The Brothers Osborne are kicking off 2016 in spectacular fashion. With the release of their debut album Pawn Shop today (Jan. 15), a top 5 single in “Stay A Little Longer” and a Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for that same tune, the Maryland natives are bursting into the country music scene in a big way.
Somehow in the middle of their whirlwind schedule, TJ Osborne found some time to chat with us about the pressure of a big first release, listening to the critics and what it’s like to be nominated for a Grammy before your first record even comes out.
Wide Open Country: It takes so much work just to get where you are. Do you feel like now, with the record coming out and a successful single at radio, the pressure is off, or does it just vamp it up even more?
TJ Osborne: In some ways the pressure is off, because we finally reinforced all the people who really thought what we were doing was going to be something great — particularly our label and radio. It’s like, what they invested in was actually something that worked and took off. But it’s challenging in other ways.
I’d much prefer this over the alternative, but we’ve moved from this band that would pleasantly surprise people, because they didn’t know who we were to a band people are expecting great things out of. Going from a surprise to an expectation is harder. But I feel really confident in this record we made, and obviously the first single — and the next single we’re going to put out. But it’s an interesting shift from, “Who are these guys?” to, “I know who these guys are and I want them to blow me away.” The bar gets set higher every time.
WOC: Family bands are kind of a tradition in country, but y’all didn’t necessarily start out wanting to be one. I have a brother who I’m very close with and love dearly, but I can’t imagine being in a band with him. What is that dynamic like?
TJ: [Laughs] We didn’t really think about it either way. We actually started off in a band with our dad called Deuce & A Quarter. But after that we entered an era or moment in our lives where we just wanted to, I think, prove ourselves in a singular way. We wanted to have our own claims as individual musicians or singer/songwriters. If anything just to prove to ourselves we could do it.
And then once we started getting some success and notoriety as individuals is when we came together as Brothers Osborne. So I won’t say there was a conscious effort not to be a family band at the start, it just took time for us to be individuals and get that out of our system. Now I’d say it’s pretty awesome being in a band with one another.
WOC: “Stay A Little Longer” has been huge for y’all recently, but it’s also been one of those songs that you’ve had for awhile. What finally stuck with this version and what did producer Jay Joyce bring to it?
TJ: There’s so much to talk about with that song that it’s hard to sum it up, but it’s one of those songs that we’ve recorded several times, and it has always just worked. Even on the demo it comes to life. But I think it’s a really good showcase of John and me. It starts out on the shoulders of the vocal and then shifts to this almost poppy chorus before going back into a ballad feel. And then it ends with a full on solo where my brother is just giving it hell.
I think it’s been big because people really resonate with it. It’s honest and comes from the right place — that awkward “in-between” place where it’s not typical love or typical heartbreak. We get a lot of people telling us that song speaks to them and their scenario. Jay was just great with it. John and I both have a lot of studio experience so we’re really comfortable in there, but he took it to a level that we couldn’t have reached without him, for sure. He’s a great musician too, and was really great at bringing out those guitar moments. Making it so they don’t sound gratuitous, but instead just as natural as the vocal.
WOC: There’s a station here that plays the whole solo on the radio, and it’s the first time in a long time I’ve heard a song where they’ll do that. It’s one of those solos that fits the song instead of just shows off.
TJ: I credit that to my brother. He’s a very humble guy, and he plays guitar in a humble way. He’s not playing to show off. In fact, there were some moments where Jay had to be like, “Alright, come on, it’s time to show up here.” We just want to keep everything very musical. It’s the same thing with the vocal — you don’t want somebody just riffing the whole time.
WOC: You’ve already received some great reviews for Pawn Shop. Do you pay attention to the critics?
TJ: Yes and no. But certainly for this record and for these milestones we’re achieving where we’re entering a territory we’ve never been in before. Doc McGhee once told me that if you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad ones. I thought that was funny advice, and he was being funny, but it’s serious too. I definitely value the opinions of people who have earned the right to have one. But everybody’s a critic.
You look for information that reinforces how you feel about your music to see if people are getting it, but if whatever you wanted to say musically is not reading right or is throwing people off, you have to pay attention to that too. I look for consistencies. If in 20 reviews, 14 people say something close to the same thing, it’s probably right. Of course there will be those few negative ones too, and it’s hard not to let that distract you. But a lot of times the people who work for us will say, “Hey you’ve got to check out this review,” and it’s usually a great one. And if it’s a bad one they don’t tell me, so I’ll just wait for them to tell me to read it [laughs].
WOC: Y’all and Cam are in rarified air, because you were both nominated for a Grammy before your albums came out. What was it like finding out you were nominated? I mean, it’s the Grammys.
TJ: Man, it’s crazy. It’s an honor to be nominated for something like an ACM or a CMA, and it blows my mind that *that* even happened. But when it comes to the Grammys…God, it’s the Grammys. Everybody wants to win one, and everybody knows what they are. Certain genres have their very specific awards, like the Country Music Association Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards, but the Grammys are everything. It’s like, not only in our community do we have the respect of our peers, but in the entire music community as a whole. In my mind that’s what the Grammys are about.
I didn’t expect it for so many reasons. Me and my brother were both asleep and our phones started blowing up with texts. We didn’t know what was happening and finally somebody was like, “Wake up you dumbasses, you were just nominated for a Grammy.” And a lot of really talented people never had the fortune of being nominated for one or winning one, yet it’s such a big deal. To just be nominated is career-changing. For the rest of our lives we’re going to be Grammy-nominated artists.