They grew up in Deale, Maryland, before becoming a decorated country music duo.
This Friday, Brothers Osborne rock The Anthem along The Wharf in Southwest D.C.
“It’s so exciting to get around back home,” T.J. Osborne told WTOP. “We played at The Anthem toward the end of our last tour and it was wild. Such a beautiful venue. We never went to D.C. a ton growing up even though we were 45 minutes away, but it does feel that way to go in that venue, be so close to home and see all the people from south county.”
Just last week, they won Vocal Duo of the Year at the CMA Awards for the fourth time.
“It is just as special every time,” John Osborne said. “It’s always amazing … We expected Dan + Shay to win it again because they’re just absolutely killing it. When they called our names, I was just as shocked as the first time.”
They also made headlines at the ceremony when T.J. kissed his boyfriend on live TV after coming out in February as the first openly gay country singer on a major label.
“It is wild to be a part of that and see that evolution in just the short amount of time,” T.J. said. “It was a really cool moment to be there with my boyfriend. Of course there is always a little pressure. … But to be there and mainly feel the love and support in the room, then to win an award, the whole thing felt like a new beginning I hope for country music.”
He’s seen the genre evolve from 1991 when Garth Brooks sang, “When we’re free to love anyone we choose,” to 2013 when Kacey Musgraves sang, “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into,” to 2017 when Luke Bryan sang, “I believe you love who you love, ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.”
“Kacey was talking about it, but even when she had that song ‘Follow Your Arrow’ she got a lot of blowback,” T.J. said. “It was beautiful to hear an artist singing about it, but it was also very discouraging to see the reaction that a lot of country music fans had toward it.”
He is inspired to see other gay country music fans feel welcome.
“The biggest thing that changed to me was all the people that were country music fans that were quietly fans of the genre who were gay or people of color,” T.J. said. “They were country music fans the whole time but felt they had to hide and shut up. … Now we’ve seen people come out of the woodwork saying, ‘I was a closet country music fan.'”
How did they get into country music growing up along the Chesapeake Bay?
“We’ve loved country music our whole lives,” John said. “There’s this kind of false notion that it’s only a southern genre, but it’s not, it’s everywhere. … That’s just what we listened to. We listened to a lot of old rock mixed with country. Our parents were both songwriters and musicians, so it just kind of naturally worked that way. They helped pave the way.”
In 2000, they competed in a Battle of the Bands in Anne Arundel County.
“We started playing in our hometown in a band called Deuce and a Quarter with our dad,” T.J. said. “We would do Battle of the Bands, the talent show in high school, all of it. The most impact on us was playing at Happy Harbor, Skipper’s Pier and all the places when we were younger in our hometown, making tips, feeling that buzz entertaining a crowd.”
After moving to Nashville, they eventually signed with EMI in 2012.
“I went to school in Nashville called Belmont University and T.J. moved a little bit after,” John said. “I joined a band with some fellow musicians and we traveled all over the country for a few years. In the meantime, T.J. and I had been writing songs. … We played a small show at The Basement in Nashville … and we got offered two record deals that night.”
Their debut album “Pawn Shop” (2015) featured the breakthrough hit “Stay a Little Longer.”
“We recorded that with Shane McAnally, another great, proud, openly-gay man who wound up having a stream of hits,” T.J said. “I don’t think we even had a hook, we just started writing. I just started singing these whole notes — ‘Something like a strong wind’ — we were messing with that and then we slowly started piecing some lyrics together.”
The same album featured the deep-voiced hit “It Ain’t My Fault.”
“John had this drum beat down, which we didn’t have anything that sounded or felt like that,” T.J. said. “We wrote that with a friend Lee Miller. … Lee just had the idea to say, ‘Blame this on that, blame that back on that,’ blaming things back on each other. Once he had that concept, we just started flying through stuff. We knew we had something special.”
Their second album, “Port Saint Joe” (2018) featured some clever shot-glass imagery with the line, “Make it burn the whole way down, lay my 6-foot-4-inch [butt] on the ground.”
“It was actually originally a ballad,” T.J. said. “We got done writing it and I remember just being honest with Lee like, ‘Look, I love the lyrics to this, it’s just not a song I think we’ll end up recording.’ … I had this lick I was trying to write over for a while … and John was like, ‘Why don’t we just throw that lick over these lyrics and just speed it up?'”
Their third and most recent album “Skeletons” (2019) featured the hit “All Night.”
“We wrote that along with the title track with a guy named Andrew DeRoberts,” John said. “He had this baritone guitar sitting around. … I played the opening riff to ‘All Night’ and T.J. said, ‘That’s awesome. That’s what we’re writing over.’ … T.J. started riffing on the idea of couplets, ‘I’ve got this if you’ve got that.’ … An homage to the Rolling Stones and ZZ Top.”
That same year they collaborated with Dierks Bentley on “Burning Man.”
“Dierks Bentley is one of the best people in country music,” John said. “We were about to be on tour with him and he sent us that song for us to sing on. … Immediately I loved it because it sounded like something we would do. … I texted T.J. like, ‘Dude, you gotta hear this song, it sounds like something we would write, I’m kind of pissed that we didn’t.'”