Every band has a story to tell. How they made it; How they didn’t make it; Music industry glory stories and music industry horror stories. But there’s not another story out there quite like Lit’s. Up to this day, they’ve only released three albums, 1998’s A Place in the Sun,2001’s Atomic, and 2004’s self-titled release. They haven’t released an album in almost a decade, but they never quit being a band. They didn’t go through a split and get back together. They didn’t take an ‘indefinite hiatus.’ They’ve always existed, just usually without new music. That is, until now. Fans started rejoicing approximately a month ago hearing that the band will be releasing a new album titled, The View from the Bottom on June 19th through MegaForce Records. It’s been a long time coming and it’s somewhat ironic that the guys made famous for a song called “My Own Worst Enemy” had factors outside of their control holding them up on releasing an album at every turn.
In catching up with the man who helped make mutton chops famous roughly ten years ago, Lit’s lead singer A. Jay Popoff, he explained the band’s plight over the past decade. From then to now there haven’t just been some major bumps in the road, there’s been 100 mile detours that no one could have predicted. It all started with the promotion of Atomic after the events of 9/11 and it somewhat seemed to pile on from there. Popoff talked about the start of a rough chain of events.
“We put out Atomic during a really weird time, that’s when we set out to tour right when 9/11 happened. We were actually in New York City when that went down so that was the first curve ball we got thrown, along with the country for that matter. We kept touring on that record but over the past few years there’s been a lot of other shit that tore the rug from underneath us."
The first incident that Popoff referred to was a horrible, family tragedy. In 2005, A. Jay and his brother, guitarist Jeremy Popoff, went through the loss of their Step-Father, Kerry Suglia and the hospitalization of their mother, Sherri Suglia, after a drunk driver struck the couple’s motorcycle. Tradgically, Kerry Suglia was killed instantly. Sherri was hospitalized for months. It was a very traumatic time for the Popoffs and everyone else in the Lit family. Hearing A. Jay talk about it, you can tell that he remembers the day it happened vividly even though the days shortly after blurred together.
“Jeremy and I were taking care of our Mom for quite awhile. We dealt with that craziness… that’s something you don’t really expect to have to go through as a person. Once you do, your shift of what’s important changes. During the six months after the accident we didn’t touch music at all.”
After the wounds from the family tragedy transitioned into scars, Lit started gradually easing back into music. However, where they started getting back into it was somewhat unpredictable. For a band from Fullerton, California, getting back to music in the country music capitol of the world couldn’t have been foretold, but that’s what happened.
“My brother went to Nashville because someone asked him to play a guitar part on a record out there,” said Popoff. “While he was there he ended up writing with a couple of country writers. For him, that was sort of his therapy and he took a liking to it, getting into that craft, that different side of song writing where you really get into story-telling type lyrics. We’ve always been into the way we write our lyrics, finding cool ways to tweak out words, that’s something we have always been in to.”
“He dragged me out there but it took quite a few months, maybe a year before he got me to go. But once I got out there, I dove into it a little bit and met a lot of cool people and just that experience taught us more about song writing. It helped out with this new stuff.”
Anytime a band starts writing music it’s a good sign things may be released in the future. And even though the Popoff’s were taking their time developing actual Lit material, they were still writing music and honing in on their craft. Just when they were getting ready to start the process again though, another tragedy had a direct and drastic effect on the band. The group’s drummer, Allen Shellenberger was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the prognosis didn’t look good.
“We were getting ready to fire it back up. Everyone was gearing up for a European tour and we started talking about new songs and everything. Then we found out Allen had cancer… Going through that with him… We were still playing shows and we wanted to have Allen tour with us and play as many shows with us as he could. We knew what he had wasn’t good but he still had a few left in him. We wanted to share that with him.”
On August 13, 2009 Lit’s Allen Shellenberger lost his battle to a malignant giloma brain tumor. The news of his passing saddened music fans across the world and was a grave loss for his three friends and band mates that had been with him for twenty years. If you did get to see one of Allen Shellenberger’s final shows with Lit or even if you just look at the YouTube footage, it’s some legitimate proof that no matter how awful something is, some good can come out of it. Seeing Shellenberger behind the drum kit while he was healthy was a reminder of life being beautiful. Seeing him playing when his body was failing but his spirit kept pushing him was a more demanding reminder. Seeing how close the original members of Lit were, you can start to grasp why they’ve stayed together all these years through events that would have destroyed almost any other band. Knowing that Allen would have wanted the group to keep going, the loss of their friend made the group want to keep going live and start working on another record in the studio. The Popoffs profess that Shellenberger would have killed them if they quit.
“After Al died, we never really thought that it was the end of Lit necessarily,” said Popoff. “But we thought ‘it’s the three remaining members and we don’t know when and how we’re going to continue, but we’re still super-tight as brothers and as friends, and that comes first.’ It wasn’t until we started talking and hanging with Nathan (Walker- the band’s current drummer) a little more. One night, I think New Year’s Eve, we were all hanging out and we sort of jumped him in to the band. But he was a big fan over the years and he was stoked to carry the torch for Al in a way.”
Nathan Walker was the only choice. He was close with Shellenberger, and through Allen’s final shows Walker was either a drum tech for Al or filling in when Shellenberger needed a break. They needed somebody they were familiar with and somebody they were friends with to drum if they were going to continue on. Shortly after designating Walker as their new drummer, songs for new music began pouring in. They had plenty to write about.
Said A. Jay Popoff, “We started writing like crazy. It was like the flood gates opened up. For the first time, the songs that were coming out sounded very Lit. And we had a new fire and a new passion to brave them up again and get back on the road and play these songs live. It’s been awesome, it’s been like this whole new take on the band. We just waited for the time to feel right.”
The band writing songs for the new record, really just writing songs in general also brought a new member to the band. The group had been toying around with the idea of bringing on another guitar player for years but nothing really ever came of it. But while writing songs with Ryan Gillmour a friendship grew and he joined the band.
If that name sounds familiar it’s because Ryan Gillmour used to head up an unsigned band out of California known simply as Gillmour. The band didn’t have a ton of highlights, but they did have one major accomplishment, they had a song featured as a theme for a TV show. Ryan Gillmour penned the song “Hey!” a song that Fox picked up for the theme for one of its short-lived sit-coms, Un-Hitched.
Now with five members instead of four maybe the band will be looking to release music more frequently, maybe not. Some think a band that’s been around for twenty years should have more than four albums, but that’s somewhat of a footnote with Lit. Maybe they’re looked at with a nostalgic glance but they’ve never lost relevance. The band’s frontman says that has a lot to do with their core influences.
“You see a lot of these trends that come and go. They’re always trying to come up with new genres of music and new genres of rock music. I think that’s one thing that’s worked for us, the fact that we’ve never been a band to follow those trends.”
“When “My Own Worst Enemy” came out, that’s one of the reasons why we were so surprised that it took off the way it did. We were competing against bands like Limp Bizkit and acts like Fat Boy Slim. A lot of the stuff on the radio, even stuff like Creed, our song didn’t fit in with what was going on. People that bought the record found that song was just one of the dimensions of the band. You listen to our record and it takes you on a pretty good ride. If you look at a list of our influences it’s all over the place, but our roots are rock; just solid rock bands, some heavy metal, and some classics like Elvis Costello. But there aren’t any modern trends, it’s what we grew up on and what we’re comfortable writing.”
With the band’s new lineup and the new music, A. Jay and Lit aren’t necessarily reenergized or refocused because they never really lost that over the years. With all of the things that have happened to and around them they’ve come to understand what’s important. Of course, they’ll welcome The View From The Bottom entering the Billboard chart in the top 20, but that’s not as important as all of the experience itself. They’ll continue that with The Summerland Tour this summer with Everclear, Sugar Ray, and Gin Blossoms- and if you go out and see the show- you’re likely to see Lit having a blast on stage.
“We just got off of a three week tour and it was such a blast being on the road. Being like a family on the tour bus, having kick-ass shows every night, it’s crazy. We have a song on the new record called “The Broken” and the main line in the song is ‘you can’t break the broken.’ It’s so true, especially with this band. Somehow we keep picking up the pieces and getting stronger every time. I guess we’re pretty blessed.”
Calling the three week run before they’re to head out on a large-scale summer tour a ‘boot camp,’ Lit is set to release their first album since 2001 on June 19th. For most band’s the release of a record after losing so much along the way might be a little bitter-sweet. You get a feeling that’s not the case with this band. They’re celebrating everyone who has touched their lives over the past ten years and they’re not shying away from talking about anything. As it turns out, the view from the bottom might have the best perspective.
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