THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Lit ready to catch fire again
Back in 2001 things couldn’t have been going better for Fullerton-based rock band Lit. Just two years earlier, its RCA Records debut, A Place in the Sun, had gone platinum and spawned a few inescapable radio hits, including “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Miserable.” The group’s videos were all over MTV and VH1 — long before reality programming took over both networks — and it became the envy of most men when the four guys co-starred with a smokin’ hot, bikini-clad Pamela Anderson in its “Zip-Lock” video.
The quartet — brothers A. Jay Popoff (above center) on vocals and Jeremy Popoff (right) on guitar, plus Kevin Baldes (second from left) on bass and Allen Shellenberger on drums — had just finished up touring with fellow O.C. favorites the Offspring and No Doubt, as well as a stint opening for Shirley Manson and Garbage. The band also appeared at the infamously violent Woodstock ’99 festival in New York.
“It was all part of a period of time when it was just kind of one huge thing after another,” Jeremy remembered during a recent interview. “During those couple of years we were constantly laughing and high-fiving each other because we were getting to do the coolest stuff.”
It had been a good but wild and whirlwind ride for Lit, capped by the band being asked to play the two-night grand opening of House of Blues Anaheim in Downtown Disney, on Jan. 12-13, 2001.
“Being an Orange County band, growing up when we first started out, we had to do most of our shows in L.A. because that’s where the all-ages clubs were,” A. Jay recalls. “Orange County had a shortage of cool venues, so when they said they were going to open up a really nice all-ages venue here, it was awesome to be a part of that. It’s still a cool thing for kids to be able to go and see good shows.”
And here they are a decade later, snuggled into a booth for a chat at the Slidebar in downtown Fullerton, a rock ’n’ roll-themed bar and restaurant the band invested in five years ago — and a place where Jeremy can often be found working or hanging out when he’s not busy with band duties or writing songs in Nashville.
These past 10 years have been littered with both triumphs and tragedies, but as the guys take turns reminiscing about the past and getting fired-up about the future, it’s clear they still have their sense of humor about rock’s ups and downs and haven’t lost any zest for the often overindulgent lifestyle.
Yet, though Lit has continued to embark on domestic jaunts with various artists and perform at festivals around the world, the group had laid pretty low for the past six years. Then, on Aug. 13, 2009, it was thrust back into the spotlight when Shellenberger, the band’s anchor, succumbed to brain cancer at 39.
A. Jay insists throwing in the towel on Lit was never really an option — it was only a matter of when, not if, they would be ready to make a move after suffering such a devastating blow.
“I personally wasn’t ready to make a decision until that New Year’s Eve at the end of that year,” Jeremy adds. “We all sort of woke up and dusted ourselves off and thought, you know, it’s time to do this.”
New Songs, New Faces
With renewed purpose and deepened passion for its music, Lit returns to the Mouse House to help celebrate the club’s 10th anniversary with Saturday night’s next installment in a series of decade-marking performances. The show will be an unveiling as well, as the band will debut material from a forthcoming sixth studio album (its first in seven years) while introducing two new faces to the fold, drummer Nathan Walker (second from left, at right) and guitarist and keyboardist Ryan Gillmor (far right).
“We’re able to do a lot more with our songs and make the set a little more epic,” A. Jay says of the new roster. “We’ve been putting in new songs here and there at our last couple of shows,” but he added with a shy laugh that at House of Blues “we’ll probably be doing 50-50, new material and the greatest hits.”
Walker, who filled in for Shellenberger when he was sick, and Gillmor, who had previously written songs with Jeremy, were both fans of Lit long before joining up.
“Now, getting to write with them and play with them, it’s really exciting for me,” Gillmor says. “I think, too — as far as the new songs go, and being part of the stuff they’ve been through in the last few years — to be able to sit down with them and put that into words is pretty cool.”
For its new album, Lit signed on with Eleven Seven Music, whose roster includes Buckcherry, Mötley Crüe, Drowning Pool and more. “It’s a good, strong company that specializes in rock ’n’ roll,” Jeremy says, “and for us, getting back into this game, if we’re going to join the circus again we might as well join P.T. Barnum.
“It feels like a good time, for whatever reason. We haven’t put out a record in a while, and some of the reasons why have been tragic and some by choice. But now more than ever I think with the kind of music that Lit makes, it seems to me the vibe we’re getting from people is like, ‘Hey, we’re ready for some Lit.’ Five years ago they weren’t because they were being bombarded with (stuff) and now they look back and think, like, ‘Wait a minute, that isn’t rock!’”
“We’ve been a band long enough — and in the industry long enough, too — that we’ve always kind of made our moves based on instinct. Maybe that’s why we did lay low for so long,” A. Jay adds. “Our instincts weren’t giving us the green light. But now something is telling us it’s time, and that’s why the ideas are coming — good ideas — and everyone is on the same page again. That says something. We’ve just let it happen naturally.”
The plan, they say, is to finish the album by the end of March so it can be out by summer, when the band plans on taking off on tour until fall. At this point, however, the guys are still writing more new material.
“The last couple songs we’ve written have been our favorites,” Jeremy says. “We seem to keep tapping into something a little bit more. So, yeah, we could make this record today, but we’re going to write a few more songs over the next couple of weeks to see what those sound like.”
As for what to expect of all this fresh material, A. Jay says that though the band has learned a lot the hard way in its almost 22-year existence — growing up, having families and losing friends along the way does bring a serious note to some songs — the men of Lit have also kept themselves young and enthusiastic. They still definitely like to party, and it shows in the energy of their tunes.
When asked to describe where Lit is now — a question to which A. Jay very literally answered “This is the Slidebar” — Jeremy replied more humbly and honestly.
“I think we’re in a position where we’ve been blessed with this opportunity to be in business with a company that has the resources to get our music to the people who want to hear it. And it’s our job, like it’s always been, to make the music as good as we can make it, and then get out there and kick ass live.
“That has always been our philosophy. We’re not trying to change the world or reinvent the wheel here. But we love what we do, and there are people out there who love what we do. As long as we’re all making each other happy, then we’ve got a nice thing going on — and we’d like to see it go on for a lot longer.”
Lit, with Runner Runner and Alevela opening, plays Saturday, Jan. 29, at House of Blues Anaheim, 1530 S. Disneyland Drive. Tickets are $17.50-$20. Call: 714-778-2583.