While Charlotte’s music scene is overshadowed by indie hotbed Chapel Hill in terms of state stature, it’s certainly not like the Queen City gets completely overlooked. Case in point: Charleston quintet Susto kicks off its first major headlining tour at Visulite Friday due to its local following and familiarity here.
“Charlotte, other places in South Carolina and Atlanta feel like the home team that latched on to the band,” explains founder Justin Osborne, who played Charlotte often with his old band Sequoya Prep School. “People kind of followed me from that, and a lot of the people we play with in Charleston are transplants from places like Fort Mill. I grew up in Florence, but a lot of my close friends are from that area.”
The band’s new album, “& I’m Fine Today,” may be the thing that puts Susto on the national stage.
The album adds to the band’s gentle roots and Americana base with layers of synthesizers, moments of sonic grandeur, and full-on rock songs that echo Drive By Truckers and Tom Petty. But more often than not, it’s Osborne’s lyrics and earnest delivery against beautiful soundscapes that draw the listener in. He shares intimate stories about drugs, acceptance, screwing up and choosing the path less traveled.
“You get better at it. Like with anything, you become a better cook or athlete or a better friend or whatever,” he says of songwriting. “You have to learn to see the world deeper, to articulate what you’re seeing and feeling. You have to continue to let yourself build on the skills you need to be a songwriter. I’m lucky to be surrounded by producer/musician types who create the soundscapes. I’ve tried to focus on songwriting. To tell stories in a plain way without sounding didactic.”
“Gay in the South” is a good example of that. He describes it as a “we’re all in this together” song. In it, he relates to the plight of an abused woman, a gay friend and others who may have it harder than he does as a straight white male.
“I was inspired to write the song from one particular instance,” he says. “Sometimes we forget if we aren’t in someone’s shoes that there are people who need to know we’re on their side.”
Although he has gay family members and friends, he used the words brother, sister and lover as “a catch-all for humanity” because the song covers a lot of ground.
“There’s people who have a hard time dealing with homosexuality because their religion tells them it’s not right. There’s so much to it. I tried to fit everything into one song. I feel like that song could be a headline for a much deeper conversation,” says Osborne, who grew up in a religious family. “I hope it doesn’t come across as someone who’s trying to speak for someone that’s gay or a woman or whoever, because I have no idea (what that’s like).”
Osborne wasn’t always such an autobiographical songwriter. It wasn’t until he studied confessional American poetry and lived in Cuba – where he absorbed a type of songwriting that was honest yet playful – that he began opening up lyrically.
“It’s pissed people off,” he says. “It compromised my relationship with my family for a while. Everybody has come to terms with it. Sometimes the art can be worth it. I feel like art is a catalyst for change. I don’t feel like I can change the world, but if I can contribute to it...
“I don’t want to feel like I spent all this time writing bunch of love songs.”
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizabeth Ave.
Details: 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com