One-hundred likes, four hearts, and three laughing emojis. That was the initial reaction on Facebook when SUSTO released “Chillin’ on the Beach with My Best Friend Jesus Christ” a few weeks back. Despite almost unanimous love from fans, when we spoke with lead singer Justin Osborne, he didn’t sound so confident.
“I was really anxious about putting it out,” Osborne says. “I didn’t know how I felt about it, especially after the video. I knew I liked it and I wanted it put out, but I was just anxious that there might be some kind of backlash.”
SUSTO debuted the video via pop-culture website Nerdist on Thurs. June 23, and it features guitarist Johnny Delaware as Jesus, who rises from the water catching a can of Bud Light while completely nude. Osborne plays a preacher who parties with Christ and some friends under a revival tent at Awendaw Green. They dance, do keg stands, and — you guessed it — chill on the beach.
Backlash hasn’t come just yet. So far the reaction has been largely positive, hence the heart emojis. However, that reaction circumvents much of the complexity behind this seemingly just-for-fun summer anthem.
SUSTO and their still-young catalog have never made a song just for fun. And despite the catchy tune’s lighthearted feel, “Chillin’” is no exception. The song’s origins and its development lie deeply and solely in Osborne’s ever-developing and sometimes turbulent relationship with his religious upbringing. Osbourne was raised going to a Christian school, attending church at least twice a week within a myriad of different denominations, and participating in youth groups.
Now, he’s a nonbeliever.
“I felt like I had lived a life … and built a reality that I couldn’t really rely on any longer for my decision [to be an atheist],” Osborne says. “And I was upset about it.”
The chorus from the song is years-old now, written in a time when Osborne was still angry about his loss of faith and what that loss was doing to his relationship with his family. He felt connected to and was inspired by his idea of Jesus.
Osborne says he’s been in a period of reconciling. He spent years as “an angry atheist,” but says he realized that anger wasn’t helping him deal with his past. “Chillin’” is the result of that reconciliation. Osborne wants to bridge the divide between nonbelievers like himself and those who still believe. It’s quite a task.
These days, the singer celebrates his Christian heritage and the story of being Christian for anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, and credits a lot of these ideas to conversations with friends of his former faith.
“We had this fundamental difference about ourselves, but we could still find common ground,” he says. “[This] started inspiring me, because I don’t want to be estranged from my family my entire life. I don’t wanna be estranged from a culture that I’m so connected to and is so much a part of who I am as a child of the South and Christianity.”
Despite the outlandish imagery some may consider sacrilegious, Osborne says he intends to offend no one. The video contains no Bibles or crosses. There’s one scene where Osborne appears to pump a keg with a Bible, but it’s actually just his lyric notebook from his old band.
“We wanted it to be fun, but we also realized that for video we needed to push it a little further,” Osborne says. “So we did. And there were shots that went further that we kept out, because we were like, ‘That’s distasteful and that’s too much.’”
Later this year, the band will release the song on a seven-inch picture vinyl, along with some bonus tracks. One of those is a different version of “Chillin’ on the Beach with My Best Friend Jesus Christ.” This version strips away the rest of the band and the lyrics about Bud Light, and Osborne sings solo while playing a piano. He hopes this rendition will reveal his motives more than the catchy rock song out now.
Sometime early next year, Osborne says SUSTO will release a new LP, but “Chillin’” won’t be included in the tracks. It stands alone.
When he was still in church, Osborne says a youth pastor told him that one day he would either be a preacher or an anti-preacher. And a lot of the time, he says he feels like a preacher.
Osborne says, “I have a message that I try to spread.”