By Will Estell
If you’re a fan of country music, chances are, you’ve heard more than one hit from this brotherly twosome from Deale, Maryland. They may come from one of the more unlikely specks on the map for country music stardom, but that sure hasn’t hindered the popularity of the work along their musical trek from the Mid-Atlantic region to Nashville to airwaves and playlists in your neck of the woods.
I recently spoke with TJ and John to find out what makes Brothers Osborne tick, and just what inspires them to write and perform the songs they have, allowing them to connect with fans from all places and spaces of life along the way.
From the Chesapeake Bay to Nashville’s banks of the Cumberland River to the shores of Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, TJ and John have found inspiration from places, just as they have people. Their critically-acclaimed second album, Port Saint Joe, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and No. 15 on the Billboard 200, going on to sell over 110,000 copies to date. Not bad for an album that was recorded on their terms, in the raw, at their producer’s beach house.
Skeletons, their third album, released in the Fall of 2020, is already getting rave reviews, along with gaining traction on Billboard’s Top 40 Country Chart. This newest work has allowed the brothers to really stretch their musical taste and strengths to new levels. After listening to the album (and you should) I think it’s safe to say this one will certainly gain the brothers some new fans, along with the growing admiration of their current ones. Skeletons features 12 songs, all written or co-written by TJ and John, and rooted in the excitement and electricity of a Brothers Osborne’s concert, full of tunes that get the fans going and build new ones at the same time. Produced by well-known, multi-platinum mega-producer, Jay Joyce, Skeletons is a powerful work of artistry and emotion, and seems to fit perfectly into a world that has so much of both during these unprecedented times.
From the bluesy strut of “All Night” to the classic country story of “Old Man’s Boots,” the brothers don’t hold back on their influences, and it shows. “Back on the Bottle” pays tribute to Merle Haggard, while “Dead Man’s Curve” nods to Southern rock. The diversity is very evident in this new album and it seems to portray a vibrancy that so much current music is simply missing.
With Brothers Osborne’s long list of musical milestones — including six Grammy nominations, four CMA Awards, five ACM trophies, and more than a half-dozen hits – I think it’s safe to say we’re going to be hearing a lot more out of this Nashville based brotherhood, for quite some time.
TJ: I don’t know it was ever a conscious decision to become country music artists until we decided to move to Nashville. We were just always around it.
Our mom and dad both played music and wrote songs, and our family would sit around the kitchen table and play.
For a long time, John and I just kind of thought all families did that. Our dad would play with our uncle Billy and our cousin Johnny. We always wanted to participate, and these guys took it seriously. They weren’t going to let some kids sit around and bang on guitars. So we had to learn to play and be good for them to let us be a part of it. By our teenage years, we really took it seriously and started going out to some of the local bars on the Chesapeake Bay. There’s a lot of Tiki bars and other places we could play in. It was me, my brother and my dad. Then we came to Nashville and played some of the bars on Broadway for about a year, then moved back to Maryland for a year, then moved here [Nashville] right after I graduated high school.
John: Port Saint Joe was really a bit unorthodox, and was a departure from how we normally record music. We recorded the album in the house of our producer, Jay Joyce, and we wanted that real beach feel. We left a lot of that sound in the finished recording, right down to the parts you mention where you can hear Tommy, Jay’s brother, in the kitchen, where the drums were set up. He was cooking and playing drums, along with the music, with a spatula, and just jamming out. So we just decided to keep it real and leave some of that in there.
TJ: With Port Saint Joe we didn’t want the feel of recording in a house on the beach, as opposed to in a studio, to be lost. So we didn’t tidy it up too much. We really wanted the feel of what Port St. Joe as a place really is to translate on the record. With *Skeletons* we really took a different approach and got back in the traditional studio to make a studio album.
TJ: We want this record to show people that we’re here to stay. We are a part of the cloth of this genre. Ultimately, what we love to do most is play live, and *Skeletons* is going to allow us to do that better than ever before.
John: If Pawn Shop was our introduction, and Port Saint Joe was like the first conversation we had with someone over a beer, then Skeletons is the moment where you start getting down to the real stuff and showing who you really are. If you really want to get to know Brothers Osborne, this is the record.
John: You know, we actually wrote that song back in 2019, but, yeah you know, we’ve been angry and pissed at each other for a lot longer than that [laughing]. This whole 2020 has only exasperated any issue that we had leading up to it. So it wasn’t like us trying to capitalize on anything. We wrote this song over a year and a half ago, and it’s about something our country has been dealing with for a very long time. It just so happens that now it’s reached a boiling point. Really, it’s just a coincidence more than anything, but you know, it’s something we have struggled with for a very long time and will continue to struggle with. Hopefully, it’s something we can all improve on over the next few decades.
We wanted that song to be about putting your arm around the guy next to you, even though he may be different than you. Change doesn’t have to be hard, and we wanted this song to reflect that.
TJ: I mean, I listen to a lot of different music. From the Beach Boys to the Everly Brothers to the Allman Brothers. There are just so many influences. I listen to Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, AC/DC. Just lots of influences from different styles and genres.
John: Oh, yeah, I love these questions. They’re usually framed as, what are your guilty pleasures [laughing]. TJ might have said this too, but a record that is really badass, that I’ve been listening to is Dua Lipa, and her record, Future Nostalgia. It wouldn’t really be reflected in our record, but it’s just some of the best pop and musical production that I’ve ever heard. It’s just so fresh and so forward. I’d have to say one of my favorite pop artists of all time is Bruno Mars. I’m a massive Bruno Mars fan. He toured Nashville on his last album and I bought tickets and sang every word.
We love AC/DC because of the guitars. It’s a primal kind of music. To play along with it isn’t hard to do, though to play like Angus Young, note for note is difficult. My wife and I just got our nephew a guitar recently, and that’s what he’s learning to play. Everyone wants to rock out to AC/DC. That music is all testosterone. When you see that music live, even as a musician, you can’t help but sa, ‘Damn, I want to play like that!’
TJ: I’ve been asked this question so many times, and you know, I still don’t have an answer for it. I never had a plan B. I remember thinking if I have to live in a cardboard box, but I have a guitar, I will be okay. [laughing] I’m not sure I would adhere to that philosophy now, but I think having a plan B, can be a kiss of death. In an industry like this sometimes you just have to go all in. And that’s what we did. Thank God, it panned out because I don’t know if I’m really good at anything else.
“In an industry like this sometimes you just have to go all in.”
John: It’s always a toss-up between the beach and the mountains for me. I mean, 30A is really just such an incredible spot. There’s a reason why it’s so coveted and everyone wants to go there. It’s not only the beach, but it’s also just very cultural, it’s the whole package. I think the older I get though, I think, maybe I just want to go to the mountains for a while. We’re buddies with Dierks Bentley, and he has a place out in Telluride and it’s just so nice. All the crisp scenery and big beautiful mountains. So if I had to spend an entire year somewhere, and couldn’t leave, it would probably be somewhere like Telluride.
TJ: I like the beach and the mountains. I’m not sure I could choose just one. But I also like where I live right here in Nashville. I love Florida’s Gulf Coast though, and there’s a reason so many people who can go anywhere, go to Destin and the 30A beaches and that whole area. It’s beautiful.
John: I’ve always been fairly artistic, but since quarantine happened, I started painting. This is a giant picture of Jimmy Hendrix I did, and then here’s one of Elvis, and I’ve done a couple of things for friends, but it’s more of a hobby. [John, gives me a quick tour of his art while on Zoom in his Nashville home].
I just put the guitar down for a while during the time we were stuck at home and just painted. With the music, we’re working with each other, and our producer, and the label, and with painting, it’s just me. It’s just kind of nice to get in my own solitude and be creative. In a strange way, it’s really helped my music too. Because once I got tired of painting, I all of a sudden had a ton of musical ideas. I just had to let my brain rest I think.
TJ: Like I said, no plan B. So Thank God it worked.
John: Download the new album, and when the time comes that we can get back out there and play live shows, come out and see us.