respond to.”
T.J. says he finds inspiration this way: “As artist-types — any type; painters, musicians, writers — sometimes these people are like sponges, and you have to be pretty porous as to the things going on around you,” he says. “If you can harness that into a song, whether it is about love or loss or even a party, and people can relate to it, then you know you might have something. And even something like a broken heart can lead you to a song that ends with a positive perspective.”
Although the brothers have been quite vocal about the state of country music in the past few years, T.J. says he thinks things have gotten much better. He praises friends like Maren Morris and Luke Bryan, saying that although their style of country music may be different from the Osbornes', “they are honest and authentic,” he says. Many country listeners became disillusioned as artists began releasing music heavily influenced by pop and other genres, and T.J. is gratified that people have responded to the Osbornes' music for these same reasons.
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“People want to hear songs that are honest,” he says. “Like ‘21 Summer,’ people can relate to having lost a love, but having something positive come out of that experience after time.”
Now on the road with “Dirt Rich Tour,” also featuring LanCo and Lucie Silvas, the brothers will perform this Friday at House of Blues. Thanking the duo’s fans for all their support, T.J. ends by saying that the real task ahead is to focus and get the right songs together for their next album.
“You write a lot of songs, and some of them are not very good, but then it comes together and you have something that works,” he says. “Sometimes, you get lucky.”
The "Dirt Rich Tour," starring the Brothers Osborne, pulls into House of Blues this Friday, January 6. Doors open at 7 p.m.