Inspirations is a Billboard interview franchise that examines the process behind new standout releases.
"Since 18 years old, I've felt like a whirlwind of, I don't know what I'm doing. Music has been a good cover for that."
Jade Lilitri, 26, is starting to find direction. The Long Island native has been crafting punk and emo-adjacent music since the turn of the decade, first with the currently-on-hiatus quartet State Lines, and since 2015, as the solo vehicle Oso Oso. He'd hoped to break through with his 2018 sophomore effort the yunahon mixtape — in reality, a cohesive album narrating several friends' young adulthood tribulations — but resigned to self-release it as a pay-what-you-want Bandcamp project after failing to garner label interest.
Turns out, onlookers just needed to play catch-up — eventually well–received, yunahon attracted numerous suitors. Lilitri ultimately went with emo-punk mainstay Triple Crown Records, the label that broke Brand New during the early 2000s, and endeared itself this decade to a new wave of pensive indie kids with releases from the likes of You Blew It!, Foxing, and Into It. Over It.
“yunahon mixtape was out seven or eight months, and other [labels] wanted us to sign and record another record right away,” Lilitri recalls. “[Triple Crown] was the first label that said, We really like this album; we think you should re-release it and keep touring on it; we think it could get to more ears before you do something new. That lined up most with where I saw Oso Oso going.”
This Friday (Aug. 16), Oso Oso is releasing Basking in the Glow, its first LP with Triple Crown and a massive musical leap forward. Past Oso Oso songs were written around spare parts of all kinds — a riff, a loose verse, even a bridge — but the new set centers on warm, horizon-filling choruses. Before it reaches Side B, Basking reveals the best choruses Lilitri has ever written (take your pick between "The View," the title track, and "Dig") and by album's end, a moving, second-gen response to Saves the Day's Stay What You Are or Death Cab For Cutie's The Photo Album. These are guitar-driven indie albums whose snapshot sentimentality invites reflection and repeat listens rather than nostalgia playlists (or for real 2000s heads, Straylight Run's self-titled or the Early November's The Room's Too Cold). Likewise, Basking in the Glow intends to stick around.
The songs themselves came to life late last year and in the early weeks of 2019, shortly after Lilitri left Long Island and his family behind and and moved out to the Wilkes-Barre/Kingston region of Pennsylvania. For inspiration, he looked inward. "This was one of the first times I was just writing, not trying to pull from other works — books and fiction — which I usually do a lot," he explains. "I [used to] make up characters and stuff like that. This feels like a very present commentary on my life." Asked about the themes of love that dominate the LP, he confirms, "For sure, I’m in a relationship — very much so in love."
For the first online edition of our Inspirations franchise, Billboard caught up with the Oso Oso leader to break down some of the less obvious forces that shaped one of 2019's best rock albums.
A broken storefront light. Basking in the Glow's cover art came to Lilitri completely by chance, after recording had wrapped. There was an original plan — "this glowing flame inside a bottle that was hung up," he recalls — but that was brushed aside when inspiration struck outside an old strip mall. "You know H&R Block, that tax place? The marquee was busted open so it was just that light box. I thought it looked pretty sick, so I grabbed a picture of it."
Triple Crown Records. Growing up on the New York-based indie’s home turf, Lilitri has long felt connected to its catalog. “I listened to everything they put out when I was super younger,” he says. “Northstar’s records were huge for me. I have a Hot Rod Circuit tattoo.”
Triple Crown’s business acumen (LPs from signees Foxing and Tiny Moving Parts cracked the top 10 of Billboard's Vinyl Albums chart last year) made Lilitri more open to new approaches. Yunahon was released a week after it was finished; Triple Crown asked for roughly six months of lead time with its follow-up, assuring Basking in the Glow could be properly promoted. After considering the title track for lead single, the two sides mutually agreed to start with “Dig (II),” figuring its shorter run time would be more appealing to streaming audiences. “I’d never worked with a label that has that outreach before,” Lilitri says. “There are certain ways of how they release music that I’m not used to, but it’s definitely smart on my end to listen.”
BOSS ME-80 guitar multi-effects pedal. The extra flair in the lead guitars on the choruses of "Morning Song" and "Wake Up Next To God" comes from a gadget in producer Mike Sapone's arsenal that let Lilitri try his best U2 impression. As a live guitarist, Lilitri admits he's not very good with pedals and scarcely uses them, but being able to crank up the delay and sound like the Edge in the studio was pretty fun. "By the second time using it I was like, 'We're probably gonna use this all over the album.'"
A really dramatic movie trailer. During the writing process, Sapone would e-mail Lilitri oddball videos to get the creative juices flowing. One that struck a nerve was the trailer for a 2018 Vincent van Gogh biopic starring Willem Dafoe called At Eternity's Gate. "It got me in the right mood, the same way you listen to music if you're going to the gym," he says. "The score is really inspiring and it has these quotes, like, 'I NEED TO BE AN ARTIST!'"
Kendama. Lilitri took up the centuries-old Japanese game to help blow off stress during the Basking sessions. “I’d be like, ‘Ah, I can’t figure out what this bridge should be. I’m gonna go play with this ball and cup toy for ten minutes.’” Tinkering done, threading the needle between two choruses tended to come easier.
Basketball. Lilitri is a big NBA fan who's excitedly keeping up with the league's power duo arms race this offseason (he's a Knicks diehard, making this continued enthusiasm even more impressive). He's also been shooting hoops solo to blow off stress for as long as he can remember. "I like having my own project, not being challenged by someone in the band like, 'Oh this guitar part works better.'" he says. "I think that relates to just walking up with a basketball and shooting by yourself for an hour."
A trip to the Maine coastline. Last year, the woodland trails and iconic lighthouses of fishing towns like Cutler and Lubec (the easternmost settlement in the contiguous United States) helped Lilitri achieve personal zen. "It put me in a lighter headspace and inspired me towards the album," he remembers. "It's the mindset of Basking in the Glow — taking in the good things, just accepting what comes with life."