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SUSTO: Staying honest when folks don’t get the message 

Tuesday 01st, August 2017 / 12:00
By Liam Prost 

“It’s important to approach lyrics and songs with a light heart.”
Photo by Paul Chelmis

CALGARY – Charleston’s SUSTO are a band with a lot going on, both musically and career-wise. The band is approaching road warrior status, making their way back to Canada for the second time in a year, riding the wave of their layered and complex second full-length album & I’m Fine Today. The record continues the roots-rock fever dream that began with their self-titled debut SUSTO (2014), but with a newfound investment in perception and the doors thereof. In a Wilco-esque turn-of-effects, the band brought slimey synths, symphonic strings, and other new types of tonality to their roots-rock framework. The flanger guitar on and keyboard work might ring psychedelic next to song titles like “Wasted Mind” and “Far Out Feeling,” but the effect is gentle, accenting the careful and considered lyricism which centres the record. 

BeatRoute caught up with Justin Osborne on the road in Texas. Somewhat ironically, he was with his fiancé on vacation instead of trapped in a sweaty tour van. Part of the reason Osborne wanted to play music was because he “wanted to travel,” and even if the experience of doing it is rote, eventually the rhythm became manageable, allowing the band to relax and reflect on how “fortunate” they are to be touring artists. It’s become so comfortable that Osborne can even stand to take road trips as vacations. 

Having toured so much in the last few years, the effect of being a lyric-forward band is becoming more apparent, especially in the distinction between “exposing [themselves] to other people’s audiences” and headlining slots with audiences they have already “won over.” Their most contentious musical outing is likely the fun-loving anthem “Chilling on the Beach with my Best Friend Jesus Christ.” It’s a light-hearted song to be sure, but Osborne thinks about it optimistically, as a song that was intended to “bring attention to religion in general” such that people who are religious, or have divergent relationships to religion can “relate to and have fun with [it].”  

In the song Osborne sings about “going out for beers, but not too many beers with Jesus Christ,” a way of playing off the inherent humour of bringing the figure of Jesus into a particular cultural moment, but still incorporating the message of moderation that Jesus espoused. But with audiences that are not familiar with it, it has sometimes been met with a “weird reception.” Even Osborne’s mom was initially “hurt” after seeing the music video, but has since “come around.” In a testament to both the potency of the song and the success of the band, they starting noticing it being requested and thus they “have been playing it at almost every show now.” 

This religious deference is also present in “Jah Werx,” so named after a Rastafarian epithet, and even though the song is not about the flying spaghetti monster as their “Susto Stories” video series would make you believe, it is similarly an exercise in introspection built out of a moment of levity. The song was started in a party as a “chant or mantra” and once they put it to a beat produced by close friend Wolfgang Zimmerman, Osborne freestyled the lyrics into a full song.  

“It’s important to approach lyrics and songs with a light heart,” Osborne offers.

“I love the feeling when music feels new and familiar at the same time.” 

SUSTO performs August 8 at Commonwealth Bar & Stage (Calgary), August 9 at The Needle Vinyl Tavern (Edmonton), and August 12 at the Park Theatre (Winnipeg).

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