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Publication Date: Friday, November 14, 2003

Two chords and the truth
Lit aims for simple, solid rock 'n' roll

by Robyn Israel

Lit guitarist and songwriter Jeremy Popoff still believes there's nothing wrong with two chords and the truth.

It's that hard-driving rock philosophy that has, for the last four years, landed the Orange County band on radio stations, MTV and international tours. Their song, "My Own Worst Enemy," hit #1 on Billboard's modern rock and alternative rock charts.
Now seasoned rockers with more than 500 shows under their belts, the quartet is getting a little more personal on their latest album, displaying a vulnerability that wasn't evident in previous works.

"We've gotten better as songwriters, and we feel more comfortable opening ourselves up," Popoff said. "I think in the past we were afraid to let people in too far. We'd try not to alienate people by being too personal. I think on this one we're going to throw it out there and not hide behind anything."

Locals who are curious to learn about Lit's allure can catch them on Nov. 20 at the Edge in Palo Alto. The concert will mark the band's first appearance in Palo Alto and will unveil new material from the band's forthcoming album, tentatively titled "Weapons of Mass Distortion." The record is set to be released in March.

"It's not depressing to listen to," Popoff said of the band's new album. "It's the kind of record you want to put on when you're partying with your friends. That's what we're best at -- that's what we do."

Anyone not familiar with Lit's music will discover four guys -- Popoff; his brother, vocalist A.Jay Popoff; bassist Kevin Baldes; and drummer Allen Shellenberger -- who pride themselves on crafting solid rock 'n' roll music.

"The only band I can compare ourselves to is the Foo Fighters," Popoff said. "Not that we sound like them, but (like us) they have really heavy stuff and soft pretty stuff. The shows are really energetic and it's not a flavor of the week. It's just good rock 'n' roll."

The "soft pretty stuff" is evident in the band's new track, "Lullaby," a song not originally intended for Lit. Popoff wrote it for his 2-year-old son, Jake, who loves music.

"Most of his first year, I was on the road so much," Popoff recalled. "I really wanted to write a song for him, something that he would have when I was gone."

But when the band's lawyer and manager heard the half-finished song, they encouraged Popoff to record it as a Lit song.

"As we started to play it, it felt right," Popoff said.

Asked what other songs from the new album are extremely personal, Popoff mentioned "Get Back."

"We're sort of reflecting on the time when we were barely making it, we were broke, living off happy hour. But we were remembering how much fun it was," Popoff said. "And we were wondering if we could ever get back to that frame of mind, a more simple time, before we were affected by all this stuff."

Before finding success in the late '90s, the quartet had been a tight-knit group, having known each other since high school. Their manager, Tony McIlvaine, is also an old school buddy.

"We've been close our whole lives," Popoff said of his younger brother. "It's cool to share that with him. (But) they're all my brothers."

It wasn't so long ago that Popoff was sharing a small apartment with Shellenberger, and his biggest worry was coughing up $350 for the rent.

The band toiled for more than a decade with an indie EP and album ("Tripping the Light Fantastick") under its belt before it signed to RCA. Then Lit hit the big time with "A Place in the Sun," which launched the hits "My Own Worst Enemy," "Zip-Lock" and "Miserable." The band set off on a two-year-long extravaganza, touring with No Doubt and Garbage, as well as earning a spot on the 2000 Vans' Warped Tour. They also headlined their own tour, an experience that had its share of ups and downs.

"I remember calling my manager from Europe, 10 months into the first tour. I said 'I don't think I can do it.'"

Of course, they saw it through to the end, but realized, like so many of their predecessors, that the sexy world of rock 'n' roll had a dark, lonely side.

"We were experiencing the highest highs we'd ever experienced, but we were so far from home," Popoff recalled. "The road is a crazy experience. You're around so many people, but then you're alone in your hotel room at midnight. It's the loneliest feeling, to be in a crappy hotel in Sweden, where you can't just go wander around.

"But it really is a family unit on the road. I think that saved our lives. I don't think we could have done what we did without that family unit."

Now married and a father, Popoff, 32, is adjusting to a new chapter of his life.

"It's been a crazy run -- I don't know if it's having a kid, or being tossed into the real world, having more responsibilities. It's hard to be away and it's hard to come back, because the road changes you. I'm still trying to figure this out."

Part of that process lies in songwriting, which Popoff does with A.Jay. The brothers collaborate on the lyrics, but also invite other songwriters to share in the process. The new album boasts the handiwork of Marty Fredrickson, an independent songwriter who has collaborated with Aerosmith. The band was introduced to him through their A&R representative, Bruce Flohr.

"We went over to his house and drank Bloody Marys. We hit it off with him and wrote five songs, but only one or two will be on the record ("Times Like This," "Over It").

"We've always been into that," Popoff said. "Every time we collaborate with someone, we come out with a different perspective -- you learn something and there's an angle that maybe wasn't there before. And it helps us grow as songwriters, too."

It was a similar collaboration that created "Happy in the Meantime," a song that ended up on the "Mr. Deeds" soundtrack and "Atomic." The Popoffs co-wrote the tune with Handsome Devil singer Danny Walker.

As for the current competition from other bands, Popoff didn't seem too nonplussed.

"I think we opened the door to some of the bands out there now," Popoff said. "But they're beating the pop part into the ground. We're turning the other way -- we'll show you the part they're missing. I don't mean to sound cocky, but we've been doing this a long time, and we do it better. Some of the bands are so watered down, you have to question if it's real."

Who: Lit. The Matches and Mind Driver will open the show.

Where: The Edge, 260 California Ave. in Palo Alto

When: Nov. 20 at 8 p.m.

Cost: Tickets are $12 in advance.

Info: Please call (650) 321-6464 or visit