All Lit up
The Fullerton foursome are enjoying good times
By Paul Andersen

Orange County has had its share of ups and downs over the past couple of decades. Perhaps best known as the home of Disneyland and the Angels (both of whom hail from Anaheim), the OC is now tied in with one of the hotter prime time soap operas on the television schedule, and rock bands like No Doubt and others have helped define an Orange County music scene. But it is also the county that made headlines for its bankruptcy, and for many of its youth, just like any other haven of small town suburbs, it is often the place you leave behind as soon as you are able.

But for the members of the rock band Lit, who appear Saturday night at the Glass House in Pomona and Sunday night at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, Orange County, or more specifically Fullerton, is simply home. It is the place of their roots, where they slogged it out playing a few local clubs while refining their sound, and it is also still where they all come back to when they head home. Unlike many of their fellow rock and rollers, they have retained those roots, and all four have proudly bought homes in Fullerton.

In fact, they have even decided to invest in their own restaurant there, the Slidebar Café, which, if all goes according to plan, will open in March.

“We always had the idea for a Hard Rock Café-type place, only Orange County related,” says Lit’s bassist, Kevin Baldes. “So we’ll have a drum set from No Doubt, the letterman’s jacket that (Social Distortion’s) Mike Ness wore on an album cover, stuff from bands like Reel Big fish and the Offspring, all on display around the place, all on loan. It’s got an inside bar and an outside bar on this big patio, and there’s this ‘80s-style arcade next door called the Reagen Years. It is going to be a cool place to hang out.

“So when bands come through the area,” he continues, “we’re going to put out the word to give us a call, and we’ll have a sober driver in a van come pick them up after their gig, and we’ll offer them free food and drink. There will even be a small stage if they want to jam onstage.”

Baldes laughs. “You see, whenever we could, we’d invite bands over for barbecues, and some have even stayed at our houses. We’ve always loved going out to see live music; when we’re home, it has always been like, ‘Hey, the Lit guys are here.’ But lately, we haven’t had as much of a chance to do that – three of the guys are married with kids, and I have a serious girlfriend now, so we’re more homebodies than we used to be. This is way to have a place where we could all hang out together.”

That sense of community is borne out in the closing track of their latest self-titled CD, their fourth overall and first for their new label, Nitrus/DRT/Dirty Martini. The song, “Bulletproof,” was written in response to a friend’s suicide.

“He passed away with everything pointing to an overdose, and it really came as a shock,” says Baldes. “He was the kind of guy who was always at everyone’s shows, always going out and supporting these different local bands, the guy around the scene. When we went to his funeral, we found we knew everyone there, and we thought it was really cool how this community came together, and here we were, hanging out again, and we ended up doing a benefit for his family. And we lifted this phrase from Cheap Trick at the end (of the song), saying we’re all alright.”

The new CD took three years to make, as the band had left their previous home at RCA Records. While on that label, Lit had burst on the scene through their hard work and catchy tunes, such as “My Own Worst Enemy” from ‘A Place in the Sun,’ which won an ASCAP Award for being one of the most played songs in 1999. It is still a staple on modern rock radio.

“By the time we left RCA, everyone that had been there, who had been behind us at the start, was long gone,” Baldes says. “It had gotten to the point where, when we did our last one, ‘Atomic,’ it was hitting big in Japan but they wouldn’t support a tour there. It can be frustrating to us, with all the managers, agents, road crew and everyone else, to work our butts off and not see results. It is like being on the road and someone comes up and tells us that our website hadn’t been updated with the correct dates and venues. We’re on the road, and even with the smallest things, we have to make a call. It is a day to day thing, and nothing is ever easy.”

Of course, that isn’t to say that the four members of Lit – Baldes, drummer Allen Shellenberger, guitarist Jeremy Popoff and his brother, vocalist A. Jay Popoff, a lineup that has remained unchanged since Lit’s inception nearly 15 years ago – aren’t thankful for the way things have turned out.

“It’s funny, the new CD has gotten some of the best reviews we’ve ever had, and on tour, the fans all want to hear songs off the new CD,” reports the bassist. “We’ve always had a live attitude with this group, and it was a little rawer with this one. You don’t want it too polished, and the fans know what they want – we demoed this record and then got the deal, and we posted the songs on the website for our fans to vote on. It was completely us, and actually, we’re starting to make some noise to start writing for the next release. We’ve got music pouring out of us (right now).

“It’s kind of like buying a new piece of furniture and bringing it home, and loving how that sofa looks. On the road, you might jam on some ideas at a soundcheck, but basically you’re wiping up the dust from the night before. But we have a serious history together, and right now it is all kind of extra toppings for us. It is kind of like the era of bands, like Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones, staying together forever, is all gone now, but we’re still here. Whatever happens, we’re still going to be brothers, jamming together. When ‘A Place in the Sun’ took off, no one had houses or wives. We’re adults now, with our hands in different areas, and we’re not rich by any means, but we’re always going to do what we can as a band to write honest rock and roll that we like. We’ve had a chance to live our dreams, and we feel like every musician out there (trying to make it) would love to have what we’ve gotten.

“We’re not the next Rolling Stones, but we’re okay with that. You know that Van Halen ‘Diver Down’ picture, with them playing in a stadium in front of a huge crowd? Well, I’ve got a big picture of us just like that on my wall, playing at Angel Stadium. I never played sports, so those are my trophies. It’s like, how can you get bummed? You just can’t take it too seriously.”

He laughs. “And besides, those rough times, when something bad happens, we laugh at ourselves and say it just adds something to the ‘Behind the Music’ story.”