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After A Pandemic-Paused Tour, Brothers Osborne Are Ready To Hit The Road

From left, T.J. and John Osborne, photographed during the Academy Of Country Music Awards on April 7, 2019 in Las Vegas.
Rich Fury/ACMA2019
Getty Images for ACM
From left, T.J. and John Osborne, photographed during the Academy Of Country Music Awards on April 7, 2019 in Las Vegas.

John Osborne and T.J. Osborne are the Brothers Osborne, one of the larger acts in Nashville. Their newest album is called Skeletons, which the pair wrote to be louder than previous material, in order to have something suitable for rowdy crowds in large, booming venues. The only problem? "We put it out and performed it nowhere," John Osborne tells Morning Edition. It was released last year, so only now are they preparing to tour with it.

But the brothers say the enforced pause was good for them, providing an opportunity to think about who they are, or rather – how they present themselves. For the first time, T.J. spoke in public about something only his friends and family knew: that he's gay. In 2021, he remains the only major country star to have said that out loud.

"When everything stopped, it really highlighted ... what's valuable to me," T.J. says. "But I felt like for so many reasons it needed to be said. For me, I think also for visibility for other people that are like me, [for people] that maybe don't relate to a lot of the queer community."

Steve Inskeep, Morning Edition: Was there another mold that made this difficult? A presumption that "gay country star" is just... not a category?

T.J. Osborne: That was a big part of it. I was asked once, "How are you going to be gay and sing country music?" I said, "It's pretty easy, just be attracted to dudes and sing a country song!" [Laughs]

I've had a lot of support, for sure – but what does that mean going forward, in a very broad scope, for my career? I don't know.

Do you presume that, when you're singing, you're singing in some large measure to classic, red America – more politically and socially conservative?

T.J. Osborne: I don't really think about that, because I know I do. There's a lot of middle America, that you might even call "red-blooded" America, that are a lot more open-minded than people probably think they are. In some ways, it makes it a hurdle to be in the country music world and be gay – but you can look at it another way and say, "What a great opportunity for me to be with these people I've known and loved for years, and get to educate, if you will."

John, you also have spoken more openly about some things than in the past – what's the experience been like for you?

John Osborne: It's been amazing. I've struggled with anxiety since I was a kid. I just always had this impending sense of doom, and thought that was just being a human. Come to find out, no, that's actually kind of not super normal. I was always convinced, "I don't have control over things, but I have control over how hard I work." So I can out-work my problems, and my struggles. I found out, in a very epic way, that that is not true – and we basically had to stop our career.

I did a lot of therapy, went into some mental rehabilitation to help me through my struggles and problems. Confronting my anxieties and the depression that I was going through, instead of outrunning it.

I'm listening to you both and thinking you're both professional performers – and in each case, you both decided you wanted to perform a little less in your daily life.

John Osborne: [Laughs] That is actually a fantastic – so there's a person that you are offstage, and a person that you are onstage; there's a person that everyone thinks you are and all of these things. And the closer that all of those are together, it seems like the happier and more genuine you are. The tension in your shoulders goes away... you feel so much lighter on your feet.

This summer, the Brothers Osborne will begin their pandemic-delayed tour behind the 2020 album Skeletons.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.