Brothers Osborne Dig Up More Roots with Fender American Vintage II Series, Reveal Direction of Upcoming Album

It’s that Telecaster twang. That was the sound and the vibrato that immediately captivated John and T.J. Osborne as early as they can remember. Growing up on guitar virtuosos like Danny Gatton and the mid-‘60s “Bakersfield Sound,” the California country-era of Buck Owens and Don Rich with The Buckaroos or Merle Haggard’s The Strangers and all the way into ’90s country and mainstream rock, always led Brothers Osborne right back to Fender.

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In partnership with Fender for the launch of their American Vintage II guitar series—recreations of classic guitar and bass models from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s—the brothers played around with the old-new guitar “reissues,” sharing new renditions of their Skeletons track ”Deadman’s Curve” and “Shoot Me Straight,” off the duo’s second album, Port Saint Joe.

For Brothers Osborne, who recently picked up their sixth Duo of the Year award at the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards, the 2022 Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “Younger Me,” and appear on Ashley McBryde’s recent release, Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville (also produced by John Osborne), on the track “Play Ball,” partnering with Fender was a natural occurrence. 

“There’s something that’s so inherently American about the Fender guitar company,” John Osborne tells American Songwriter. “It’s so rooted in American music, and it’s a part of our culture, and we just thought it was fitting to get involved because it aligns with us as people, and as creators.”

As they gear up for their new album and follow up to their 2020 release, Skeletons, T.J. and John spoke with American Songwriter about playing the American Vintage II, Kurt Cobain’s inspiration, and where the next Brothers Osborne album is headed.

American Vintage: How does the American Vintage II compare to some of the other guitars you’ve been using over the years?

John Osborne: My brother and I love vintage instruments. We always have. We couldn’t always afford them, but when we could we started slowly growing our vintage guitar arsenal over the years, and we’ve just grown accustomed to that style. When you look back at what Fender did in the ’50s, not much has really changed. Throughout the decades they’ve tried new things, tried new bodies, tried new necks, tried new pick ups, but there’s a reason why the vintage market is what it is. They’re such desired guitars. And it goes to show that even for a start-up company in California, started by a guy [Leo Fender] that built steel guitars and repaired radios, he knew what he was doing when he created the early Fender guitars. They feel right, and when Fender decided to make an early ’50s Telecaster Blackguard guitar, I was chomping at the bit to try it out. I have an original Blackguard Telecaster, and when you pick it up, it feels like it would have felt when it rolled right off of the factory line.

AS: There’s something to be said about the timelessness and longevity of a 70-year-old design. It’s classic. It still works. After picking up the American Vintage II and playing it, did you find yourselves instantly inspired?

TJ: Picking up any guitar does that. They have a different tone to them, a different feel. It’s actually funny when you think early Fender instruments—at least when I think early Fender—my mind goes to early Fender Telecaster players like Don Rich or Roy Nichols, and when I picked that guitar [American Vintage II] up and I immediately wanted to play “Buckaroo” by The Buckaroos [by Buck Owens & The Buckaroos, 1970], and it just sounded like that instantaneously. Those guitars evolve over time. The wood changes. The pickups start to sound different. When you refresh them, they play differently. It was quite funny when I picked that guitar up. It sounded exactly like old Buck Owens records because when they played their guitars, they [Fender] were new at the time.

AS: When did you first start playing Fender?

John: As a kid growing up, I feel like most of my heroes played Fenders. I was obsessed. My first guitar hero when I was a kid, believe it or not, was Kurt Cobain. I love Nirvana. He had that really cool Jag-Stang Jaguar-Mustang combo. Then after that, I went from somebody like him to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and then you go back all the way through the country world. Then I started loving Strats (Fender Stratocaster). Our cousin Johnny gave me my first really cool guitar, which was the 1977 Stratocaster. Then I got into more country music, listening to Merle Haggard, and guys like that. It starts from realizing ‘Wow, that’s an amazing style of playing. How do they get that sound?” And I realized just by reading and talking to friends that this guy was playing a Telecaster and that’s how I eventually moved into playing more Telecasters.

TJ: We grew up really big fans of Danny Gatton from demos that our parents had. I remember the Telecaster just looking so cool, and the way it sounded… I’ve just been so obsessed with everything about it—the way it sounded, the way it looked, the whole vibe. Pretty much from there on, I really wanted a Telecaster and I couldn’t afford one for a very long time. That was it for me, along with a lot of the other things that John said. There were those first moments where I was like, “how does it sound that way?”

John: Bastardizing our heroes is what we’re all doing.

AS: How did this partnership with Fender and the American Vintage II series come together?

John: We’ve had a very good relationship with Fender throughout the past several years. Ben [Blanc-Dumont] who is their artist rep, has been a great partner with us whenever we need anything, and he knows how much we love vintage Fenders. Every time I see him, we’re always talking about certain Fenders we own or Fenders we’ve played. We just have a mutual love for vintage guitars, so when they decided that they were coming out with the American Vintage series, he texted me and I thought, “Absolutely, let’s go for it,”  because it just fits with our DNA as a band, and as people. And for us to play a vintage isn’t too far from what we’re already doing, so it seemed to fit perfectly with what we already do.

AS: Thinking back to Pawn Shop (Brothers Osborne’s 2018 debut) or even as recent as Skeletons (2020), how has songwriting shifted for you both over these past few years?

TJ: The creative process now is a lot more streamlined in the sense that I think we both realize that we’re not right all the time, or as much are willing to admit. In that regard, the way that we function is a lot more well-oiled. I think the creative process is the same as far as how we go after songs. It can start off with a lyric, or it can start off with a guitar riff. Sometimes it just starts off when something that just sparks in the room. It’s all different results. Some are great, and some are not. 

The next record that we’re gearing up for quite a lot, we didn’t want to walk into the (writer’s) room and stretch out songs we had. We really wanted to put emphasis on the writing side and walk in there with more material than we’ve ever had, so we decided to take a break from releasing music for a minute. We released a lot of records that we’re very proud of, but we wanted to take a second to reset and start this new era for us, hopefully.

AS: Without revealing too much, how are these new songs starting to weave together so far?

John: We just found that we could get a little bit more into the roots of who we are as people, where we’ve come from as brothers, and where we are in our lives right now that’s a bit more honest but still maintains the commercial aspect of what we’ve done before. One of the main differences is that we’ve decided to try a different producer, Mike Elizondo (Eminem, Carrie Underwood, Fiona Apple, Mastodon), and that, in terms of sonics, has changed a lot of what we’ve done. The DNA of the band is still there, but we’re taking a little bit of a different sonic approach.

In terms of what we’ve written before, I feel like these are some of the best songs that we’ve written. In the last year or so, perhaps post-COVID, we’ve hit our stride as writers. We still like to be observers of the world and write about people and events, but these are songs that represent our ethos, what we stand for, who we are, and what separates us from everyone.

Photos: Courtesy of Fender

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