“Country music and classic rock go hand in hand,” says John Osborne, one half of fast-rising aces Brothers Osborne. “Rock’n’roll is about an attitude more than anything. We grew up listening to music we thought was genuine – authentic country and rock’n’roll from the sixties and seventies. It’s a huge part of what we are.”
Siblings TJ and John are currently the hottest duo in Nashville. Trading as Brothers Osborne, their debut album Pawn Shop, which covers a range of styles from surly southern rock to country twang to smouldering slide-blues, has already racked up six-figure sales in the US, bolstered by hit singles Rum, 21 Summer and Stay A Little Longer. They won Vocal Duo Of The Year at last year’s Country Music Association Awards, and the first of their two Grammy nominations before Pawn Shop had even been released.
While they might appear to be an overnight sensation, the truth is very different. “Behind the scenes it didn’t seem quite so fast,” TJ says, laughing. “We grew up performing with our family back home so we’ve been playing our whole lives. For us it’s been a slow climb for the most part, so it really put into perspective what we’ve achieved.”
Raised in the village of Deale, Maryland, the brothers were introduced to country music by their parents. They were playing in local covers outfit Deuce & A Quarter as teenagers, where (fronted by dad John Snr) they’d devote equal time to the likes of Merle Haggard and Lynyrd Skynyrd. John moved to Nashville in 2000, and TJ blew into town a couple of years later. As aspiring songwriters, they found the competition fierce.
“It can be crazy and overwhelming in Nashville,” John reflects. “There’s so much learning to do, but we surrounded ourselves with songwriters and musicians who were way better than us, and that was inspiring.”
John, who is now married to British singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas, toured with bluegrass firebrands KingBilly before he and TJ signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell in 2011. They landed their major-label record deal a year later. In a city steeped in traditional country duos, Brothers Osborne offered a distinct twist.
“People like the Everly Brothers are impossible to replicate,” explains TJ, “so we decided to play to our strengths. I’m the frontman when I’m singing, then when I step back, John plays guitar and he’s the front guy. It’s really fun to toss that back and forth on stage, and it’s a pretty unique thing in country music.”
For all the commercial pressures of Nashville, Brothers Osborne have refused to compromise. Now it’s paying off. “Sometimes there are a lot of easy tricks you can do to get attention and get played on the radio here,” TJ adds. “For John and I it’s often been about what we didn’t do. Sticking to your guns is really hard, but it’s so important. We’re just trying to be ourselves.”
Pawn Shop is available now on Spinefarm.
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“Darrell Scott was in Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy and is an exceedingly talented singer-songwriter,” says TJ. “A lot of the songs on Theatre Of The Unheard had nothing to do with trying to sound cool or commercial. It was such an inspiring record. It made me want to be the best songwriter I can. Darrell is a hidden gem of Nashville.”