10 Questions with ... Brothers Osborne
January 3, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Brothers Osborne are TJ and John Osborne.
Years before they climbed the Country charts with songs like "Stay a Little Longer" and "Rum," the Brothers Osborne grew up in Deale, Maryland, a small fishing town on the Atlantic seaboard. It was a cozy place, filled with blue-collar workers who made their living on the water. During the weekends, many of those workers would head over to the Osborne household, where a series of loose, all-night jam sessions filled the Maryland air with the sounds of Bob Seger, Hank Williams, Tom Petty, and George Jones.
The Osborne siblings strummed their first chords during those jam sessions. From the very start, TJ Osborne was the brother with the voice. He sang in a thick, low baritone, crooning like Johnny Cash long before he was even old enough to drive. Older brother John, on the other hand, was the family's guitar shredder, his fingers capable of down-home Bluegrass licks, arena-worthy Rock riffs, Country twang, and everything in between. Combined, the two Osbornes could play everything from traditional Country music to Rock & Roll, creating a broad, full-bodied sound that would eventually fill the 11 songs on their major-label debut, "Pawn Shop." On the heels of their stellar 2015, first-ever GRAMMY nomination, and selection to the CRS 2016 New Faces show, TJ Osborne sat down with All Access Nashville Editor RJ Curtis to discuss the duo's accomplishments and their many goals for the future.
1. Good afternoon, TJ! Thank you for taking time to talk to All Access. Today has already been a big day for you; you and John woke up to a GRAMMY nomination this morning! We obviously want to talk about CRS and the New Faces show and all that means, but let's go ahead and begin by discussing this huge nomination. Tell me your reaction when you heard that news. Did this news literally wake you up, or were you already up and running when the announcements were made?
TJ: It did wake me up! And when you're nominated for anything - I mean, when we were nominated for CMA or ACM, it was the same thing. The press release for that goes out at like eight in the morning, Eastern time, or something. And of course, there's no way in hell I'm going to be up at that hour! Unless I have to be, of course. So, I woke up to my phone just going off - just buzzing, and buzzing, and buzzing. And I was like, "Who in the world is texting me at this time of day!?" Because, I didn't even realize that GRAMMY nominations came around today. So, it's not like I was at home going, "Oh, man, tomorrow, let's see!" So it just came out of the blue, really. And when I looked at the phone, I saw someone had said, "GRAMMY NOM" in all caps, and I just said, "Holy crap." At first, I thought they were congratulating us because we made the ballot. But then, to find out, it was really surreal. I went from like half awake, to really fully awake, to just wanting to jump around the room and tell somebody! But, I'm like, well everyone else is sleeping. So, I just had to have my own little dance party in my house.
2. That's terrific news. And it leads to another question I had. It seems like just the last couple of years, you guys have been a regular on a lot of the "Artists To Watch" lists. I don't know how much press you read on yourselves, but I'm certain you're aware of those. But, it's weird, because that stuff often precedes a lot of success and critical mass on things that come later. But right now, you guys are just reaching that critical mass in terms of airplay, with "Stay A Little Longer" comfortably in the Top 10. Your other two singles, "Let's Go There" and "Rum" were terrific and got some early support, but this one is really kind of on its way. Do you feel like radio and the rest of the world - but particularly radio - is kind of catching up and finally "getting you," or are you guys relatively on schedule in your minds as far as where you planned for your career to be going?
TJ: You know, I think every artist expects it to happen a lot faster than it does. Even just from the first time I moved to Nashville to getting a record deal, I thought that would happen a lot faster. And, you know, you kind of look back, and you can look at it and say, "It has taken so long," and while you're waiting it really is frustrating. But in hindsight, it's been kind of nice that it has taken us this slow road to get to where we are. It has allowed us to kind of not be steered by things that aren't in our true hearts. So, our album, "Pawn Shop," for instance - we were wanting to put a record out a year or even two years ago. But now, we're just now putting out our first record, and there are four songs off of that record that we just wrote this year. So, it allowed us to really grow a lot and find out who we are a little bit more. And our first single just broke forty, and then our second single broke top thirty, and now our current single is up in to the top ten. So we've had this kind of nice climb. So, even though at times it has felt slow, we've always had a forward momentum, and we've always had - with having these really cool moments like getting on the New Faces show, or getting on these other things here and there - things that have put wind in our sails that keep us saying, "You know what? This hasn't been a blow up overnight kind of thing like we all would have hoped, but it's happening; it's working." And most importantly, it's happening by us being ourselves and not compromising what we do.
3. Yeah, that's the most important thing, I think, just having read a lot of background on you guys. I know that is very important to you. And I've always felt like that sort of a gradual rise you're referring to, the steadier the rise, the longer the sustainability is once you get where you want to be. Is that how you feel, also?
TJ: Precisely. And not that we wanted it to be slow, but we are definitely going for the long game. I can confidently tell you that if you were to say to me that we could have had a number one on my first single and had two or three more to follow, and have a career that would last five or ten years - or I could play for the rest of my life - I think it's obvious which one I would choose. So, that's kind of the thing. It's not necessarily about number ones - though, certainly I'd like to have them - but it's just about trying to be authentic and be real. Particularly in Country music. Country music fans really thrive on that, and I think it's something that Country music has lacked a little recently and is just getting back. You see a lot of the artist in town that people have admired and loved for years are just really starting to take off. Chris Stapleton is a prime example of that. And it's crazy! And then now, getting nominated for a GRAMMY, a lot of our decisions - me and my brother were talking about it this morning - a lot of our decisions that we made certainly weren't the ones to make it happen the fastest, but our whole goal is to be a band that sounds like nothing else. And that's really hard! If you don't sound like anything else, it's hard for people to listen and say, "Oh, I like this!" Because a lot of people like what they are familiar with. And with a lot of familiar music, that's where you end up getting a lot of copycat artists. And so, we just really - John and I - said, you know what - we really love music. We've been in this town a long time, and at the end of the day, if it doesn't work out and I can still stay in Nashville, I'm going to do music. So, I want to do it our way and do it to where at the end of the day, even if it didn't work out, we were still proud of what we did.
4. Sometimes that unique sound does take longer to connect with people, because they're not used to that. Because, as you said, there's a lot of stuff in this town - and we both know this town can be famous for it - kind of putting together an assembly line to produce music. And, I read the interview you gave in "Rolling Stone," and you were talking about copycat artists and popular sounds and how that tends to water down the music. But you also mentioned a very diverse list of artists - and I totally agree with you one hundred percent - who are just original. You talked about Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe, and you mentioned A Thousand Horses and as you mentioned earlier, Chris Stapleton. And it's funny, because I refer to this era in Country music right now as kind of the Wild West in Country music. Anything goes, and there are a ton of different sounds coming in to the format. And that has drawn some younger fans, but that has also become kind of confused a little bit and has alienated some of the quote-unquote "traditional Country" fans and those artists. How aware are you of all those dynamics in there? Are you familiar with the bigger picture as you're going out there and forging your own path?
TJ: Yeah, I think when you're a part of the group that currently has it going on, we don't really think too much about what everybody else is doing. But we certainly admire other people who are out there doing their thing. We just don't want to get caught up in what is working for other people. You could pick someone who is wildly successful, like Taylor Swift, but what works for Taylor isn't going to work for me. So you just have to find what it is that makes you original and try not to get caught up in that too much. But I will say that I grew up - and John did, also - a real Country fan. We listened to a lot of Country music and loved Country music. And I got in to Country music because I wanted to be a Country music artist - not because it was the only place I could find a home. We were really conscious of the fact that music has to evolve. And I think Country music certainly has lately. And I think it's awesome that probably one of the most diverse genres of music right now is Country. I just think that's really cool! Country has never really had that, I don't think. It has always been very specific with one sound, and other genres were the ones with the open playing field. Now, other genres have become really narrowed down, and Country is the one that has a wide array - there's Pop Country, there's Rock Country, there's Outlaw Country, Americana - and it's really hard to say what it is, and I think that's cool. You can listen to a Country radio station right now, and sometimes it's hard to even figure out what it is - I think that's nice! I will say that something we're really conscious about - I'm just not one of those people who say, "Oh! That's not Country music!" I love and admire it for what it was and is, but if I put out music that only focuses on what it was, then there's really no point to having me. It's the same reason that no one sounds like George Jones. You can never be a better George Jones than George Jones, so why even try to do that? You go to George Jones for that, no me. So it's really just about doing our thing and finding our voice. And we tried, actually - we love Country music and respect and admire it - and there's a couple of songs on this new record we're putting out that we did kind of really try to show our roots that were embedded in Country music and show that it's a really big side to us. And with John and I we have these flairs of Blues and Rock in the Country, and we really wanted to show all of those in our record, "Pawn Shop," that we have coming out. But we want to be the guys who are kind of the bands or groups that carries the torch from the old to the new, and so we really wanted to tip our hats to the older. There's a duet we do with Lee Ann Womack on it. It's a really Country 6/8 song, and I love what the old Country music sounds like as much as anyone. But you have to find out how to not completely shit all over that, but still do something that is new and current. So, it's trying to have one hand in each world.
5. We definitely want to talk about the January 15th release of "Pawn Shop," but you just mentioned something, and you and I are so on the same page with this. I think some of that diversity we are seeing - and I'll just get your take on this - it seems like a lot of the Country guys and gals that are coming through right now and getting deals and finding chart success grew up in a time that was very different. You mentioned that Country had been kind of a one-dimensional sound, but a lot of this new generation grew up listening to everything and every genre, because it was available to them on so many different platforms. They listened to Country, but they also listened to Pop and Hip Hop, and various other genres, as well. And I think that comes out in the music. But for you, what made you gravitate toward Country - was it a conscious decision, or was it just what naturally came out when you started playing?
TJ: Honestly, it was a lot of what you mentioned. Now, we're called The iPod Generation, because we all flip from one genre to another without giving it much thought. And that's really how I listened to music growing up. Our dad was a huge music fan. He had a book of CDs - hundreds of them - and I just listened to the music. I honestly don't think I even knew there was such thing as a genre. I just listened this and say, "Oh! That's a good song. I like it." And it could be Merle Haggard or Lyle Lovett, or Dwight Yoakum, but then next it would be Mariah Carey, and I just didn't grow up with genres. And now, music across the board is a lot like that. And I think that's a good thing for music. I almost wish our politics was like that! People should just pick something because it's good - not because they're supposed to like it, or they're supposed to not like it! Do we hear a lot of people - a lot of the "traditional" people - say they don't like today's Country music? Sure. But there's also just as many, if not more, people who say they like Country music now and they never really did or never gave it a chance. And now, look, they've tried it and found something they like. I think just more than anything, I think there's good music and there's bad music. If a song is good, it'll make you feel something - it'll give you an emotion - and then it's right.
6. You've just identified something and confirmed a theory that I've had and have written about on All Access. I have a small sample size of three - they are my sons - who are all in their twenties and are a part of that same generation - The iPod Generation - that you talked about. What's fascinating and refreshing to me is that - and I'm all in on it - there are no boundaries. There's no sort of silos to put music in to say where it belongs or what category it should be in. They just sort of load their personal playlist that they carry, and that's called "Music That I Like." It doesn't have a genre, and it's just thrown in to this mix, and I really think that's kind of fun and cool. And that is a dynamic that is finding its way in to mainstream Country radio and is changing the rules about how people classify music. There's a whole generation of people like yourself and your brother who just don't classify it at all.
TJ: Exactly. And that's cool. Because if someone were to ask you right now to classify and identify what John and I sound like, you would probably say something about it being hard for you to narrow down.
7. Yes, because there are a lot of sounds there. And when I listen to your music, I heard that you guys really grew up listening to a lot of different music. Whereas the past generations really grew up just listening to that one particular kind of sound of Country. As you started going in to "Pawn Shop," you mentioned that traditional sounding duet with Lee Ann Womack. Is there anything else coming up on "Pawn Shop" that is symbolic of the music you listened to growing up?
TJ: There's another song on there that is kind of a throwback, digging deep, almost Bar Country. Kind of like the Waylon Jennings ilk. It's called "Greener Pastures," and it's a song just about smoking weed! We were discussing that there were a lot of people out there who were just kind of beating around the bush on it. And we said, "Let's stop beating around the bush. If you're going to say it, say it!" So we did, and we put it over this really kind of traditional backbeat of a sound. And then there's songs on there like "Pawn Shop" that has a baseline that is a very Reggae sounding baseline. You might not realize it until you sat down to analyze it, but it's just a baseline and a beat that feels really good - it feels nice! And then there's a song on there called "It Ain't My Fault." It's more of an arena sounding song; it's very big with a lot of hooks to it. We really wanted to make an album where you start with the first song and you play the whole thing. Those were the artists I always liked - when I could just listen to the whole record. A lot of times, in every genre - not just Country - you listen to an album, and you get three or four songs in, and you're just kind of like, "Oh, okay. I get it. It's all kind of this." So we wanted to have it where it felt like you were really at a show, and every song felt different. And there's a song, "21 Summer," that is very chill and really laid back. We re-recorded it [from the EP] with Jay Joyce. We originally cut it thinking about getting it on the radio, and then Jay re-cut it thinking about how we make it the best it could be and the best form of itself. And he wanted it be a song that would be more easy-listening that you would put on while you're having a conversation - not necessarily partying, but just wanted to have some cool, chill music to listen to. And a lot of Country records tend to be really in your face at all times, so we have stuff that kind of goes all over the map. There's stuff that is definitely throw down songs, and some that are singles - "Stay A Little Longer" and "Rum" are both on there. I'm really proud of it.
8. The other thing about this generation thing and tying in to your album, it's on the production side. The guy that you team up with to produce your record kind of has to understand all of the influences and the background and diversity that you bring to the table. And it seems like you got the correct pairing, with Jay Joyce, when making this album.
TJ: Yeah, Jay is great. When you find a producer, I think it's really about finding that producer whose strengths are your weaknesses. Someone who you really respect and who can take you down a road. John and I both have really strong personalities, and we've been in studios for years now. We're very comfortable and very opinionated, and we needed someone who can really challenge us in there. If the whole entire thing is just not challenging, and if you had a producer who did everything that you wanted to do, there would be no reason to be there at all. So Jay was really good at figuring out that pulse. He doesn't think about it from singles; he thinks about it as, "How do I make this the best music it can be?" So, like with "21 Summer," he took that further away from being a single, but I think ten years from now, you'd listen to the original version and - by comparison - the re-cut version is more likely to stay around and be relevant ten years from now. And we want to make music that would have been good music ten years ago, that is definitely good music now, and that will still be good music ten years from now. And if you can really achieve that, I think that's what can give you staying power as an artist.
9. Let's talk about the New Faces show. We started by discussing what it means to be GRAMMY nominated, but obviously you've been doing a lot of interaction with Country radio - with a ton of radio shows in the past couple years. So what does it mean for you, and what do you think it says about where you are in your career to be chosen as one of the New Faces for the 2016 Country Radio Seminar?
TJ: It's cool! I honestly didn't realize how big of a deal it is until recently. A lot of the stuff - some of these things, we don't really know how they work behind the scenes. So someone finally explained it to us, and it was really cool that you're basically chosen out of everyone. And we were chosen by these radio partners that we've been working so hard to get in our corner, and they finally said, "Hey, we want you to play this particular event." And I think it shows that we have really played a lot of radio shows and made those relationships and worked really hard laying that ground work. So when things like that happen, it makes it all worth it - all those hours of traveling, and free shows trying to get our name out there - it worked! It wasn't all in vain! So, it means a lot of things. I think that's the biggest thing for me - it means that all those times I wanted to say no, or wanted to stay home, and all those times I had to miss out on things and would be frustrated - getting this opportunity and being chosen by people who really have the power to make or break an artist, for them to go out of their way and pick us to play is really cool. To say it's an honor just sounds gratuitous, but it really is an honor. It's really very flattering.
10. This show is going to be structured differently than a lot of those shows you've been out on the road doing. You guys have spent time out on the road with Eric Church and have also been cranking out those radio shows we mentioned. And I will say that in 2016 at New Faces, for the first time ever, we're going to have actual fans in a pit in front of you during the performance. In the past, it was a great environment, but it could be a little bit sterile because it's an industry crowd. So, the environment was tough on the artists, because you're there ready to rev it up and put on a show, but everyone is just sitting there enjoying dinner. But this time, there will be a couple hundred people that are super-fans. In general, however, the setting is different. So do you approach it differently? Or do you just go out there and say, "Hey, man, we are putting on the show we put on" and let it roll?
TJ: Oh, shit, that's cool that they're letting in fans! We had heard it might be more sterile. And every show, you approach differently. You kind of have to do both. You have to say, "Okay, I'm going to go out there and play my show," and you do some stuff you always do that makes you who you are. But you have to play to your audience, too. It's very common to go to one of our shows and see us change our set list on the fly. I think that is one of the first things you learn as you start to tour is how your audiences are so very different, regionally. So, what they want in the Northeast at a show is different from what they want in the Southwest. Like, very different. By a big margin! So, when you go to one of these industry shows, you really have to put the work in and think about it. Because a lot of times when you play, it really just kind of is what you get from the audience is what you give back. It's this typical thing that is the absolute most fun about performing live. But when you go to play these shows where the audience is just sitting there looking at you, and it's more of a showcase feel, you really have to focus on saying, "You know what? I'm going to just not pay attention to that, and I'm going to zone in on the band and keep up my energy on stage and have fun just for me."
RJ: I think that's a great outlook! Just turn it inward and do the best show you can instead of getting hung up on what can - in some cases with an industry show - be an absolute indifference in the crowd.
TJ: We've been a part of that for a long time, and we're used to that. We've played many shows - as much as every other artist on that bill has - where the crowd just doesn't engage. And we know that. We've played in Nashville - every time we play in Nashville, it's that same kind of experience. They're just like - they act the same way whether they love it or hate it. They just look indifferent. So you just have to give it all you can give it. At the end of the day, there's nothing I can do other than be myself and perform my music. If that doesn't work, there's nothing I'm going to change to make it any different. It just is what it is!
1. After what probably seems like a million radio visits, is there anything that radio does not know about Brothers Osborne - you and John - that you can or would like to share here?
TJ: I don't think there is really anything they don't know. But I will say that I was really surprised by how many - I mean, it seems like it can be so hard for music to cut through at radio sometimes, and you just want to say, "Well, what's the problem!? Do the people who program these stations not like this music, or what?" But I was surprise by how many people actually really had a lot of knowledge of music, loved good music, and we all shared similar tastes. And that's something that I think really the fans don't know. I mean, there are certain fans that do. But there are a lot of fans out there that don't realize that these stations just want to play what their fans want to hear. So, I think where a lot of the missing links are, coming with newer artists especially, when they say they aren't being played - fans will tweet us and complain about something not being played. But if the station sees that, and they know that their listeners want to hear it, then they'll play it. So, I was really surprised to see and hear from some of these guys who dig the newer music and want to get newer sounds out there. I kind of felt like it was going to be this big, mean monster at radio. But everyone has been very friendly to us! There's a couple that have been hard, but that's just life. But I will say that - overall - it has been a far more positive experience than what I had myself prepared for.
RJ: I'm glad to hear that. You have a great, positive outlook on it, too. And I'm glad that you saw that there's a love of music there. I think there are a lot of guys in radio - I'm from radio and did it for a long time, so I'm obviously a little bit biased and am always going to kind of stick up for those guys - that do love radio, but some of them are so overwhelmed. A lot of these guys and gals are given so much to do over the course of a day or a week, and it just doesn't seem possible to get it all done and still spend a good amount of time listening to all of the great music coming across the desk.
TJ: I do not envy their job at all! There's a list of jobs that I can tell you right now I would never be able to do. One of them is being a promo guy, and the other is being a programmer. It is so intense! Everyone wants your attention at all times! I definitely have the utmost respect for it and appreciate everything they do.
2. I've done both of those jobs, and I'm with you! Is there anything that I have not asked that you feel like is important to discuss?
TJ: The only thing that I haven't specifically said is that "Pawn Shop" is dropping January 15th. It's our debut record, and it's been really cool. We've had a lot of things happening the past couple days. We actually just sat down and wrote a song a couple days ago, putting a new lyric over the hook of the chorus to "On The Road Again" by Willie Nelson. We put the chorus to that, and to do verses, we were like, "Well, we need a verse kind of like 'On The Road Again.'" And I was like, "Man, you just can't beat that chorus! It's one of the coolest choruses of all time." Think about it - even people who don't really know Country music know that chorus and can sing it or hum it. So, we thought, let's just do it. It hasn't been done as much in Country music - it happens a lot in Pop, but especially in Hip Hop and R&B - just take a chorus from another song and just mash it up. So, we took a chorus from that - and of course, we had to get the permission for that! But that's what was cool. They sent it out to Willie's people, and we just got an email yesterday saying, "Hey, Willie heard the song and loved it! He loved it so much, he played it for Kristofferson." And I was like - that's one of those things like getting in to New Faces, you know? It's one of those things that doesn't necessarily mean anything when you first think about it, but it really can mean everything personally, professionally, and musically. It's something - like New Faces - that once you have it, no one can ever take it from you. So it was a really cool thing that happened yesterday. And then the GRAMMY nomination. And our first Late Night show with Seth Meyers. It has been an amazing time for us.