The modern rock landscape has changed quite a bit since Lit last hit the music scene in 2004.
Nowadays, buoyant acts like Gotye, Grouplove, Foster the People and fun. tend to dominate the airwaves.
“I don’t necessarily think ‘alternative’ when I hear Gotye. There’s nothing wrong with it, but a lot of popular songs on alternative radio don’t even have a guitar,” said Jeremy Popoff, from Lit’s home base in Fullerton.
“As a guitar player and kid who loved rock ‘n’ roll and loved it when guitars plugged into Marshall stacks came out on the radio - that is a little disappointing. But everything comes around.”
Popoff, his lead vocalist brother A. Jay, bassist Kevin Baldes and drummer Allen Shellenberger started out as Razzle, with a hard-edged sound in 1989. The band made the rounds at Sunset Strip and OC clubs before settling on the Lit moniker. Independent label debut “Tripping the Light Fantastic” emerged in 1997.
Signing to RCA Records soon after, “A Place in the Sun” went platinum on the back of major alternative hits “My Own Worst Enemy,” “Miserable” (the accompanying video famously featured a giant Pamela Anderson) and “Zip-Lock.” Follow up disc “Atomic” was moderately successful. Lit returned to the indie world in ‘04 with a solid self-titled effort.
Then tragedy struck. A motorcycle accident on the Ortega Highway in Lake Elsinore claimed the life of the siblings’ stepfather and severely injured their mother. Shellenberger was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 and died a year later at age 39.
Once the guys took time to grieve, they resumed touring and eventually re-entered the studio. Lit’s new studio album “The View from the Bottom” (Megaforce) is the invigorating result.
Butch Walker (Weezer, P!nk) produced the new album. His history with Lit goes back to “Atomic,” for which he helped pen some songs.
Popoff said the recording process was “super comfortable. We had to sit in traffic every day going [from Orange County] to Venice, but nobody minded the commute. Once we got there, we drank good wine and whisky, listened to music, watched YouTube videos, jumped around and in between, managed to make a record.”
Rife with crunchy guitars and solos at every turn, “The View from the Bottom” is Lit’s strongest effort to date. Fist-pumping anthems (a defiant “The Broken,” blazing glam stomper “Same S---, Different Drink,” “C’mon”) and power ballads (“She Don’t Know, “The Wall”) are delivered with equal fervor. The insanely catchy “Right This Time” harks back to Eighties AOR classics.
Sexually themed “Partner in Crime” finds Popoff engaging in some talk box action.
“I haven’t used one in years, but I’ve always thought that sound was killer. I’m a big Joe Walsh fan. When we made the demo for that song, I was at Ryan’s house and thought a talk box would sound good. I literally ran up the street to Guitar Center, bought one, then came back and used it.”
A few personal songs with lyrics about living life to the fullest hit close to home. “Here’s to Us,” a poignant tribute to Shellenberger, is a prime example.
“That took A. Jay a few different attempts to get right,” explained Popoff. “The real emotional part was when we got the string arrangement back from Patrick Warren. Everybody got goose bumps the first time they heard it.”
Besides overseeing Fullerton’s popular Slidebar music club (which opened in ’06), Popoff also does a different style of songwriting via a publishing deal with EMI Nashville. His collaborations have been recorded by country artists Jamey Johnson, former Trick Pony singer Heidi Newfield and Colt Ford.
“I’ve found country music really refreshing,” he said. “Back when we wrote ‘A Place in the Sun,’ I had been listening to big band stuff, crooners and Sinatra. I think it made that album sound different than anything else on the radio at the time. Diving into country, then coming back to the table and writing for Lit again, recharged me.”
Now Popoff is anxious to join the Summerland package tour with a new Lit lineup, comprising Ryan Gillmor (“Glee,” David Archuleta, Kris Allen) and Shellenberger’s former drum tech/tour substitute Nathan Walker.
“They bring a lot to the mix,” said Popoff. “Ryan co-wrote several songs with us. Having him play keyboards and guitar frees me up live to do different things.” For Summerland tickets, go to ticketmaster.com.
More Lit tour dates, see litband.com.