The Dueling Sounds and Motifs in Brothers Osborne’s ‘Break Mine,’ ‘Dually’ Noted

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Life is lived in duality. We drift between the sun and moon, grapple with right and wrong, walk the thin line between love and hate.

Brothers Osborne is likewise built on duality. John Osborne and T.J. Osborne use two different primary instruments – guitar and voice, respectively – to channel a sound that’s primarily country and rock, and the duo’s new single, “Break Mine,” similarly runs on two tracks. The basic premise, “If you’re looking for a heart to break… break mine,” wreaks on one hand of classic codependence.

“I spent many therapy sessions talking about my codependency,” John says with a fair amount of sarcasm. “I’ll write about it.”

But, T.J. suggests, the protagonist could on the other hand be looking quite realistically at a potential relationship, willing to accept its inherent risk of success or failure. “You can take it either way,” T.J. allows.

“Break Mine” appropriately required two writing sessions. The first took place with co-writer Shane McAnally (“I Was On A Boat That Day,” “Body Like A Back Road”) at the home studio of Pete Good (“We Don’t Fight Anymore,” “I Tried A Ring On”) pre-COVID, circa 2019. McAnally, most likely, brought the “Break Mine” idea, Good introduced a foundational groove, and John landed on an almost-haunting chord progression. T.J. started singing a melancholy melody that peaked on successive lines on a different, unexpected beat.

“When he started singing that melody, I was like, ‘Oh, here we go,’” Good recalls.

With that start, they began working on the opening verse, rather than the chorus. “Which is, honestly, the kiss of death,” John says. It started fairly well. They fashioned that first verse as an invitation for a sleepover. As the singer waits for a response, he ends that stanza in limbo: “Baby, bring it on and on and on and on and on and on.”

“For me, it feels like another hook, as simple as that is,” Good says. “It kind of sets you up for the chorus, I think, in a beautiful way.”

That chorus comes in with a change in phrasing, the melody moving forward with the emphasis at the front of each line. But before finishing, and the four writers seemed to run out of gas. “We got about halfway through the song and just couldn’t get through it,” John says.

That might say less about the song than it says about the Osbornes’ compatibility with McAnally, who they typically see only once or twice a year. “A lot of times when we get together, because he’s so fucking funny, we end up just spending a lot of time catching up with each other and just shooting the shit,” T.J. says. “We probably just ran out of time because we couldn’t shut up.”

They made a work tape of their progress and called it a day, which left “Break Mine” in limbo, where it remained for perhaps two years. But it came up again when McAnally proposed a second writing session. Going through unfinished songs, he came across the work tape and sent a text to T.J., who found it sounded better than he remembered. “When I write, there’s sometimes – I call it my checkout lines, where I’ll hear a lyric, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m over this,’” T.J. says. “I remember this song having one or two of those.”

One of them – the “on and on” section – was fixable by simply changing a lyric at the front of that line the second time it appeared, at the end of verse two. Meanwhile, the set-up line at the end of the chorus, “Get here in a straight line,” seemed fresh.

They met up again at Good’s studio in a new house and buttoned up the remaining issues with “Break Mine.” Good produced a demo, and the Osbornes decided it should be the first song they attacked when they wanted to test recording with producer Mike Elizondo (Twenty One Pilots, Eminem), who’d moved to Middle Tennessee from Los Angeles. Elizondo played bass and pulled together two more players the Osbornes hadn’t worked with previously, drummer Nate Smith and keyboardist Phil Towns, for a session at his Phantom Studio.

Elizondo’s bass, in particular, had such power that it felt like it could rattle the amplifier cabinet, though it never quite overpowers the rest of the performance. The bass’ weight came in part when Elizondo doubled it with a synth bass. “Quincy [Jones] would do that a lot on Michael Jackson records,” Elizondo says. “It’s something that, when it seems appropriate, I’ll try it out.”

John developed a cheery signature guitar riff for the intro, and it got doubled as well, with T.J. doing a vocal on top of it. John also took off on a guitar solo after the second chorus that worked like a scenic detour, changing the chords and creating a sense of fresh forward motion. “It’s a weird part,” he says. “It’s one of the hardest solos I play in our set, because it doesn’t physically feel the best on the guitar. There are certain things that just didn’t work out physically, but when I change the solo up, I miss it. So I’m always trying to adhere to that solo as much as I can.”

They tagged it with a one-minute instrumental finale, though Elizondo also had them cut an ending that capped it without the extended minute, knowing it would require an edit if it became a single. “That wasn’t hard to guess,” he says.

A day later, Elizondo threw on some bell-like keyboard parts – “twinkly things,” as T.J. refers to them. Those high notes form a subtle contrast with those deep bass lines, mirroring the duality of sweet surrender and darkness in the “Break Mine” lyric.

“That’s one of the things I love about Brothers Osbourne,” Elizondo says. “There are a handful of songs where there’s this mix of dark and light, whether the melody is brighter, but then the undertone of the music and the chord changes can be a little darker, or vice versa. I feel like ‘Break Mine’ really encapsulates that as far as the lyric, and even though it’s kind of got this sort of bounce, there’s this undertone of a mood that we wanted to make sure was always going to be there.”

The Osbornes originally planned to make “Break Mine” the first single from their self-titled 2023 album, but it didn’t quite fit sonically with the rest of the project. They eventually made it the title track of a four-song EP, released by EMI Nashville on March 21. The edited version of “Break Mine” was issued to country radio on April 15, finally rewarding the duo for sticking with the song through two writing sessions and a five-year journey.

“It’s still one of our favorite songs,” John says. “We’ll see what happens.”