T.J. and John Osborne, collectively known as Brothers Osborne, have left a strong mark on country music in the four short years since the 2016 release of their label debut, Pawn Shop. Between T.J.’s pliant vocals and John’s electrifying guitar work, they have combined a healthy respect for tradition and the pioneers who came before them with a steadfast look ahead.
With their third album, Skeletons, out today (Oct. 9), they enter a new chapter. The album, produced by longtime cohort Jay Joyce, is a muscular joy ride charged with a kinetic energy that fans of their live show will recognize but they had not captured fully on vinyl before. That zeal makes it all the more disappointing that for now, like most acts, the Maryland natives have been grounded and can’t play the new material.
T.J. Osborne takes Billboard behind the scenes of the making of Skeletons, shares his new pandemic skill, and— hilariously and in PG language— reveals the oddest thing he and his brother have seen from the stage.
1. Billboard: What do you want fans to learn about you on this album that they may not have discovered from Pawn Shop or Port Saint Joe?
T.J. Osborne: For those people out there that don’t know that much about us, this record will certainly be a really good introduction to who we are, considering it’s taken us two records and all the fans we’ve had over the years that really showed us who we were and the things that resonated with them— and it wasn’t always what we thought it would be over the years. We’ve gotten to make a record that we think is the most Brothers Osborne-sounding record yet.
2. Album opener, “Lighten Up” sounds like a perfect concert opener. How much of this album was written with thoughts of playing the songs live?
“Lighten Up” would actually be a great opener for a show. We recorded this record with the live concert in mind, which is weird because we’re not playing any live shows right now. However, we did record this with our touring band, so hopefully the album does act as a placeholder to be the next best thing to a live performance until we can actually get out there and perform live in front of people.
3. How has your relationship with Jay Joyce changed over the last three albums?
We’ve gotten to a point where we really know how to work efficiently with each other. We trust his instincts and I think he’s learned to trust ours. That’s also why this record has turned out to be the most uniquely “us”-sounding record that we’ve had because it’s a big, open conversation where we have a lot of respect for each other.
4. How much did you record after the pandemic shut everything down? Is there a song on here that got added that might not have made it otherwise, like “Make It a Good One” or “Hatin’ Somebody,” both of which have great messages.
We only needed to record one vocal and a couple of other guitar things after we went into quarantine. However, songs like “Make It a Good One,” “Hatin’ Somebody,” or even “Lighten Up,” we wrote in the middle of an already divisive time politically and socially. We knew this record would be coming out in a presidential election year. And little did we know that COVID-19 would exacerbate all of those things. So those songs seem like we wrote them because of COVID-19, but really because there was already a lot of divide and tension in this country and we thought it was a pretty fitting message regardless.
5. We can all relate to the fun video for “All Night” during this time of social distancing. How many jigsaw puzzles have you put together during the pandemic or have you discovered another pandemic skill?
Ha! I haven’t put any jigsaws together, I think my brother has. One thing I did learn how to do is to cook a really good steak. That was always something I was intimidated to try before because a good cut of steak is expensive and I didn’t want to mess it up. But now I can confidently say, “Give me a cast iron skillet and salt, pepper and butter and a little bit of garlic and let’s go.”
6. Do you feel like you are in step with terrestrial country radio?
John and I have always tried to ride that line between being ourselves, but also having songs that are commercial. We have several singles that have done well on [terrestrial] radio but also try to make music for those fans out there that are just really die-hard music fans. What we’ve found is that if you’re too far on one side or the other, like if you don’t care about terrestrial radio, it doesn’t do a whole lot to change music sometimes. But if you can get a song on the radio and also try to carry the genre in a new direction, that wields more power than turning your back to radio.
7. Country acts are finding creative ways to play, whether it’s drive-in shows or shows where patrons are in their individual, open-air pods. Are you trying to figure out how to safely play live or waiting til there’s a vaccine?
We’ve had offers to do drive-in shows, but they just didn’t feel right. We’ve done a couple of livestreams or virtual shows and those are fun to do something for the fans, but certainly leave a lot to be desired. Part of what’s great about music is bringing people together— especially people that don’t know one another or people that have different opinions or whatever—and just being able to tune out the world and everyone focus on one thing and just have this one massive kind of relationship with one another for one night. That’s a very powerful thing that’s going to be pretty hard to replace until we get back into a normal touring routine.
8. You’ve won a slew of CMA and ACM awards. Where do you keep them?
I move them around so many times. I always want to put them in a place where people can see them, but at the same time I don’t want to put in a place where they’re so in your face because I think most people that come to my house are very well aware that I’ve won awards. I haven’t found the spot yet that feels right. I was joking recently that I might put one award in each room just to be like every room you walk into there’s an award, which would be probably pretty hilarious.
9. You two shared a bedroom growing up. Name an artist or piece of music that you introduced each other to.
I grew up loving country music and my brother went through that grunge phase, so when Nirvana hit and all the wave of bands that came after that, that was all stuff that my brother first started listening to that, of course, I ended up loving. It was really my brother’s zest for that style of music that educated me on it.
10. What was the first concert you saw?
Kansas and Alan Parsons Project at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is a very famous amphitheater in [Columbia], Maryland. We got to play it several years ago for the very first time, [when] we were on tour with Darius Rucker. It was an emotional moment because I remember being a kid out there watching the show and dreaming of one day, “Man, what would it feel like to be on that stage and playing in front of thousands of people?” That moment just struck me so hard when I was up on that stage performing to thousands of people in my home state. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.
11. When did you realize you could be artists full time?
I don’t know when I realized I could be an artist full time. I got a publishing deal where I was writing songs for other people and I guess that’s when I realized I could do music full time. But, man, even when I first got signed, we were so broke and we were driving around all over the country playing shows for no money, even losing money to play shows. It was just a thing I never really thought about. You can’t think about. If you give it too much thought then you almost start doing it for the wrong reasons and, God, if you have any bit of fear, this is not the business to be in. But when I first felt like we had made it is when we first started getting haters, I can tell you that.
12. When one of you is down, what is something the other one can do to always cheer you up?
When one of us is down the other one [has] always picked up [the] other’s slack all the way through life. That’s something we don’t take for granted. We know we’re very fortunate to have each other out there. I often wonder how solo artists do it because there are some times where I just don’t have any more left in the tank and John seems to pick up the pieces and vice versa. At the end of the day, I think [it’s] not necessarily having to be cheered up as much as just knowing someone has your back.
13. What’s the last song you listened to?
“How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees last night. We had a little outside hang with a bonfire and the Bee Gees were on.
14. If you could see any artist, dead or alive, in concert, who would it be?
15. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
I don’t even know if you can put this in print, but one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen happen was a girlfriend giving her boyfriend a hand massage in a certain area. It was a frat party we were playing and I think they thought no one could see them, but you can see a lot more from the stage than people realize and we definitely all very easily could see what she was doing to her boyfriend. It was more funny than crazy, but I just thought it was hilarious they thought they were being sneaky and they weren’t.
16. What song always makes you cry?
We’re two 6’4” dudes that I guess most people would probably see as strong, but maybe it is a strength to cry. We’re criers, not going to lie about it…The last song that really comes to mind is our mom was having a triple bypass done. It was right around when Kacey Musgraves was releasing her Golden Hour record and she sent it to us before it came out. She has this song called “Mother.” I can even get choked up just thinking about it now. It’s a very short beautiful piece of music and lyrics. We were in the middle of our mom going through open heart surgery and then I listened to that song and it just crushed me.
17. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
I like to play video games. Maybe most people already know that — John and I are pretty open with our fans.
18. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
I would likely be a plumber with my dad. That’s what we did before we got into music. I would certainly be self-employed. I may or may not have a problem with authority.
19. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
To not be so hard on myself. I look at pictures of myself when I was younger and I remember not feeling attractive and I remember being very insecure and I just look and think, “Man, you were so handsome. You looked way younger than you do now.” I just think I would tell myself it’s ok to be yourself, everything is going to be alright.
20. Anything else?
Also I would tell myself that all of your wildest dreams are going to come true.