It’s a Tuesday night at the Music Farm, and the Heartless Bastards are making a stop through Charleston on the fourth week of their nationwide tour. Doors open at eight, and by 8:30 the venue is already packed. Despite their talent, the crowd could not care less about the Heartless Bastards; everyone is there for SUSTO. At about 9:15, SUSTO frontman Justin Osborne yells to a tall, long haired, and bearded man named Johnny Delaware. “Dude we are on! Finish your beer and get on stage,” he calls. Seconds later, “The Boys are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy begins to play over the speakers as SUSTO walks on stage.
Throughout their 45 minute set, the energy and emotion from both SUSTO and their audience was almost tangible. The combination of Osborne’s soulful vocals and Charleston “Jesus” Johnny Delaware’s guitar and backup harmonies was even better than it was on their perfectly mastered recordings. They performed almost the entirety of their self-titled debut album combined with a few new tracks from their upcoming LP. The new material, which included “Cosmic Cowboy” and another song tentatively titled “Wasted Mind,” was filled with just as much soul as their previously released works.
As a 2–year Charleston “local”, SUSTO’s lyrics really hit home for me. They range from deep and emotional realities of living in Charleston (“Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wine” and “Motorcycle Club”) to the mental side effects of love (“Dream Girl”). In a recent phone interview with Osborne, he discussed his songwriting process and what it was like for him to grow up in the South. As a child, Osborne was constantly exposed to the Southern style of storytelling, which he has transferred to his songwriting. In his lyrics, Osborne frequently brings up his Southern roots, referencing the difficulties of being a liberal atheist in the heart of the religious and conservative South. His new song “Cosmic Cowboy” hits on all of these notes in its chorus, “I’m a Southern man but an atheist, a puddin’ swamp kid with tattooed fists. Never in the middle and always on top – always screaming ‘fuck the cops,’ I’m a cosmic cowboy.” Osborne says that his goal is for SUSTO to come across with a progressive Southern voice. “We love living in the South. We love Charleston and we love people, but we know that there are a lot of things about this place that we live in that aren’t how they should be. We want to be a part of that active change.”
SUSTO came about after the breakup of Osborne’s first band, Sequoyah Prep School. Due to a serious lack of inspiration, Osborne took a trip to Cuba where he wrote most of the material that would later be on SUSTO’s self-titled album. When Osborne returned to Charleston, he partnered with Johnny Delaware and thus SUSTO was born. Osborne worked with Delaware to transform the songs he had written during his time in Cuba into what we now know as SUSTO’s debut material. “There are definitely some personalities in this town that are just really talented people in their own right. I think that the best magic happens when those people get together,” says Osborne. Over the past few years, Osborne and Delaware have strengthened their lineup by partnering with Cory Campbell (guitar/keys/backup vocals), Marshall Hudson (drums), and Jenna Desmond (bass).
SUSTO have quickly risen to the top of the Charleston music scene and are slowly being recognized nationwide. “The music that is being made in Charleston is just as good, if not better, than the music that is being made all over the country and the world. It’s great to be a part of that,” says Osborne. “We were Daytrotter’s number 2 song of the year last year, and we’re just a Charleston band. These national and international publications are starting to take notice of Charleston more. The scene has just grown in this beautiful and productive way that has caught the attention of the rest of the country.” In this season alone, SUSTO will be featured at music festivals like Savannah Stopover, Stagecoach, and South Sounds Music and Arts Festival, playing alongside Charleston bands Brave Baby, Indianola, Slow Runner, The High Divers, and She Returns from War.
Although their self-titled album was recorded with a Delaware label, SUSTO is now a part of the Charleston music label Hearts and Plugs. SUSTO’s upcoming album, “& I’m Fine Today” is currently in production and will hopefully be released within the upcoming year.