This week Charleston, South Carolina’s SUSTO will release their sophomore album “& I’m Fine Today” on January 13. Named for the record, their winter tour will bring them north to our own port city’s Bourgie Nights (127 Princess St.) on January 14.
Lead singer Justin Osborne admits they wanted to marry a few different sounds on this album, including but not limited to folk, psychedelic rock and Americana. While recording they explored and ventured as far as they could in one direction before they’d “dial it back” to go another.
“I think we were just trying to find a happy medium between some rock ‘n’ roll, some folk, some psychedelic, and maybe even a little electronica,” he details. “We found these sounds really complemented each other, even though they’re not from the same tradition. I don’t even know what you would call it … it’s definitely some sort of fusion.”
Songs like “Far Out Feeling” rope in listeners in an hypnotic fashion, while the album continues to build with some of those familiar rock and Americana influences. As well songs like “Hard Drugs” are more lyric-forward tracks.
“I love the juxtaposition,” Osborne says. “‘Far Out Feeling’ is so cinematic, and it’s out there, and then ‘Hard Drugs’ is kind of a more standard-sounding song but the lyrical content is kind of heartbreaking.”
Osborne describes “& I’m Fine Today” as a team effort with his band mates: Johnny Delaware (guitar), Corey Campbell (guitar, keys, backing vocals), Jenna Desmond (bass), and Marshall Hudson (drums, percussion). Delaware played the role of co-producer with Osborne and Wolfgang Zimmerman. But it was Osborne and Delaware who brought most songs to the studio. “There were times when I had a song, and Johnny had a song unrelated and together we created one song,” Osborne says.
One such track was “Far Out Feeling,” wherein Delaware had the cinematic music but lacked a song to fit it. Drummer Marshall Hudson also contributed “Diamond’s Icaro.”
“There are definitely moments where different members of the band have their own creation,” Osborne continues. “It’s fun to work like that. It’s frustrating to try and rely on your own self to create content all the time. It’s nice to be surrounded by people who can create great content and help shape your own.”
The idea with this record was to make it memorable for taking something listeners already like (Americana, folk) and adding what they might not realize they’d enjoy. Songs like “Diamond Icaro” and “Mystery Man” skirt the lines of tradition yet include unpredictable pops of synthesizers or other non-traditional instrumentals. In fact, Osborne describes “Mystery Man” as a straightforward Americana love song, with “fairly predictable musicianship in it.”
“And then we introduce this instrument that seems out of place but, at the same time, it’s like a nice little icing on the cake,” he tells. “Those little moments, those little pieces—as well as being thought-provoking lyrically—that’s what makes it interesting.”
Though sometimes their lyrics are more like a mantra or fever dream, Osborne says there’s a story or idea in every song. From the onset they’ve written songs based on experiences from their own lives made relatable to a broader audience. “Mystery Man,” for instance, was based on a former crush of Delaware’s.
“While every song you write may not fit the [same] narrative, the honesty and genuine nature of the song [is important],” Osborne states. “‘Diamond’s Icaro’ is a song Marshall wrote about a family friend who passed away, and it’s not so much like a traditional spiritual, but it’s ambiguously religious and spiritual about passing on.”
The album art is as colorful, electric and unpredictable as the record itself. Hudson, who does all of SUSTO’s poster art, found the piece featured on their cover. The work is by Peruvian artist, ayahuasca shaman and rainforest activist Pablo Amaringo, who died in 2009. With little bare space left behind, it is almost like a “Where’s Waldo” scene set in the Amazon rainforest: Dozens of snakes, rainbows, florals and foliage explode everywhere in vibrant colors. There’s a lot going on with new characters waiting to be discovered with each glance.
“It seemed like an appropriate theme that fit the album,” Osborne observes. “To me it’s very striking and colorful, and the record is striking and colorful. . . . It’s wonderful art and Pablo is a wonderful artist. . . . Album art is a hard thing the choose and I feel like we found the right one for this.”
If nothing else, “& I’m Fine Today” represents SUSTO’s growth in sound and confidence since their self-titled debut album in 2014. They experimented a great deal and found what works, Osborne says. In the last three years the lead singer has gone from being a short-order cook who had little direction to being in a touring band, producing albums. Needless to say, much has changed in way of perspective, too.
Roughly translated, “susto” is Spanish for fright, scare, nervous breakdown, or panic attack. Osborne picked up on the term as an anthropology student more within the context of another Latin American meaning: “when your soul is separated from your body.” Osborne says it’s a sentiment most represented in SUSTO’s first album.
“That first record had a lot of panic in it,” he admits. “This one has more concern without the panic. . . . It’s a project we put a lot of time into. We paid attention to detail and really tried to get it right. It isn’t perfect, but I hope people can listen to it and appreciate the art that we made.”
For more details about their upcoming show at Bourgie Nights with openers Heyrocco, visit the event page on Facebook or follow SUSTO at sustoisreal.com.