The latest record from longtime Charleston indie rock act Susto entitled My Entire Life feels like releasing a deep sigh of relief after a long journey.
Frontman Justin Osborne described Susto as its “own little version of country folk mixed with rock and psychedelic music that we’ve honed over the years” — and the new album captures a piercingly emotive culmination of that sound.
“The sonic landscape is affected and mirrored by the narrative,” Osborne told the Charleston City Paper. “I’d say the narrative is the center of the band. I know that’s not really what everybody wants from music, but that’s what we do. It’s an exploration of the human experience.”
While the members of Susto are not all local anymore, My Entire Life was mostly recorded at Charleston studio The Space with producer Wolfgang Zimmerman, who has played an important creative role in the group since its first album in 2014. The band recorded sessions for the album in other studios in North Carolina, Georgia and Mexico.
Susto will return Sept. 2 for a hometown show at The Refinery with North Carolina rock band Big Something and Charleston indie act Easy Honey.
My Entire Life is sonically intricate. In addition to Osborne on vocals and guitar, Marshall Hudson on drums, percussion and piano, Kevin Early on bass and Johnny Delaware on guitar, synth and keys, there are instrumental contributions from former Susto bandmates Dries Vandenberg of Human Resources, Dylan Dawkins of Persona La Ave and bassist Jordan Hicks as well as Zimmerman.
While the band has switched up its members throughout the years, Hudson and Delaware have worked with Osborne since day one.
“It’s taken a long time to get as comfortable with each other as we are,” Osborne said. “We disagree a lot — everybody has a different opinion and a different perspective. And I think that’s kind of why what really helped us — it just creates this well-rounded editing process to where what we all think works best moves to the front and gets perfected.”
A culmination of experiences
Almost half the songs on My Entire Life revealed themselves to Osborne during a time of major life changes after finishing up the 2021 album Time in the Sun, he said, while songs such as “Rock On” and “Break Free, Rolling Stone” were written several years earlier.
“I write stream of consciousness,” he said, “I felt like there was something going on in me that I hadn’t really reckoned with, and the songs were pointing to that. Then a lot of things in my personal life came to a head and a lot of big shifts happened and I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve written this song thinking I was writing about this, and it means so much more to me now in a different way.’ And I think that was probably the most surprising thing, seeing how the songs evolved in meaning to me, the creator of them.”
Hudson, who doubles as drummer and art director for the band, said he intended the album cover to be a visual summation of Susto, just as the title My Entire Life signals encapsulation. The cover is an oil painting by Scottish artist Gordy Livingstone.
“The album represents a lot of maturity for the band and for Justin as a songwriter,” Hudson told the City Paper. “I wanted this cover to borrow pieces from all the other albums. And I wanted it to kind of look like a progression from Time in the Sun. That’s why this painting works so perfectly because it has that little sun in it. Also, the guy depicted in the cover has indistinguishable knuckle tats. Justin has ‘acid boys’ on his knuckles, so that was a happy accident.”
Osborne’s lyrics are strung together with wishes and visions on the new record, striking a melancholic nerve.
“We’re not shying away from the hard topics because we need music for that too,” Osborne said. “It’s a band very inspired by Southern gothic and confessionals. A lot of the literary inspirations are taking that same sort of lane.”
The instrumental textures of the blissed out track “Tina” (slang for methamphetamine) were intended to capture a drug-induced high. Osborne holds a bitterness in a resigned tone as he sings about addiction and despair: “Is it freedom, is it pain / When it’s standing still in your veins / Tell me you’re sick / Or are we all just fallin’ to pieces.”
Osborne said two of his brothers struggle with addiction, which weighs heavily on his mom. His mournful lyrics are succinct and wrenching: “Now she’s feedin’ on lost souls just like a prophet / But with drugs like that, who needs God anyway.”
That Susto continues to put out music is evidence of the power of human connection.
“The thing that’s been the driving force for me has really been the people around me,” Osborne said. “Sometimes I’m lazy or neglectful of the actual times that matter the most, arguably, which are sitting down and trying to write about what I’m feeling. On this record, over half the songs [came from] people pushing me. And I’m thankful for it because a lot of times I don’t have confidence in myself.”
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