Oso Oso's Jade Lilitri on Emo's Triumphant Return

Oso Oso's Jade Lilitri is no William Hung
Oso Oso's Jade Lilitri is no William Hung Nick Karp
A good mixtape is an invitation. The right set of songs can usher someone into a different world of sounds for them to explore. In the case of Oso Oso’s Jade Lilitri, a mixtape can also be a way of inviting the entire world to wake the fuck up and stop sleeping on your work.

Their latest record, the triumphant Basking in the Glow, came out several weeks ago and is already garnering rave reviews. Released via Triple Crown Records (home to other modern emo-rock heroes like Foxing and You Blew It!), the album's plaudits are well-deserved. If there’s a better emo record coming out this year, we’d have to hear it to believe it.

Oso Oso started as the solo project of Jade Lilitri in 2014. He couldn’t get the time of day from any label. It wasn’t until The Yunahon Mixtape was released in 2017 as a pay-what-you-want album on his Bandcamp page that heads started to turn in his direction.

Lilitri’s time in pop-punk outfit State Lines helped prepare the Long Island native. He writes compelling, hook-laden rock music that draws from a deep well of emo, punk, and indie influences: Traces of Brand New, Against Me!, Saves The Day, Death Cab For Cutie, and even Built to Spill can be discerned in the tangles of Lilitri’s melodies and guitar riffs (which sound beefier than ever, thanks in part to the production magic of Mike Sapone).

As a writer, Lilitri invests Basking in the Glow with a profound feeling of yearning and discontent. Dominated by images of narrowing roads, holes in souls, and "turning half rights into full-on wrongs," the album is the sound of someone trying not to let the uncertainty of the future sour the moment of sweetness they’re experiencing.

It’s the kind of record that can find Lilitri singing rapturously about love one minute while worrying about being “stuck in a binary code” of monogamy the next. He’s not a sad boy or rock 'n' roll bad boy. He sounds just as cautiously optimistic and confused as the rest of us.

Phoenix New Times spoke to Lilitri before his upcoming performance at The Rebel Lounge on Thursday, September 5, about basketball, high school albums, American Idol, and how it felt to write from a more personal place in his songs.

You have mentioned in past interviews that you like to play basketball solo to blow off some steam. If you could play anyone one-on-one, who would it be?

For sentimental reasons, I’m going to go with Allen Iverson.

Were you big into basketball growing up?

Yeah. I was always so awful at playing it 'cause I’m short. But I’ve been a Knicks fan since like 2001, 2002, right when they were past the very end of their heyday. That’s pretty much when I started following them.

How long did it take you to write the songs on Basking in the Glow?

We were touring a bunch, so I wasn’t really writing a lot. But then, we had studio time booked — we really wanted to work with Mike Sapone, and there was only a certain time frame where we could work with him. So I had about two months to write it; I had some ideas, and then I wrote the whole meat of it from late December through January.

You’ve also mentioned in other interviews that Glow marks a change in your songwriting: that the songs here are more rooted from experiences in your own life and your own feelings as opposed to writing from the POV of fictional characters. How did it feel to transition from that mode of fictional storytelling to more personal songwriting on Glow?

I feel like that happened just because of the time restraints with the record. Whereas if I had more time to think about stuff, I could’ve formulated characters that drew from other things. But I didn’t really notice a difference until we started performing some of the songs live — singing about something that’s straight from your own life is definitely a different kind of catharsis, for sure.

One of my favorite moments on the record is the instrumental outro on “Dig.” It has this really appealing heaviness to it. How did that come about?

That came about because I had that riff and I had the riff that comes in the beginning to “Dig,” and they’re kinda similar. I was trying to hopefully build something around that outro riff, but it seemed it worked better as an outro than something that was begging for a melody or for lyrics to be put over it. It was also something that I wanted to explore more: so much of the music on the record has immediate singing and melodies. There’s not a lot of parts where the music can just breathe.

It seems that emo music has been having a major resurgence over the last few years. You're someone whose work often swims in that current, so I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why emo has been having a moment?

If you look at music throughout the years, there’s always going to be things that die out and come back. It’s very cyclical — like a few years back, where you had all these '80s synth pop sounds came back into play. And I think it’s probably the same with emo: When something’s gone for a little bit, it feels fresher when it comes back around.

There’s also a lot of popular emo rappers who are making music that samples emo or references emo, and people seem pretty into it. So that could be it, too.

Speaking of things from years and years back: What was your favorite record when you were in high school? If teenage you had to pick one record as their desert island disc, what would it have been?

Searching for a Former Clarity by Against Me! towards the tail end of high school. I became super-obsessed with that record. There’s probably a two- to three-year period of my life where I thought that was the pinnacle of awesome songwriting.

A few years back, you couldn’t get a single record label to take a bite. Now you’re on Triple Crown Records, The Yunahon Mixtape and this record are getting a lot of attention — how does it feel to be where you’re at now? Does it feel like vindication?

It’s a little bit surreal. It doesn’t necessarily feel like vindication, but it does feel a bit like validation sometimes ... You’ve seen that show from back in the day, American Idol? They’d have people go on who’d be like, “Music is my passion,” and then they’d go out there and they’re not a great singer at all. I feel like there’s times where you’re playing for super long and touring for super long, and it’s not really picking up any steam and you’re just wondering, “Am I THAT person? Am I making music that nobody is liking or relating to at all?” So it is a bit validating, in that sense: Maybe I don’t make awful music after all.

Oso Oso are scheduled to perform on Thursday, September 5, at The Rebel Lounge. Tickets are $14 to $16 via Eventbrite.
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Ashley Naftule