Rocking through the hard times

Stuck in a holding pattern.
That's how the members of Lit, the rock band that hit it big a few years back, said they've felt the last seven months.

In April, drummer Allen Shellenberger was diagnosed with brain cancer that already spread to other parts of his body. The band dropped all official plans and went to work supporting Shellenberger, including hosting several benefit shows over the summer.

Shellenberger continues to undergo treatment, and friends said he's doing well considering the seriousness of his condition.

While Shellenberger deals with his illness, the band decided to move ahead with plans for a new album and several events, including the Maroon & White Ball scheduled to kick off at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Brazos County Expo Complex. Texas Twisters, a local group, will open at 8 p.m.

For some bands, Shellenberger's situation might have forced a permanent change in the lineup, but Lit doesn't do things that way, lead singer A. Jay Popoff said. They're using substitute drummers for their shows right now, but nothing has been decided about the band's future.

"We've been the same four guys in this band for 18 years, started playing together when we were in school," Popoff said in a phone interview earlier this week. "I don't know how it happened, but somehow we stayed together. Some bands are used to losing members, plugging new guys in. But this position we're in, we don't know what to do."

Shellenberger's illness has forced Lit to hold off on its normal touring schedule and plans for the new album, Popoff said.

"It's a spiral kind of a deal. We're just in a holding pattern, being there for him," Popoff said. "But meanwhile, we're doing shows when the opportunity comes up and when it sounds fun. Otherwise I think we'd all go crazy."

Lit hit it big in the late '90s with a string of Top 40 songs. My Own Worst Enemy and Miserable, from 1999's A Place in the Sun, went as high as No. 1 and No. 3 on the Billboard's Modern Rock list. Atomic, the band's follow-up album, had a hit single in Lipstick and Bruises, which reached No. 10.

With almost 20 years of performing under their belts, Popoff said the band has seen a lot of changes in its sound.

"I don't think I've ever said it this way, but it's kind of like looking at old yearbooks [and seeing] how your picture changes. That's how our music changes -- the evolution of Lit," Popoff said. "It's been a roller coaster. We started out '80s rock, arena rock-type stuff, then got heavy for a while, and then came full circle. Now it's going a place it hasn't been yet."

Fans of Lit will probably get a chance to see what that new place is sometime in the next year, Popoff said. A. Jay Popoff and his brother, Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff, have been writing music for the last several months, and the band recently met with a producer to discuss recording a new album. A. Jay Popoff said a new record could be released sometime in the middle of the year, with a tour to follow.

"We have a little more to say now. We've matured," he said. "Back in the day, all we had to say was about getting gas in the car and going to the party. But we're a party-rock band, too. We keep the music fun, but you'll see some growth."

Success didn't come quickly for the band from Orange County, Calif. Originally called Stain (the band changed its name to avoid confusion with Staind and several other similarly-named bands), Lit chose its name after a positive review that compared the band's concert to a bomb going off for its intensity.

"We wanted something like 'lit,' like about to go off," A. Jay Popoff said. "It's not about drugs, it's about energy. It's hard to come up with a name that's not already somebody's."

After a couple names, several changes in style and almost 10 years, Lit was signed to a record deal, and then things took off with the platinum sales of 1999's A Place in the Sun. Popoff said bands like Iron Maiden and Guns N' Roses were his primary influences, but it was a brief foray into pop-punk that gave the band it's biggest success.

"We got lumped in to pop-punk because we wrote a couple songs like that," Popoff said. "When you go on these Web sites, they'll say "If you like Lit, you'll like Good Charlotte, Blink-182. But we never considered ourselves a pop-punk band. ... We always said we were a big rock band."

And Popoff said the group's audiences reflect that background.

"It's like going to a Bon Jovi concert or something. We have a lot of fans that have grown up with our music and there's a lot of kids who have found us through Myspace," Popoff said. "We get a lot of guys, a lot of girls. These pop-punk groups seem to just get a lot of girls. We have a good rock crowd."

With the band's immediate future up in the air, Lit is performing when it can and doing their best to support their ailing colleague, including several recent benefit shows. As for Shellenberger, Popoff said the group's drummer is doing well considering the seriousness of his condition.

"He can't drive or do a lot of things, but he plays his drums when he can, he goes on walks," Popoff said. "He doesn't realize he's as sick as he is, which is a good thing. His attitude has been amazing."

* Go to to read a Q&A with Lit singer A. Jay Popoff.