Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff looks back on, forward to music

Lit are (from left) Ryan Gillmor, Kevin Baldes, A. Jay Popoff, Jeremy Popoff and Nathan Walker. (Photo courtesy of Good Cop Public Relations)

Jeremy Popoff wonders where the time has gone.

The Lit guitarist and his bandmates first found mainstream success in 1999 — after 10 years together — with the release of the album “A Place in the Sun.” The album’s biggest hit, “My Own Worst Enemy,” still gets consistent radio play today. The band’s run continued into the 21st century with three follow-up albums through 2004. But Lit’s time in the national spotlight faded as the band dealt with a series of tragedies.

In 2005, Jeremy and frontman A. Jay Popoff’s mother, Sheryl Suglia, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident when she and their stepfather, Kerry Suglia, were struck by a drunk driver. Kerry Suglia died.

In 2008, drummer Allen Shellenberger was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in 2009.

But the Popoffs and founding member Kevin Baldes (bassist-singer) never stopped playing. The Fullerton, Calif., band of brothers — biological and in friendship — continued to play shows despite going eight years between album releases.

With new members Nathan Walker (drums) and Ryan Gillmor (guitar and keyboard), Lit released “The View from the Bottom” in June.

The band wraps up the Summerland Tour, a ’90s-themed throwback of sorts that includes Sugar Ray, Everclear, Gin Blossoms and Marcy Playground, on Saturday night at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth.

Jeremy Popoff, 40, spoke with the News Tribune on Wednesday about his band, writing songs for Lit and other artists, and a career that has spanned four decades.

Jimmy Bellamy: Maybe it’s because it hasn’t been that long since the ’90s, but Lit’s music doesn’t sound dated.

Jeremy Popoff: “I think our new record sounds like Lit, and I think it sounds current and relevant. I don’t think it sounds dated. But at the same time, we’re just a rock band. I think a lot of the rock bands I grew up listening to kind of have their sound and they make records for 10, 20, 30 years. It’s funny; we were together 10 years before success and then all these people thought we were new. We’ve been around for a long time.

“One of the things that hasn’t changed is my guitar tone. I was an ’80s metal kid. I always had that sound and tried to achieve it since the ’80s. My sound went from dated to cool, dated to cool. I just never changed it. As accessible as music is now on the Internet, it’s kind of a trip. To be making music with Les Pauls and amps … that’s just how we’ve always done it. Now it seems like it’s rare to do it that way.”

JB: Have you been able to adapt to the changes in the music industry because of the period of time when you first were successful? Has it helped deal with how grimy the business can be?

JP: “The griminess of the business definitely hasn’t changed. The business of selling records has changed. We were fortunate. I’m stoked that I have a couple of platinum records hanging on my wall. Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll have an award for most ‘likes’ on Facebook. The idea of going out and selling a million physical hard copies of an album is difficult now. I was lucky to be a part of a band in that last wave, so to speak.

“We were lucky to be a band in the late ’80s. We’ve been around for a lot of stuff. We’re lucky to still be doing it. … I can’t believe how fast the last 10 years have gone.”

JB: After everything you went through, you never split up. Was it made easier because your brother’s in the band with you? Did you ever talk about a break-up?

JP: “I don’t think that that was ever an option. We’ve gone through a lot of crazy stuff over the last 10 years. I think it’s just real-life stuff that every person goes through. You keep going through it and getting through it. It’s not like Lit is a hobby or a side project. We’ve known Kevin since junior high. A. Jay and I are brothers, and Kevin’s my brother.

“(Even without new albums), we still had the ability to come and play shows. It’s what we dreamed about doing since we were little kids. You work your ass off for a lot of years to get to a certain point. We did it so long before we had any success.”

JB: You’ve continued to play together all these years. You hear and read about people in bands who go through burnout. You must love to perform.

JP: “It’s a rush and for real every night. I think the burn factor can definitely set in for other people. It’s different because we have kids and families and businesses now; it makes it difficult to be on the road for a period of time. It’s challenging in that regard, but for the most part we’re able to make it work.”

JB: You released the album “The View from the Bottom” in June. Has it helped to have new material at shows?

JP: “We’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to put out new music. The response has been awesome and the crowd is digging the new stuff. We weren’t working on this record the entire time.

“We were writing songs, but we also were writing songs for other people and other projects. That’s how Ryan joined the band. We got together to write songs for other people. The gears were turning; it feels good. Even though it was eight years (between albums), I couldn’t imagine looking back and saying, ‘We should have dropped a record that year.’ ”

JB: Did your success outside of music (the opening of The Slidebar Rock-n-Roll Kitchen in 2004 in Fullerton) make that easier?

JP: “I don’t know. I’m not sure that it has to do with success or not; it’s a matter of you go through the cycle. You get back to writing and do it again. It’s not that we weren’t (successful) in the past; it’s that other things were going on. As far as the next record, it might be next year. It’ll probably be quicker (than eight years). I have a recording studio in Nashville, so we have access to be able to jump in and go.”

JB: When putting an album together, are there certain songs that make the cut and others you stash away for later?

JP: “For us, we’ve never been a band that writes 30 or 40 songs and picks 12 and the rest go in the trash. Because we write for other things and other genres, we usually don’t finish a song we’re writing unless we’re into it. Usually by the time we have 12 or 13 songs, we’ll go and record those. It’s a waste of time and money to record songs that people aren’t going to hear.”

JB: You’re coming to a close on the Summerland Tour. Have you toured with some of the bands in previous years? How’s it been?

JP: “It’s been awesome. We’ve never done any shows with the Gin Blossoms, and those guys are great. The Marcy Playground guys; we hadn’t really known them before this tour. Sugar Ray and Everclear we’ve known, and those guys are awesome. I’ve been friends with (Everclear frontman) Art (Alexakis) for a lot of years.

JB: What are your tributes to Allen on the new album?

JP: “ ‘Here’s To Us’ and ‘The Wall’ are for Al. But really the whole record’s a tribute to him. We have a slideshow of him playing on the big screens during some shows. And we’ve done some other stuff, too. It’s different. I know other bands have, but I hadn’t been through it before. There was the public stuff, then the personal, private stuff. And some of it overlapped. But, yeah; I think every night’s a tribute to him. He’s up there onstage with us every night.”

JB: What’s in the works for you and Lit post-Summerland Tour?

JP: “We’ll be on the road again after this. We’re going to go home for a couple weeks, see the fam. We’ll be back on the road in the fall. Our first single’s going to radio in a couple weeks — ‘Miss You Gone.’ Check them out on iTunes and give them a listen.

“I also have another single I wrote coming out. It’s a country song called, ‘Why’d You Have To Be So Good,’ by Heidi Newfield. So, I’ll have two songs out there on different formats; it’s awesome. I love it. (Writing songs) is something that I’ll be able to do for a long, long time.”

This Q&A originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

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