Susto’s latest album Time in the Sun is filled with songs that represent the peaks and valleys of life as expressed through frontman Justin Osborne’s own joy and mourning. From welcoming his first child to saying a final good-bye to his father, the South Carolina native’s emotional juggling is not only apparent on the record, but relatable for all of those who try to make sense of an existence measured by the ups and downs.
Time in the Sun is available now via New West Records.
I recently sat down with Osborne to discuss the difficulties in getting here, the future paths to there, and the big feelings he was kind enough to share.
Americana Highways: I know that you personally had to experience a lot of joy and pain for Time in the Sun to come into existence. Down the road, do you think this particular album is going to feel more special to you just because of where you were at personally?
Justin Osborne: Yeah, I think so for sure. I’m kind of a confessional, autobiographical type writer. So every album kind of feels like a portrait of a moment in time. And this one especially, I think this one is because I was just really feeling a lot, going through a lot, having a lot of big life shifts and experiences, and I’ll never have that moment of my life back. It’s already passed. The record’s been made. My daughter’s getting older. And my dad’s been dead now for over a year, and I get further and further from the moment of the in-betweenness of those two big shifts. And yeah, I mean, I already listened back to the record and I’m like, “Wow.” It’s a reminder of what it all felt like, but also in a lot of ways, life is a never ending series of challenges – highs and lows. I’m going through a whole different series of things in my life right now. And it feels like the album in some ways was written for this period. It was written for the future itself. And so I’m also re-translating a lot of the songs in my own mind and on stage to fit what’s going on right now.
But with that in mind, it’s always going to hearken me back to the last two years. I remember where all the songs were written. I remember the days in the studio. I will never forget.
AH: Because the album is so personal to you, do you feel like you could have skipped the “proper record rollout” and just put it out into the universe, to more or less, yank the Band-aid off?
JO: I don’t mean to say that I’m not still working through stuff. I’m still a young father. I still have a young child. And I’m still dealing with the fact that my dad isn’t around to call and ask advice for things. So the album is very much a portrait of that and that’s an ongoing thing in my life, but I’m really excited to have it out.
Making the record was cathartic and playing the songs live over the next – rest of my career – is going to be cathartic, but the day it comes out just feels like this kind of event horizon. It’s been just in the ears of the people who made it and now it becomes shared with the world and it becomes not a project, it becomes a release. It’s just kind of emotional because it is a very obvious timestamp of a change and things are just… it’ll no longer be a thought. It will be like a monument to a feeling.
AH: And that change is so beautifully reflected in the cover art. How did that come together?
JO: Well, the cover art was created specifically for the record. Our drummer, Marshall Hudson, he’s kind of like the visual designer behind everything Susto. He’s designed every album cover except for the first one, and he also designs our merchandise and stuff. We really, over the years, kind of developed a lot of visual themes that kind of reoccur and become part of the Susto imagery. I was working with him on creating the cover from an early stage in the album. I knew pretty early on that I wanted the album to be called Time in the Sun, and it became even more apparent once my dad passed that it was going to be about the cyclical nature of life and the juxtaposition of losing versus gaining people in your life. And it was an adventure to get to where we landed. He’s an incredibly skilled artist and a talented visual realizer. Once we landed on that one, it was like, “Yeah, this is it.”
It’s meant to represent the juxtaposition of the extreme joys and extreme pain that are a product of life.
AH: What I find so beautiful about music is that sense of catharsis that you had in making the album is then transferred to other people. Time in the Sun will now help someone else get through a difficult time.
JO: I hope so. As a music lover and listener, that’s something I’ve felt for a really long time. I mean, from the earliest age I can remember turning to music as my way to kind of feel comforted when I’m having big feelings that I can’t really unpack or figure out or not really know what to do with. Music is soothing in that way. And I’m really thankful and grateful that I have a career where I get to kind of unpack my own feelings through music with my collaborators and then share it in a way that involves connecting with people through those experiences – the painful ones and the joyful ones. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m starting to feel a little bit of that myself because even though I’m going through some different kinds of struggles at the moment, the album is translating itself and forming itself for me, to where it feels like I could have written it about this stuff going on, too. So that makes me feel good. It makes me feel hopeful that a lot of different people will hopefully be able to take it and kind of make it their own and apply it to whatever they’re going through in life.
AH: And now you have a daughter that you can share music with and pass that on. I’m a father of two young kids as well and that’s one of my biggest joys is being able to connect with them through music that has no direct connection to them in the present. Listening to my 4 year old singing Jim Croce is just a beautiful thing.
JO: I love that you just said Jim Croce because when I was talking about being young and relating to music earlier, I was thinking very vividly about “Box #10.” One of my earliest memories of being consoled by music was that song. I don’t even know why. I mean, I was a kid. The story resonated with me for some reason, and Jim Croce is one of the main artists that I got from my dad.
AH: Me too. I’m currently wearing a Jim Croce shirt with one of my favorite quotes of his. “If you like something, do it once. If you really like something, do it twice.”
JO: (Laughter) I’m really grateful for Jim Croce’s music and philosophies.
But back to your point, it feels like a big responsibility though, too, to kind of like try and give this music to my own child. Because I don’t know if she wants to play music or if she’ll… I know that I’ve found a lot of stuff through it. Even at 2, she loves to sing and loves to play all the instruments that we have around the house and stuff. I didn’t really have music in my life until… I mean listening to music, not playing it. I had to kind of find that myself. And I just want to kind of introduce her to this thing that can be, I think, really a beautiful way to kind of help guide yourself through life.
And also just giving her the songs too, because she’s too young for me to communicate what I’m really feeling right now. We can talk a little bit about stuff, and everyday it’s like she’s further down that road. I don’t know how many years I have on this earth. Hopefully I’ll live really long and get to know her when she’s my age. But the albums are a way… this one’s the first time I really realized that because she was actually here in my life – she wasn’t just an idea – but the album is a way for me to talk to her in the future. For present day me to talk to future her. Even if I’m still around, I’ll be different because I’ll have had different experiences. I might be in a different place in my life, so that’s really powerful to me.
AH: As kids who grow up to be adults, it’s hard to imagine our parents in a particular time frame in their lives when we weren’t there, but here you get to give them this sort of time capsule to look at.
JO: Yeah. That’s what it feels like. And I feel really grateful for that because I feel like one of the most valuable things is to be known by someone, not fame or anything like that, but actually known and in some way understood by someone close to you. And in a lot of ways, I didn’t have that with my dad and even my mom, who’s still alive. I mean, I know them and I know their stories, and there’s a lot of things that have passed down to my family through stories. It’s a family full of storytellers. And so I guess I kind of have those, but they’re not recorded. Some of them I’ve probably forgotten. But this is a way for me to kind of give my stories and make sure that there’s a record of them. And maybe that’s just narcissistic too. I’m sure it is. Everybody has a bit of that, wanting to be more than the blip that they’re here, more than their bag of bones.
AH: What would somebody learn about you, beyond what we’ve already discussed, when sitting down and listening to this album front to back as a full journey?
JO: Well, I think they’d probably learn that I’m probably a person that’s in my own head more than I need to be, but also there’s lots of things to unpack about my personal experience in there. I grew up in this very religious kind of community and have been spending the years distancing myself from that, but still a lot of the imagery and words for that are kind of baked into my identity. And so I think that stuff pops out a lot. There’s me kind of twisting these biblical stories like the story of Kane killing Abel. I turned around and let Abel kill Kane this time. And then going to the story of God’s covenant with Noah by sending him a rainbow, kind of revisiting that and be like, “Okay, the world seems pretty fucked right now. Can we get a double rainbow?”
I don’t know what the journey is per se. I feel it. When I listen to the record from start to finish, I know what the journey is like, because I feel it viscerally. It’s like all the songs are obviously really important to me, but I hope that people can kind of sense that journey, too. It’s kind of also a journey through the seasons. And seasons literally, but also the seasons of life because whenever I was picking the songs for it, I just chose the ones that felt like they kind of fit into that greater narrative of what is a snapshot of a life. And this really feels like a snapshot of me in the middle of my life. I’m almost 35, and I hope this is not the exact middle of my life. I’d like to live longer than that, but my dad didn’t make it to 70 and neither did his dad. And my dad was about 35 when I was born. And I’m about 35 when I had my little child. So I feel very much right in the center.
AH: You mentioned that we need a double rainbow right now, and going back to Jim Croce and your dad giving that music to you, one of Croce’s songs said, “Nobody ever had a rainbow until he had rain.”
JO: Sometimes you have to seek out the rain if you really want a rainbow.
AH: And sometimes we just hide away inside when it rains, and you end up missing the rainbow.
JO: That’s totally great. It’s the perfect metaphor.
To look for your rainbow in Time in the Sun, visit www.sustoisreal.com.
Check out what Jim Croce’s song AJ is up to these days, here: Interview: A.J. Croce Delivers The Warmth of Live Music At Home ‘By Request’