The Southern California alternative rock group Lit set fire to the modern rock scene in early 1999; A Place in the Sun, the quartet’s major-label debut, went certified platinum, giving rise to two hit singles,“My Own Worst Enemy” and “Zip Lock.” Likewise, the band’s third single off the album,“Miserable,” was expected to climb modern rock charts as well. As part of the same Orange County music scene that helped launch the careers of groups like Korn and No Doubt, Lit worked hard for their mainstream recognition, spending nearly ten years together earning their “overnight” success. And although the band welcomed their fame and prosperity, they admitted that the idea of radio and MTV (Music Television) stardom seemed somewhat strange. “We’re driving through the middle of nowhere in Kansas at three in the morning, and we hear our song come on right after Def Leppard,” guitarist Jeremy Popoff told Rolling Stone writer Noah Tarnow. “It’s just a little surreal.”
The members of Lit, brothers A. Jay Popoff, lead vocalist and songwriter and Jeremy Popoff, guitarist and songwriter; Kevin Baldes, bass guitarist; and drummer, Allen Shellenberger, met while students at the same Anaheim, California, high school. Brought up on large doses of Metallica and Iron Maiden, the foursome started out as a heavy metal band called Razzle—later renamed Stain—and found a loyal following in nearby Los Angeles, selling out shows at famous clubs like the Whiskey, Troubadour, and the Roxy. Around 1990, the foursome officially became Lit and transformed their musical image. Previously a solid rock and roll band, Lit now introduced alternative rock into their music and claimed singers such as Frank Sinatra, in addition to the Foo Fighters and Metallica, as inspirations. “I’d say that the way we like to live is more the Rat Pack [led by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin] way of life than the Motley Crue way of life,” Jeremy Popoff told David Derby in an interview for RollingStone.com.
However, Lit refused to follow the trend of other Orange County-based modern rock groups to revive ska and swing. Instead, the foursome adhered to a blend of rock-driven punk/pop music. “We’ve just always been a straight rock band,” A.J. Popoff mused to Derby,“and I guess that’s not always the cool thing to be.”
In addition to not fitting into the Southern California scene as well as other bands, Lit also had to compensate for a lack of venues in Orange County. “What’s cool is that there’s so many kinds of bands from Orange County: Social Distortion, the Offspring, Korn, No Doubt,” commented A. Jay Popoff to Launch.com’s David Weiss, describing the area surrounding Lit’s hometown. “A lot of bands that have been around for the last nine or 10 years are surfacing now. It seems like there’s a huge Orange
Members include Kevin Baldes, bass; A. Jay Popoff XA(born C. 1974), vocals; Jeremy Popoff, guitar; Allen Shellenberger, drums.
The Popoff brothers, Baldes, and Shellenberger met during high school in Anaheim, CA; played together as Razzle, then as Stain; formed Lit, 1990; signed with Malicious Vinyl, 1996; released EP Five Smokin ’ Tracks From… Lit, 1996; released first album, Tripping the Light Fantastic, on Malicious Vinyl, 1997; signed with RCA Records, 1998; released platinum-selling, major-label debut, A Place in the Sun, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —RCA Records, 8750 WilshireBlvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211, (310)358-4000. Website —Lit at RCA Records: www.bugjuice.com/lit; Lit
County scene, but there’s not really a lot of clubs to play. There’s not a huge nightlife.” Consequently, the group focused on their live shows in order to draw in fans and frequently sold out dates at a Fullerton, California, night spot called Club 369.
In 1996, after finally signing with the independent label Malicious Vinyl, the band released an EP entitled Five Smokin’ Tracks From… Lit. The following year, Malicious Vinyl issued Lit’sdebut album, 1997’s Tripping the Light Fantastic, which failed to impress critics. Nonetheless, the album, aided by Lit’s onstage enthusiasm and unpretentious approach, made a connection with rock fans, and both releases found underground acceptance. “I think our songs for the most part are pretty down to earth,” A. Jay Popoff told Derby. “A lot of people can relate to our lyrics… we’re not too political, we’re not really poetic, we’re really pretty cut and dry.”
As Lit’s popularity spread throughout Southern California, major label RCA Records offered the band a record deal. Subsequently, Lit signed with RCA in late 1998. The band entered the recording studio and returned in February of 1999 with their second album, A Place in the Sun. The major-label debut eventually earned platinum status (selling over one million copies) and gave rise to two hit singles,“My Own Worst Enemy” and “Zip Lock,” the first of which peaked at number one on Billboard magazine’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. Despite struggling for years to obtain mainstream recognition, Lit was nevertheless stunned by the album’s sudden success. “It definitely happened a lot quicker than expected,” admitted A. Jay Popoff in on Launch.com. “We’re getting worked pretty hard, playing almost every night and not sleeping a lot. But we’re definitely not complaining.”
“My Own Worst Enemy,” a power-pop tune that discussed morning-after regrets, became a modern rock radio anthem. About the song, A. Jay Popoff told Midnight Jones for Launch.com,“It isn’t based on any one of our particular personal experiences. It’s just a jumble of times where someone went out and had too much to drink. You say things you shouldn’t say and do things you shouldn’t do and then the next day you realize how bad you f**ked up. A lot of people comment on the lyrics, but the hooky guitar riff doesn’t hurt either.”
Although the Popoff brothers write the foundation for the group’s songs, the whole band participates in arranging music and picking tracks for albums. Thus, Lit developed “My Own Worst Enemy” with the same approach they use for all of their songs. “Our jam sessions go through the ’Lit machine’ and everyone puts in their two cents,” A. Jay explained. “Within two minutes, we know if it’s going to be a song. If everyone’s not into it right away, we get rid of it. We’re not one of those bands that writes 30 songs for a 12-song album.”
Despite Lit’s mainstream success, the group continued to give concerts top priority. “Having a song on the radio is something we’ve always dreamed of, but we’re a total live band so validation to us is packing clubs, meeting the kids, and seeing how music affects them,”A. Jay Popoff asserted, as quoted by Jones. “We are all about the whole showbiz thing. We like bands who are flashy, not ones where it’s like you are watching a bunch of roadies on stage.” Holding true to their word and upholding their flashy, Las Vegas-style attitude, Lit spent most of 1999 on tour, opening for groups such as Silverchair and Eve 6 and joining the Vans Warped Tour.
Considering the group’s favorite recreational activities—collecting vintage Cadillacs, traveling to Las Vegas, playing poker, admiring the Rat Pack—it comes as no surprise that Lit never wanted to be a typical rock band. “Our sound is of today, but our vibe is classic,” A. Jay Popoff told Jones. These interests came into play for video for “My Own Worst Enemy.” Shot in a Las Vegas bowling alley by director Gavin Bowden (who also directed videos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Aeroplane” and Matchbox 20’s “3 a.m.”), the video aptly projected the intended Litimage. “It’s [the film] Kingpin meets a gangster flick that takes place in the ’50s.” revealed A. Jay to Jones. “We are the bowlers and the band playing inside the lounge. I think we can handle the stage, but we might need a few body doubles to roll some strikes.”
Five Smokin’ Tracks from… Lit, (EP), Malicious Vinyl, 1996.
Tripping the Light Fantastic, Malicious Vinyl, 1997.
A Place in the Sun, RCA, 1999.
Rolling Stone, May 27, 1999, p. 29; August 19, 1999, p. 104.
Launch: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com (December 4, 1999).
“Lit: Own Worst Enemy,” http://www.angelfire.com/ab/lit (December 4, 1999).
"Lit." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lit
"Lit." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 15, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lit
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