Metro Weekly

TJ Osborne: Out In the Country

TJ Osborne on life as an out gay man, his bond with sibling John, and how country music could help to bridge our nation's cultural divide.

Brothers Osborne -- Photo: Natalie Osborne
Brothers Osborne: TJ and John — Photo: Natalie Osborne

When TJ Osborne came out publicly in early February of 2021, it was headline news that rocked the country music world. In an instant, the lead singer of the sibling duo Brothers Osborne became one of the first openly gay country artists signed to a major label — and certainly the most prominent.

By that point, not quite a decade after signing with EMI Records Nashville, TJ’s partnership with his older brother (and fellow guitarist) John had proven itself to be one of country music’s most promising and most acclaimed younger acts.

Today, Brothers Osborne, to quote the group’s publicity materials, are “country music’s most consistently adventurous band,” and also “the torchbearers for a progressive and still classical type of country music.” They’ve racked up accolades to support such acclaim.

In fact, Brothers Osborne are the reigning Vocal Duo of the Year at both of country music’s two main award ceremonies, presented by the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM). They’ve won that award five different times at each ceremony, and are nominated in that category for the ninth time at this year’s CMAs, set for early next month.

In 2015, the duo earned their first Grammy Award nomination in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category for their exquisitely wistful debut single “Stay A Little Longer.” They’ve since had six additional singles garner a Grammy nomination in the same category, which they finally won last year. And their Grammy Award-winning song was none other than the sweetly poignant “Younger Me,” an ode to TJ’s struggles with growing up gay that was released in the wake of his public coming out. The single also alludes to John’s struggles over the years with serious mental health issues, from anxiety to suicide ideation.

A lot has changed in the nearly three years since. Last month, the band released its fourth album, a self-titled set described as the duo’s most musically diverse but also the most distinctive and personal. They’re promoting Brothers Osborne by returning to The Anthem on Saturday, Oct. 14, for the first time since 2021. It will be another hometown show for the brothers, who grew up surrounded by a large family in the small town of Deale, Maryland, and graduated from Southern High School in Anne Arundel County.

Two years ago, the rapturous Anthem crowd stopped the proceedings for a solid minute to shower TJ with a warm and welcoming round of applause after the singer made mention of his coming out earlier in the year. For his part, John is in a much better state thanks to private therapy and public support, to the extent that, earlier this year, instead of contemplating leaving this earth, he deepened his roots by becoming a parent to twins with his wife, country singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas.

And TJ is now out and proud, a vocal queer artist and advocate who doesn’t try to hide the love he’s found with his partner Abi Ventura.

When asked about the man he refers to as his best friend, fellow queer country artist Fancy Hagood rattles off some of the core attributes that make TJ so special. “TJ is one of the most generous people on the planet,” Hagood says. “He’s honest to a fault. He has a really big heart. And he’s just, honestly, the friend everyone would want.”

In coming out as he did, Hagood says that TJ has become “such an important voice, not just in country music, but in music in general. Because that took a lot of courage and a lot of guts. And TJ is one of the bravest people I know.”

Even more important is the fact that he and the band are still here as a creative and viable entity, says Hagood, who Brothers Osborne tapped to serve as the opening act for their shows this month, including the one next weekend at The Anthem.

“Every gatekeeper [in country music talks] about what’s palatable, what’s marketable, what middle America wants,” Hagood says. “And everyone was so afraid if TJ came out, that it would be the end of his career. And what TJ proved is absolutely the opposite. You can be queer, you can be successful, in a really big way. Music does not exclude people, people exclude people. So TJ is another indicator to me that change is coming and that it’s so possible. It makes me believe in myself even more because I see it on such a big platform. And when you can see that, you can see yourself there too.”

One afternoon last week, while out enjoying a long walk at home in Nashville with Ventura, TJ engaged Metro Weekly in a nearly hour-long conversation over Zoom. In addition to discussing the new album and the upcoming concert at The Anthem, he reflected on his life and career thus far, the impact that coming out has had on him — in both obvious and significant as well as unexpected and indirect ways — and the importance of visibility and vigilance, especially in a time with increasing anti-gay and anti-trans sentiment and activity.

Brothers Osborne -- Photo: Katie Kauss
Brothers Osborne: John and TJ — Photo: Katie Kauss

METRO WEEKLY: Am I reaching you in the middle of a tour or are you just gearing up for one?

TJ OSBORNE: It’s like a hodgepodge of stuff right now. We’re doing a bunch of one-off dates. It’s not a tour per se. We’ve got these four dates in October that are a little bit more like a tour would be. And then into the new year, probably in March, we’ll kick off with a proper tour. We’ve got about six or seven dates left for the year, and then we’re going to park the buses and take some time to relax.

MW: Have you been performing songs from the new album?

OSBORNE: We’ve got our single that we’re playing, “Nobody’s Nobody.” And then another song that we released alongside the single, “Might As Well Be Me.” At these four record-release shows that we’re doing — one in L.A. and one in Nashville, then D.C. and New York — we’ll be doing seven new songs total, spread out, so it’s got a good flow to it. We have some new stuff without it feeling sleepy or boring.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this, we’ve done as much work as you would typically do on an 80-plus-date tour for just these four shows. It’s been really lots of heavy lifting, lots of new material for the band to learn, a whole new stage setup.

MW: I’ve heard you refer to the new album as a defining record and also representative of growth for the band — although it should be noted that it is certainly on par with your three previous full-length sets in terms of style and sound.

OSBORNE: Our idea was just to take what we’ve done over the years up another level as far as the quality of the songwriting and the music. And our goal is always to make it the best you can. I think that we hit that mark, at least with the songs on this record, so we do feel really good about it.

MW: One thing I really like about your lyrics is the way you play with words and common phrases, little gems for anybody who’s paying attention. And I was pleased to see that you managed to come up with yet more creative wordplay this time out again.

OSBORNE: Thank you. It can be a pain in the ass sometimes, having to chase a song down, but that’s also what makes it super fulfilling when you finally get something that is a cut above the rest. It’s like, “Ah.” It’s a great, rewarding feeling.

MW: Your last time in D.C. was in November of 2021, as part of your fall and winter tour to support of the superb album Skeletons. It was the first tour in which you were out as a gay lead singer and I wondered if it felt different to you than previous shows? Did you notice a difference in the crowd’s response?

OSBORNE: Well, I felt a difference just within myself. I wasn’t even necessarily focused on the crowd. I certainly felt accepted by the crowd, but I definitely felt a difference in the sense that I felt like I had just arrived for the first time. And I didn’t have to worry about what I might say or something I might do. It’s one of those things where I didn’t think about that in the forefront of my mind, but I did in the back of my mind always without realizing it.

And then, it was very apparent once the time came where I didn’t need to do that anymore. It was like, “Wow, I never realized all these little micro ways that I was managing my life” — until I had that weight off of me. And so I did notice a big difference there. That was the interesting thing with releasing the new album as well.

Intentionally, I didn’t want to come out and have it be publicity supporting a new album. I just felt like that would be a little gross, a little icky. Even if I didn’t mean it that way, I just thought it might read that way, and I didn’t want this to be attention-seeking. I wanted to release the music first and give it a beat.

One of the reasons why we self-titled this album is that we just felt, in some ways, this was a first for us — in the sense [of] me sharing my personal life and John sharing his mental health struggles and his journey to get to a healthy place. It feels like the first where we can be completely who we are and what we are without any filter or without any missteps, or not going all in.

So there is a lot of that feeling with this new music. There are people who forget that Skeletons came out before [the public coming out]. So maybe they weren’t looking at this album as though it was going to be the next chapter of what we had to say, which is fine — it reduces some of the pressure as far as expectations. If people are wanting or expecting me to talk about any of those topics — I intentionally didn’t. I did with “Younger Me.” When we wrote that song, I didn’t want to wait until literally now to release it. It was something I wanted to say right then and there. And so we re-released Skeletons with that song on there.

But personally, it seemed a little on the nose to have something that was leaning directly in on it. I’ve talked about it at great length. I felt like I didn’t really have any more to say. The one thing that was affected by it, however, was the songwriting and some of the titles.

There’s a song called “We Ain’t Good at Breaking Up” that we wrote with Miranda Lambert and Jesse Frasure. When people would ask if Abi and I were still together, I would jokingly say, “Yeah, we are. We’re not good at breaking up” — being silly, just as a joke. And that’s where that song title came from. So there were a lot of different things that were really inspired in indirect ways by me being able to live my life openly gay.

MW: Your lyrics previously, when you would talk about a relationship or love interest or whatever, you never got too specific. You never really got into using specific pronouns even.

OSBORNE: No, and that was intentional. We’ve always had gender-neutral lyrics. It was an early decision that we made. I was just like, “Hey, I’m not going to sing this.” I didn’t know when, but I knew I was going to come out at some point in time. And I already knew I wanted to come out in a place in my career when I still was relevant. So I didn’t want to be stuck with all these songs [that wouldn’t work in a gay context].

So yeah, that was very much a conscious decision. But going into this album, we kept that same thing. We heard people over the years who actually had picked up on the fact that they were gender-neutral. And this is before I came out. I would have people come up to me and say, “Wow, it’s nice to be able to have a song that doesn’t specifically use pronouns, because now we’re able to play it at our wedding” — or whatever it is. It’s something that very few people were doing, if anyone else was doing that. I felt like everyone was using them, and sometimes using them almost to a really cliché level of, “Hey, girl.” And, “What’s your name, girls?” And all that stuff. I always say, even if I was straight, I don’t know if I’d say that shit. But regardless, yeah, we wanted to stick with that theme for this because we felt like that is part of the DNA, part of who we are.

Ultimately, since being out, it’s allowed me to go to places or say things I wouldn’t have said before. For instance, that title would’ve never ever been something that anyone would’ve ever heard had it not been for the fact that I was just jokingly being able to speak openly about my love life.

Brothers Osborne -- Photo: Natalie Osborne
Brothers Osborne: John and TJ — Photo: Natalie Osborne

MW: That’s really subtle. I don’t think most people are going to pick up on that.

OSBORNE: I know. And it isn’t meant to be picked up on. It’s just there. It’s a little Easter egg. I did not want to have something that was, “Okay. Here we go, here comes the obvious.” And that’s really what it’s all about when you’re creating and you’re writing. I mean, if you’re doing something that’s super predictable, then in my mind it’s something I would turn off.

MW: When did you come out to yourself and to your family?

OSBORNE: It was in many phases. I knew since I was really little that I was. And of course, went through my teenage years trying to deny it, as many people have done. I knew literally since I was a young boy that I’ve liked males. And then, my early twenties is when I realized that it wasn’t something that was going to go away. That’s when I started experimenting with relationships and all of that.

I came out to my dad in my early twenties. My dad was actually one of the first people I told, which I feel like is usually the opposite. I’m very fortunate to have a very accepting and loving family. He, of course, accepted me. Was very emotional. But what made him emotional, it just really broke his heart to think that I had to live my life in a place that was hurtful to me. It was really sweet. I came out to my brother [John] and my sister [Natalie] in my mid-twenties, and then I came out to my mom somewhere around there, probably in my mid-to-late twenties.

The funny thing is, I didn’t really verbally come out to very many people, ever. Some of my best friends, a lot of family — I just didn’t tell them. They just knew and I didn’t really talk about it. I might show up with a boyfriend or whatever, and it was just kind of understood. I didn’t really want to have that moment. I found it, as most people do, really awkward to come out.

And that’s why it was a really particularly relieving yet very interesting thing to just come out to everyone publicly in one swing. It was like, “Holy shit.” I mean, the people I listed to you are like the six people that I actually verbally told. And then it was everyone all at once, which was a huge relief to be able to do it that way. Very fortunate to be able to do that.

MW: Are you the youngest in your family?

OSBORNE: There are five of us. We have a younger sister, Natalie, who lives here in Nashville with us, me and my [older] brother John. And then we have an older sister and brother, Rachel and Jimbo. So, I’m the youngest boy, but the second to youngest with all the children together.

MW: And do you still have family ties back here in Maryland?

OSBORNE: Yeah, we still have a lot of family back there. They’ll be out at the show. A lot of cousins and aunts and uncles that all live there. They have a big family. We moved our mom down here about, six, seven years ago. And then our dad moved down here three, probably four years ago.

MW: Is this what you always wanted to do growing up?

OSBORNE: Be a country singer? Yeah, it is. I mean, ever since I was little, I would always sing and I always really liked it. We did grow up in a musical family. Our parents wrote songs and performed locally. Both of our parents enjoyed singing. Our dad would play guitar and sing around the kitchen table. Originally, we learned music just to join in with the family. And then we started playing locally a little bit and, yeah, it was something I wanted to do.

However, there’s a part in your mind where you think, “Man, I’d love to do this, but it seems so impossible at the same time.” Especially with me knowing ultimately what I would have to come to face. But yeah, it is something that I have always wanted to do. And I made a decision somewhere along the line to be patient and to just take it one step, one day at a time. And hopefully, not getting ahead of myself, that one day the moment [to come out] would present itself at the right time, and the two worlds could intersect. And luckily, that happened.

MW: Have your songs been getting much radio play since you came out?

OSBORNE: It’s a little hard to say, because we’ve always put out songs that were a little left of center, and we’d have some songs do well and some songs that didn’t. And it’s always been that way with us. But this time around, we really were like, “Man, it is really important to get this music right, and have music that we think really has no excuse why it shouldn’t work on the radio.”

People ask me that all the time, “Are they supporting you guys?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I think so.” We’ve had a bit of a volatile chart position at times. Our first single, “Nobody’s Nobody,” currently has been the fastest-growing single that we’ve ever had. It’s still climbing the charts, but it’s been doing well.

MW: The last time you were here, Leslie Jordan was there as a surprise guest. What would you want to say about Leslie and your friendship with him prior to his untimely death last fall?

OSBORNE: With Leslie, what you saw is what Leslie was. I mean, he was just the same way — it was always like the camera was on. And he just loved making people laugh. It didn’t matter if he was the brunt of the joke or whatever, he just did not take himself seriously in any way.

And of course, he loved attention. When we asked him to come out on stage, of course he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to.” And I knew he would do something or say something really funny. He was pretty unpredictable. I’m very fortunate to have gotten to know him and call him a friend. The unfortunate part is how short that lasted. With all that being said, I really got to learn so many great things from him in a short period of time. He was just a really giving person. He was someone who lived his life in service to others. And I think that’s why he loved comedy, to just bring joy to people and make them laugh.

He also was in our music video, “I’m Not For Everyone.” We called him and were like, “Leslie. They want someone who’s really unlike a character to typically walk into a biker bar, and we thought of you.” And he’s like, “Oh, my God. I would love to do it.” And we were like, “Let us know what your rate would be, or what you’d like to charge.” And he was adamant about taking nothing for it. He didn’t even want to get paid the union minimum. When he came, he was there all day long and worked his butt off. I actually felt bad how long he had to be there. But he didn’t complain — he was on set making people laugh, and it was just really amazing to see.

We also got to share the Pride before last here in Nashville — which was also, coincidentally, my first Pride that I’ve ever been to. I’ve wanted to attend before, but it’s never been aligned with my schedule. So it was the first, and both Leslie and I were the grand marshals of the Pride parade. And it was just really amazing. I felt really honored to do this. Leslie’s car was in front of mine. Of course, I was like, “Why the hell am I behind Leslie?” Everyone’s just going, “Leslie, Leslie, Leslie.” I’m like, “No one even notices me right here.” It was really, really, really funny. And of course, he loved every minute of it. It was just great.

Once he passed [away], one of the first thoughts I had was him coming out on stage and me picking him up. And when I picked him up, I could feel a seam bust and I thought, “Oh my God, I ripped a big ol’ hole in his pants.” Luckily, there was nothing revealed.

MW: Switching gears, we should address the current political climate, which has gotten more conservative in recent times and increasingly anti-gay and anti-trans. With all of the book banning going on, do you worry that they might come after music in a similar way next?

OSBORNE: Well, they’ve come after music already in the past. That’s why you get warnings on albums when they have [certain content]. They’ve done that, and they had huge hearings about that. They could come after it again in a greater way — I don’t think that anything’s off the table right now. That’s the sad part here, is where is the line?

More than anything right now, I think more harmful is how it’s become — I definitely have this feeling of [Republican-leaning] people who didn’t really care that much before, who feel like now that if they are pro-LGBTQ, that’s more of a Democratic viewpoint, and they don’t want to have that. And it’s more just aligning with their team who is saying, “We’re against X, Y, and Z.”

I definitely have felt for the first time in my life — I guess maybe it’s because I’m out now — that the energy has changed a little to where, instead of me coming out being openly gay and proud and being able to talk about it and people saying, “Wow, it’s just a guy living his life and being happy,” inevitably, people see it with a political undertone to it now, which inherently makes them not like it.

And so, that, to me, is far more dangerous than the book bannings that have happened, because it’s just the tribal mentality: “Our team is opposed to this.” And without people actually thinking for themselves or letting their morals decide, they’re just making a decision to start pulling away or thinking negatively about a lot of those things.

I think it’s even more important now than ever to be visible and try to break a lot of the cliché molds that people have in their minds. A lot of [anti-LGBTQ] people are certainly the people who are exposed to it the least and have no idea what it’s about. In some ways I’m happy that I came out when I did at a time where it did feel a little bit more accepting. I have felt a step backwards.

I do try to keep a positive outlook, in the sense that nothing happens in a straight line. When you look at the strides that have happened over the last 10 or 20 years, we’re way ahead of where we were then. And as I see this step backwards, I hope it just frightens enough people to see that that’s a possibility.

We become complacent creatures really easily, but when people see that this is a real thing, and real people that they know are really being affected, that’s when it starts creating more of an active approach.

I do genuinely think the majority of people don’t agree with a lot of the policies that have been happening lately, with book banning or transphobia. It’s probably going to take some time, but I see another wave coming eventually that goes back in the other direction.

MW: Essentially, what you’re saying conservatives are doing is politicizing being gay. Which is hard to get around that. It’s hard to depoliticize one’s very being.

OSBORNE: Absolutely. It is, yeah. But I mean at the same time, I feel such a calling. It is an important time for me to step in my own shoes and get out there and just be me and do my thing. And just give people no reason to not like you. People can see that here I am, I’m just a guy doing my thing, I’m not harming anyone, I don’t have any intention of grooming anyone.

People ask, “How have the fans responded to you coming out?” I always try to specify, “What fans are you talking about? Are you talking about our fans? Or are you talking about fans of country music as a whole?” Because our fans, for the most part, were great and supportive.

With country music as a whole, absolutely there are people who would never think about ever coming to support us because of that. We know that. I’m very fortunate to have a brother and a crew of people around me, from our management to our label to the agents, who are one hundred percent at my back with this. All I can do is all I can do. I just keep my head down and keep that same mentality it took me to get to the place where I could finally live my life openly and just survive that. I feel like it’s the same mentality I have with this current climate that we have right now, where it has badly been politicized. But it’ll only be a matter of time before we’re onto something else. I hope so, anyway.

TJ Osborne -- Photo: Katie Kauss
TJ Osborne — Photo: Katie Kauss

MW: It would probably be a different experience for you if you were a solo artist rather than part of a sibling duo. Have you thought about that much?

OSBORNE: Of course I’ve thought about it. I peeled back every layer of this onion before I got to the center of it. It’d be harder in so many ways to be a solo artist, not even to deal with my sexuality. There are a lot of benefits to having two of us. We do represent a lot of different things. That’s why I also think it’s important, when we’ve been asked to do things, unless it’s an HRC event or something like that, I usually try to have it be both my brother and I. Because inclusivity doesn’t involve one specific type. And so, having this representation of a gay man supported by his brother, a bearded cowboy heterosexual, is what people need to see. That is a thing that helps.

I also am not blind to the fact that I also have lots of privilege. I got the Visibility Award from HRC and I had this in my speech of how I have had lots of privilege in my life, and I still do. I’m a tall, white, cis male. As I get asked about all these things, I’m like, “Well, I don’t know what it’s like to be trans. I don’t know what it’s like to be feminine, and how they’ve been treated for being so. I don’t know that.”

On the flip side, it’s a little weird because I still often have to come out to people because they assume that I’m straight all the time. All the time. If I’m somewhere and they don’t know who I am. It’s still surprising to me how many girls get up in my DMs wanting to hook up, and I’m like, “Girl, just look at the link. Look at the link on my Instagram page.” But anyhow. The other thing that confuses people is that my partner’s name is Abi. So, if they don’t know the context of that and I say, “Well, Abi’s not going to like this.” They’ll be like, “Well, she’s…” I’m like, “Well, you’re already wrong there because it’s not a she.”

I love it. I drive a really big redneck ass-looking truck, a loud diesel. And I always love that people are probably thinking I’m some “Don’t Tread On Me” type. And then I hop out of it, and then it’s me and Abi, and we go walking down the sidewalk holding hands. It’s so funny to watch people’s heads be like, “What? That’s not what I expected.” That’s really comical.

But in our genre too, God, I mean, it’s hard on females, too. They’re under so much pressure. John and I always talk about how unfair it is that if I woke up hungover, I could throw a ball cap on and walk into a room and people would be like, “Wow, look at him. He’s rock-and-rolling.” And if a girl did that, she’d be criticized for being a mess, or not taking herself seriously, or letting herself go. And it really is super unfair. So, that’s why I always try to keep my head held high and just keep marching forward. Because, yes, my life has been challenging in a lot of ways, but it’s challenging for everyone in so many different ways. I try to focus more on the benefits and the advantages I’ve had more than getting bogged down and sad about the things that have maybe held us back.

I had this thought recently, that once you’ve made enough money, where more isn’t necessarily going to change your life, I was thinking, “Do I want to make money, or do I want to make a difference?” Obviously I’d love to do both. But I think right now I’m focused on making a difference. And it’s up to the fans to decide if they’re mutually exclusive or not.

MW: You already alluded to this, but I was wondering if you’ve noticed a change in your fan base. Have you noticed more gays in the crowd at concerts?

OSBORNE: Oh, yeah. Here’s the thing, though, I’ve often wondered: Were they there the whole time and now they just feel comfortable showing that about themselves? Because there are fans who’ve told me that they’ve come to our shows, and they just kept it more under wraps. They wouldn’t hold hands, they wouldn’t wear anything that was Pride-linking. And now, we see a lot of that. And you know what also I’ve seen a lot more of, is just people who are cool with that. I mean, we look out there and see some things that typically would be pretty opposing, like a MAGA hat next to someone with a Pride flag, and they’re just coexisting and having a good time.

And this record — really unintentionally; it just happened this way because of who we are — is very, “Hey, you do you.” Leaning more towards not dividing people, and trying to bring people together. And that’s the power of music. And I love it, truly. It seems quite silly and for no reason, but if you can bring a reason to it, which is being able to bring people together, it suddenly has a purpose.

So when I look out there, not only do I see more queer people, but I see people just feeling like they can be whatever the hell they want to be, whether they are someone who’s just a little goofy or someone who is [just] letting their freak flag fly, or whatever. It just feels like we’ve created a safe environment to be yourself and be happy — in a genre where that’s not always the case.

We’ve seen [other country artists] divide people and say, “This is me.” And people really love that. Typically, it isn’t as effective to say, “Hey, this is for everyone.” It doesn’t fire people up as much. However, we’re going to keep marching and keep doing that. And we’ll either be an anomaly or we’ll start changing how it is and start pushing our format and our fans to be just more and more inclusive.

Brothers Osborne appear Saturday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. at The Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW. Fancy Hagood opens. Tickets are $49.50 to $89.50. Visit or call 202-888-0020.

For more tour dates, visit

Follow them on X (formerly Twitter) at @brothersosborne.

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