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Interview: Brothers Osborne discuss building a UK fan base, new album Port Saint Joe and touring with Dierks Bentley

We caught up with TJ and John ahead of their sold-out show at KOKO in London.

Brothers Osborne
Credit: Spinefarm Records

Brothers Osborne have quickly established themselves as one of the UK’s favourite Country bands.

Since their first UK performance at C2C: Country to Country 2017, the duo have made touring on this side of the pond a priority and it’s paying off. Following a support slot with The Cadillac Three late last year, the duo recently completed their first headline UK tour and they’ve got another one planned for later in the year.

Ahead of their sold-out show at KOKO in London, I sat down with T.J. and John Osborne to talk about their growing UK fanbase, discuss their fantastic new album Port Saint Joe and to find out about their tour with Dierks Bentley.

How’s the tour been going?

T.J. : It’s going really well. It’s amazing that we’ve had this string of sold-out shows and we didn’t know what to expect. When we first came over here, two years ago or so, we came here and lost money to tour over here in the hopes that we would be able to turn it into a profitable touring spot and be able to make new fans and tour worldwide. To come over here and actually see it taking off and happening is awesome. It’s really cool. We’ll be walking out here tonight to a sold-out show and it’s pretty amazing that we were able to do that in another country already.

You’ve announced another headline UK tour before this one’s even finished so you must be feeling pretty confident?

John: This whole thing has exceeded our expectations. We played C2C a year and a couple of months ago and then after that we came over here with The Cadillac Three opening shows and now we’re doing a headline tour and coming back months later. It definitely has happened a lot faster than we could have ever predicted. In all honesty I personally was a bit skeptical coming over here I didn’t think anyone would care or get us or know who we were. The first time we played here I fell in love with it. The crowds were amazing. They sing to every song not just your singles and they were so responsive and respectful. We immediately became hooked and now I never not want to play here.

You went down so well at C2C. There was such a buzz after your performance and people were desperate to know when you’d be coming back for a tour…

T.J. : Ah nice, it’s good to hear! It was interesting playing that because the crowds over here they’re really engaged so they will listen and they can be really quiet but sometimes that also can be what it’s like when it’s not doing well and they’re really quiet. We finished playing that day and when the crowd erupted and it was like, ‘oh wow OK’. Over here we realised when you want them to go wild they go wild and when you need them to get quiet for a quiet song they get quiet. It could not be any better.

You’ve experienced very different audiences. C2C can be a bit more reserved but when you were here with The Cadillac Three, those shows were really rowdy. What have the crowds been like this time round?

John: It’s interesting. I always tell people that playing in the UK… it’s like they listen like a sober crowd and respond like a drunk crowd. It’s really interesting, it’s like the best of both worlds because there are times where you’ll play a quiet song and people was just talking over you and it’s really frustrating. At the other end of the stick you play a song and people don’t really give you the response that you want. Here it’s both. We’ll play really quiet songs, they listen and you could hear a pin drop in the room and when it’s time to applaud they go absolutely crazy. It’s a really interesting crowd. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world. By the end of our sets it’s usually getting really, really rowdy. We love that about it and we love taking the crowd on a journey, and they take us on a journey as well.

Your new album Port Saint Joe is already been hailed as one of the albums of the year. It’s definitely a contender for me and there have been so many great albums already this year…

T.J. : We’ll wait until the year is over before we let the dust settle. I can say that that we wanted to make a record that could be a record of the year or a record that really moved the needle, and not just thinking about it in terms of let’s get a big radio song. We’d both love to have big radio songs but we really were thinking about wanting to make a record that stands the test of time. Some of the best records of all time, it took a while for them to be appreciated. If we can fast forward 10 or 20 years and people are still listening to it, that’s the goal for us as opposed to something really huge for that one piece of historic window. It’s hopefully something that our next generation will listen to. Whether we hit that mark or not, time will tell but that’s one of our big goals so we’ll see. I’m excited and grateful to hear you say that, it’s really nice to hear. We’re definitely proud of it.

My favourite song changes all the time…

John: It’s the same for us actually. I think it’s a good sign when your favourite song changes. A lot of my favourite records, I can’t really pick a favourite (track). I could that week but the next week it moves on to something else. The record offers a lot of different sounds and a lot of different emotions. I think that’s a really good thing that every day a different song may bring a different emotion. That’s exactly what we’re were going for.

Brothers Osborne

Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

I feel like the album is optimistic and overall very uplifting. Was that your aim when making it?

John: Good, man! I don’t know. The art in songwriting is a reflection of who you are and maybe we just were feeling a little good this year (laughs)

T.J. : Don’t get me wrong, we can get pissed and we can bitch but I think overall we’re relatively optimistic people. It’s interesting that I’ve never thought about that. That’s kind of our natural impulses. Mostly I think they’re just to try and appreciate what we have and what’s going on. Ultimately we’re making music to give people an emotion and they feel something. Hopefully whatever it is, that’s a positive impact.

Since we spoke last year, you’ve picked up even more awards. What’s it like to be getting that recognition from the industry?

John: It’s an amazing feeling . I think one of the most incredible things about it is in those categories on paper we are the underdogs. If you look at radio success, maybe even sales and whatever other ways you want to quantify success, we are constantly the underdog. We love it and we prefer that, we fight better when we’re backed into a corner anyway. To win those awards considering that is incredible because all we were ever trying to do is just be ourselves. We’re not trying to pander and we don’t ever do anything just because we think it will make us rich or famous. We just write songs that we’re proud of and make music that we love and we’re not ashamed to play, first and foremost. To have the industry recognise us for those things is really truly amazing and we’re more grateful for it than we could ever describe with words. It also lets us know that we have free rein just to keep being ourselves and that’s very important to us.

It feels like your fan base is growing very organically over here…

John: People told us before we came over here, you have to grow the fan base organically. It’s a very old school approach. You would travel, tour and play shows, and that’s how it used to be back in the day. We prefer it because we love playing shows, we love seeing fans and we learn a lot about playing for a small room. You learn what’s working and what’s not working so when you come back you’re more prepared. To see those things grow every time is really, really cool. I think that’s how it should be done. It’s a big world and you have to do things in different ways.

UK fans love bands and artists that can play well live and you guys are incredible live. What’s your favourite song from the new record to play live right now?

T.J. : It’s hard because it’s kind of like saying what song’s our favourite to listen to? It’s been changing live and we’re still playing some of this stuff for the first time out here. It’s all still really new, it’s not even a month old. It’s interesting to get out and start playing it for crowds. This is the first tour we’ve done since releasing the records so we’re just seeing what the crowd likes and what they respond to. We’ve been playing Shoot Me Straight a lot, that’s our lead off single, and crowds are responding back to it. There’s a really fun jam at the end of it. Some of the other songs are fun too. It’s just ever changing. The most fun is the ones that the crowds respond to most.

You’re heading out on tour in the US with Dierks Bentley this summer and you’re featured on the track Burning Man from his new record. How are you feeling about that?

John: We’ve known Dierks Bentley for years and he’s one of our favourite people. He’s a great, great guy and we know his band, his bass player is one of our longtime best friends, but we could never really make the timing work out. It just so happened that this year it’s worked perfectly with our schedule and his schedule. His shows are so much fun and he’s such a great entertainer, and he’s just a fun person to be around. His crew’s incredible, his band’s incredible and it feels like a big family out there and we can’t wait.

The fact that he had us come in and do a feature on Burning Man is really cool. We’re very particular about doing features with people. One, you don’t want to overdo it and two, you want to make sure that if it’s a song you didn’t write that it’s a song you love. We heard it the first time, thought it was really cool and different and interesting. We were honoured to be a part of that. In fact when we get home we go straight into rehearsal for two days and then we go right out on tour with Dierks.

What preparation do you do ahead of a big tour to stay sane and keep healthy so you can get through it?

T.J. : I think the biggest thing there is really just trying to sleep. We party hard and we love going out and playing. We love travelling and we love all of it. Sometimes you just have to carve some time out for yourself and for your family, and get home and just rest. That’s a hard thing to do on the road but we’ve really had to learn to sleep when we can because it can sometimes be few and far between to get some R&R.

John: It catches up with you if you don’t. (laughs) This is why I’m over here yawning (laughs).

What else do you have coming up this year?

John: We’ve got the tour with Dierks then we’re going to be working on our first headline tour in a couple of years that we’ve done in the States. We’ve been out with some other people that have been really fantastic but we haven’t done a headline tour there in quite some time. We’re going to carve out some time and really hammer that down. Coming over here will be right in the middle of all that. Then we’ll head back and continue to tour there. That will roll all the way through to the end of the year and beginning of next year. Until then we’re out there trying to get this new record known and get the songs off of it out there for some of our fans. It’s exciting. The people that have seen this play time and time again – we have some people that have seen us play 30, 40, 50 times – it’s nice to have some new material for them to latch onto.

Brothers Osborne’s new album Port Saint Joe is available now. The duo will be back in the UK in November and December for the following shows:

25th – Glasgow, O2 Academy
27th – Newcastle, O2 Academy
28th – Manchester Academy
30th – Nottingham, Rock City
1st – Planet Rockstock
2nd – London, O2 Forum Kentish Town

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