Susto// “& I’m Fine Today”

Susto’s backstory is as unique as its name. It begins with frontman Justin Osborne becoming fed up with music at the age of 26, moving to Havana to study anthropology, getting married and divorced months later, attending a couple of ancient Latin American rituals, and entertaining aspirations of working for non-governmental organization or joining “some kind of leftist movement.”

Fast forward four years and you’ll now find the South Carolina native and his Wilco-esque band in the midst of the latest in what has been a busy year of touring.

It’s the perfect opportunity for Susto to promote their recently released sophomore album, “& I’m Fine Today,” an eminently listenable collection that transcends Americana genre boundaries through the adventurous additions of strings, horns and synthesizers.

In addition to being more musically experimental, “& I’m Fine Today” also finds an increasing earnestness in Osborne’s lyrics, a marked departure from last year’s whimsical single “Chillin’ on the Beach With My Best Friend Jesus Christ.” When he sings of nightmares where he’s lying next to a dead person’s body with his limbs blown off, he’s really had those nightmares, although he says that’s been happening less often these days. When he sings of watching a friend die from drugs, that’s also happened. And when he manages to find something hopeful among it all, that’s real, too.

All of which brings us back to that name: Susto is a term used to describe a Latin American malady in which the spirit is said to separate from the body. And while Osborne is neither Latin American nor religious, he still felt that, on some level, he could relate.

“I was broke, I wasn’t sure what I was doing, I wasn’t on good terms with my parents,” he said. “I just kind of lost my religion and stepped away from it, and was constantly very angry about that. I felt like some part of myself was somewhere hovering over me, but I couldn’t get it back.” The traditional rituals for curing such maladies, he adds, tend to be less than pleasant.

“I was friends with the son of a holy man in Havana,” he recalled, “and I remember we were having a party for my friend’s birthday. And next to the courtyard where we were partying, there was a room with someone who’d been locked inside there for a week.”

Long story short, Osborne returned to South Carolina, hooked up with guitarist Johnny Delaware and keyboardist Corey Campbell to form the creative core of his new band. He brought back some residue from his travels.

“The Caribbean influences are definitely there, but a lot of that actually comes from Corey, who’s the only actual trained musician in the band,” Osborne said. “If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s like modern alternative music with influences that go from American traditional to world music to electronic music.”

Osborne is happier now, although he expects that an element of what inspired the band’s name will always come and go. Inauguration Day, he said, was not a happy one for him, but his mood was transformed when the band’s tour hit Washington, D.C., the same day as the women’s march. The most poignant song on Susto’s new album, “Gay in the South,” is about people who are devastated by societal intolerance.

“The song is kind of a reaction to a very literal thing that happened,” said Osborne. “There are people who find out they have a life-threatening illness, or find out they’re pregnant in a society that does not allow them to see abortion as an option, or whatever. And that sometimes turns people to darkness and they start doing drugs or whatever.” These lyrics from “Gay in the South” capture the crux of the song.

“They promised us you were going straight to hell when you die / I don’t even think it’s a real place / And in a future time there will be nothing different between you and I / And I can’t wait for that time to come.”

“It’s kind of an encouraging letter to just say, ‘Hey, pick yourself up, it’s okay, don’t let this ruin your life. There are people who will love you and understand you no matter what happens,’” Osborne said. “I think as long as you’re alive and breathing, there’s always going to be hope.”


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