South Carolina songwriter Justin Osborne's ever-evolving rock project, with a confessional new LP
Frances Cone, Mel Washington
Wed, March 27, 2019
Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pmMississippi Studios
$18 ADV / $20 DOS
This event is 21 and over
Mostly Standing / Limited Balcony Seats
Every pair of tickets for this show includes either digital download or CD copy of SUSTO’s new album, Ever Since I Lost My Mind. You will receive an email with more details about this offer approximately 7 days after your purchase.https://www.mississippistudios.com/event/1814982/
Osborne is home in Charleston, South Carolina, reflecting on the personal journey and cultural climate that have led to Ever Since I Lost My Mind, the third record and label debut for his acclaimed project SUSTO. The album is a resounding triumph: a mix of new partnerships and collaborations with old friends, all anchored by Osborne's perceptive songs that explore connection, loss, and transience -- and the pain and joy each brings.
"Ever Since I Lost My Mind is very personal. This collection of songs came together over the course of a couple of years, and they all represent different moments," he says. "It felt cathartic writing all of them, and they were also all fun in different ways."
With a rock-rooted sound that doesn't shy away from radio-ready hooks, SUSTO keeps listeners engaged by refusing to occupy an easily defined space. Produced by Ian Fitchuck (Kacey Musgraves, Ruston Kelly) and featuring key input from Osborne's longtime creative sounding board Wolfgang Zimmerman, Ever Since I Lost My Mind defiantly experiments with synth embellishments, Latin heart, guileless folk, and more. Osborne's mellow vocals comfort without losing the ability to surprise -- delicate croons, growls, and occasional screams take turns.
Osborne wrote his first songs as a 14-year-old in small town South Carolina, sneaking time with his late grandfather's parlor guitar that his parents had actually forbidden him and his three rowdy brothers to touch. "So I'd go steal it out of my dad's closet whenever they were out of the house," he recalls. "It only had like three strings on it. I remember figuring out how to do barre chords, and I wrote a three-chord song about a girl I liked." Drawn to music and supported by parents who just hadn't wanted their boys to break a family heirloom, Osborne played in bands throughout high school, military school, and college.
But SUSTO didn't begin until Osborne thought he was walking away from music for good. Burned out after years of self-booking, self-management, and a relentless grind, he had played a farewell show with his then-band and was prepping for a move to Cuba. He set up an online home for SUSTO as a holding tank for demos he couldn't quite bear to toss.
When Osborne moved to Havana as part of a study abroad opportunity, he thought he was abandoning music for anthropology. But the Cuban musicians and artists he befriended had other ideas. They were among the first to see that SUSTO -- and the music that would ultimately fuel it -- captured him too well to remain an afterthought. Re-energized, he returned to the States half a year later and recorded SUSTO's first album. Just after the release of the band's self-titled debut album, Osborne faced a clear choice. "It was a weird moment. I just had to finally quit keeping one foot out of music and dive in. So, I got knuckle tattoos and haven't stopped trying to make this work since then," he says with a laugh. SUSTO's acclaimed sophomore album & I'm Fine Today made it even more clear that music and Osborne were meant to be.
In Latin American cultures, the word susto describes an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul -- an ongoing, spiritual panic attack. All of the letters of susto also appear in Osborne's full name. "SUSTO was this combination of phonetics and meaning -- it felt like me, like a name for myself," he says. "I chose the name SUSTO for the project because the meaning behind the word -- that deep fright -- was something I was experiencing, and songwriting felt like it was helping me cure it by helping me to process what was happening. Personally, it was a time of so many powerful transitions: abandoning my religion, losing touch with my family, and just having a general sense of being lost, without direction."
That nod to transition reverberates loudly throughout Ever Since I Lost My Mind. While SUSTO began as a band and still benefits from collaboration with peers, the new record also positions the project finally and firmly as what it's really always been: Osborne's vision. "I come from a background of being in bands, so it's hard for me to be comfortable taking complete control," he says. "Even being the only person in a promo photo was a hard thing for me to get used to. It's taken years for me to realize what SUSTO should be -- what it really is."
"Homeboy" kicks off the album. Osborne contemplates friends moving on from Charleston over jaunty acoustic guitar that evokes exploratory rambling before heavier electric guitar adds gravity to all the leaving. He didn't want loved ones to go, but then realized that in many ways -- even though Charleston remains home base -- he'd already left. "The whole album deals with these pulling-apart decisions -- not in a negative or a positive way, but in a reflective way," he says.
Sauntering "If I Was" is a lighthearted stroll through different identities and aspirations, followed by the optimistic yearning of "Weather Balloons," buoyed by punchy percussion and keys. Driving "Last Century" revels in timeless bonds revealed by details: "I can see you in the driveway, smiling, licking your left front tooth," he sings.
"Livin' in America" extols beloved U.S. cities and finding the right people in them. It's a self- aware ode, both gently sarcastic and totally sincere -- a timely love letter to a country whose defining quality today is often turmoil. Stripped down "Cocaine" skulks through dark corners, while "No Way Out" lounges in captivity that Osborne has no urge to escape. Gorgeous album closer "Off You" is bright and honest, an intimate moment of clarity mid-transition.
One of Osborne's favorite tracks, "Manual Transmission," was written on a cold day on tour in Norway when he was hounded by homesickness. He plays lead guitar on the track and relished the opportunity to express himself via aching strings in addition to words. "Esta Bien" soars sweetly and entirely in Spanish. "House of the Blue Green Buddha" is a love song that lands because of its whimsical specificity -- details from the home and closeness Osborne and his wife share.
The title track is a stunner: sad but hopeful, content but restless, nostalgic but progressive -- a beautiful encapsulation of the push and pull that shapes the entire record. Osborne's experiences with psychedelics also play a role, both in "Ever Since I Lost My Mind" and the album as a whole. Warned as a child that drugs would make him lose his mind, he now believes in the freedom and self-discovery that can come with letting go in various ways. He is also convinced that some people from his past think he's insane. "They think I'm a crazy hippie, and really, in a lot of ways, I guess I am," he says with a smile. "I feel more loving and more understanding."
That acceptance of himself and others may be SUSTO's defining trait. "I can lose my mind on stage sometimes -- I will break down and cry or have to keep myself from doing it," Osborne says. "I think about my grandad's guitar, all the bands I've been in, and just seeing these people responding to and connecting with the songs..." He trails off before grinning again and adding, "I just feel so incredibly lucky."
“‘Late Riser’ is about giving yourself time to create, rest, and grow while also being frantically afraid of its speed,” Cone says. “We spent so much time on this record making each guitar sound exactly the way we wanted, and each lyric is very specific to us but vague enough for listeners to find themselves in it…we committed to being patient and allowing it to become what it should become without pressure. Meanwhile, we were writing a record that is thematically about the impermanence of time, fear of the future or lack thereof, and worry-and also great love-for the present. There’s a nice juxtaposition of those two things that sums Frances Cone up pretty nicely.”
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, to an opera singer turned Baptist preacher father and public-school music teacher mother, Cone grew up training classically on piano and in singing. The Cone family is full of artists, including her 95-year-old grandmother who studied the organ at Juilliard in the 1930s, and Christina’s brother, Stephen, a successful filmmaker whose most recent movie landed on many of 2017’s best-of lists. Making the decision to commit her life to music, Cone moved to Brooklyn after college and started Frances Cone-named for her father and great-grandfather, both born decades apart on the same day, September 11-as a solo project in 2012.
Cone wrote the songs for her debut album, 2013’s Come Back, by herself and recorded them with the assistance of engineer and producer Dan Molad, whom she had seen drumming with the indie band Lucius at a show in New York City. She fully intended to helm Frances Cone alone while performing with an auditioned band, and that plan seemed to be working-until she met drummer-turned-bassist Andrew Doherty on 12/12/12 and eventually came to the realization nearly a year later that he held a bit more of her attention than she had initially understood.
“When Andy joined the band, it felt like I finally had found my partner-in several ways,” Cone says. “It felt so nice to have a creative match. And soon it morphed into this partnership, both professionally and romantically-an overwhelming love.” Cone and Doherty began dating, and simultaneously started a shared creative experience that today forms the core of Frances Cone’s artistic process.
“As cliche as it can be, timing is important to every aspect of Frances Cone, even down to the moment we met in that really specific window of time,” Doherty says. “If I’d met Christina any earlier, I don’t think we would have clicked in the same way.”
While Doherty’s influence is solidly in production with the occasional dip into songwriting (“From the very beginning, Andy could translate the noise in my head,” Cone says), the band’s songs remain almost exclusively the work of Cone. Drawing inspiration from Chopin and the classical and gospel music of her youth, to her modern heroes Rufus Wainwright, Patti Griffin, and Justin Vernon as well as the “smart, emotional pop” of her friends in Lucius, Cone likens her method of songwriting to a patient, intuitive experience rather than a continuous drive.
“I never sit down and say, ‘I want to write a song about this today,’ which I’ve learned is something many people do,” she says. “I see the really clear intentions a lot of people go into making music with, but I don’t share that. Every song is a journey I go through, and when I get to the end I usually realize what the song is about.”
Cone and Doherty spent three years recording songs for a new album, including the single “Arizona”, the powerful, sweeping tune Cone had written about her reaction to her brother’s coming out of the closet. The song caught the ear of NPR Music, who eventually invited the band to perform a prestigious NPR Tiny Desk concert. Cone and Doherty then decided to move from Brooklyn to Nashville in August 2017 to finish the album, working with Josh Kaler and, again, Dan Molad, to record five new songs to pair with the existing five.
Late Riser‘s opening track, “Wide Awake,” has a patient, deliberate beat and ethereal, ambient hum that calls to mind Solange-meets-Bon Iver, with Cone’s twinned vocals peaking in a lamenting pang during the chorus. “All of these songs are about internal struggle,” Cone explains, “and ‘Wide Awake’ and its chorus (“You called me, you called me a fool”) can sound so romance/love song-y, but really it’s about the pinball machine of my own brain. It’s a coming-of-age story about figuring out how to accept your own failures and thoughts, and the way you perceive expectation and time. The idea is to work these things out via music and then let it go so it can be for other people, which I think is the point of it all.”
Next is “Failure,” an upbeat love song to the shortcomings enveloping us all that highlights Cone’s vocal abilities as well as the band’s knack for harmony. The song “Late Riser” is one Cone wrote years ago while on New York City transit. “I wrote it on the way to my piano student’s house in Cobble Hill,” she says. “Most of it was on the subway in my head and then I got out and sang it to myself on a sidewalk.”
“Easy Love” is a slow-burning, haunted tune with Cone’s sparse strumming dancing over her lilting, gorgeous vocals, and “All Along” ends the record on a somber yet warm note. Its strings and distorted choir of voices whisper together in trancelike repetition, building to a crescendo before making way for one final, beautiful, naked line from Cone: “And I have loved you all along.” The song is about Cone’s mother and mimics bits of the melody from “Arizona” in an intentional homage, thus tying together the familial emotion in a swelling tide. “Throughout the whole album, we’re sorting through the very complicated relationships of family, and I like revisiting that overwhelming feeling of being loved and accepting love by having the instruments overwhelm my voice,” Cone says.
It’s a powerful sentiment delivered in a real and raw way, and just one of numerous moments on Late Riser that highlights the thoughtful intent paired with spontaneous emotion that has become Frances Cone’s calling card. These songs are the result of years of hard work and also a little fortune, sure to soar due to the space they were given to grow.
“‘Late Riser’ as a title feels correct for us, speaking literally and broadly,” Cone says. “Nothing happens overnight. This album is the result of renewal and growth, of late nights and mornings-a steady incline, a gradual rise.”
Aside from his talents on the stage, Mel is a gifted conversationalist able to get to the heart of any story through his emotional range and intelligence. His life experience has been marked by the usual trappings of a traveling musician, the charm of southern religion, and even a stint of homelessness. He brings a genuine warmth to conversation that evokes great story telling from even a casual acquaintance.