Sonic Journey: SUSTO plays TACAW on Saturday
Special to The Aspen Times
Sometimes, you just can’t escape your calling.
After 10 years of playing in a band, which had some regional success in South Carolina, SUSTO front man Justin Osborne walked away from his band, his relationship and his family in an “attempt to run away from playing music,” he said, “but I was quickly rerouted.”
He started writing songs as a young teen and toured right out of high school. But, burnt out from the grind of self-booking and self-management, he set his sights on Latin American studies. He created an online site for demos he couldn’t quite let go of, named it SUSTO, and headed to Cuba for a 2013 semester abroad.
He quickly befriended Cuban musicians, who could see his musical passion and wouldn’t let him abandon it. He began playing shows in Havana with them and generally reviving himself musically.
“I found this inspiration that was kind of lost in me,” Osborne said about his time in Cuba. “It was refreshing because it was not so much of a focus on making it; it was just playing music.”
When he returned to the States six months later, he recorded SUSTO’s debut album. Upon its release, he decided to fully dive into music, “so I got knuckle tattoos and haven’t stopped trying to make this work since then,” he said, laughing.
Writing songs and performing has been like an exorcism, allowing him to process the deep fright he felt. In Latin American cultures, the word “susto” describes a condition of the soul stuck in intense fear — or an ongoing spiritual panic attack.
“It’s seen as a folk illness, like PTSD with spiritual connotations,” he said.
While SUSTO’s previous albums delved into difficult subject matter, such as substance abuse, its fourth, “Time in the Sun,” expands subject matter into more universal themes like birth, death, true friendship and the promise of the future.
He began writing the album as he contemplated becoming a father, which caused him to consider “big life stuff,” he said. His writing took a turn toward preparing for his father’s death, which occurred about a year after his daughter was born; she came into the world in mid 2019, and he left in May 2020. Amid all of this, the pandemic and social and political conflicts occurred, stirring the pot even more.
“I was pondering life. Major events hold you in those thoughts for a prolonged period of time,” he said. “I was navigating all that and distilling my own life experience into songs.”
The new album, characterized by lyrical depth, involved more musical collaboration than the previous three, welcoming various musicians into a communal approach.
“It’s sonically expansive, technologically textured and psychedelically blissed out,” he said.
SUSTO’s live shows are raw, ranging from high to mellow energy.
“It’s constructed to feel like a journey. We try to make it feel dynamic — we bring the songs to life as best as we can. We’re a rock band with a lot of folk tinge and a lot of guitars and harmony,” he said. “We change it up and expand on things because songs continue to evolve on the road. As we play them live and as people respond, we find new pathways.”
What: SUSTO (opener: Tommy the Animal)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
Tickets: $22 members; $25 in advance; $35 day of show
More info: tacaw.org