It’s been an amazing rise for Brothers Osborne since the release of their debut album ‘Pawn Shop’ nearly two years a go. They’ve racked up numerous CMA and ACM award wins, Grammy nominations, played the Nissan Stadium at CMA Fest, headlined their first show in the UK, the list goes on and on…
In a time where the country music scene is finally starting to open back up to those people wanting to hear something other than shiny and polished pop country Brothers Osborne are at the forefront. The brothers from Deale, Maryland have always maintained their own sound and kept their friendly, average-joe demeanour. This year saw them play the main stage at C2C in London before a headline show at Dingwalls and subsequently a full UK headline tour was announced for 2018. We spoke to them backstage in Manchester as they supported The Cadillac Three on their ‘Long Hair, Don’t Care’ tour.
Last time that John and I spoke was 18 months ago when ‘Stay A Little Longer’ had just been nominated for a Grammy and ‘Pawn Shop’ was about to be released. Today I’m talking to the winners of multiple ACM and CMA awards. It must have been a wild couple of years?
John: Yeah, how the fuck did that happen! We’ve been doing this for so long and been in Nashville for about fifteen years so we’ve put a lot of work in and when we started recording the album we didn’t really think anything. We started touring, the years went by and it felt like we were gaining some momentum on radio. We watched it so closely that we didn’t really see the big picture changing – it’s like trying to watch your own hair grow, you know?! You don’t notice it if you see it every day so all of a sudden we wake up to being Grammy nominated and we’re like “what?! How does anybody even know who we are?!” and then fast forward we won a CMA last year for Duo of the Year which was a huge upset because we were up against Florida Georgia Line who show no signs of slowing down. It gave us a moment to step back and go “wow, we have covered a lot of ground and we didn’t even know it. We didn’t even notice the cumulative effects of our work. It’s amazing! It is good every once in a while to stop and smell the roses.
Yeah it’s funny how many acts I talk to that are so busy that you don’t even get chance to register it. It was only a week since you won the CMA Award for vocal duo of the year again and also video of the year. Has that started to sink in yet?
TJ: I think those things are crazy when you’re performing or accepting an award. It feels like you’re dreaming and it doesn’t feel like reality, especially when you’re getting up on stage in front of tens of thousands of people and among those people are your peers from Keith Urban to Tim McGraw, people who are really successful in this business so it really does sink in at that moment. At the same time I feel like, for whatever reason and I don’t know what it is – maybe because we call each other out on our shit all the time, even though we’ve achieved those things I don’t feel like I’ve changed at all. It’s not like it’s a conscious effort, you know, “I’m going to stay the same old humble me” it’s just literally that our lives are kind of the same. People ask “how have your lives changed?” well I have more money now but I have the same friends, I do the same shit. I had fun while I was broke doing the same stuff!
On top of all that you played the Nissan Stadium show at CMA fest this year which must be one of the biggest crowds you, or anybody can, play to. How exciting was that show?
John: Yeah! I love Chris Stapleton for being clumsy and breaking his finger! That was so incredible that that happened. It was a crazy sequence of events because we were meant to be playing the Riverfront stage and then all of a sudden we found out that Chris hurt his hand, we were actually out on the road with him at the time, our manager was like “I think you might get the stadium” and I was like “there’s no frickin’ way!” This is the thing we are always the underdog and I actually prefer being the underdog because you have very low expectations! I like the fight and the struggle. When you’re not the underdog everyone is after you so there’s a comfort in being the underdog! So sure enough we got the call and we couldn’t believe it. I think that was a really big moment for us that day because it showed us like “ok, we’re in the family now and we have to compete with the big guys”. It kind of forced us to grow up as performers and a band and made us realised how we have to start acting now. We played the long version of ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ the seven-minute guitar solo hippy jam band stuff and they aired the whole thing on TV! We felt for sure that they’d edit it out! We feel more and more now like we’re being embraced by the community and the country music fan base, which is amazing because we’ve never changed who we are or compromised and I think that is a bigger thing than winning awards could ever be.
You absolutely blew the lid off the place with ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ that night…
John: Yeah I mean there were fifty thousand there that night and the most that we’ve ever played for would be probably twenty thousand in an arena, which is still a shit load of people, but fifty thousand people in a stadium is ridiculous! We just kind of held on!
But you owned it…
John: That’s what it felt like! Everyone like TJ and myself and the band just stepped the fuck up! We were like “this is our time let’s do it!” It went by in the blink of an eye, we played the first note then we played the last note and I was like “I don’t even know what happened! I don’t even know if it was good or not!” then we watched the performance and I think we were all bringing it that night because we knew that this was our time to prove ourselves.
TJ: A lot of bands now are playing to tracks, or some things live and a lot of tracks, but that performance and the same with our CMA Awards performance they hit us up and were like “we need your tracks” so we were like “what tracks? We’re fucking playing!”.
Yeah exactly! You’re a band!
TJ: Yeah so if it sounds shit then it sounds shit!
John: We spent our entire lives practicing so that we could play our instruments!
It’s interesting you talk about that backing track type of thing. Do you think, perhaps Stapleton is a good example to talk about, the genre is opening up a little to some different sounds and more of that playing live music and improvising than before?
John: I think Stapleton definitely opened the doors for it but he also proved that there are people out there who want that. I think that demographic or fan base just kind of got neglected in a way. I think it’s easy to turn your back on someone when it’s working somewhere else. All of these other people who like singing and song writing and musicianship just got forgotten so when Chris Stapleton showed up they all came out of the woodwork like “no, we’re here! We want it! You’re just not giving it to us!”
TJ: Yeah I think there were a couple of people at the time who were really doing it. Look at Sturgill Simpson he just started blowing up and he had nothing on the radio! He just kind of built it from the ground up with really great songs so that was sort of the first sign of hope then Chris came along and was the first guy to really take it to the arena level just being good. We knew that he existed in Nashville for the longest time and we’d say “go listen to this guy” and people would freak and everyone was always just baffled that this guy wasn’t to the level that he is now. People just needed to hear it because they didn’t even know that it existed so once they did it’s been off to the races for him and rightfully so.
Let’s talk about the UK for a bit. You came over in March this year where you played C2C and your own headline date in London. Did you expect the reaction that you received?
John: Not at all! When we were told that we were playing C2C we were really excited about it, I love coming over to the UK, I’ve been a few times and my wife is British, but I was a little hesitant because I thought nobody knows who we are and we were just going to show up and bore people to death for thirty minutes before it could move on to the music that they actually know! After our first song people were out there singing! Like how the Hell did they know?! I’m always shocked that anyone knows who we are to be honest with you! About three songs in I’m like “this crowd is ridiculous!” and it lifted the band up. We ended the set jamming and we thought “this crowd actually likes our music!” and I always remember that when the set ended there was just a huge energy in the room that was so palpable you could just cut it with a knife! As we came off stage we just said “this is why we do what we do!”
Did you ever have any expectations of coming and playing for British crowds? I remember you being quite surprised at people requesting ‘American Crazy’ in London…
John: Yeah! You know that song! We’re in a different country!
TJ: You don’t expect it singing a song about our country! I guess Brits have been doing it for a while. We walked out tonight and saw a Tennessee flag and we live there now so I thought “man, that’s so awesome that you’d do that”.
It must give you a cool insight being married to Lucie Silvas to our scene, John?
John: Yeah I came over here a couple of times with Lucie early on and met her folks when she lived in Kingston. I loved it but I was actually very intimidated by it because it’s an incredibly fast city and I don’t think I’ll ever in my lifetime learn how to get around that place! For a couple of dudes from a town of five thousand in Maryland it’s a big big place! Culturally it’s so different! I was fortunate enough to have a little bit of a head start and then our very good friend Kacey Musgraves asked me to come over when she supported Lady Antebellum to play guitar for her and so I could see Lucie – it was a really kind gesture of her, I mean, I think she obviously would love for me to play guitar! So I was able to come back and that was the first time that I was able to come to Manchester and we did Glasgow, Dublin, Birmingham and loads of places. That was my first taste of travelling throughout the country. It’s intimidating because the culture here is so deeply rooted in its history, as it should be, you do not fuck with peoples culture here! We’re from the North-East and we’re shit talkers so you know when you are around people and talk shit and it’s all good? Well you just don’t do that around here!
You’re out on the road with The Cadillac Three at the moment but have quickly announced a headline tour for next year. Did you know well before this tour that you were going to head back?
TJ: Yeah ultimately that’s why we wanted to come back on a support slot to build our audience for a headline tour and keep coming back. That’s what we’re doing in the States is keeping touring and growing our fan base until we can eventually play arenas and stadiums – that’s the end goal. For now, we wanted to come over, there’s still a lot of people who don’t know who we are and we think that our strongest attribute is performing live and I think that we can convert fans that way. I think the TC3 have worked their asses of over here to build a fan base and that’s paid off for them in spades so if we can do similar. We’ve got some fans here that we’ve been fortunate enough to make but there are still a lot of people who don’t know who we are and you could even see that tonight that there are people who are ecstatic but there are also others looking at us saying “I don’t know who the fuck that is!” so we want to convert those people into fans so that when we come back those people will know us. We just saw some of the pre-sales for the tour in May and we were really pleasantly surprised at the early reaction and demand for us to come over. We’re hoping to turn this into an annual thing.
And will you be bringing new music with you?
John: That’s the idea! We’ve recorded it but you can never say that you’re done until it comes out. Hopefully by the time we come back the new record will be coming out around that but I’m not making any promises! If there’s anything that record labels like to do it’s to make you fucking wait to release your album!
TJ: Sweep the rug out from under you!
You’re playing some pretty big venues too…
John: Are we? I don’t even know! We just had to do a promo thing where we read out all of the places and some of them I’d never heard of! They could be a nine seater club but if they’re anything like the crowd was tonight then it’s going to be a lot of fun!
Well you’ve got a great sound that really works for us over here!
John: People like guitar solos! I’ve spent my whole live learning how to play that thing so I’m glad that someone appreciates it!
TJ: It’s like the lines of genres are getting more blurred and we feel like here they’re really blurred. They just want to hear good music and they don’t give a fuck what it is! We just went to the football match earlier and people are just passionate as Hell about the things they like! It doesn’t matter what it is it’s just so intense!
John: Everything is Marmite! There’s no in between! Not to offend anyone but Marmite is… fucking disgusting. I’ll go on record saying that Marmite tastes like open ass!