Country music is in the midst of a major renaissance, and Maryland duo Brothers Osborne is partially to thank. The real-life brothers—TJ and John—have created an earthy sound that blends the southern genre with rock, blues, and soul, helping to evolve “country” from an era of big hits and hints of auto-tune to a next generation of genuine songs with substance.
After growing up in Deale, Maryland, about 30 minutes south of Annapolis in Anne Arundel County, their rural upbringing undoubtedly influenced their honest vocals and back-porch authenticity, garnering them a Capitol Records deal, chart-topping singles, and now their second Grammy nomination, this year for Best Country Duo. In the days leading up to the big night (Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. on CBS), we caught up with John Osborne (the bearded one) about growing up in Southern Maryland and what they’ll do if they win the lauded award.
You guys grew up in Deale, just south of Annapolis.
It’s really small, probably 3 or 4,000 population now, but it was a lot less when we were there. If you blinked, you’d miss it.
Growing up in a small town, how did you get introduced to music?
We always had music playing around the house. Both of our parents played and sang songs and had parties. Music was a big part of our lives. It was like breathing or food. We were lucky we had supportive parents, not everybody has that. But they were super supportive from day one, and still are. I think if we had decided to do anything, they would have supported us. They taught us how to play a couple of chords with the guitar and we just took the rest from there.
What kind of music did you listen to?
We grew up on a lot of old country and classic rock. In high school, I rebelled for a couple years and only listened to Seattle grunge music, but the second I heard Jimi Hendrix it was all over—I just wanted to play old rock and blues. But we grew up just listening to music; we didn’t care about the genre. My dad’s CD booklet had everything you could’ve imagined, from George Young and Alan Jackson to Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd to bluegrass and this, that, and in between. There was always music on the stereo. We listened to whatever we could get our hands on.
Country has evolved as a genre. It’s not as boxed in as it used to be.
Country music used to be ultra definable, but now it’s the culmination of multiple genres into one. It’s broad, in a good way. It runs a pretty wide gamut sonically.
How did growing up in a small town like Deale influence your songwriting?
Art is supposed to be a reflection of people, their emotions, their upbringing, and their environment, and I think ours most certainly is. There are some songs on our record that talk about us growing up with very little, which we did. The first song on our record is called “Dirt Rich,” and it’s about growing up with broken things around the house. But the line is, “If you’re broke, don’t fix; just learn to live with it, and like it the way it is.” You make the best of what you have.
Where did you play when you first started out?
We were always nominated as like the token house party and graduation band, but we loved it. There were two bars in particular that we would play a lot—the two main hangs in Deale: Skipper’s Pier and Happy Harbor. Our video for “Rum” was shot with us all sitting around partying in those bars. We wanted to give Southern Maryland some rep.
Do you come home a lot?
It’s hard to make it home. We live in Nashville now—been there for 15 years. We’re really busy lately, on the road traveling. But if we’re playing in Maryland anywhere, though, we try to spend a day and get back to our roots and see our family and friends.
Is it strange to come back?
Deale hasn’t really changed too much, which I think is one of the best things about it. When we go home, it’s like we never left. We’re constantly getting to see the world and see some of the most amazing things we could ever see, but Deale has such a special spot in our hearts. It’s a place that we love and that will always feel like home.
So the Grammy—how did it feel to get nominated?
A dream for most musicians is to be able to win a Grammy. It’s the highest honor. It’s your peers that you look up to and admire presenting you with an award that is the highest honor in all of music. That’s something that even being nominated for is hard to wrap our heads around. One day we’re just making music, and then the next . . . We’ll never take it for granted.
Where were you when you heard the news?
Last year, we were the last to know. We’re always on the road, so when we are home, I sleep really late to catch up. At about 9:30 in the morning, my wife woke me up and said, ‘Oh my god, babe, wake up, you’re nominated for a Grammy.’ And I was like, ‘Nooo, no, you’re wrong.’ But I opened my phone and had 60 missed texts and was like, ‘Oh my god, we’re nominated for a Grammy!’ I texted TJ and was like, ‘Dude, wake up’ and didn’t hear back from him for like a half hour because he slept through the whole thing, too.
We never expect these things, ever, because we’re just trying to stay the course and stay focused on what we love, which is recording, writing, and performing. It was a huge surprise, and it was a surprise this time again. Actually, strangely enough, it was the same experience a year later, except this time we were on a tour bus. We would love to win—who wouldn’t? But at the end of the day, to be nominated for something like that, just a couple kids from Southern Maryland, it’s incredible.
If you do win, what will you do?
We’ll probably party for a week straight [laughs] and then be hungover for a month straight after that.