When Brothers Osborne dethroned Florida Georgia Line at the 2016 CMA Awards as Vocal Duo of the Year, a triumphant feeling swept the crowd. There was a palpable shift in the air, and John and TJ Osborne were flabbergasted, emotional and relieved that their time had finally come. It's true they don't aim for awards--"the music shouldn’t follow the awards," advises John over a recent phone call with AXS.com--but the sense of validation is glaring. "It’s something we never in our lives could have predicted. It’s one of those things where you always wanted it but you never really thought it would happen, and all of a sudden, you wake up one day and it happened. It’s almost hard to wrap our minds around," he says. Not only did him and his brother earn their first CMA trophy, but earlier this month, the duo were named ACM New Duo/Group of the Year, further cementing their place as the next generation of torchbearers and troublemakers.
Their debut album Pawn Shop shakes and rumbles with earthy tones, southern rock classicisms but a sense of gritty tradition. Featuring such standouts as "21 Summer," "Stay a Little Longer" and "Loving Me Back" (a duet with Lee Ann Womack), the album made more than a few ripples in mainstream country over the past 14 months. In the aftermath of Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake's watershed performance at the 2015 CMA Awards, the genre began to course correct in measurable ways. Brothers Osborne are now riding high. "I think everyone’s competitive to a degree. I’d be lying if I said we aren’t competitive at all. It’s definitely not at the forefront of our minds. We’re songwriters and musicians. At the end of the day, our primary focus is to make music we love, and hopefully, that makes our fans feel something. That’s the most important thing. When awards follow, that’s amazing. But we wouldn’t follow an award. That’s the tail wagging the dog," says John.
TJ adds about their ACM Awards win: "It hurts losing no matter where you are in the scheme of things. You always hope you win. It was nice to win."
Sensing the industry quaking underneath their boots, TJ admits this moment is as much a breakthrough as they could have anticipated. "Chris and Justin's performance is a prime example of how many people are paying attention on these award nights. Some of these people have either never heard of it yet or they like the affirmation of something else to tell them it’s good. It is a big deal. I certainly don’t think it is everything. There are some great artists who have never won an award. Not only winning award, it’s about being able to get in front of people. People want to know if you are the real thing."
TJ and John recently returned from an overseas run of shows in the U.K., which is where they happened to be when news of their win hit the internet. "It was surreal to think we were traveling across the world and so focused with playing gigs. Then, we heard the news from texts and phone calls and a barrage of emails about winning. It came as a surprise. We forgot what day it was and what time it was," says John. TJ adds, "We were playing a show at Dingwalls. It was a really great crowd, sold-out. We were giving it hell."
Looking back at their childhood, John says the ACM Awards were central to his household. "It was something that was very dear to us," he says. Reflecting over the countless times he's watched the show, he pinpoints on especially impressive moment on the show. "One [pivotal performance] was when Alan Jackson was supposed to play to a track. He was playing [‘Gone Country’], and his band had to stand up onstage and mime their instruments," he recounts. "It annoyed him, so his drummer [Bruce Rutherford] played without sticks. That was always an incredible moment. Alan’s never remembered as being a rebel but he was a very rebellious. He did it with so much style and class that he got away with it."
TJ's favorite moment was Vince Gill "hosting the awards," he says. "He was always really charismatic and had a great humble humor that was incredibly endearing. I missed him. I was really praying they were going to bring him back for the 50th anniversary."
When tasked with choosing who he'd collaborated with on the ACM Awards stage, John talks rather candidly. "We’d love to collaborate with a country artist. I feel like country award shows are constantly trying to cross genres and bring in pop stars. I guess to help boost ratings. Sometimes, at the end of the awards, I would have rather seen Vince Gill play or some classic country artists. But half the show is consumed by pop artists that don’t give a shit about country music. If we had the opportunity to collaborate with someone on one of the award shows, you bet your ass it’s going to be a country artist."
TJ, however, considers it would "be cool to do something with like Bonnie Raitt or Bruce Springsteen." While winning New Vocal Duo is an honor, TJ admits he would "be incredibly proud of to win would be Album of the Year," he says. "In order to win that, it’s tough and takes sacrifices. Sometimes, you can have albums with a ton of hits on them, but to win, it’s gotta have really great songs and be a well-rounded body of work."
Speaking of albums, TJ and John are setting their sights on their sophomore project. "Our focus so far this year has been writing. We’ve been busting our asses in writing rooms and trying to write the best music that we can considering what little time we have," teases John. "In April, we’re going into the studio to start working on some more music for our [next one]. That’s our primary focus, recording our sophomore record. Most likely, we won’t be releasing anything this year, at least not early of 2017."
Brothers Osborne are slated perform at the 52nd annual ACM Awards on Sunday (April 2) in one of the "bumper" slots leading into a commercial break, a shortened snippet of their song "It Ain't My Fault."
Stay tuned to AXS.com for any and all updates.