From Humble Beginnings to Sibling Stardom Meet CMA Vocal Duo of the Year Brothers Osborne
Some of the most iconic duos in music history follow the “singer and guitarist” format. Think Bono / The Edge, Mick Jagger / Keith Richards, Duane Allman/Greg Allman. While most are built on singing, guitarists can make or break the team. Real-life brothers TJ and John Osborne are currently on a path leading them to a legendary career. This American country music duo has been honored with awards from the Country Music Association as Vocal Duo of the Year, and also by the Academy of Country Music Awards winning Vocal Duo (or Group) of the Year.
To top that, the duo was nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award for best Country Duo/Group Performance. Along with Brothers Osborne’s studio album, Pawn Shop, the duo has released six singles to the country format, of which their most successful is Stay a Little Longer, which charted at No. 4 on Hot Country Songs and No. 2 on Country Airplay in 2016. Risen recently visited with the brothers to get an insight into their style, music upbringing and their strong family and country roots.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Nashville, Tennessee
Risen Magazine: The two of you are actually brothers and grew up as the middle siblings of five kids. What was your childhood like? Were all of the Osbornes musical?
John Osborne: Well, if you want to go all the way back to the beginning, when I was born we lived in a place called Odenton, Maryland, not too far out of Baltimore. We lived in a trailer park and my bed was the bathroom tub. That’s what I slept in for the first two years of my life. So, we started from the absolute bottom. TJ came along not long after and then in six or seven years, there were five of us. We come from a big family and a very supportive family.
TJ Osborne: Yeah, our mom and dad both wrote songs and sang and we kind of grew up around that, so for us it wasn’t anything unusual or different; we just kind of thought everyone did that. You know, all families just got together and played and sang songs and stuff. So that’s really where it all started. John and I started picking up guitars and learned because my dad wouldn’t let us sit in unless we knew what we were doing. He wasn’t going to just let us come in and make a bunch of noise with the family playing music.
JO: Natalie, our younger sister is a publisher in Nashville at Downtown Music and she is absolutely killing it at the moment. She’s an amazing singer herself and has such a great ear for songs and melodies and all of her writers and co-workers absolutely love her to death. She has a very bright future ahead of her. Our older brother and sister unfortunately didn’t acquire musical skills but, what they lack in musicality, they make up for in hardcore support and love for us, and we couldn’t have done without that.
It doesn’t matter if you have money, it’s the relationships that you have with the ones that you love and we were very lucky in that sense.
RM: When did the two of you decide to take your musical talents from passion to actual profession?
JO: When I was a kid I was a total nerd – I’m still a total nerd to be honest with you, I just have cooler clothes now. I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid and I was obsessed with NASA and space. I loved it, but as soon as I learned one chord on the guitar, it was over… that’s all I wanted to do for the rest of my life no question. I don’t know if there was ever a moment when I decided this is what I’m going to do forever, it was just always in my mind. There was no Plan B and I just did it. There was a time in my life that I said yes to every gig imaginable. It didn’t matter if it only paid thirty dollars and I had to drive to Knoxville, and eat it all up in gas just to do it. I would still do it. So, there was never really a moment I decided to do this professionally I just always knew that’s what I wanted to do. I worked as hard as I could and as long as I could and I’m still doing that, and the rest of it just kind of played out.
TJO: I think right around the time when we were getting into high school we really kind of noticed this is more than just a hobby. We started playing shows around our hometown, Deale, Maryland, and started to get a bit of a following there – a very modest one, but a following none the less. Shortly after that, John came down to Nashville and then I followed him about two years later thinking, “Man, I want to give this a shot.” Like for most people, when you’re the local hometown hero that gets to Nashville, suddenly it’s a rude awakening of how much talent is here. I spent about the first four years in Nashville without people really even knowing I was a singer or that I cared to get into music, so I just kind of went to school in my mind. I would go to writer’s rounds and I’d watch people jam and I’d watch live performances and thought, “Man, the bar is so high here.” and I knew that I hadn’t really risen there yet.
I spent my first four or five years here simply wood shedding so to speak and then I started a solo thing. At the time, John was in a band, King Billy, but whenever John and I would play together, people would mention that there was this great camaraderie between the two of us naturally.
RM: Oftentimes duos are built on singing, but yours is unique in that TJ sings, and John plays the guitar and does harmonies. How have you been able to develop your style? And, how would you define your sound?
JO: That just happened naturally. It wasn’t anything that we discussed because since we were playing together and it seemed like as soon as TJ hit puberty, his voice sounded like Randy Travis overnight! I never really wanted to sing. I mean I sing now because I have to, not really because I want to. I just love playing guitar and he loves singing. My voice is my instrument. All of my favorite guitar players have a voice…that’s what makes them special and I always wanted to be that person that sounds like me and we just throw those things together and that’s what Brothers Osborne is. I think the combination of my playing and TJ’s singing and the way that we write songs together is all what makes our sound. We never sat down and discussed it; we just kind of let it naturally happen.
RM: What did faith or family values look like for you growing up and what do those look like in your life now?
JO: For us family was, and is, everything and it will always be everything. We consider ourselves so lucky. Like I said before, we didn’t have much growing up. When I was born we were in a trailer, and then we moved into a duplex and my brother and I shared one bed until I graduated high school. We didn’t have a lot. Our dad’s a plumber and our mom’s a dresser and we lived on very humble means. I mean there were times we’d show up after school and the electricity would be turned off, because they couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill, and our dad would turn it into a game. We’d play hide and go seek in the dark and it was so much fun! I think that’s what made it so special, ‘ya know… it’s those things. It doesn’t matter if you have money, it’s the relationships that you have with the ones that you love and we were very lucky in that sense. I hear of a lot of musicians and artists that had parents that didn’t support their ambitions and I don’t think that comes from a vindictive or malicious place, it’s probably just more parents wanting to protect their kids because it’s very hard and it’s a very tough industry to get into, and even tougher to succeed at.
Our success happened very organically and slowly and I think for us and our personalities, that was actually good and very healthy, because it can be overwhelming at times.
But, our parents were big time dreamers and they both wrote and played songs and they came to Nashville a few times, so they were nothing but encouraging. I mean I could have said I wanted to be a rodeo clown and they would have been like “Absoulutely, go for it!” They were very supportive of what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be and they never made us question that, and I’m willing to say wholeheartedly that we couldn’t have done it without the support of our mom and dad. Our siblings as well and the rest of our family have been very supportive of us and I can guarantee you we wouldn’t be anywhere we are now without it.
TJO: Yeah, our family has always been very, very close. We’ve had our up and downs but we’ve always stuck together and we’ve always been there for one another. Even our oldest brother and sister are our half-brother and sister, it honestly doesn’t even cross our minds that that’s the case. They literally have just been there our whole lives, and have been there for us for everything. I even kind of touched on it in my CMA acceptance speech this last time around. Now that I’ve had some money and notoriety, and a little bit of fame, you really kind of realize that the things that you’ve been trying to capture all along, were really the things you’ve kind of always had. And then you realize the true value of your friends and your family and it really put a hefty price tag on it because, you know, this having success, you can buy yourself all the nicest things you want but at the end of the day the things that are the most fulfilling are certainly not that. We’ve been so fortunate to have such a very supportive family and they’ve been super proud of John and I all the way through our career.
RM: You’ve been working on new music and will release your sophomore album in 2018. What really excites you about these soon to be released songs?
JO: I’m excited for a couple of reasons. When we won our first CMA, and then we won some ACM’s… and believe me, it’s insanity that that sentence even exists in my vernacular, we kind of won on our own merit and by being ourselves and not really changing or conforming to anything. I think it was, or at least we perceived it as the country music community saying, “Yes, keep doing you, keep doing your thing.” So, going into the recording process with that in mind, we felt like we had so much freedom. We were able to do what we wanted to do artistically and we weren’t afraid. We felt like we were given the keys to the kingdom so we just went in there and did more of us. This record is even more of who we are then the last one because we felt like we have an open field to run in.
RM: In the past few years — 2015, 2016, 2017 — it seems like it has been a whirlwind of CMA and ACM nominations and wins for the Brothers Osborne. Congratulations on a third Grammy nomination too. How does it all feel and what do you say to those who might call you an overnight success?
TJO: It’s crazy and we’re definitely stoked and prepared to go have a big ol’ time up in New York. And Ha! I think it’s funny when people call us an overnight success because when it really started taking off for John and me. I’d been in town for almost twelve years and now going on fifteen… and John, longer. I think this is important for people to hear too. Everyone hears it’s a “five-year town” or a “ten-year town” and once that time has expired they feel like well, it’s not in the cards anymore for me. So, it’s really funny to me to hear overnight success. Now I will say once we did start to have success, it did finally take off really quick but, it was a long, long road to get there. For John and I, we just couldn’t turn it off… it wasn’t even a choice. It was just this is what we’re doing.
RM: John, from your humble beginnings to now, what do you think of all the success you have achieved from fans and critics alike?
JO: Our success happened very organically and slowly and I think for us and our personalities, that was actually good and very healthy, because it can be overwhelming at times. For me personally at the end of the day, I’m just a dude that just wants to play guitar. I’m from Deale, Maryland, and I play guitar, and I have a wife, Lucie Silvas, who’s amazing and way more talented than I am, and my dog, and I’m very happy just being that person. But it truly means a lot the way success unfolded for us was at a very healthy pace and we were able to ingest it in a way that felt natural and was never really overwhelming, and we appreciate every ounce of it. I mean we’re the luckiest people in the world that we get to do what we do. Any musician that can make a living playing music is one of the luckiest in the world already. So, the success that has come along with our career we’re beyond grateful. We definitely earned it because we worked really hard, and still work really hard, but we’re still the most grateful people in the world and for all of the love and support that we’ve gotten and are still getting; it means the world to us.
RM: John, you just mentioned you’re married to singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas. What do typical conversations look like in your household and do you give feedback to each other or stay in your own lane so to speak when it comes to each of your music careers?
JO: Our careers bleed into each other naturally. We met by writing songs together. I fell in love with her personality immediately and then I heard her sing and I was like my life has forever been changed. We started writing together and playing shows together and there came a point of just jamming together, nothing too formal, and I was like, this girl is amazing. I have so much respect for her creatively, but even more as a person. She is one of the nicest people in the entire world that you could ever meet–so kind and gracious and giving–it naturally just kind of bleeds in together. We’ll write songs together, not as much as you’d think we would, I think because when we’re home, we just want to be together and kind of relax. But sometimes I’ll play the guitar and she’ll just come over and start singing and it just kind of naturally happens.
These are our fans, those are our people who forever stay with us…they might as well be our family. They have allowed us to live and fulfill a dream that we’ve always had and we owe them that love and appreciation.
She just finished her record which is absolutely incredible, and I’m not even saying that from a biased prospective. It’s insane and she has totally outdone herself with this one. It’s really, really special. I played on the record on a couple of the songs, and I co-wrote one of the songs so we have a mutual respect for each other creatively and I think that’s really important. I’m the luckiest dude on the planet. I get to play guitar for a living and I’m married to one of the most beautiful, talented people on earth. And again, I’m just a nerd from a trailer park in Deale, Maryland, who slept in a bathtub.
RM: The CMA’s began with an emotional tribute to all of the victims of the Vegas shooting tragedy. How did that day affect you? How has it altered the way you will approach touring or interaction with the public?
JO: I think its naturally going to change the way people approach touring forever from a security standpoint. I think that’s just going to naturally have to happen. I don’t think gun laws are going to change anytime soon so they’re going to have to take other precautions to insure people’s safety. But, in terms of has it changed our perception? Honestly, it was awful, it was terrible, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. We weren’t there when it happened, but we were there two days before it happened and our normal ritual is to walk off stage, get on the bus and open a cold beer, drink it, and kind of just decompress, and TJ and I were just saying to each other, that was one of the best crowds we’ve ever played for in our lives. It was electric and was unbelievable and the amount of love we felt that day was something I’ll never forget and then for something tragic like that to happen to those people who shared that kind of love with us; those are our fans, those are our people who forever stay with us and even though we haven’t met them, they might as well be our family. They have allowed us to live and fulfill a dream that we’ve always had and we owe them that love and appreciation. To see that to happen to someone that is like our family is truly heartbreaking.
I held myself together pretty well for about five days and then I read something one night and I came unglued. I think everybody had that moment. I remember the next show we played was in Mississippi at their state fair and the attendance was really, really low because people were still freaked out about it. I remember standing and waiting for the meet and greet to happen and when the first person showed up for the meet and greet, I almost lost it because I thought it could have been this person. It’s certainly left a huge hole in all of our hearts. But the silver lining, if there even can be one, is that I feel so much more grateful and appreciative than I ever did because life is short, and for people to show up to our shows and give us that kind of love and support, it’s something I can’t even put into words. It really is awesome.
RM: Let’s end on a light note, each of you share one thing that you admire about your brother and one thing that really gets on your nerves.
TJO: I admire his patience. He’s a very patient guy, very laid back. One thing that drives me nuts about him…hmm… that’s a hard one. Oh! Here’s one… if I ever forget the words, he looks at me like “How dare you?” I’m thinking to myself, I’ve got to remember five thousand words here and you have to remember three chords… so chill out. [Laughter]
JO: One thing I really admire about my brother is also the thing that gets on my nerves! It’s a double-edge sword. I will say it is what makes him so great…his stubbornness. It drives me crazy because when there’s something that I want to get done, and his stubbornness won’t allow it, it genuinely drives me up a wall, but, that very thing comes in handy way more often than it frustrates me because it allows him to be very strong minded in situations where one of us needs to be that way. Admittedly, I am a bit of a pushover. I have no qualms in admitting that. I just want to make everybody happy and am a total people pleaser and TJ, he loves to make people happy, but he could care less about being a people pleaser, and at the end of the day, he just wants to get it done, and he won’t let anyone walk all over us. So, it bothers me, but I know it actually plays a huge beneficial role in our career.