Lit guitarist enjoying the grown-up life
By David Friedman

Jeremy Popoff has lived the life of a rock star – partying backstage with Kid Rock’s strippers, appearing on MTV’s “Cribs” after having a few drinks and being swallowed by Pamela Anderson in a hit music video.

Meanwhile, the guitarist for the rock band Lit is a loving father who takes his 3-year-old son Jake to petting zoos, video arcades and ice cream shops. Jake, who last year surprised his dad by recognizing the Foo Fighters on the radio, also likes the Wiggles, No Doubt and the “Shrek” soundtrack. And he knows the lyrics to Lit’s songs.

“He keeps me on my toes,” Popoff said in a Nov. 3 interview from Orange County Airport.

The guitarist, whose band plays Nov. 28 at Toad’s Place in New Haven, keeps in touch with his son from the road.

“I hook up cameras for the computers and the video phone and all that stuff,” Popoff said. “I have my laptop on the road and he has one at his house. So I’ll call his mom and tell her to turn on the computer. Then we talk live on the Internet.

“A lot of times I’ll talk to him when he’s taking a bath or whatever,” he added. “It’s cool for me too. He loves it, man. When he knows I’m at a show, he wants to talk to everybody in the band. Those are his uncles. He wants to talk to each one and he wants to ask questions about the show. He asks, ‘Are you at the hotel or are you at the show?’ It’s pretty cool.”

Born Sept. 11, 1971, Popoff grew up in Anaheim, Calif. His mother was a hairdresser and his father was a radio DJ. The couple played ’70s pop and classic rock by the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, among others, for Jeremy and his younger brother, A.Jay, now Lit’s singer.

“In our living room, part of our furniture was giant stacks of vinyl albums that my dad would bring home from the radio station,” Jeremy Popoff said. “So we grew up surrounded by all kinds of music. We were big products of the ’80s – ’80s metal, ’80s pop and MTV.”

In the late ’80s, the Popoff brothers formed the band Razzle with drummer Allen Shellenberger, bassist Kevin Baldes and rhythm guitarist Chad Benekos. Around 1991, the band – minus Benekos, who left to join hed (pe) – changed its name to Stain. Due to copyright issues, the guys changed their name to Lit before releasing their full-length debut, 1997’s “Tripping The Light Fantastic.”

Lit wrote and rehearsed in a warehouse in Anaheim that they continue to use to this day.

“Seven or eight years ago, it used to be this really swanky, pimped out warehouse space that had all this crazy lighting, shag carpet on the stage and funky furniture,” Popoff said. “We rehearsed there, but we’d also have parties there and play cards there. It was sort of the Lit clubhouse.”

Signing a record deal with RCA, Lit released their major label debut, “A Place In The Sun,” in 1999. The album went on to sell more than 1.3 million copies in the United States alone. In addition to the No. 1 hit “My Own Worst Enemy” – Billboard’s Modern Rock Song of the Year in ’99 – the album featured the song “Miserable,” which hit No. 3 and featured Pamela Anderson in its video.

“It’s always a rush to play ‘Miserable’ and ‘Enemy’ because those were the big hits from the record and crowds always sing them back and go pretty nuts,” Popoff said. “I wrote the riff for ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ the same way I wrote the riff for 50 of our other songs. It just so happened that that one (was) like hitting the lottery. It’s one of those freak of nature things that happened.

“That riff is probably one of the most recognizable riffs of the last 10 years, you know?” he added. “I’ll never complain about getting that lucky. I mean, that riff got me a couple of houses and a nice car. That was our ticket for the rollercoaster we’ve been on for the last five years. It’s still a thrill to play it.”

Already recognizable for his long goatee and many tattoos, Popoff further increased his visibility when he appeared on MTV’s popular show, “Cribs,” which features celebrities giving tours of their homes. The episode premiered in late 2000 and aired regularly throughout 2001.

Has Popoff’s home changed since the memorable tour?

“I bought another one, so I don’t live in that house anymore,” he said. “I have more of a Palm Springs style, modern house with glass walls and a flat roof and all that kind of fun stuff. I have pretty wild tastes in furniture and art and stuff, so that hasn’t really changed. That’s another one of my passions – that mid-century modern era, that whole style.”

Lit’s next album, 2001’s “Atomic,” featured the Top 10 hit “Lipstick and Bruises” and backing vocals from Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler on the song “Over My Head.” Another song, “The Last Time Again,” was featured in the hit movie “American Pie 2.” Lit toured with Kid Rock, headlined a soldout European tour and played at the Winter Olympics.

After parting ways with RCA, the band returned earlier this year with its self-titled fourth album – released on Nitrus Records, DRT and the band’s own Dirty Martini Recordings. The album featured the lead single “Looks Like They Were Right.” While bands often record on expensive rented equipment, Lit recorded the CD on their touring gear in order to better capture their live sound.

The band’s forthcoming “All Access” DVD, culled from roughly 700 hours of footage, will show Lit playing for 12 fans in Texas in 1996, for 80,000 fans in England years later and for a variety of crowds in between.

The band’s early struggles still bring back fond memories.

“Even though we were out on the road and playing really (lousy) clubs and no one knew who we were, I was out on the road with my best friends and we were doing it,” Popoff said. “We were playing music and we were away from home. There’s nothing better than that feeling when you’re driving away from your house for the first time in that RV or whatever it is and it’s all about the music.”

While success has led other Orange County bands to leave for Los Angeles, Popoff and his band mates still live in Fullerton. They know that music put Orange County on the map before shows like “The O.C.” and “Laguna Beach” existed. And they take pride in carving out a space amidst old equipment cases and gear to rehearse in the same Anaheim warehouse they used before they got famous.

“It’s very grounding,” Popoff said. “Instead of going to L.A. and renting some expensive hourly place where everybody goes and does pre-production, we have our own warehouse and it’s killer. The only difference now is the cars in the parking lot are a lot nicer.”