At the beginning of progressive Americana band SUSTO’s tour, the fivesome found themselves in the midst of a blizzard in Little Rock, Arkansas. “We were getting close to our hotel, and we’d been sliding around on the road. It was 2:00 a.m., and we got stuck in fresh snow on the road. We pushed it five miles,” says frontman Justin Osborne. “It took us three and half hours. Usually it takes a little time to get in tour mode, but when something like that happens on the first day, you feel triumphant.”
SUSTO (pronounced “SOOS-toe”), comprised of Osborne (vocals), Johnny Delaware (guitar, piano), Marshall Hudson (drums), Jenna Desmond (bass), and Corey Campbell (keyboard and guitar), is currently on tour supporting Futurebirds and Heartless Bastards. While the band is frequently on the road, their current schedule is particularly intense, a first of its kind for the band as a whole. It’s also an ambitious task for their van (the one they pushed five miles in the snow), a ’98 Dodge they call Tony Dong. “We’re always keeping an eye on it, it’s like our spirit animal,” laughs Osborne. Tony Dong is a part of SUSTO folklore (which serves as continual inside jokes between the band and its fans), along with the house where the band started, one they call The Australian Country Music Hall of Fame—both have been featured on SUSTO t-shirts. The subject of their song “Smoking Outside”, Ashley the Bong Girl, came along on the last tour and sold the band’s merch at shows. “People kept asking her for pictures and autographs,” he laughs.
The band derives its name from a term specific to Latin American culture that roughly translates as “panic attack”. In fact, Osborne is a longtime lover and student of all things Latin American. “I’ve been interested in Latin America for a long time, particularly Latin American social movements, the politics of which drew me to Cuba,” he explains. “I’d been playing in bands since high school, touring, and all of that. When I got to Cuba, I linked up with musicians and got involved in seeing and playing live music. I was really influenced by the musical traditions there, particularly the Trova style. There’s a playful confessionalism; people are very honest, very willing to be lyrically open about not only the good things, but also the dark things about life.”
From the same neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina, the group varies in age and life experience. “We have really different personalities, which is good for being on the road, and when it comes to making music together, we’re very careful not to step on each others’ toes,” Osborne declares. “We complement each other—specifically with Corey and Johnny, our two guitar players, they’ve learned how to dance with each other instead of run into each other.”
While the band’s songs aren’t necessarily categorized as high-octane barn-burners, the energy is undeniable in their live show. “You have to see it; we have chemistry, we have fun. We believe in what we’re doing, and it comes across,” Osborne explains, adding, “Our songs address issues we think are important, about things everyone goes through. We’re trying to spread the SUSTO love and connect. We love our story and we want people to be a part of it.”
Be on the lookout, y’all—Tony Dong will likely roll (or be pushed) through your neighborhood in the near future (including appearances at the Savannah Stopover Festival and Stagecoach Festival) so don’t miss out!