August 1, 2008

Lit keeps rock flame burning bright

Rebecca Ross

Musicians are used to giving interviews. Some are good, some are great, but Kevin Baldes, bassist for Lit, is probably the only rocker who can claim, "I felt the earth move," mid-phoner.

Baldes, 36, was on his cellphone chatting about Lit's music when a 5.8 earthquake rocked Southern California and the Orange County restaurant where the musician was enjoying a late breakfast on Tuesday.

"Holy (expletive), we just had a major earthquake," Baldes marveled, after dashing outside to stand in the parking lot with other startled diners. "This is the most exciting end to an interview, ever."

The musician never lost his sense of humor during the teeth-rattling rumble, but maybe that's because an earthquake seemed like small potatoes compared to what the Orange County band has weathered in recent years.

In 2005, the mother of Lit lead singer A.Jay Popoff and guitarist Jeremy Popoff, was seriously injured in a car wreck which killed her husband.

In May, Lit drummer Allen Shellenberger was diagnosed with a malig-nant brain tumor, causing the band to cancel its upcoming European tour dates with Baldes' childhood idols, KISS.

"Man, the last four years have been kicking the (expletive) out of our personal lives," Baldes explained. "But we're still best friends, still a brotherhood and we're still making for him so he can get back out on the road with us."

He joked that Lit has become "the modern day Def Leppard."

"I remember watching a show about Def Leppard and thinking, 'Those poor guys keep getting hit with bad news,' and then, here we are," Baldes said, chuckling.

Best known for late '90s and early 2000 hits such as "My Own Worst Enemy," "Ziplock" and "Miserable," Lit formed in Orange County in 1990.

Baldes met the Popoff brothers in 1984, while the teens were acting as roadies for local bands at neighborhood parties.

"We were all into music, so the band thing just kind of happened," he said. "And we got really serious, pretty early on."

Baldes was the one who introduced Allen Shellenberger, for whom the band recently performed a sold-out benefit concert, into the mix.

"I said I knew this guy who could kind of play the drums. He was a little older than us, and had a truck and could buy the beer," he said. "Or the Jim Beam."

Baldes ended up being the bassist simply because the band needed a bass player.

And he's just fine with his role, thank you very much.

"Yeah, people say that the bass player gets no respect, but let me tell you, I have the most important job in the world," Baldes said, chuckling. "I hold down the entire floor for Lit. Allen and I are the glue of Lit. A.Jay and Jeremy would fall apart without us, and I want you to tell them that."

Baldes has watched the music scene change over the years, but says Lit has stayed true to its "power pop rock" roots.

"Music goes in cycles. I've seen the glam phase, the grunge phase, the Pantera phase," he said. "When we were at our peak, a song like 'My Worst Enemy,' which was the biggest song of 1999, didn't fit in with Korn and Limp Bizket, who were popular at the time. It proved to us that you gotta stick with what you like doing."

He said it's important to understand that a band, especially one that has been together as long as Lit has, will have good years and slow years.

"Not being at the top of the charts doesn't mean you aren't still writing new songs and rocking out at shows," Baldes said. "Look at Cheap Trick. They were big, then they went away, but they kept touring and putting out albums. And so will we. Lit will always be playing music for somebody, somewhere."