Some indie rockers cut their musical teeth on the club scene or spend their youth jamming in garages with friends and bandmates. For SUSTO front man Justin Osborne, his musical roots trace back to a somewhat unconventional source.
“I learned how to play music in church,” says Osborne, whose band opens for the Lumineers tonight at Smart Financial Centre. “I had a lot of friends there, met a lot of pretty girls there when I was young, and it was a big part of my life. It was fun.”
Until it wasn’t.
Osborne grew up in a small town, a “one-stoplight” type of place, as he puts it. His father was Methodist and his mother Pentecostal, so he grew up going to a number of different churches. He even attended a private Christian school, until he was kicked out and moved to another.
“I was a rebellious kid, the punk-rock type,” Osborne said. “But I still had faith.”
Then came Charleston, South Carolina. Osborne originally moved there to attend The Citadel, a military college. His roommate wasn’t religious, and eventually called Osborne’s beliefs into question. Having grown up surrounded by religion, he had never really questioned his faith.
Drugs quickly changed that. While at The Citadel, Osborne began experimenting with psychedelics, which somewhat altered his previous views on organized religion.
“[Drugs] stripped away some thoughts I’d originally had, and it eventually came to a point where I felt [religion] wasn’t real; I got really upset about that,” Osborne says. “I felt like people had made me live inside a bubble my whole life, and that lasted for a while. I was so angry about it, and I didn’t get along with my family for a while because of it.”
Eventually, like many young men who began to mature, Osborne found a middle ground. He eventually came to realize that no one was trying to fool him or lead him astray, but rather was simply conveying their beliefs to him. He now identifies as neither a Christian nor an atheist; rather, he admits, like many who age and realize they don’t know everything, that he doesn’t really know which side to believe.
“I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t,” Osborne says. “I don’t have anything figured out in this life. I love playing music, and I’ve mended some fences. I’m a lot happier about it. People have learned to accept me for my tattoos and dirty mouth, and I’ve learned to accept them for their church clothes and Bible study.”
SUSTO’s music, like its front man, has evolved as well. The band released a self-titled independent record in 2014. The album is fairly raw but shows a band that, with a few tweaks, is on to something. That potential was realized with the band’s newest release, & I’m Fine Today (Missing Piece/Caroline), which came out earlier this year.
Unlike its predecessor, which had what Osborne calls an “acid country” vibe to it, & I’m Fine Today is more expansive in sound and incorporates a variety of genres, including a more electronic vibe. While he plays for the love of music, Osborne admits he keeps the band’s commercial prospects in mind.
“Unlike the first record, we hope this one would get released and find an audience right out of the gate,” he says. “Maybe it would grow into something, not only for our own entertainment, but to give it a chance in the world.”
Teaming up with a band like the Lumineers, whose latest record peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, certainly increases SUSTO’s commercial prospects. The band originally submitted a demo at the behest of their booking agent, but never really expected to land a prime opening slot for such a major band. Then one day, while they were on tour in Toronto, the phone rang.
“They said we were going on tour with the Lumineers, and I’m like, ‘Fuck off, that’s not happening,’” Osborne says. “Sure enough, it was a thing. It was very flattering, and we’re looking forward to playing in front of a bunch of new people. I’m glad they heard what we were doing and liked it enough to take us out on the road.”
Osborne admits that age and maturity have tempered his rebellious spirit a bit. These days, he’s more prone to see both sides of an argument, whether political, religious or otherwise.
“I’m not going to write a Donald Trump song, and I don’t even want to join those compilations,” Osborne says. “People have reasons for voting for Trump, and I get that, and not everyone has to see the world the same way…But you can learn to be tolerant and love each other. Whether that happens face to face, over dinner or at the movies, in songs or at concerts, it needs to happen more.”
SUSTO opens for the Lumineers 7 p.m. tonight at Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington Boulevard in Sugar Land. Iceland's Kaleo is also on the bill.