On the Road With SUSTO: Part Two

By Matt Harrison (@MattHurrison)

Feedin’ squirrels. Photo: Jeremy Wolff

December 8th, 2018

We hammered down some drowning stretch of Alabama highway, trapped on each side by forests caught in the downpour. The rain came down lightly as we crossed the Tennessee state line. Now, an hour later, the windshield and the world around us are awash as we plow through a hydroplaning nightmare.

The drive from Nashville to Waverly, Alabama is five hours. The rain came down harder the longer we drove, making the trip take a little more than six. Jordan Igoe drove the first shift, while Justin Osborne sat in the front passenger seat answering emails about the upcoming album and gauging the reaction on social media of the newly released single, “Homeboy”. Hungover or not, the business aspect of the musician’s life is never ending.

The driving seemed endless as well, and nobody had all that much to say. Van the Good sat in the middle row, picking the music. I asked for one song and watched the semis fall behind us and out of sight while “Mississippi Kid” by Lynyrd Skynyrd played.

It was out of nowhere from behind these torrential curtains that The Standard Deluxe appeared as a haven hidden within the darkness of the forest. We did a quick unload and ran inside the building where the show would later be.

The building was cozy and warm. It felt like walking into an old church house. The rectangular building was over a hundred years old and had been a house before having a stage and seats installed. The first few rows on the floor level were old church pews, and the back wall behind the raising seats was painted with a setting sun. Every step echoed inside this little place as the four of us wandered around, drinking it in.

The Standard Deluxe. Photo: Matt Harrison
The Standard Deluxe. Photo: Matt Harrison

The clasps of guitar cases flicked and rattled while Justin, Igoe, and Van the Good set up for the show. Even the silence between words rode the acoustics, echoing a sweet, indefinable nothing.

“It’s gonna feel so good in here tonight,” Justin said. He surveyed the room from the stage, his words half buried by the hollow drone of his guitar being tuned.

After a minute or two of setting up, Justin and Igoe sang “Weather Balloons” for mic check. I sat in the second pew and listened as their voices danced through the empty building. Van was tasked with working the soundboard and he tinkered with it until the balance of everything came to a point of audible comfort.

“Man,” Justin said after soundcheck, “this place reminds me a lot of where I grew up.”

We ran through the rain, across the yard to the house where we’d spend the night just as Pete arrived and began his own setup.

The four of us were overwhelmed by the beauty of the main room in the guest house. The interior of the living room was covered with posters from the bands who had come through over the years. Once Pete had set up, he came in the house to have a look around with us.

The guest house at The Standard Deluxe. Photo: Matt Harrison

We all grabbed a bite to eat from the buffet set up outside, which was stocked with pulled pork, homemade pecan pie, an homemade stew. The $10 charge was waived for each of us, but Justin paid as he went by the admissions bowl.

“That’s the thing about a place like this,” he said as we walked back inside, away from the noise of the rain, “you’ve gotta support it to keep it goin’.”

We spent the next hour or so sitting around the house, relaxing and drinking in the atmosphere while Justin and Igoe took long sips of tequila and whiskey.

“Look what I’ve got here, Mr. Van,” Justin said from the kitchen table. He raised a freshly rolled joint in the air. “I’m gonna start callin’ you Mr.Van.”

The Vanimal,” Pete said as he looked over the many posters, his setlist in hand.

“Are we gonna smoke on the porch or in the van?” Justin asked.

“What in Vannation,” Pete hollered from across the room.

“What in Van Halen?” Justin added at last. “Do you wanna smoke in the Van Halen or on the porch?”

“Let’s smoke on the porch,” Van said. “Have a good set, Pete. We’ll come check it out.”

Pete stepped out the front while Justin, Igoe, Van the Good and I stepped onto the back porch. We gathered under the overhanging roof and did our best to coax a cat into coming toward us. The rain carried on mercilessly, and the cat stayed hidden away beyond our reach.

Once the joint had been smoked, and we gave up on petting the cat, we went back inside. No one said much once we were back in the warmth of the house. The room, the building, were caught in silence except for the soft squeak of a sharpie writing out the setlist and the continual drumming of the rain.

We had been inside 10 minutes when someone came around with a joint to offer as a token of appreciation for Justin and Igoe. Although we had just finished smoking, in the name of Southern hospitality Justin said, “We’d all love some.”

Back out the door we went, into the rain and into oblivion. I looked over at Justin once we came back in the second time.

“I’m pretty fucked up right now,” I said with glossy eyes and a worried tone.

“Me too, man,” he said with a shrug that said what can ya do?

Justin doing his part. Photo: Matt Harrison

One at a time we stumbled across the yard to the old house where Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster was a few songs into his set. Once I found a seat and began watching Pete perform, I took deep breaths and reminded myself not to freak out. I felt every note and word break the membrane of my mind while I watched him sing his heart out.

When I die, do not mention grace,” Pete sang, eyes closed and head back, “don’t speak of a sweet bye-and-bye. We live alone in a quiet place; the dirt, the bells and I.”

Van the Good was sitting a few rows ahead of me. I saw Justin come in and duck over to where Van was. There were no chairs available, so he sat on the wide step next to Van, joined soon after by Jordan.

The owner of the venue, Scott, saw what was going on and went over to tell the duo to find proper chairs. Van responded by taking a seat next to the two of them on the step. Scott came back with two extra chairs and pointed an authoritative finger at the seats. His intentions were clear, the line in the sand had been drawn.

Justin stood partially for a moment before he shook his head and sat back down on the step, behind the seats that had been brought over. Scott took the move with a laugh and a shake of his head. The music, the rain, and the good vibes carried on in Waverly.

Before long, Justin and Igoe took to the stage to rock this rain beaten little house.

“I’m not gonna tell y’all the name of this next one. You’ll know it right away, anyway,” Justin said with a smile toward the end of their set.

“Feel free to sing along” Igoe added before the two of them began singing “I’ll Fly Away”.

The crowd sung along through every chorus. “I’ll fly away, oh Glory, I’ll fly away,” the room sang.Southern ancestry came alive in the room as they sang together. Those beautiful three minutes I was lucky enough to witness felt like a religious experience, greater than the words they sung, alive in the unity of music. The connection of these many strangers as their single voice drowned out the downpour.

Once the show ended, and Justin had met all the fans who wanted a picture or an autograph, we ran across the yard to hide in the big house. The rain carried on pouring, harder now than it had been thus far.

Jordan Igoe feedin’ squirrels. Photo: Jeremy Wolff

Justin, Jordan, Van the Good and I slipped outside, under the shelter of a large porch to smoke a joint and help Jordan carry her bags from the van.

Just a guten tag,” Justin sang to the tune of Waylon Jennings’ “Just a Good Ol’ Boy”. “Never meanin’ no harm. Just-a-rootin’and a-tootin’ and-a-taggen and-a-guten since the day he was born.”

“I love that song,” I interjected. “It was played it at my grandfathers funeral. Not the Guten Tag version, though.”

“Really?” he said with surprise as he took a hit of the joint. “You Canadians are so Country-Western.”

The night in Waverly ended with the group of us watching a video of Pete performing some months ago. The Blu-ray was a gift from a friend of Justin’s who filmed the show. “We’ll keep the Canadian downstairs,” Justin said as we decided the sleeping arrangements for the night.

The building awoke the next morning one piece at a time. When my eyes opened, Pete was playing a bluesy run on his guitar while he sang softly to himself. Footsteps carried down the stairs and echoed through the mighty house.

Before we left the Standard Deluxe that morning, Justin bought his first article of baby clothing from the gift store. We smoked a joint and crossed the street to eat from a gourmet buffet complete with grits, collard greens, fried chicken, sausage patties, bacon, and fresh salad. We took our time with breakfast before we piled into the van and drove on through the sprinkling rain. Houses and forests soared by on each side of us as we made our way toward Mobile, Alabama.

“Stay healthy,” Igoe said. She handed me some vitamins over the seat.

Handing the squirrels their vitamins. Photo: Jeremy Wolff

As we drove deeper into Alabama, the rain picked up again, sending the wipers rolling as quick as they could manage. A half empty case of Budweiser jingled at my feet while the album 21, a Million by Bon Iver played. Van the Good was behind the wheel and full stereo control went along with the chore of driving.

It was three and a half hours until we hit the dry streets of Mobile. The rain stopped an hour before we got there, though the clouds still hung low and grey. We loaded into the hotel and came right back out to the van, giving Pete a wave as he pulled up next to us.

“There’s not enough weed for a joint,” Igoe said. She pulled out the one-hitter.

“We’ll have to get some tonight,” Justin said before flicking the lighter once his turn came around. “I wonder,” he said, passing the one-hitter back. “If we posted on Instagram that we need weed, do you think Jah would provide for us?”

“Let’s put it out there and see what happens,” Van said.

“Alright, everyone get in on this pic,” Justin said, pulling his phone out. “Put on your best we’re real bummed to be out of weed face.”

We drove over to Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, the venue for the night’s show, where the green room was decorated with setlists and posters of bands from years past. The walls throughout the bar are filled with band posters, some signed, all framed. One is of Robert Plant, two are of SUSTO. In the center of the green room is a poker table with a few chairs set up around it. Pete sat at the far end of the poker table, working out his setlist for the night in a rectangular metal book made for writing baseball lineups.

Callaghan’s Irish Social Club. Photo: Matt Harrison

“Do you wanna get audio levels?” the owner, JT, asked as he leaned in the green room door.

“Should we go check or should we just do it before we go up?” Justin thought aloud. “Hmm,” he said, deep in thought, “I’m too stoned so I don’t know what to do.”

“We’ll go check it out,” Igoe and Van said at the same time.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Justin agreed through a laugh, as if that’s what he meant to say. “You seen my liquor?” he asked me as he walked by.

“Can’t say I have,” I answered, looking around.

Once the three of them left, it was just Pete and I in the green room, and we got to talking.

“I’ve been writing songs and playing them since I was 14, 15. So about 20 years,” he explained to me at some point. “It was just the thing that felt right, or was just my instinct, I guess. To have a guitar and try to make sense of things with songs. It’s been that way as long as I can remember.”

He thought for a minute before adding, “It’s more of a compulsion than anything.”

“And you use that compulsive behavior to your advantage?”

“Well,” he said with a laugh, tilting his head as he thought, “there have been many, many times where I felt that it’s not to my advantage. I’m glad and grateful that I am where I am and get to do what I get to do. But it certainly is not always to one’s advantage to choose to do this kinda thing for a living. I mean, I spent most of my 20’s working shit jobs and doing things like touring whenever I could take enough time off to do it. Then I decided to try pursuing music no matter what, however hard it is. I would not ever want to go back to those pointless jobs. I learned that however hard it is, this is what I wanna do. Nothing else is worth it. In terms of the short amount of time human beings are allowed on this earth, I’d rather do this, no matter what.”

“That’s beautiful, man,” I said after a moment.

“That’s one word for it,” he laughed. “It’s just like anything else. If it’s something that you work at there are days where it can be great and days where it’s not so great. And you have to take the not so great along with the great. If you had told me 6 or 7 years ago, when I quit everything to do this, that I’d actually get to do this for a living, I’d have said, you’re fuckin’ crazy, man. There’s no way it’ll ever happen. To me, getting to do this every day is all gravy.”

“Whenever it becomes hard or not fun is when most people who aren’t serious about it decide they don’t really wanna do it anymore. I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d love to be in a band or would love to be on tour. But when the realities, the parts of it that are not fun come around, a lot of people are just not interested in having that part of the deal.”

“You’ve got to take it all,” I said.

“You’ve just got to,” he said with a shrug.

Pete carried a beat with his pen on the baseball lineup sheets while he wrote up his setlist. The chatter of people outside, waiting for the show, grew steadily. Justin and Jordan came back in just as Pete stood up to go perform.

The green room at Callaghan’s. Photo: Matt Harrison

What’s his name again?” a friend of Justin’s who met us at the venue asked after Pete left the room.

“JPKS: Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster” Justin said.

“Justin Kinkel…”

“Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster,” Justin interrupted. “Say it three times daily. Anytime you pass a church, say it and make the cross on your chest. Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster,” he said, faster every time. He drew a cross on his chest with his right hand as he said it the last time.

“Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster,” the friend answered, slowly.

“The gospel of the Constant Stranger,” Justin answered, nodding.

Through the walls, we could hear Pete singing “Brake Dust”. The volume grew, then faded as the waitress brought in four shots; two tequila, two whiskey. Pete’s voice grew then faded again as she walked back out.

“Well, we’re stacked up, dawg,” Justin said, looking at Igoe.

“Fuckin’ stacked, man,” she replied.

They laughed and eyeballed the two shots sitting in front of each of them. Pete’s gentle finger style picking echoed through Callaghan’s as Igoe’s laugh ran loose through the green room.

“Guten tag,” they each said, clinking glasses. Their faces each grew sour, twisted at the rotten taste of their shots. They’d each gone through a good bit of their personal bottles to this point and would carry on drinking through the rest of the night.

“I wish we could do another full band tour through here,” Justin said, looking around the green room. “I just love this place. I’m glad that we’ve outgrown it, but I love it still.”

In the green room at Callaghan’s. Photo: Matt Harrison

Just then, there was a gentle knock at the door and a bearded man walked into the room.

“I got y’all covered,” the bearded man said. He tossed Justin a baggie full of weed. “I heard SUSTO was out of weed and I had some in the car. I got the third to last ticket on my way in.”

“You did?” Justin asked. “Well, we were gonna put you on the list either way.”

“Nooo shiiit,” Igoe said from her chair, swiveling back and forth.

“C’mere my man,” Justin said. He brought the guy in for a hug.

The weed came our way after someone in Birmingham saw on Instagram that the group needed weed. He sent a message to his buddy, who gave the weed to the guy who was in the room with us. The person who supplied this guy with weed was also at the show, meeting Justin afterward in the green room.

Once the bringer of weed left, and the room fell quiet again, Justin looked over at Jordan.

“We still gotta blast one of these,” he said. He pointed at the shot that remained in front of each of them.

It wasn’t long after those two shots that Pete’s time on stage ended, and Justin and Jordan’s time began.

“This next story’s gonna be a bit longer, so before I begin, I’m gonna take a little swig of tequila,” Justin said from the stage after a few songs.

A few ceiling fans rotated gently overheard, too slow to feel but just enough to hold the room at a comfortable temperature. These Alabama crowds drank their fill and sang along a little louder than people in other places. I stood in the back corner by the bar with the two folks who helped contribute to us getting good and stoned over the next few days while a painter stood in the other corner, painting Justin and Igoe.

“I was in this rocky relationship for three years or so. And uh, it was kind of on the way out and I found this place to live in an upstairs suite. The bottom was a different unit and she says, ‘it turns out the place right below you is available for rent.’ I was like oh, sweet. So, she moved in there and we broke up like, two months into a year long lease. We were tryna be friends and this was before I realized that’s a myth. A few months passed and Valentines Day rolled around. I wanted to do something that showed her I still care, and you’re my friend and whatever.”

“I bought her a Valentine’s Day card and inside it I wrote, ‘Friends or lovers, ex-lovers or whatever, I hope you know I’ll always care’. And I was like, okay, that’s a pretty clever Valentine’s Day card, but does she deserve it? I showed it to my buddy Nick Woodley and asked if he thought I should give it to her, or if it seemed pathetic.”

“He looked at it, he looked at me, he looked at it and then back at me and he said, ‘brother, I don’t give two shits whether or not you give her this card, but if we don’t write this into a song right now, we’re gonna regret it for the rest of our lives.’”

“I said ‘I’ve gotta be at work in 45 minutes’ and he said ‘that’s plenty of time.’ So, I was late for work and we wrote this song”

Regardless of how much either Igoe or Justin had drank or smoked, the shows went on without a hitch. His voice still carried strong and she still harmonized in beautiful patterns with him. The two of them put on a show you felt in your heart through one song, and they’d have you laughing through the next. They put on a show that would rattle around your mind for days to come, weeks even.

“JPKS’ Constant Stranger changed my life,” Justin said toward the end of the set. “Go buy his stuff and if you have any money left you can check out our shit.” 

After the show, Justin and Igoe hung out in the green room and rolled around on computer chairs.

“We did a good job gettin’ drunk before the show,” Justin said. Igoe was spinning in her chair.

Van the Good and I loaded up the van while a few lingering fans threw back shots with Justin and Igoe. They glowed with excitement as they talked to Justin, laughing hard and loud at his jokes. Soon enough the van was packed, the party ended, and the crew carried on.

For the fans, tonight’s show might be a highlight of their week, their month. For this four-person crew, barreling across the country, it’s just another stop. Come tomorrow, we’ll be gone for New Orleans by midday, leaving nothing but a plume of dust and a shred of memories in our wake.

Van the Good drove us back to the hotel where we dropped off our bags and came right back out at the stroke of midnight. We stumbled across the parking lot back to the van, singing various songs: “Just a Guten Tag”, “The Boot Scoot Boogie”, “The Gut Tag Boogie”.

“Just chillin’ with your shithead friends, huh?” Justin said to me once we got back to the van.

“I feel like I’m home,” I admitted.

“Man, as if we met because of the Lumineers,” Justin said, referring to the first show I saw SUSTO perform, opening for the Lumineers two years prior. “Deeeead sea,” he sang, his face twisted with the words, “I told you I was like the deeeead sea. Man, you’ve gotta be in one of those arenas and hear them. Those boys mean that shit. They’re a couple of New Jersey Irish who didn’t make it in the city and got burned out by it. It’s very authentic. Nothing about it is fake or cookie cutter.”

He took a long drag of the joint before continuing.

“I’m ultimately on a mission to connect with as many people as possible. If I ever get to connect with 9000 of them at once in an arena? Goddamn,” he said, shaking his head at the thought.

“I’m just picky because a lot of people have worked and worked and worked and haven’t gotten anywhere,” Igoe said from the front passenger seat.

“That’s the name of the game though,” Justin replied. “The sad reality is there are a lot of people who work a long time. Even us, we could work a long time, but we’ll never be like Bruno Mars. I love this scene, though. Grassroots music is where my soul is.”

He passed me the joint and continued.

“I think if the world goes to shit, pop stars lose their job, but we don’t. If someone has a guitar, we’ll play it, and someone will feed us and put us up and we’re used to living like that.”

The joint continued its rotation while he talked.

“That’s rock and roll. Rock and roll needs to be about feeling the moment and letting loose, and gettin’ primal. Rock and roll is about lighters in the air and seeing the spit comin’ out of someone’s mouth as they sing.”

“It’s just so vicious,” Igoe said softly. She looked out the windshield into the night. “The music industry is so vicious.”

“It’s cutthroat. But it bothers me when people get angry at big bands, big rock groups, calling them sellouts and stuff like that just because they’re successful now and they’re working with Rick Rubin. It’s like, yeah, of course they are. They’re more famous now and that’s a part of it. It’s bullshit when people call that selling out.”

Photoshoot in Mobile with Jeremy Wolff. Photo: Matt Harrison

The lighter sparked, the tone changed, and the re-lit joint came around again.

“Man,” Justin said, turning to me, “you’re part of the fuckin’ SUSTO family. I don’t know how you got into it. I don’t know how you weaseled your way in, but you’re in it.”

“I’m a Harrison, man,” I said, laughing. “You don’t even really notice we’re there and then we grow on you.”

“I believe that. Because I didn’t know you and now you’re hanging out with me and my friends on the road. You got me, somehow. Good on you, dawg. Welcome to the family.”

“Glad to be here,” I said, and we bumped knuckles.

And I was glad. I came aboard a stranger and now I was just another buddy out on the road. These people were strangers to me only four days before this, and myself less known to them. I felt like I had come home to an extension of myself living in the hearts of these vagabond adventurers, these pushers of the all mighty envelope, running from one stage to the next in the name of creating authentic music.

“Do we have another joint or did we smoke ‘em all?” Justin asked the moonlight.

“We smoked ‘em all,” Van the Good replied.

“Well, maybe we’ll lock up and call it a night,” Justin said.

On the Road With SUSTO: Part One

By Matt Harrison (@MattHurrison)

On the Road. Photo by Matt Harrison

Editor’s note: In August of 2017, Canadian music journalist Matt Harrison sat down for an interview with SUSTO’s frontman Justin Osborne at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg, Canada. After the interview, Matt handed Justin a letter proposing that he come on tour with the band and write a story about it. Justin took Matt up on that offer, and in December of 2018, Matt joined Justin & crew for the second half of the SUSTO Stories Solo Tour. This is the first of six parts to Matt’s story of being on the road with SUSTO.

August 12th, 2017 – From the letter given to Justin after the interview

…I can go on now about how your music impacted me like no other music has since I was an angsty 14 year-old, sitting on the top-bunk of a second hand bunk bed, shot-gunning beers with the window cracked so I could do my best to smoke a couple cigarettes. Instead, I’ll save my wrist the ache and your eyes the agony.

…What I mean to propose, in a more straight forward fashion, is that if you are ever looking to have somebody come out on the road to write about you and your band, I’m the guy for the job.

I cost nothing and I stow anywhere.

Cosmically, 

Matt Harrison

December 5th, 2018 – Chicago, Illinois

I waited inside Schuba’s Tavern, pointing a blank stare out the window at the pedestrian traffic scuttering by the moonlit streets of Chicago. A lonesome drip ran down the neck of my Wellbeing Hellraiser, the non-alcoholic beer with the most appealing name on the menu. I couldn’t keep from drumming a nervous rhythm on my notebook with the pen from last night’s hotel while the barroom chatter carried on growing and fading.

“Matt?” the light voice of the waitress came from beside me, breaking my anxious concentration.

“Yes, hi,” I stammered, grabbing my backpack from the window shelf.

“Oh, thank God,” she said, her face painted with relief. “You’re like the fourth person I’ve come up to. The only instructions they gave me were that you’re wearing plaid and you’re Canadian.”

“Oh,” I said with a nervous laugh as I shouldered my backpack, grabbing my non-alcoholic beer and notebook. I followed her through the crowded bar and down a quiet flight of stairs that ended at the door to the kitchen. She pointed to a large door around the corner of the staircase. I stood outside it for a moment, took a deep breath, and gave a knock before I turned the knob and walked in.

When I entered the green room, Justin Osborne was midway through a bite of a burger. His eyes caught mine, and his eyebrows raised. “Hey man,” he said through a chewing mouthful. “I’d shake your hand, but I’ve got burger hands.” He reached over and gave me a fist bump, the word ACID tattooed across his knuckle.

Justin wore a week-old beard and a black long sleeved t-shirt. His sleeves were rolled up, showing the tattoos on his forearms, one of which is of his cat, Kiki. On his right hand, underneath his thumb, is a small tattoo of a guitar.

Justin introduced me to the few people sitting around the room, one of which was the opening act for the evening, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, whom we called Pete. I had only just taken my seat at the edge of the room when a little blonde woman came walking in from another door.

“Jordan,” Justin said, leaning away from the conversation and his burger. “This is Matt. He’s the Canadian who’ll be ridin’ along with us. Matt, this is Jordan Igoe. We mostly call her Igoe, I think.”

“It’s gonna be cool havin’ you along,” Igoe said with her whiskey-splashed velvet voice. She carried a South Carolina accent only slightly heavier than Justin’s.

I shook her hand and tried to crack a joke, but all that cracked was my voice.

The green room door popped open, and in walked a slender, tattooed man with a pierced septum, long hair and a beard of an auburn shade.

“Got some paper and bottled water for y’all,” the tall skinny man said through his southern accent.

“Van, this is Matt, he’s the Canadian comin’ along. This is our tour manager, Van,” Justin said, pointing from Van to me.

“Good to meet you,” Van said with a firm handshake.

“Likewise.”

“We call him Van the Good,” Justin said, looking back at Van. “We also call him the Keeper of the Scrolls, but you don’t have to call him that.”

Justin sat in the center of the room, talking out the setlist with Jordan when Pete stood up with a bottled water in hand and walked toward the door.

“’Bout that time, Pete?” Justin asked, looking up from the half-filled page on the table.

“Yep,” he replied through his light Arkansas drawl, “just about.”

“Alright, man. Have a good set.”

Pete had only just stepped out the door when Justin turned towards me, carrying on writing out his set list with the paper Van had brought in. “I was workin’ in a kitchen at this place called the Royal American when I saw Pete singing with his band, Water Liars. Seeing him made think there are guys out there my age performing and touring. I had done some touring before, but that really got me back into the tourin’ life.”

I leaned in to ask something when the green room door opened slowly and a tall, skinny man with a full, thick beard and long hair of a matching oaky brown, peeked into the room. Justin jumped up smiling and rushed to hug the guy. The room came alive with smiles and laughter. Justin walked over to me with his arm around the newcomer.

“Matt, this is Johnny Delaware,” he said with a full, beaming smile.

Johnny Delaware, a long-time friend of Justin’s and former member of SUSTO, stood before me wearing a zipped-up sweater printed over with a photo of two white horses running through a river. The sleeves and back made up the trees and skyline in the background of the horses. We shook hands and the laughter in the room grew and carried on. It so happened that Johnny was coming through Chicago with his band, The Artisanals, and had come by on their night off to watch Justin and Jordan perform.

Come the time Justin and Jordan took the stage, I stood in the back of the room. This tour was called the SUSTO Stories Tour, and Justin began the show by explaining to the crowd how the night was to proceed.

“Hi there, how y’all doin’?” he said as he adjusted the mic with his guitar hanging from his shoulder. “We’re gonna play a buncha songs for ya tonight. We’ll play some songs off the first album, the second album, a bunch of songs that aren’t on any album. We’ll do some songs off our new album, too. I’m also going to be doing an obnoxious amount of talking about a bunch of these songs. Sorry about that, but we advertised it that way.”

The crowd laughed and Justin stepped into the first story of the night.

“My brother and I were burnin’ leaves this one time and we thought we put the fire out, but I guess we didn’t get the whole thing and it caused a whole lotta trouble. A buncha years later I was out at this bar and I was talking to this girl who I’d kinda known but didn’t know very well. It was going great until something clicked in her mind and she says, wait a minute, you’re the kid that burned my Grandad’s boatshed down like, 10 years ago. And I was like well, actually, me and my brother did.”

The crowd laughed, making Justin laugh along, too.

“So, that’s what this song’s about, and it’s called County Line.”

The chemistry between Justin and Igoe on stage was immediately apparent. The years between them, the friendship they carried, shone through in their harmonies throughout the 15 or so songs they played that night and every night after.

Once they came down to the last song of the night, Justin took a moment to address the audience. “We’ve got nowhere to hide so we won’t bother doing an encore, but if y’all wanna hear some more songs we’ll play ‘em for ya.”

The room answered with an overwhelming cheer.

“Alright,” he chuckled, “we’ll go ahead and just jump right into it. We’re gonna start off with a new song. It’s about knowing you’re doing the wrong thing but doing it anyway.”

With that, he strummed the first chords gently before stepping into the first line: “Ride with me to buy cocaine…”

As they said goodnight to the crowd, I slipped out the door and went down to the green room. Justin stayed upstairs for a short while talking to fans while Van the Good manned the merch table. I was sorting through my backpack when Igoe came into the green room. 

“How do you feel coming off stage?” I asked.

“I’m glad to be done,” she said as she looked for her cigarettes. “It’s great being up there but I’m happy it’s over.”

Justin, Johnny Delaware, and Van the Good stumbled into the room, high on the excitement of the night. The group came in to grab coats and turned to head back out. Justin stopped at the door before they left.

“Hey Matt, we’re gonna go smoke a joint in the van, do you wanna come?”

With that, we all went back up the stairs and into the van. Justin opened the back doors and hopped in to roll a joint while the first joint did its rounds of the vehicle. I felt a brief streak of fear as the van filled with smoke. I quickly realized this isn’t the first joint smoked outside a music venue in Chicago, and, ultimately, these are professionals.

From the back of the van Justin told Johnny he’ll be a father by next summer.

“That’s great,” Delaware answered, glowing with excitement as he looked back over the seat at Justin who sat where the gear and merch would later be. “You’re gonna be a great dad.”

“Well, I know Meghan’s gonna be a great mom,” Justin replied from the back.

“Are you gonna find out what it is?” Delaware asked from the second row.

“Nah. We’ll find out when it’s born.”

“That’s great,” Delaware smiled, “there are so few surprises in life.”

Before Johnny Delaware left Schubas that night, he gave me a big hug and held it. He told me he was happy to have met me. The kicker is, it felt as though he meant it. The only time he didn’t look all that happy was while we stood outside for a cigarette. A man of the South, he wasn’t used to the humid chill of Chicago in December. His horse sweater, impressive as it may have been, did little to fend off the night’s chill.

While we smoked that cigarette, I told him how much he seems to radiate positivity. “I’m not always like that, man,” he said through chattering teeth. “When I’m driving around in the van and I just have to sit there, my blood feels still. I need to move around and engage with the world,” he said.

The van. Photo: Matt Harrison

Once the crowd dispersed and it came time to pack the van, I asked what I can help with. The group was reluctant to put me to work but I insisted, and they eventually took my offer. It was the next day that Justin cut a deal with me to help load and unload the van for the remainder of the tour in exchange for him buying my meals.

“Sorry you have to help us, man, but we appreciate it,” Justin said as we lugged the vinyl and merch bins into the van.

Once the last piece of cargo was loaded, Justin, Igoe, Van the Good and I climbed into the van, and took off through the night toward our hotel in Indiana. As we pulled away, Justin brought up the maps app on his phone and looked back from the front passenger seat.

“We met right in the middle, bro” he said, showing me his phone. It would take 13 hours 40 minutes to drive to Winnipeg from Chicago, and 13 hours 30 minutes to drive from Chicago to Charleston.

We arrived at the hotel off the edge of the highway in Merriville, Indiana. Each of them had a couple drinks and rolled another joint to celebrate me stepping on board.

“Weed is a luxury,” Van the Good told me as he rolled the joint, “and it won’t be around every night.”

“Loud and clear,” I said, though his words would be proven wrong in the coming weeks.

Before we went out to smoke in the van, Justin got on talking about how excited he was to have me along. “You’re about to step into real Freedom out here. Once you get your nose into it, once you get a taste, that’s it, man. You’re gonna be hooked.”

I couldn’t tell if the author of the song “Cocaine” saw the irony of what he’d just said. Nevertheless, the Freedom carried out to the van where we smoked the celebratory joint and cranked the tunes before bed.

By 11:15 the next morning we were off and running toward Louisville. A band on the road needs to be a well-oiled machine, and newly appointed Tour Manager, Van the Good, is tasked with keeping this machine running at peak efficiency. His job encompasses many attributes, chief among them being in charge of keeping the crew’s head screwed on just straight enough to make every sound check and check-out on time.

“Alright, y’all,” Justin announced to the group before we pulled out, “we’ve got two joints ready to go for later on.”

“Oh my God,” Jordan said.

“Yeah,” he answered pridefully. “I’ve been workin’.”

A light snow fell intermittently between rainfall as we hit the highway. I took a glance out the window and watched the ice-glazed front end of a red Ford F-350 pull past us, momentarily hiding the half-frozen Kentucky hillsides that ran steep behind it. The crew decided to stop for lunch, so we pulled into a Waffle House in Columbus, Indiana, the birthplace of Cummins Diesel engines.

“I’m excited to take you to your first Waffle House,” Justin said to me as we hopped out of the van. “I hope it doesn’t kill ya, bud. We’ve developed something of an immunity to it.”

We piled into the restaurant quick, and left a little slower. The cook and the waitress each took interest in what we were coming through for. Before we left, Van left a copy of both SUSTO albums with each of them. Ultimately, interactions like these are another opportunity to move product and make fans of anyone.

“You really got the full Waffle House experience for your first time,” Jordan told me once we’d left. “Good food, good service, and a waitress who likes to talk.”

The snow still fell as we pulled out, but not nearly as much collected in the ditches and up the hillsides. It quickly turned to rain as we passed a sign declaring 82 miles to Louisville.

We pulled into a rest stop a few miles outside Louisville to orient ourselves and spark a joint. We were surrounded by trees on all sides. It felt as though we were in some wild paradise with a strip of pavement running through the heart of it to allow for comers and goers, sinners and otherwise. We puttered back out onto the highway and carried on until we arrived at Zanzabar, the venue for that night’s show.

Pete performing in Louisville. Photo by Matt Harrison

The show in Louisville was the first time I saw Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster perform. He sang to a gently half-filled room, strumming his 1965 12 string, strung with only 6 strings to avoid the hassle of maintaining all those strings on the road. Pete’s singing and songwriting are beautiful and smooth. His finger picking style and his voice roll like fog through a forest; poetic and revealing. Justin stood next to me through the performance, singing along to every word.

Once Pete finished performing, Justin and Igoe waited for their time in the green room, taking swigs from the bottle that each of them carried. He drank tequila while she drank Jack Daniel’s. Before long, showtime had arrived and the two of them walked on stage.

Justin started the show with the same song and story he told in Chicago, the same song and story every show started with throughout the tour. Justin would tell stories for eight or so songs at each show. Some stories he told at every show, some stories only popped up a few times. Louisville was the only city he told this story:

“There was this reggae hour in Charleston and all they would play was reggae music. I went through a three-month period where all I listened to was reggae. I went to our producer and I was like the next record is gonna be all reggae. It’s the only true music. Nah not really, but all these reggae songs were always talkin’ about Jah Werx. So, this one time, I was with my wife and a friend of ours, and it was the end of the night and we were just gonna try writin’ a song.”

Justin began softly strumming the chords to Jah Werx and he sang the story to the tune of the song. “I sang Jah Werx, and my wife goes and I’m fiiine today, and my buddy goes at the same damn time, at the same damn time, at the same damn time.

“There was this one time I got to play with The Wailers in Austin, Texas. A little while later I ran into them in an airport and they remembered me because of the song Jah Werx! Jah fuckin’ Werx, man!” Justin said with a tequila-scented smile.

“Now, they might not know what it means, and I don’t either, but I know it’s real. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.”

With that he jumped into “Jah Werx”.

Later, when Justin and Igoe stepped off stage, I met them behind the doors that led outside. Justin’s face was warped with worry and anxiety. He kept saying he didn’t put on a good enough show and that nobody wanted to hear these stories. He had been loose during this show, chattier with the crowd than he was in Chicago. Only a few steps off stage, panic hung in his voice as he explained his fears. Igoe talked him down, reassuring him. His breathing leveled out and after a minute he came back down.

“I can’t believe people are willing to listen to this shit,” he said to Jordan with a laugh.

“Drop it,” she answered curtly. “Do what your heart and soul want to do. Speak to people through music.”

“You’re such a good friend,” was all he could say.

We packed up and packed out after the show, sticking around no longer than need be. We came back to the hotel and sat in the parking lot to pass a joint around. Justin sat in the front passenger seat while he told me what he can remember about the two times he’d come through Winnipeg.

“When we were in Winnipeg with the Lumineers, I had to go to the mall right by the venue to buy some dental floss. I just remember feeling like it was kind of, like, dodgy. Like I wasn’t safe bein’ there.”

“Oh,” I answered with a laugh, realizing he had walked through the infamous heart of Downtown Winnipeg to Portage Place, “that’s because you weren’t.”

“I like places like that,” he said between hits of the joint. “You have to keep your head up and know what’s goin’ on around you. You have to use situational awareness and you can’t just tune out and stare at your phone.”

The night ended soon after that joint, and the next day we drove through the snowy Kentucky hills, Nashville bound. As we drove, they played the new album for me, which was still unreleased for another two months. I fell into the rhythm of it as we tore into Tennessee.

One moment I was staring into the forest beside the highway and the next we were right on top of Nashville. The city spread out far and wide in every direction underneath us as we pulled in. We wriggled down a few streets before we came to the parkade at Concord Music.

Our footsteps echoed through the tall corridor inside as we found our way over to the elevator. No one had much to say as the elevator purred while it carried us up. As we stepped onto our floor and walked up the hall into Concord Music, “Friends, Lovers, Ex-Lovers Whatever” by SUSTO played over the sound system.

Concord Music. Photo: Matt Harrison

“Oh my god. What a welcome,” Igoe said as the four of us walked toward the reception desk.

We were brought into an office where the conversation revolved around distribution strategies and the best way to get the new album off the ground once it’s released. When we left Concord, Justin and Van went to have a meet and greet with someone on the business end. This being Van’s first tour as Tour Manager, he was meeting all these people for the first time. After that meeting, there remained no further work to be done in Nashville, so we swung by the AirBnB to drop off our bags and went to 210 Jack,a ramen noodle place, for dinner.

The restaurant was alive with chatter as we took our seats. Today is the day “Homeboy”, the first single off the new album, was released. The group ordered a bottle of Saki to celebrate.

“Cheers, y’all,” Van said, raising his glass of Saki. “Happy single release day.”

“Guten tag,” Justin said, raising his glass.

As we were leaving, Justin pointed down the street toward the coffee shop where he played his first Nashville show many years ago while on tour with his now-wife, Meghan. We swung by a grocery store on the way home and bought some snacks for the night.

We sat around the kitchen table of the AirBnB while the Trailer Park Boys theme song twinkled in the background.

“I might wait a bit to have another drink because I just crushed that sleeve of Oreos,” Justin said with an exhausted expression.

“Everybody calm dewn,” said a googley-eyed bastard on the TV in the other room.

“Fuckin’ bubbles,” Van says shaking his head.

“Lahey was always my favourite,” Igoe said, walking over toward the living room where the TV was playing from.

I am the liquor,” Justin said, looking up from his full drink and empty sleeve of Oreos.

As the night rolled on, more joints were rolled with it. We went out to the van to smoke one and Van proved why one of his many names is Keeper of the Scrolls. He pulled up videos on his phone of SUSTO performances from over the years. He pulled up a video of “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wine” from December 19th, 2015, the day of my 21st birthday.

“This one’s for you, brother,” Van said to me as he put the song on. 

Van put on a video from the night prior in Louisville: “This is another new song,” Justin said. “It’s about knowing you’re doing the wrong thing but doing it anyways. Which I don’t recommend.”

Igoe sat in the seat behind me and played softly along to the video of “Cocaine” on a little guitar, stopping when the joint came back around to her. She sung gently behind me while the recording played. Justin coughed in the front seat as the smoke turned to a cloud and the joint continued its rounds.

“Let me blow Matt’s mind real quick,” Van said, scrolling through the videos in his phone.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was a live version of “Mountain Top” from May of 2016 played on a closed street under a tent on a night in Charleston. This video showed the psychedelic vortex of the song coming to life. This was true and pure rock and roll. Justin screamed the final verses into a megaphone while the band carried the beat beneath his breath.

Walking in to Concord Music. Photo: Matt Harrison

Hockey Dad, DZ Deathrays, & Horror My Friend

By Samuel Stevens

Hockey Dad & DZ Deathrays – 2019 Canadian Tour with special guests, Horror My Friend and Manitoba’s own, Silence Kit

December 13, 2019

The Garrick

Silence Kit
Silence Kit. Shots by Samuel Stevens.
Horror My Friend - Tom Gordon
Horror My Friend. Photos by Samuel Stevens.
DZ Deathrays - Shane Parsons
DZ Deathrays. Photos by Samuel Stevens.
Hockey Dad - Zach Stephenson
Hockey Dad. Photos by Samuel Stevens.

CP Holiday Train 2019

By Samuel Stevens

CP Holiday Trail 2019 featuring, Scott Helman and Madeline Merlo

December 2, 2019

Railroad Crossing at Panet Rd. and Molson St. – Winnipeg, MB

Madeline Merlo
Madeline Merlo. Photos by Samuel Stevens Photography.
CP Holiday Train - Check Presented To Winnipeg Harvest
Check of $15,000 presented to Winnipeg Harvest. Photo by Samuel Stevens Photography.
Scott Helman
Scott Helman & Band. Photos by Samuel Stevens Photography.

Cat Clyde – Hunters Trance North American Tour

By Samuel Stevens

Hunters Trance North American Tour featuring Cat Clyde, Jeremie Albino, and Manitoba’s own, Leaf Rapids

November 29, 2019

The Garrick

Leaf Rapids
Leaf Rapids. Photos by Samuel Stevens Photography.
Jeremie Albino
Jeremie Albino. Photos by Samuel Stevens Photography.
Cat Clyde
Cat Clyde. Photos by Samuel Stevens Photography.