Brothers Osborne Sing 'Real Songs About Real Shit'
Photo by Jim Wright
We’ve all been there. You’re trying to sleep a couple more minutes, and your phone won’t stop ringing. You tune it out and throw your pillow over your head. Finally you give in, leaning over to take a peek at whatever couldn’t wait five more minutes. Well, the last time that happened to John and TJ Osborne, that can’t-wait, wake-up, no-seriously-wake-up news was their first Grammy nomination.
"Sometimes overly thinking about awards shows can be a little distracting," says John. "We had no idea they were even announcing it, and we woke up to about a hundred million texts blowing our phones up."
"Stay a Little Longer," the song that garnered the Grammy nod, is an earworm that glides through the will-we, won’t-we of a new relationship, floating TJ’s deep drawl over John’s glittering guitar. Lyrically, it’s highly relatable, but the way the duo marries their grittier sound with a more accessible, catchy melody has taken off with country radio and critics alike.
“Fans have been looking for something fresh and new — not only one sound that’s fresh and new. They’re open to a lot of different sounds, a lot of different artists, a lot of different styles, a lot of different messages,” says John. “You look at us — we just had our first Top 10 with 'Stay a Little Longer.' Cam’s single just is killing it, and it’s a ballad sung by a new artist — a new female artist, at that — doing as well as it’s doing. Dan + Shay just had their first number one [single], and Old Dominion — If you compare us as artists, we’re all very different. But we’re all genuine; we’re all real. None of us are jumping on any bandwagons.”
Brothers Osborne have always had a bit of an edgier sound, but for their forthcoming full-length Pawn Shop they’ve gotten a push in the rock direction from Jay Joyce, a producer with a rock resume who first got into country with Eric Church’s genre-stretching records. They started working together with “Stay A Little Longer,” which Brothers Osborne had recorded a few years before and wanted to revisit to reflect the way their sound had evolved.
"Jay was really good at capturing who we are as a band,"says John, who credits Joyce’s encouragement for the notable guitar solo in the track. "He wanted to use our actual band, our bass player and our drummer, so he could capture the feeling that we get live. He had us all track it together. He had the same mix in our ear monitors, just so it feels like we’re in some shitty club somewhere."
They may have snagged opening gigs for Church, Little Big Town and Darius Rucker, but John and TJ Osborne have played their share of shitty clubs on the way up. Growing up in a musical family had them playing birthday parties and backyard barbeques around their hometown of Deale, Maryland, and when they moved to Nashville over a decade ago — John first, then TJ shortly afterward — the two worked on their own projects separately. John, well-known around Nashville for his deft skill on the guitar, was working with a band called Kingbilly, while TJ was writing and performing his own solo material. When Kingbilly disbanded, John was joining TJ more often for his solo gigs.
“I guess something natural came out of it,” says John. “Everyone’s like, ‘This is a really cool thing that you’re doing, the duo thing.’ I’m like, 'I didn’t even know we were a duo.'”
They ran with the idea, and it wasn’t belong before their shows were populated with publishers and labels vying for a shot. The brothers working together as a duo seemed to have the spark they needed to get their music to the right ears — it only takes a few measures into any live performance to understand why.
"The funny thing is that our mom had been telling us that since we were like, five years old," says John. "So it was a big told-you-so from her."
The highly anticipated Pawn Shop includes long-beloved singles like "Rum" and live show strongholds like "21 Summer," balancing grittier newer numbers with a few nods to classic country and even some potential radio fare, too. What ties the album together isn't a singular sound, but rather a loyalty to the duo's lived experiences.
“That’s the only thing country has kind of had in the entirety of its existence,” says TJ. “That it was real songs about real shit.”
If you look at the company they're keeping in country's other Grammy nominees — from the simple sounds and sharp wit of Kacey Musgraves to the gruff, classic vocals of Chris Stapleton to the poppier R&B-infused stylings of Sam Hunt — ignoring radio's trends and creating ones of their own can only continue to serve them well.
"If you look at all of those artists, everyone’s so unique and different," says John. "I think that’s a good sign that country music has a very wide variety of sounds and artists at the moment, and we’re getting recognized for that. That’s a very good thing for the genre."
Brothers Osborne play Irving Plaza with Jon Pardi on December 18. For ticket information, click here.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.