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SUSTO: Getting lost in order to find direction

By Kelli Raulerson

July 18, 2015

“I’ve been running with the Acid Boys, “ooin’ in the bites” doing what can to survive now. Nobody’s got money but nobody really cares because everyone’s just hanging on.” – Acid Boys, SUSTO

It’s a familiar story: adolescent rebellion spilling over into the uncertain, and mainly uncomfortable, period of inherent responsibility that comes with adulthood. For many of us, the southern landscape is all too similar against a backdrop of endless bars and listless nights out with friends juxtaposed with churches and Sunday family outings.

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Sights and sounds are very recognizable. Train tracks weave in and out of town. The lonesome whistle fading in the distance serves as a harsh reminder that like life, everything and everyone continues to move on. Everyone you know is doing what they can to avoid the burning questions– running away from answers in favor of running towards possibilities.

For SUSTO—whose name stems from Latin folklore referring to a period when one’s soul becomes detached from their body and it is then left wandering– it’s the preface to their story and their latest album of the same name, “SUSTO”, is the soundtrack .

Band leader Justin Osborne remembers it as a time of uncertainty and carelessness, aimlessly existing in the space between what life has always been and what life might become.

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Justin Osborne

“In our early to mid-20s, my friends and I were all making music and just trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. Relationships were being created and destroyed– just what that period of life is like for everyone– lots of uncertainty.”

After touring and playing shows together for years but never living in the same town, Justin and his group of friends finally found themselves settled in close proximity to one another in Charleston, South Carolina. Trying to establish themselves as musicians and gain momentum within the scene didn’t come as easily as anticipated.

“We were all broke and frustrated and concerned about where our lives were going, but we had each other,” the lead singer says.

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That period of ambiguity inspired the song “Acid Boys,” which refers to the bond between this group of friends as they were all figuring out their next steps.

Osborne explains, “As I was freestyling in the studio and trying to capture what was going on in my life at the time lyrically, the term ‘acid boys’ just kept coming up. So we just started referring to ourselves as that.”

With time, that same frustration and restlessness forced Justin to evaluate and question his future within music. Still with his first band, Sequoyah Prep School, he was having a hard time as an adult reliving the lyrics he wrote as a 17-year-old. His decision to pursue another path was solidified after playing a show at a local middle school.

“That was the last straw for me,” he recalls. “I was playing songs that I could no longer relate to, so I had definitely decided to stop playing music.”

After playing a farewell show with Sequoyah, Justin decided to take advantage of an opportunity to study abroad. Seeking refuge from the comfort and predictability of home in a city offering anything but security, he set off for Havana, Cuba.

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Justin Osborne

Eager to learn more about his new surroundings, Justin quickly immersed himself in the local culture. And even though he didn’t go to Cuba to re-energize his music, it didn’t take long for him to infiltrate the local scene.

“Almost the first day I was there, I somehow found myself hanging out with the musical elite of Havana. These guys were in the national ballet bands and some of the most famous singer-songwriters on the island.”

From there, Justin put a full band together under the name SUSTO and started performing new material born out of his experiences in Havana. Afterwards, he returned to Charleston for his last semester and to finish the album. With just three courses left, Justin passed two of the three courses, electing to skip out on the final requirement for the third.

“I had an essay due for my last course, and I emailed my professor the night before it was due and told him, ‘my record just came out a week ago; Band of Horses just messaged me about an opening spot on their tour– I’m not going to finish your class.’”

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Two weeks later, Justin made a stop at a tattoo parlor on his way to a Deer Tick show with his girlfriend Megan and got ‘Acid Boys’ tattooed on his knuckles.

“Since then, it’s been 100-percent.”

That decision is paying off so far. The term “Acid Boys” has caught on amongst SUSTO’s fans, and is now emblazoned on sweatshirts, tank tops, and potentially expanding to skateboards in the near future. [Note: If you want to get your hands on Acid Boys apparel, check out their website but do it quickly – this stuff doesn’t stay in stock long.]

The Acid Boys, which include former and current members bands like Sequoyah, Brave Baby, the Royal Tinfoil and others, have all settled (somewhat) in Charleston and are now working to grow the local music scene.

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Photo by Jonathan Boncek

“We had played shows and toured together for a while, but now we were in the same town, so let’s start building our corner of the scene. The last few years have been cool, seeing everyone come together to unify the scene.”

Leveraging the support of local venues such as the Royal American, Windjammer, and Charleston Music Farm, the Acid Boys are helping to define their corner of Charleston music scene.

SUSTO is using that same spirit of community and local network to grow their fan base and help expand the influence local music has on the region by leaning on their friends in other cities.

“We’re good friends with the guys in Amigo, Sinners & Saints, and Hectorina– same thing with bands in Athens, D.C. and Atlanta. We’re working to connect the dots to the greater regional scene and it’s cool to see that coming together.”

Also helping gain attention for the local and regional scene is Band of Horses’ lead singer Ben Bridwell, who took notice of SUSTO after his dad, having heard the band playing at a local bar, encouraged him to give them a listen. Since then, Ben has mentored SUSTO and given the band an opportunity to open for both Band of Horses as well as Ben’s side project with Iron & Wine.

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Ben Bridwell

“He gave us an opportunity to open for a couple of shows last summer with Band of Horses, and he’s just continued to be a mentor and big brother to us. He’s been a really supportive guy– not just us, but for the whole music scene in Charleston.”

With both local support and a growing fan base that not only covers the U.S., but is also gaining momentum in Canada and across Europe, SUSTO is poised to gain a lot of attention with their next release in spring 2016. However, don’t expect the pressure to appeal to fans to impact the next album.

“I don’t try and write songs for any specific reason. I just write what’s on my mind. I won’t have anything to say if I don’t speak my mind. Music allows me to make a statement without having a conversation. As a listener, it allows you to truly think without having to respond,” Osborne describes.

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Photo by Liza Cox from CLTure Music Fest

SUSTO’s writing will continue to question societal norms within religion, pop culture and society. Justin’s strength as an artist lies within his ability to question longstanding “truths” through his unique storytelling ability. It’s his approach that will start to drive conversations– even if he’s too humble to recognize SUSTO’s potential impact.

Osborne says on the matter of influence: “How big of an impact we might have, I don’t know. What’s on my mind is what’s going to come out. And what’s on my mind is “why are people killing each other in the name of religion and flags… why can’t everyone just lift the veil? That’s the conversation I want to have.”

Just for fun – we asked Justin to answer the following questions regarding Charleston’s hot spots.

Favorite Restaurant: Chez Nous

Favorite Bar: Royal American

Best locals spot or hole in the wall: Palace Hotel or Cutty’s

Best live music venue: Royal American or Charleston Music Hall

One thing all locals know that visitors don’t (but you wish they did)?

No answer. We have to keep some secrets to ourselves.

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