With the forthcoming release of his third album, Ever Since I Lost My Mind (out 2/22 on Rounder), we interviewed Justin Osborne of SUSTO for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. During our chat with Osborne, we discussed the dusty desert vibe meets ’90s guitar rock of lead single “Homeboy,” the communal message of love and hope in the Spanish-sung ballad “Está Bien,” the experience of working with producer Ian Fitchuk (Kasey Musgraves, Ruston Kelly), and much more!
NoiseTrade: You’re about to release your third album, Ever Since I Lost My Mind (out 2/22 on Rounder). Sonically and lyrically, how do you feel this album continues your creative arc from your self-titled debut and 2017’s & I’m Fine Today?
Justin Osborne: I think the overall vibe of this album feels very SUSTO, but there are definitely some sonic and lyrical differences from the first two records. We made both of our first albums in a storage unit, and although I’m really proud of what we were able to do in that DIY space, it was great to have the opportunity to bring these songs to life in a real studio with fantastic gear and great people helping make it sound as good as possible. So, sonically I think you can really hear the difference. Lyrically, this album feels a bit more self reflective.
All of our albums are very personal to me because each song is about a real experience in my life. So, it’s not that this one is more personal, it’s just that my lyrics and songwriting are noticeably, at least to me, more introspective. Also, I felt in control of this process a lot more than I ever have. It was really nice to have that control, especially since these songs feel so vulnerable to me.
NT: I really dig the desert acoustic verses and guitar-driven alt-rock chorus of album opener “Homeboy.” Were there any specific inspirational touchpoints you were thinking of when writing and recording that song?
Osborne: Yes, I would definitely say so. The primary subject of the song is a friend of mine who was contemplating a move to LA. I had a mental picture of the drive from East Coast to West and the stretches of desert that are so definitive of that southern route. I think that mental image helped shape the sonic landscape for sure. There was also a mental image of where I live, in Charleston, SC, and the subject of my own homesickness. So we really tried to balance the two and provide sonic imagery of both. There are parts of the song that feel juicy to me, and I guess those bits are our sonic interpretation of Charleston.
Overall, I think there’s a heavy ’90s influence with this song and I’m happy with that. I had songs like Orgy’s “Blue Monday” and Bush’s “Everything Zen” in mind when I imagined the way the wall of guitars would hit in the chorus. I’ve always loved the feeling that comes with a sudden appearance of overdrive and distortion. The hope was that we would create a similar feeling.
NT: The slinky Southwestern ballad ”Está Bien” is another track that I’ve really been enamored by. What’s the story behind that song?
Osborne: I’m glad you like that one, it’s definitely one of my personal favorites. It has a really positive message that I hope will add a sense of love and community to the ongoing conversation surrounding the US’s relationship with its Spanish speaking citizens, residents, and neighbors. I think love is a powerful message in any language, and it was really a great experience to write and record a song in Spanish. I’ve had a long love for the Spanish language, and for Latin America, so the opportunity to write and sing in Spanish and play in Latin America is very special to me. I spent a few months in Cuba back in 2013, and that time and my friends in Havana were really the catalyst for me beginning the work to try and break through with SUSTO. So this song is also a nod to them, and a “thank you” for their friendship and support.
NT: Tell us about working with Ian Fitchuk (Kasey Musgraves, Ruston Kelly) as a producer. What was the studio experience like and how did he help shape the album’s balance of modern pop and timeless roots music flavors?
Osborne: It was such a pleasure working with Ian. The whole studio team was great and he did a really wonderful job of making everyone feel comfortable throughout the whole process. Ian is a great producer because he has such an ear for things. He was always noticing little things that I couldn’t, and coming up with great ideas to make each song really shine. He’s also an incredible player and his contributions on keys and guitars really helped make the record feel as good as it does.
When I first met Ian, I told him I was really scared of the recording process being a difficult time, because making our previous record had been very stressful for me. Earlier in the same conversation I had told him about riding a jetski the week before and how amazing and free it felt. He told me that recording shouldn’t be stressful and that I should feel the same way I did on the jetski. It seems like a funny comment, but it opened my eyes and led me to make some decisions about the recording process that were really beneficial. It helped make the process smooth and stress free. I’ve never felt so comfortable making a record before and having Ian steering the ship was a big part of that.
NT: Finally, I read in your bio that you wrote your first song at 14 years old. Looking back over your entire songwriting career from then to now, what’s the most cringe-worthy lyric you can think of from your early days and what’s a line that you feel most proudest of off your new record?
Osborne: There’s a long list and some that I’ve purposefully forgotten. I will say, even though a lot of the earlier stuff I wrote was admittedly pretty juvenile, I’m not really ashamed of any of it. It’s all part of the process and I’ve always at least tried my best when I was writing to say what I really felt about something. Hopefully I’ve gotten better at saying those things. I had a band when I was 14-15 called Killed In Action, or KIA. Weird name, but we didn’t know any better. We were trying to be punk even though all my songs were sappy and about girls. We had one song called “Someday” and the chorus lyrics were something like “Someday I’m gonna hold you, like I’m holding you now…” which makes no sense and sounds super lame to me now, so i guess I’ll highlight that one.
I’m really happy with where I am now as a songwriter. I’ve been writing for over half my life now and it’s something I still really enjoy. So, I’m really happy with all the songs on the new album. I feel like they all hold up lyrically. If I had to highlight one, I would say that it’s the second verse in the last song “Off You” – the lyrics are in reference to the first verse talking about the rain: “I think when it stops, I’ll drive my van out to the ocean, park at our secret spot and cover myself in sunscreen lotion. They say it’s good for the mind, all that random motion…” It just feel like me and really takes me to a specific time and place in my life anytime I hear or sing it, so I love that verse and I’ll say it’s my favorite.