Back in December, Brothers Osborne hosted an album listening party at Nashville's Basement East, allowing invited guests to hear Pawn Shop in its entirety a few weeks before its release. During his welcome remarks, singer TJ Osborne joked that he hoped the duo's next single — the follow-up to "Stay a Little Longer" — wouldn't reach the Top 10, in order to make a statement.
While that quip about chart positioning was his likely characteristic irreverence peeking through, TJ's comments at least indicated that he and his brother John weren't planning to make a safe choice for their next single just because it might work on radio. "Stay a Little Longer" had succeeded in spite of pushing at radio's boundaries with John's sprawling guitar solo stuck on the end — they stood out and wanted to keep it that way.
"We want to put the right foot forward and that foot is saying, 'This is different, we are still different,'" says John. "If you thought we were different already, we're actually a lot more different than you thought."
Some weeks later, "21 Summer" was selected as the official next single and while not as aggressive a choice as Pawn Shop closer "It Ain't My Fault" could have been, it still sounds like something only the Maryland natives could cook up. Bathed in dreamy, swirling instrumentation, the tune takes a nostalgic look back at a vitally important relationship that served as a link between adolescence and adulthood.
"We wanted it to be about that reflection of those relationships that stick with you and maybe you've moved on from them," explains TJ, who composed the song with John and "Live Like You Were Dying" songwriter Craig Wiseman. "Most people have been in a relationship and at the time they broke up it was really ugly or volatile or emotionally hard, and then as you get older I think you look back on that first relationship, real relationship, and you appreciate them in a different light. You wish them the best and you realize it was for the best and you're both probably better off for that."
Nostalgia is certainly not a new approach for country songwriting, but the Osbornes put their unique twist on it with a recording that doesn't announce itself with slabs of distorted guitars or massive drums. Plus, with a chorus hook like "when I hear the sound of high tide thunder," "21 Summer" is also referencing a landscape far removed from the red Georgia clay so prevalent in recent country hits.
"It captures a moment in a relationship that sums up the relationship as it was," explains John. "In my mind we're back on the Chesapeake Bay where we grew up, because there would be days where it would be raining and the weather would be overcast. And it would be lightning and the waves would be crashing, because it was high tide."
"A lot of country tracks tend to be in your face all the time, and we certainly have songs on our album that do that, but [our producer Jay Joyce] wanted it to be more like if you just put on something chill and it's just an easy song to listen to," adds TJ. "It's unassuming because of that, because there isn't one part that really just, bam, hits you in the face."
Instead it's a quiet presence — currently inching toward the Top 40 — that's as likely to lull listeners into a daydream as it is to make them shout the words out of open car windows. It's a subtler way of going about it, but Brothers Osborne still found a way to make their statement.