As the nineties dissolved into the 21st century, Lit charged up rock ‘n’ roll with uncompromising punk energy and a power-pop punch. Undeniably original, this band of brothers from Orange County has left an imprint on popular culture that only fissured wider over the years like a California fault line. Who could forget the immortal lyric, “Can we forget about the things I said when I was drunk?” Twenty years after its initial release, the Billboard Music Award-winning “My Own Worst Enemy” not only went double-platinum but became a cultural phenomenon.
Throughout their epic career, the guys have amassed a catalog highlighted by fan favorites such as the platinum ‘A Place in the Sun’ , ‘Atomic’ , ‘Lit’ , ‘The View From The Bottom’ , and ‘These Are The Days’ . Further speaking to their enduring influence, their work has inspired think pieces by everyone from American Songwriter to Kerrang!, while Consequence of Sound named them one of the “100 Best Pop Punk Bands.” A testament to their longevity, their music continues to resonate with listeners around the globe as they impressively average over 2.2 million monthly listeners on Spotify. In early 2022, a captivating four-part documentary-style podcast about their iconic song, “My Own Worst Enemy,” was released to rave reviews from critics and fans alike.
Now, the quartet—brothers Ajay [vocals] and Jeremy Popoff [guitar], Kevin Baldes [bass], and Taylor Carroll [drums]—continue to do what they do best on their seventh full-length album and 2022 debut for Round Hill Records, ‘Tastes Like Gold.’ A classic Lit record with a modern approach, this fiery new album delivers a piping hot batch of undeniably catchy jams. But, most importantly, it serves as a jumping-off point to an entirely new generation of music lovers. The album was produced by Carlo Colasacco, YOUTHYEAR & Lit, and also features No Doubt’s Adrian Young, Butch Walker, and American Authors.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Jeremy Popoff to discuss the band’s rich history and how their experiences ultimately brought them full circle to breathe life into ‘Tastes Like Gold.’
You’ve made a living making music. So how’d the journey begin?
Our first musical memories come from our Dad being a radio DJ. His first radio gig was when I was two, and Ajay was born into it. When we were little kids, he would bring home albums from the station every day. At some point, we had a couple of thousand vinyl records in our living room. It was almost like furniture! [laughs] Just stacks of them leaning against the wall. We had one of those big console stereos, and we would sit around and pretend that we were our Dad. We would play DJ, spin records, and announce songs. That transitioned into wanting to play instruments. Our grandfather was a musician, and we spent a lot of weekends over at Gram and Pop’s house. He had a drum set in the garage and an organ in the living. Every day, after breakfast and dinner, he would sit down at the organ and play standards and sing along. We would just stand there and watch. That’s really how it all started! When many kids were playing with race cars and Legos, we played with records, drum sets, and keyboards because we thought it was so cool.
What did rock ‘n’ roll mean to you back in the day?
The first concert we ever went to back in the day was Iron Maiden opening for UFO. I was nine years old, and Ajay was seven. From that day forward, we always knew that this was what we wanted to do. We were in the cheap seats, the nose-bleed balcony, but seeing the lights and those guys out there sweating, rocking out, and the sheer volume blew our minds! Up until that point, we were just regular kids out riding our BMX bikes and trying to scrounge up some quarters to go play Asteroids! Then, all of a sudden, we found this purpose and identity. Your concert t-shirts became these badges of honor. When you’d show up at school with it on, the other kids would be like, “Woah! You went to that show?!” That parlayed itself into getting guitars and growing our hair out just to be rock ‘n’ roll! Our parents also got divorced right around that time. Ajay and I were very much latchkey kids. My wife always jokingly says that we were raised by wolves and, in a way, we kinda were! We had very supportive and loving parents, but at the time, they were separated. My Dad would be at the radio station. When we came home, we would have to let ourselves in, feed ourselves, and get our homework done. We’d do whatever else we had to do until he would get home around bedtime. Music was our babysitter. We’d come home from school and rock out. So, rock ‘n’ roll has a very special place in our hearts.
Where did your creative drive and hard work ethic spring from?
That’s an interesting question. When we were in our teenage years, we had a stepfather figure who was a real hardass. He instilled a lot of the “You get out there and do it and do it right…” mentality into us. Talk about blood, sweat, and tears! We spent many a summer out in that backyard with shovels, working on cars or whatever. If something wasn’t done right, he would make us do it again. I think that instilled a certain work ethic into us. We came from a pretty school and were a product of the late 80s Sunset Strip. We got to taste a little bit of that before it went away. There was no social media, no “like” button, and no followers. You lived and died by how many people came to your show. That determined if you got another show, a better show, or a better slot. It was survival of the fittest! We took print shop classes in high school so that we could print our flyers at cost! We would go out to Hollywood with cases and cases of flyers. We would network, meet people and promote. If we made $500 bucks at a show, we would get stickers made or cassette tapes made. Anywhere each guy went, it was not uncommon to see a Lit sticker on the back of a stop sign or in a bathroom at a bar or something. We never left home without at least 25 of them in our pockets. It was just the school that we went to, and it was all that we knew!
How does that all translate into today’s world? I imagine that you really have to be on top of things to get the most eyes on your project.
It’s crazy! We’re somewhat new to social media. We’ve always kind of had it, but we’re new to TikTok, algorithms, things like when to post, and stuff like that. When to post on Friday and Saturday night at 11 PM at a bar, night club or concert. We’d wait until the big band played at a theater or arena and post up. Then, we’d be waiting in the parking lot for people to leave the concert, spread out like a team and flyer. It is challenging and fascinating the way it works now. In the past, if you got added to the local rock station and MTV was going to give you a spin, you thought you were off to the races. Then you would hope and pray that it stuck! Now you don’t have MTV anymore or radio. TikTok is the new TRL in a lot of ways.
I’m sure you’ve learned a lot in your three decades in the music business. What lessons did you learn early on that continue to resonate?
We’re still learning! That’s one thing about this business; it’s always a couple of steps ahead of you. You’re always trying to learn the new way and playing catch up. For us, we’ve always been honest with ourselves and our fans. We’ve always been true to ourselves, and we’ve been lucky a few times with songs that did well for us that weren’t necessarily in style at the time when they came out. When “My Own Worst Enemy” came out in 1999, there was really nothing else on the radio like it, so it was crazy that it did what it did. It just sorta came out of the ether, stuck its hand up, and said, “Hey, check me out!” [laughs] As I said, I think being true to ourselves and being true to the fans has been vital for us because we’re such big fans of so many bands, from the ones we grew up with to the ones we love today. We don’t take meeting a fan for granted. I don’t know if those are lessons we’ve learned or just things we’ve managed to maintain over the years. We truly love and appreciate what we do and what the fans do.
I think you’ve nailed it. Your authenticity speaks to you as people and comes through in your music.
Thank you, man! Every time we put a record out, we feel like we’re bringing people into our world. Each album is a snapshot of where we are at a given point in time.
Lit has a brand-new album, ‘Tastes Like Gold,’ on the way. You’ve definitely been building the anticipation with some viral videos and single releases. So how did the ball get rolling on this one?
The game plan was that we wanted to remind the newer school rock ‘n’ roll fans who we were and some of the stuff we had done along the way. Most importantly, we wanted to let the old-school fans know that we were going back to our roots in the 1999-2001 era of Lit in terms of its approach and vibe. Looking back on it now, the pandemic, lockdowns, and all of that stuff wound up being good for us. It’s a realization I just had a few weeks ago when I was talking to somebody about it. In a weird way, when we were writing those songs 23 or 24 years ago, all we had was our friends, family, and band. We were together four or five nights a week, and it was all Lit all the time! [laughs] Here we are many years later, and we are all locked down, and we find ourselves right back to where we started! We had our friends, family, and band, and we spent all of this time together. There were no distractions, which allowed us to focus on the record we wanted to make — an old-school Lit record with a modern production approach. That’s what we did, and we couldn’t be more excited! When I listen to the record, I feel like we really achieved our goal.
Was it challenging to get back into the same headspace you had back then?
A few years ago, we put out a record titled ‘These Are The Days.” It definitely had a Nashville influence to it. That was a collection of songs that we had been writing in town. Our core fans were gracious enough to let us do that. It was a great record, and a lot of our fans really enjoyed it. However, once it was out in the world, we thought, “Ahh, I wonder if we should have called that something else?” Leaving the house of “old school Lit,” as far as what people expect, made us miss home a little bit. That allowed us to say, “Okay, thanks for letting us do that. Now we’re going back to what you hopefully know and love about the band.” It took some years and exploration for us to feel that sense of love and appreciation for where we were then. It was a period of time that truly changed our lives.
How has the songwriting process for Lit most evolved over the years?
We went from being a bunch of guys with a bunch of shitty part-time jobs to living and breathing this band. We had all had this man-cave warehouse in Anaheim, and it was four nights a week we were in there. Friends would stop by, bring in cases of beer and we’d have parties and play poker. It was our little world where we jammed out and worked on songs. You do that for ten years, and you dream, hope, pray and manifest all that stuff. Then, BAM! you get a taste of it! You come back two years later, and now you’ve got some success, some money, and guys are getting married, buying houses, getting dogs, and buying new cars! You’re not hanging out four nights in a row at a warehouse in Anaheim anymore! You’ve gotta schedule it because you’ve got other shit going on! [laughs] When I first came to Nashville, I was like, “What? 11 AM? What the hell do you want me to do at 11 AM?” [laughs] It’s just so much more structured and disciplined here, which definitely helped us in the writing process. It helped us be able to be more focused and disciplined. When it’s time for us to get together and be creative, we carve it out. Otherwise, it would never happen!
You’ve lived with these tracks for a while now. Which ones came easiest and which were hardest to nail down?
I’ll be honest with ya, there weren’t any songs that felt super laborious. They all came out naturally and organically like we used to do. The first song out of this batch that we wrote was “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” That kind of set the tone on where we were going as we started making some demos of the songs coming up with. Carlo Colasacco and Eric Paquette (aka YOUTHYEAR), who co-produced the record with us and co-wrote most of it with us, were always willing to get together in person during the crazy careful times of the pandemic. We would get together outside in someone’s backyard or something like that. We’re not a very good Zoom writing band. We did write “The Life That I Got” with American Authors over Zoom. That turned out to be one of my favorite songs on the record. We started writing “Get Out of My Song” on a Zoom write with Carlo, Eric, and Matt Squire. We ended up getting half of it, and then we finished it. Matt ghosted us, so we had to finish it ourselves. The Zoom-write thing is just so weird because there is a delay and the distractions that everyone has around them. That was the biggest challenge, getting into a studio and having it be as normal as possible. We had our challenges along the way, but it all became a blessing looking back on it.
Like I said, “Get Out of My Song” is one song off this album that I really love. I also love “Okay With That.” Like all of our records, we write songs like we’re writing out a setlist for a live show. We try to write that opening song to set the tone, and then we try to figure out what will last. Then we figure out what moments are going to be in between. Hopefully, it’s like a rollercoaster ride when it’s all said and done. I think the whole record is 33 to 35 minutes long, so it’s a quick ride, but I like that most of the songs are 3 minutes or less. It just felt good to know that we could get back to that place and still feel like it’s real, good, and genuine. It was a very natural process, and it was rewarding to listen back and say, “Okay, cool. We’re back. We still have it!”
When it comes to your work as a songwriter, are you always working on harvesting new ideas?
I’m usually the guy who always listens to what people are saying. Songwriters can be dangerous people to hang around with sometimes because we’re always listening, even when it seems like we’re not. We’re always waiting for someone to say something catchy or cool. We’re looking at street signs as they go by or listening to TV in the background. We’re just waiting for little catchphrases or words that make our ears tweak a little bit. I’m always going on my voice notes and humming a bar or singing a word. Then, I will go into my notes and write out a title or a lyric idea. Eventually, we will get together, whether Ajay and I or a co-writer or two that we like and want to be creative with, and start throwing ideas around. It’s a constant process! I’m always jealous of bands with a rig studio in the back of their bus, writing songs and making demos while they’re touring. We tend to be a little more compartmentalized. We go into “road mode,” then we go into “writing mode,” and then we go into “record mode.” Then we do it all over again! But, yeah, I think we are always writing.
Lit was the subject of a phenomenal 4-part documentary podcast titled ‘My Own Worst Enemy: The Podcast.’ I can’t sing its praises enough!
It spoke to me on a lot of levels. Of course, it’s fantastic to hear more about the history of the band and the impact of this iconic song. Still, the thing that resonated with me the most is this great brotherhood that has spanned decades. How did the opportunity present itself, and what has it meant to you?
There were a couple of different companies that we were talking to about a possible documentary. It would’ve been similar to the podcast. The podcast asks the question, “Why this song?” They speak to musicologists and psychologists and have them analyze it. The funny thing is that, in the end, we still don’t know what the answer is! [laughs] It does take you for a ride. As a band, we are kind of spectators in it. It wasn’t our production; we didn’t co-produce it or make any edits. We didn’t analyze it. We were just some dudes who were interviewed for it like the other people in it.
When we heard it for the first time, that was the first time we knew who else they had been interviewing. We didn’t realize they would talk to our old record company people, the girl from the “Rock Band” video game, or the head guy from a karaoke bar. All of these people on there were really cool to hear their perspectives. You’ve got Butch Walker, Adrian Young, and guys like that who we’ve known forever. So that was cool that they were on there, along with people we don’t even know. They really dive deep and analyze the song. I forget who the guy was, but he was saying how brilliant this one part of the song guys here even though we could’ve gone there and how genius that was. I laughed, going, “Uhhh, we didn’t know shit! It was not on purpose. That was a total accident!”
But yeah, we were all thrilled with how that project came out. You could tell it was made by people who wanted to do it justice. After listening to it, I felt pretty proud of what we had done and that many people would hear the podcast. It’s an incredible story. The fact that you said that it highlights the brotherhood of our band. At the very least, I hope that that would come out at the end and the feeling people were left with — a triumphant story of perseverance and brotherhood. That was the vibe I got from it when listening as an outsider.
We’re back at it in full swing! We just got back from a successful UK tour. We’ve got US dates all over the place in the months to come. We will hit the road more properly in the fall for several weeks. We’re also talking about Australia, Venezuela, and going back to the UK. We just did a music video for “Mouth Shut,” and Adrian Young from No Doubt is in the video. He plays drummers on the song; he’s a featured artist. So that will be cool when that comes out. We’re just going for it, ya know. We want another shot at the title, and we want to bring it every time we are out there!
You guys are living the dream, so I think another shot at the title could always be in the cards! Thanks for your time today, Jeremy!
Thank you, Jason. I appreciate it. Talk to you soon!
Following the continuing adventures of LIT on social media via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Visit the band’s official website at www.litband.com. ‘Tastes Like Gold’ drops on June 17, 2022 via Round Hill Records.
LIT 2022 Tour Dates:
Friday, June 17: Anaheim, CA @ House of Blues
Saturday, June 25: Middletown, PA @ Vineyard & Brewery at Hershey
Saturday, July 2: Milwaukee, WI – Summerfest
Friday, August 12: Maryville, TN@ The Shed Smokehouse
Saturday, August 13: Suwanee, GA @Suwanee Town Center Park
Saturday, August 20: Sunbury, PA @ Spyglass Ridge Winery w/Everclear
Friday, September 9: Omaha, NE @Shadow Ridge Music Festival w/ 311
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.