Main member: Justin Osborne
Nationality: American
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current Release: The new SUSTO album Time in the Sun is available via New West.

If you enjoyed these thoughts by Justin Osborne of SUSTO, visit the band's website for more information, their online store and links to all their socials. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

Many of us associate music with phases of life which are particularly vivid, intense and important. Do you, too – and if so, what are examples of this? What is it about music that makes it so particularly powerful as a celebration/intensifier/diarist of life?

I definitely do. I think for me from a writing perspective, every album has kind of been like a time stamp of a certain phase of my life. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people who write in album form.

For instance, right now, Time in the Sun is a period of my life where I became a father, a global pandemic happened, my dad died, and I‘ve just been navigating that the entire time. And also navigating shifting collaborators as well. So for me, when I listen to the album I’m always going to think about that.

But also as a fan of music I feel like what you associate with the music kind of dictates how you find it and what you’re going through when you really latch on to it. One very specific memory I have is being very broken hearted in my early teens and listening to Box #10 by Jim Croce on repeat.

It wasn’t even about what I was going through, but it was about low and down on your luck and I just latched on to it. I’ve loved that song ever since because it has meaning to me in that way.

During the recording of Time in the Sun, you became a parent and lost your father. What happens to basic and fundamental emotions like joy or sorrow when they get mixed up with their exact opposite?

There’s a lot of joy that comes along with being a parent but there’s also a lot of difficulty that comes along with being a parent. I don’t know if we’re saying that being a parent is the pure bliss thing and losing a parent is the opposite because I think in some ways they’re both kind of like really challening. But obviously there is the joy that comes along with being a parent and becoming filled with this love but that counterpart that appears in the same time is the intense responsibility.

But you know, as far as experiencing the two things, it was a lot; to become a parent, and being excited to become a parent, but then kind of losing your mentor who is like the parent you had that walked you through everything. Obviously my dad isn’t the only person I had in my life. I had my mom and also my wife and her family as well. But my dad was the first one of either of our parents to die. So it kind of felt like this weird, offical torch passing.

But I guess that’s not really answering the question but that’s how those two events kind of worked with each other in my life. It just felt like okay you’re a parent now, and now you’re losing your father. So no one really there to ask for advice, you just kind of figure it out. But I think life is like that in some ways anyway.

Has music offered you concrete solace in this very difficult phase in your life?If so, what made it so helpful?

I would say no. Music has been definitely helpful but it’s not concrete solace. Music is a way to express what’s going on and help unpack it. But at the end of the day there are still very real things that are happening.

I guess it was very helpful, and I don’t know what I would have been doing or how I would have processed everything if I didn’t have music. So it didn’t solve everything but but being in the studio served as a respite from dealing with it all mentally. It was a place to go and step away and funnel all that mental chaos into a project that was kind of meant to unpack it.

Music can deal with life and death in many ways. What are examples you find particularly inspiring for you personally? Has one of them possibly changed your view on life and death?

I don’t know what songs are about death and what songs aren’t but I know the Phosphorescent album C’est La Vie seemed to be about becoming a parent.

I don’t know that it is about that, but there are a lot of songs that seem to be inspired by having a new child in your life. So that record kind of stands out to me as one of life, and new life.

And then the song "To Live is to Fly" by Townes Van Zandt and Townes in general because he’s one of my heros who is no longer alive. Some of his songs just seem like they can be so specific but they feel like they’re about those big themes like death. That song kind of feels like that’s what death is, even though I don’t really think there is anything on the other side.

You don’t neccesarily want things to end. But things do end and you just have to accept it and move forward.

I would assume that either of these two events could have stopped the creative process dead in its track or sped it up, questioned or completely changed it. What happened, concretely, in the end?

I started working on this album right after I found out I was going to be a dad and so from the beginning it kind of had this influence on my mood. But that mood was pretty positive and hopeful, and excited. So then, when my daughter was born, working on the album kind of slowed down a bit because whenever I wasn’t on deck as a dad I was touring. And I hadn’t really been in the studio working on the album yet, I just was writing. But I was writing at home around all of it. So it stopped in some ways but it kind of encouraged the writing in other ways.

But then the pandemic was something that happend that really sped up the process because we weren’t touring and by that point my daughter was six months old so I could kind of get away to go to the studio to go work during the day. And then I thought I was done writing, I had 10 or 12 songs when my dad passed and I was like okay well the album is done this could go into a new album I guess. Because I didn’t think I’d be able to write about it for a while. But I started writing about it pretty quickly and the album kind of took on this new theme.

The birth was the first part of it and this experience of the death is the other side of the coin. So I don’t think either event really stopped it but they definitely made it transform. And I think once I lost my dad it became clear that the album was more than about becoming a parent it was about being a human being and what it means to be in the middle of birth and death and come face to face with your own mortality. That is a day to day thing and it’s kind of fucked and hard to deal with.

In which way did topics of life and death play a role in your own music prior to these events, would you say?

I kind of talked about death here and there and the darkness of life. But I think there was just more of a general exploration of the intermingling of pain vs joy in life. There wasn’t really a deep exploration oft he process of growing older from birth to death and how it’s bookended by those two things. I don’t think that was really contemplated much in the music before to be honest with you, it just wasn’t in my face. I was dealing with other stuff on the other albums.

Like on my third album there’s a lot of me dealing with the road and me feeling separated from the people I loved.

The second album there’s a lot of me just kind of dealing with the world and trying to make sense of the chaos and the hatred but also the bliss.

And the first album is me trying to make sense of a breakup and losing my religion. The religion thing has probably has continued because it’s baked into all of my lyrics.

In which way did you approach writing about these topics for Time in the Sun? How concrete did you allow yourself to become?

I wasn’t being very specific like "let’s talk about death". I think the album is just influenced by these two things in my life. Because it also just led me to think about my day to day life, my life in memory as far as remembering the places I’ve been to get to this point in my life, hopefully not a halfway mark but somewhere like it. It’s a record influenced by the two major things that happened in my life but it’s also an exploration of everything inbetween.

The press release describes the writing and recording process as therapeutic. In which way and to what degree was it healing?

I kind of alluded to this earlier but it was just really a place for me to unpack what was going on and also just kind of vent my feelings. And it’s not just in the studio but in the writing. A lot of the writing was kind of like a way of literally in the moment capturing what was going on.

A song like "Mother of the World" I sat around and wrote that with my daughter as she was learning to walk around this circular coffee table we have. She was what they call "gliding" but she was walking around with her hands on it learning to walk before she could walk without holding on to something and I would play the melody for her and it was like in the moment.

But it’s theraputic more to listen to it now because it’s like "ah man you know that was cool".

But when it comes to terms with losing my dad it was a way for me to say how I felt because around his funeral I had to kind of speak the language of religion, and I couldn’t grieve. So it was a place for me to grieve and a place for me to kind of just unpack everything I was doing.

What do you still remember about the recording process? How did both the good and the bad news influence the other band members and the time in the studio?

I think my band members realized I was in a big part of my life. We were all going through a lot of stuff with the pandemic so honestly we were all looking for something to do. They also just knew okay "Justin just became a dad and he’s lost his dad" and also my producer Wolfgang had just become a dad too so we all were there and threw ourselves into making and epic album, or at least epic in the terms of SUSTO. As epic as we could make it.

And we just had fun and it was really like a community effort, so many people were involved in different ways. I think it really just brought us together in a hard time for everybody.

Another aspect mentioned in the press release is that the experience made you aware of the cyclical nature of life and death. How do you embed this awareness into your daily life? How does it go from being a realisation to a consolation?

I was already aware oft he cyclical nature of life and death, but it just becomes thrown right in front of you when those two big life events happen so close together and also I was at a very similar age to my dad as when I was born so because of that I’m exactly 35 years older than my daughter and my dad was about the same with me. That just highlighted the cyclical nature, it didn’t make me aware it just really highlighted it in this visceral way.

So I think that’s something that when you know, you know. And it just affects everything you do and it makes life seem like it’s going by really quickly all the of the sudden. It’s affected me, I don’t think in a good way. It’s made me anxious and made me think about everything and question everything. I don’t know how it could become a consolation. I don’t think it’s a consolation to know that life is fleeting and it’s short and brutal and beautiful. I think that’s just a thing that can dawn on you and it kind of feels like the opposite of a consolation.

Did the idea of sustainability, which also runs through the album, also stem from these events? Or was it something that was already on your mind before that?

The birth of my daughter and the onset of the pandemic were the two things that kind of got me thinking more about sustainability and also conservation in some ways; conservation of resources, conservation of our planet in a way that will make it continue to be habitable and useable by human beings.

Right before the pandemic hit I went back to school to finish my undergraduate degree with this online class that College of Charleston was offering. I left in 2014 with only like one class missing because I had to drop out of that class during exam week because shit was picking up with the band. So I went back and it was this deep dive into Meso-American culture and so I was learning about how environmental factors led to the demise of cultures like the Maya and the civilizations/city states like Tikal and other places that are ruins. Like were those societys what made them go down? And something that I realized that I never realized before that some of that was because of misuse and mismanagement of resources and overpopulation of too small of an area.

And then my daughter’s born and I start getting really interested in how we can make the world sustainable for not only her but if she ever wants to have kids and if they ever want to have kids, people in perpetuity. It’s like how do we not ruin this? So I started kind of doing research into my own carbon footprint just through some of the classes I was taking. I finished my undergrad and got interested in this graduate program at College of Charleston in environmental sustainability studies, and in order to apply for it I felt like I kind of needed to reup my scientific chops. So I took some classes in biology and geology and environmental science and it was through those classes that I started kind of auditing my own carbon footprint and realzied how high it was from being a touring musican because I’m essentially driving like 5 hours a day in a 16 passenger van. So I started thinking about the transportation side of that and how that scales up for bigger bands than us that are in busses and have multiple busses and semi-trucks and I started getting interested in green touring.

I haven’t made a ton of progress in that route but it’s something I’m interested in exploring and trying to change in my own life. My hope is by the end of this album cycle or as soon as possible switch to an electric vehicle, but also to do that it’s going to take navigating touring in a different way because logistically you just can’t travel as long or as far in an electric vehicle especially when you’re carrying a payload like we do. So I’m interested in connecting the dots to making green touring possible.

Unless it's too personal, what's your own view on life and what happens when it ends?

I personally think that when you die you just cease to exist and you cease to be aware. It’d be really cool if that wasn’t true, if there was any sort of like state of consciousness on the other side as long as that wasn’t like some sort of like forever turmoil like a biblical hell or something which I don’t see how that could be possible. So I think when you die, you just die. And actually that is consoling.

Music can express the unspeakable. What can it express about life and death which words alone may not?

Lyric based music is designed to marry words and sentiments that can be expressed sonically. And I think when you do that you are telling a story with the backdrop of a soundscape which allows you to convey more because you’re conveying more than just the words. It’s marrying two mediums with instrumental music.