Oso Oso’s Jade Lilitri on practice, loss and opportunity ahead of Sayreville show

In May of 2002, Allen Iverson was at a now-infamous press conference in Philadelphia where the topic of practice came up (again, and again, and again). At the same time, 118 miles to the north, in Long Beach, New York, a 10-year-old Jade Lilitri was also talking about practice. But instead of talking to the Philly press, Lilitri was talking to his less-than-enthused grade school friends. 

Lilitri’s friends wanted to practice basketball while an impatient and determined Lilitri wanted to practice music. 

“I was so serious about band practices when I was 10, 11, 12 years old,” says Oso Oso frontman Lilitri. “My friends would want to play basketball and I was like, ‘No, we aren’t going to get good if we don’t practice!‘ I don’t know why I felt like that at that age because ultimately I wouldn’t have enough time to make it happen.”

Lilitri was, obviously, serious about music at a young age, and initially was interested in playing bass after he saw Flea play in a behind-the-scenes commercial for The Wild Thornberrys, a show that featured the voice of the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist. 

Farther along in Lilitri’s life, his music career blossomed with, of course, the help of practice. But often history rhymes, and Lilitri still sees the lessons he learned as a kid play out in his music career, especially when it came time to branch out from his former punk band, State Lines, to start his emo-pop outfit Oso Oso. 

“When I was 11 years old, it was more like, let’s hang out and do fun stuff,” says Lilitri. “Now it’s more school, and people are coming into adulthood. Things weren’t going to line up, and that’s when I started Oso as a side gig, and it became more of my main focus.”

A bunch of music and several tours later, and Lilitri will be coming to New Jersey on April 2 with the Menzingers at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville—Lilitri remembers playing with the Menzingers way back when, and is taken back by not only how far he has come, but also by their success. 

The return to Central Jersey also comes with a new album, Sore Thumb. Oso Oso’s fourth EP was made in the early stages of the pandemic when Lilitri, along with many others in the entertainment industry, faced a crossroads in their careers. 

“I basically ran out of money, and I was like I have to find a job or something like that,” says Lilitri. “Or I could start the record, and maybe take a bit of the advance I got from that and pay rent with that and stave off another month of getting a real job. So we went into the studio, and started making songs for what was going to be a demo for the album. We spent a month making songs that weren’t so cohesive and we were trying to figure out what to do with it. At that point, Tavish (Maloney, former Oso Oso guitarist) passed, and we put it on the back burner. I knew I wasn’t going to be re-recording those songs.”

Maloney passed away in March 2021, and for Lilitri, that period was “one of the hardest things he’s ever gone through in his life.”

“It really is these certain types of personalities or certain types of people who always die young,” says Lilitri. “He was a jokester, and everything was a party. He was either really up there, or anxious about something that was never going to happen.”

Lilitri says Tavish was one of his biggest supporters, and he’ll always remember how much confidence and support that Tavish gave him over the years. 

“The one thing about Tavish was that no one in my entire life has gassed me about my music like he has,” says Lilitri. “Even when no one was listening to my music, and he wanted to play in this band so badly, and he would always gas up my music. He was an incredibly beautiful person that not only my family lost, but my non-blood family as well. His death was the one event that will shape who I become, and how I view things.”

One of the ways that Tavish’s death has impacted Lilitri is that it makes him appreciate what he does for his career more, and savors every moment.

“None of these things about people liking my music, or liking it matters. It’s not as important as the fact that we have been given amazing opportunities,” says Lilitri. 

And for Lilitri, he also realized some of these opportunities in his previous record Basking in the Glow, which was released in 2019.

“There’s always so much doubt, and even if I felt amazing about the album the doubt is still there,” says Lilitri. “When Basking in the Glow came out, I was able to at least suppress some of that doubt for the time being, and enjoy the moment for the time being. “

Indeed, Lilitri has been able to enjoy, a little bit at least, how far he has come. Before Oso Oso and State Lines, Lilitri worked at a Yogurt Shop, a lot of restaurants, and at a movie theater where he would let teenagers see R-rated movies in exchange for candy or a hat (he would always give those things back to the teens at the end of the movie.)  Lilitri wouldn’t change a thing, even having to scrub the bar he worked at with lemon juice after a 14-hour day.

“I think the thing that all of these jobs taught me is to not take this for granted,” explains Lilitri. “I’m kind of by nature a lazy person, and at one point I used to book all the shows, all the tours and manage the money. Now I have to do way less, and I get paid for it, yet I still find myself thinking, ‘I gotta play this show,’ which is so stupid and so insane. I’m glad I had to work all of those shitty jobs because if I didn’t, I would be such a crybaby.”

Lilitri’s journey has taken him not only from his Yogurt Shop days to a career in music, but also from Long Beach to cities across the country. “Pensacola,” a song on Sore Thumb that was released as a single early in 2022, is an ode, in part, to the cities Lilitri has visited on tour.

“Touring as a musician, it gets in your head that you have been everywhere,” says Lilitri. “But also if you visit your cousin or friend you get a totally different viewpoint on that city. As someone who has been touring for 11 years now, you think you know these cities, but you don’t. Take Denver, Colorado, for example; I only know these three blocks in Denver because all of the venues are on these three blocks. Like I thought I loved this city, but in reality I don’t really know this city.”

“Pensacola” is also about Lilitri’s hometown of Long Beach, and how the town, like many towns along the Jersey Shore, changed after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012.

“Long Beach, New York, has a townie kind of vibe, and in the aftermath of Sandy, the whole town got fucked up for a minute,” says Lilitri. “In the years to come, just because of new investment opportunities and new rules about housing it’s kind of become just awful. It’s kind of impossible to live there rent-wise, but the people are the same as I remember. You’ll see the same type of people and characters. But it’s so weird seeing these buildings, restaurants,and houses and things are constantly changing, but you still see the same people, and it’s a very weird vibe.”

Fans will hear songs from Sore Thumb and Basking in the Glow in Sayreville come April 2. Some of those songs such as “The View” and “Basking in the Glow “are familiar tunes to Oso Oso listeners. 

“’The View’ is definitely one of my favorite songs,” explains Lilitri. “When I started writing Basking in the Glow, I moved out of New York for the first time, and moved to the Scranton area. I was 26 at the time, and everyone has this thing when they go away to college when they are 18 and go away to school in a place that is far from them. I kind of thought I had that when I moved to Pennsylvania. I wouldn’t say it was a culture shock, but it was different being in country versus New York. I thought I got that out of the way with touring in my 20s, but it was really different living here. I was coming into my own as an adult and losing this shakiness and nervousness about me. It’s almost like a coming-of-age song.”

Lilitri followed up “The View” with “Basking in the Glow,” a “blissful song”  that Lilitri worried was too poppy.

“I remember listening to the chorus of ‘Basking in the Glow’ and thinking that  ‘this is too poppy’, but I was working at this bar at the time, and it kept on getting stuck in my head while I was washing dishes. I was like, you know if it keeps on getting stuck in my head, maybe I should just stick to this chorus.”

Lilitri is also looking forward to making the trip to the Garden State and playing in Sayreville, and enjoys the state’s diversity in terms of people and geography. He does think that the Garden State is hung up on a particular Monmouth County resident though.

“You guys have hella sick bands,” says Lilitri about New Jersey’s music scene. “But I think you guys might be a little bit too hung up on Bruce Springsteen compared to everything else the state has musically. If Bruce Springsteen came out of Arkansas or something, I get that it would be the pride and joy of Arkansas, but there are other bands and musicians that have come out of Jersey that have made some pretty epic music.”

As a native of a beach town himself, Lilitri is drawn to Asbury Park and loves the vibe in the city. He also loves their non-existent soccer club Asbury Park FC.

“I think that is epic,” Lilitri says of Asbury Park FC. “That’s one of the coolest things they have, and I love how they have all this merch for a team that doesn’t exist, and I think that’s pretty cool.”

Oso Oso, along with Sincere Engineer, will be opening up for the Menzingers at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on April 2. Ticket information can be found here.