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Interview: Brothers Osborne’s T.J. Osborne talks about difficult path to ‘Skeletons’

One half of the award-winning duo chatted to us about the band’s new album.

Brothers Osborne
Credit: John Peets

Brothers Osborne – T.J. and John Osborne – are without a doubt one of the most loved acts in Country music, particularly on the live circuit here in the UK.

On Friday the award-winning duo released their third studio album ‘Skeletons’, an album that was meant to arrive earlier in the year. Featuring the single ‘All Night’, the album is the duo’s strongest work to date (read our review) and is sure to take them to the next step in their career.

I caught up with T.J. last week ahead of the album’s release to talk about the difficult path to releasing the album, find out how the pandemic has affected the release, and to discuss the loss of debate in society…

The new album ‘Skeletons’ is out. I know it’s been an uncertain year for everyone but what’s it been like putting this album together during the pandemic?

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It’s exciting. We went through a lot of hurdles with getting this record. Here in Nashville, we were right at the tail end of getting this record out and we had a tornado come through Nashville. It went right through East Nashville, which is where actually I used to live, a very congested area of Nashville one of the more popular areas for locals. It went right through there and just tore it up bad. It was a bad tornado. Luckily, we only has two fatalities and it could have been a lot more with how bad it was. It went just a block away from the studio we were recording in and we thought all of it was gone. We turned around and we were like, ‘okay, the studio is still here, we still have our recordings, let’s put this music out and let’s get this record finished’. Then I ended up getting salmonella poisoning and I was a mess, and I’m having to get this record finished. We were right there at the finish line and we immediately went into quarantine. The record was about 95% complete and then we had to wait for months, which delayed the record to come out in October. Ultimately I thought it was pretty fitting considering it’s called ‘Skeletons’ and it’s coming out in the month of Halloween (laughs).

You couldn’t have planned that better could you?

I know! It worked out. I wish we could say that we planned it that way but unfortunately COVID planned it that way.

With so many people pushing back albums this year, I’m glad you’ve decided to put it out there…

We had two trains of thought there. We thought about holding it back and that would have helped us with album sales and getting the number one album of the week on iTunes. But ultimately, I don’t think fans give a shit. They just want some new music and we want to put out new music for fans. It’s been a couple years, not to mention, I think right now people need more new fresh entertainment more than ever as people are hunkered down. We thought it was a good time to go ahead and put the record out now even though we weren’t going to be able to go and tour it, that was another downside. The other thing too is all of these people that are going to be putting records out at the same time, they’re gonna be doing it at the beginning of the year, we thought, let’s just not get in that crowded rat race so let’s just put the music out there. At the end of the day, it’s about getting music to the fans, and seeing how they respond. It’ll take us some time before we get to perform the songs live and see how the fans are really responding to it but it’ll give people some time to chew on this record a little bit. By the time we go out and tour and play the new music, people will have time to learn the new material and sing along hopefully.

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Brothers Osborne
Credit: Spinefarm Records

The album is upbeat and feel-good, which is exactly what we all need right now. I feel disingenuous saying this, as I seem to say it every time we speak, but ‘Skeletons’ is your best album to date…

Well, thanks for saying that. I feel the same way sometimes when I say this is the best record that we’ve ever done but I feel that as well. It’s nice to hear the sentiment coming from a fan or from an educated ear. We knew that we wanted to have a record that was going to work really well live. As we are getting into really big venues now we wanted some more upbeat tempo feeling stuff that would be really great in arenas and hopefully, as we move on to the occasional stadium that we will jump into. We also thought about subject matter (too). We’d already been writing and we wrote some stuff that we thought was good but it wasn’t unique. We thought it was pretty just kind of anyone can do, it wasn’t special. Then we wrote ‘Skeletons’, the song, and we instantly knew that that was what we wanted to write this record around, this type of feeling song. We knew particularly in the US that we have a lot of political divide here. There’s a lot of social divide here right now, and (we knew) the album would be coming out right in the middle of the Presidential Election. We knew that things were going to be very contentious here.

Little did we know that COVID would come and just shit all over everything (laughs) and make it even worse. We had already recorded the record before COVID, but some of the songs seem probably pretty fitting because things were already getting pretty bad here as far as the division in our country. We wanted to have some messages on the record. These days, and this isn’t even specific to the US, people share their opinion and then everyone just pounces on them, like a pack of lions. For us, I think we just need to chill out a little bit. Not everything has to be 100. If someone says something that’s really fucked up, yeah go after them, but if someone just shares their opinion, they don’t need everyone trolling them non-stop. There’s no conversation anymore. ‘Hatin’ Somebody’ was really about that, ‘hatin’ somebody never got nobody nowhere’ because it when it gets down to the point where you’re you’re hating someone, it’s probably ultimately affecting your personal well being as well.

We’ve lost that nuance and ability to debate. You have to have an absolute opinion on one side or the other. There’s no grey anymore…

Oh, exactly. It’s so extreme. I hope we do find a place as a country and as a world where we can be a little more unified. I was hoping that a silver lining would be. through this COVID thing with us dealing with it globally, that it would maybe bring us all closer together. In some ways I guess it has but it’s also made everyone just really sensationally crazy.

We’ve had protests here about wearing masks but not to the extent that you’d have in the US…

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It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that because it’s such an easy thing to do and there’s no downside, other than just having a little bit of breath in your face (laughs). There’s a lot of upside with wearing a mask and nearly no downside. I don’t know why people are so aggressively against it. People are like, ‘well, I don’t want to be told what to do’ and it’s like, ‘well, you wear pants and you wear a shirt. Are you gonna walk around naked?’ Here we are in these times and I think that’s another reason why we wanted to get music out there. That’s really the power of music is bringing people together and also just helping people check out from the noise of the weight of the world. We thought it was a pretty fitting time to get some new music released.

While much of the world is on hold, awards season is going ahead regardless. Everything’s being done remotely and you guys are up for CMA Vocal Duo of the Year. Is that a bit strange?

They had the ACM awards a month or two ago and I thought they did a pretty good job. They virtually did the performances exactly how they would do them. The only thing they did was they did it in two different venues so they could reduce the amount of people in one room. They had it in the same size arena they would typically have it plus a separate venue. They put it in lights in all the seats to make it look like fans were there with their lighters and stuff. The only thing they didn’t do, I wish they had pumped crowd noise in there, but they didn’t, like you’ve been seeing in sports games. I thought it was pretty good. The performances were good. What they did for the ACMs, and I don’t know what they’re going to do for the CMAs is if you won an award, or if you were performing, they would say that your presence was requested. If you were not either performing or you had not won your category, they would tell you that your presence was not needed, which was a really funny way of just basically being like ‘you lost’.

John and I were laughing about it because I would much rather, if I’m not going to win the category, just sit at home and watch it from my couch (laughs). Those award shows are fun but they’re intense. You get on the red carpet, it’s a lot of really intense interviews that have got to happen at a rapid pace, and you know how that stuff is, then you get in there and there’s a lot of getting pulled left and right and saying hi to people. There’s like 200 small talk. conversations and you got to get the suits and spend all the money doing all this stuff. It is fun but I think they’ve done a pretty good job at doing the best they can with what they got.

Brothers Osborne
Credit: John Peets

It also saves you from potentially being caught on camera looking ungracious if you don’t win. No one wants that do they?

John and I have won that category three times and we’ve been nominated for it many times. Every time we won that award, it was a surprise to us. John and I have always been underdogs and I still feel like it’s the same way. This year we expect it to go to Dan + Shay, who have had a very successful couple years. We’re friends with those guys and truly I don’t need to have it all. Some people are like, ‘I want everything, it’s all about to be mine’ and I’m like, ‘no, we’ve had our run’. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win the award again but I want to do that when, for instance, we got a new record coming out, and then we can have some success with that record, then I would like to win the award. In the meantime, that category is full of many other artists who have had a lot of success this year as far as chart positions and album releases. Honestly, we really support a lot of our friends. The community of Country music in Nashville, it’s unlike anything else and it really feels like a weird dysfunctional family (laughs). We all do know each other and for the most part getting along, and I love that.

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We often see you celebrating and supporting each other. That doesn’t happen in any other genre of music…

It doesn’t and it doesn’t happen in a lot of other cities as well. Nashville is pretty unique in that sense, where for whatever reason, the people that are here – I’m a transplant – I feel lby and large, they really support new people and want to see new artists succeed. I think if you’re an asshole or not talented, people don’t want to see it, but I think there’s a lot of talented people here that are just really incredibly kind and gracious. I think most people like to see, at least in this town, people like that succeed.

We were talking about getting out to play live, hopefully in the near future. What song from the new record are you most excited about playing live?

There’s probably some obvious ones. The songs that have been singles, I really want to go out and play because I know the crowd will really react to them. Typically the songs that we like to play the most are those songs that just get the biggest reaction from the crowd because it’s just fun. It’s fun to get the room rowdy and roaring with you. The one that I would probably say, I don’t know if it will be a single or not, is Dead Man’s Curve. I think it’s gonna be really fun. It’s super fast. The lyric is fast and the tempo is fast. It’s only two-and-a-half minutes long. It’s just fast and it feels like it’s over as soon as it started. That’ll be fun live.

It’s one of my favourites on the album and it complements the instrumental ‘Muskrat Greene’, which is on the album before it and showcases John’s mind-blowing guitar skills…

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As we release new music, I’m really interested to see how we maybe phase out some of our older material that we’ve been playing a lot. I’m just curious, especially in the UK, about the fans attention span or desire to hear some of the older stuff as we release this new stuff. I don’t want to be one of those bands where you show up and you want to hear their big songs and they don’t play them and they play the new record, and you’re like, ‘I love the new record, but I wanted to hear the big songs’. I worry about that. Part of me is like, ‘do we not play Stay a Little Longer’, for instance, which is one of our biggest and most successful songs. That’s gonna be hard to determine until we get out and start playing for people.

You guys already have the rowdiest audiences here in the UK so please don’t skip ‘Stay a Little Longer’ as there might be a riot…

I love that. I love getting rowdy in a room and getting everyone going crazy. I live for those moments. Honestly, we love playing in the UK. I feel like the fans are so down just to get rowdy and crazy. The thing that’s always surprised me about playing over there, is how much people know all the material, they don’t know just the big songs they’ll learn every damn song, and also they’ll be rowdy and then suddenly on a dime, you can get the whole room to be quiet and listen to more of a dynamic, low, slow song, and they’ll listen to it with intent focus. Then you can turn right back around and they’ll get rowdy again. I love our fans over there and I hope these dates stick that we just moved. If they do, that’ll be the first time we’ve actually gone out and toured since 2019, and it will be in the UK.

This must be the longest gap between visits as you’ve been hear pretty often the past few years…

We do get over there quite often. This is by far the longest we’ve gone without playing. Shit, I mean at most we would take off a couple months to record a record. Even that would feel like an eternity. Even when we’re playing a lot, if we took a week or two weeks off of touring and we go back on the road it’s like we forgot everything. We forgot how the transitions worked. I’m forgetting what keys songs are in. It’s really wild, how quickly you forget that stuff. On one hand it’s nice because it allows us some time to be able to retool our set and play a new fresh set when we go back over there.

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Brothers Osborne’s new album ‘Skeletons’ is out now. Watch the video for ‘All Night’ below:


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