by Mia Hughes
Jade Lilitri has been looking on the bright side. Not because his project Oso Oso has just released basking in the glow, its third album and first for the legendary pop punk label Triple Crown; not because that release was well-received beyond anyone’s expectations (including its garnering Pitchfork’s Best New Music title, which doesn’t happen very often at all for emo or pop punk); and not because at the time of our conversation he’s on his first headline tour, a full month that loops around just about every corner of the USA (plus one date in Canada for good measure). Those are all reasons to be cheerful for Lilitri, but this drive to change his mindset started before he even sat down to write the record
“You have to really try to keep yourself fixated on it – it’s not something that just happens overnight,” he says, of learning to let the light in. “I think with a lot of things in life, for me specifically – my music, relationships, family, friendships – it’s something that, at a certain point of getting older and growing as a person, I had to do.” That the record ended up titled basking in the glow is a sign of how that mindset fed into his writing, but that doesn’t mean the record’s bright-eyed and cheery throughout; lines such as “There’s this hole in my soul / So how far do you wanna go?”, and “all I need is four walls to make it my own hell” show that, really, it’s more of a study in measuring light alongside darkness.
Such an honest depiction of his personal life is a pretty new way of doing things for Lilitri. He envisioned his last record, the yunahon mixtape, as a fictional narrative set in a fictional town – still plenty of feeling, but filtered through a made-up set of eyes. “With a lot of stuff in the past, if I feel dry for inspiration, I’ll project a lot of my own views or how I feel about life or what I think about life, and relate that to certain characters in a book or a movie or something,” he says. “With [basking in the glow], I had a shorter amount of time to work on it than anything I’ve ever done before. I think the songs probably ended up a little bit more personal that way.”
Triple Crown grew interested in Oso Oso upon release of the yunahon mixtape, one of several labels that did. They took Lilitri out to breakfast, and he appreciated that they wanted to re-release yunahon and give it more time to breathe rather than get him straight back into the studio for a follow-up, like some of the others had suggested. It can’t have hurt that Triple Crown is pretty much a go-to name for the 00s-era emo-tinged pop punk to which Lilitri is indebted.
The financial backing that comes with a label was much-needed, too. When he released Yunahon, Lilitri thought that the end of his touring career could be near (he first started touring as a teenager with his previous band, State Lines – when he found himself with fewer commitments than his bandmates in terms of school and work, he created Oso Oso as a solo project with which he could tour without restrictions, with it eventually taking over as his main focus when State Lines disbanded). “Touring was definitely an expensive thing to do, especially funding it myself and everything. And I was pretty much at the point where it was time to try something new or find something new that brings me happiness. Because making music was, but touring wasn’t really so much,” he explains. “Once we decided to sign to Triple Crown, I feel like I looked at the whole thing differently.”
Another change since signing to Triple Crown is in the sheer amount of people paying attention. yunahon was self-released onto Bandcamp with Lilitri harbouring little expectation for it finding a wide audience; basking in the glow, then, is the first Oso Oso record that’s been written and released with any real number of eyes on the project. The pressure got to Lilitri as he began the writing process, manifested as writer’s block that meant he procrastinated actually writing the thing until studio time was looming. By that point, he says, there wasn’t enough time to overcomplicate it – he just had to write a record. That was a blessing in disguise; basking in the glow’s best feature is its musical directness, the way it’s not tangled in over-intricacy.
He didn’t have anything to worry about: the reaction to basking in the glow from both listeners and critics has been – forgive me for this – glowing. There was of course the aforementioned Best New Music; there were tweets upon tweets on release day affirming that it slaps, fucks or bangs. It was a little too late for the mid-year lists, but will be a mainstay on the end of years. That in itself, though, brings a new pressure. “I didn’t think we could ever get this type of score or whatever on Pitchfork, and then you get it, and you’re like, ‘Well, I didn’t think we could ever do that, so there’s no way we can get higher than that on the next record’,” Lilitri says. “The more people that get into Oso Oso, I just don’t want to let them down, on a music basis. I think about bands that I love who release albums today that sometimes get tired, or sometimes you’re talking about a band and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I wish they’d stopped making music two or three records ago’. I don’t ever wanna be one of those bands.”
There’s one easy comparison to be drawn regarding basking in the glow, which is Brand New. Not just sonically, although their sound is distinctly present on songs like ‘impossible game’, ‘dig’ and ‘charlie’; there’s also the fact that they too were from Long Island, that their first two records were on Triple Crown, and that all of their records share a producer with basking in Mike Sapone. It feels like a lot of us are hesitant to talk about Brand New’s influence post-Jesse Lacey’s rightful de-platforming, yet to not acknowledge its shadow on this record would be remiss.
Lilitri grew up around the classic Long Island pop punk bands like Brand New, growing familiar with the stuff the older kids on the school bus would play – it was that era of music listening that had the “most profound effect” on him, he says. “I feel like as a songwriter that probably naturally comes out.” When it comes to the allegations against Lacey, though, touring and being involved in DIY communities have emphasised to Lilitri the importance of not allowing such behaviour. “Situations like that are a real fucking bummer to learn about,” he says. “You just kind of realise how it’s important to treat humans with respect. So I feel like when something like that happens it makes easier to not listen to that stuff anymore, ‘cause you realise that there really is something that you owe to the people who listen to your music and come to your shows.”
It’s obvious that Lilitri takes the following he has built, and that has magnified over the last year with the Triple Crown signing, seriously. “I love the fact that people connect with my music and put some kind of value on it, find some kind of importance to it in their life, and that’s something that you don’t wanna take for granted,” he tells me as we talk about tour; how, though it gets hard, it’s worth it to see for himself the way his art affects people he’s never met.
“It’s also cool that as time has gone on and more people have gotten into the band, it’s definitely made it easier,” he adds. “I think if I was touring for like three years and I was still 21, and people got into my band, it’d be easier for me to take it for granted. But I’m very lucky to have had kind of a slow grind with it, and I think that’s helped me not take this type of stuff for granted. To see it go from nobody, to 12 people, to 50 people, to 100 people – that has definitely given me some perspective, to be like, ‘Okay, this is really a special thing that I have gotten to experience and it is something that I’ve always wanted to do.’”
Jade Lilitri has a lot of reasons right now to bask in the glow. The most important one, though, is that he wants to.