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INTERVIEW: A. JAY POPOFF from LIT – April 2022

Photo credit: Allison Lynn

According to a recent press release: “Whether you posted something that didn’t go over well, or you accidentally sent a text to the wrong person, we all have had foot in mouth disease at some point. Sometimes you wish you would have just kept it to yourself is the impetus behind Lit’s new single, “Mouth Shut” today.  “Mouth Shut” is off their long-awaited seventh studio album, Tastes Like Gold due June 17, 2022 Via Round Hill Records. Lit is considered one of the preeminent bands to have come out of the post-grunge era of the late 90’s and helped define an entire generation of SoCal power punk with hard-charging hits like “My Own Worst Enemy,” “Miserable,” “Zip-Lock,”, and “Lipstick & Bruises.” The band has released 6 worldwide studio albums, including their RIAA Certified Platinum A Place in the Sun, and will be releasing new material in 2022.” We get frontman A. Jay on the phone to discuss new music, 20+ years in the business, and much more…

Toddstar: A. Jay, how are you, sir?

A. Jay: I’m great, Todd. How are you doing?

Toddstar: I’m well, thank you, and thank you so much for taking time out, man. It’s an exciting time in the world of Lit right now.

A. Jay: It is man, thank you. We had a late one last night and rolling into it. It’s a little different to put out a new song on a Wednesday, so it’s got a little bit of a head start on what was to come. But woke up today feeling pretty good.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. Let’s start with the new single; you got “Mouth Shut” out there. It’s the third track I’ve heard from the album. What can you tell us about the new album Tastes Like Gold that your fans may or may not get the first or second time they listen through the disc?

A. Jay: Man, I feel like the first or second time listening through this new record, they’re going probably not going to really need a whole lot of explanation. I think they’re going to get it right away. Really, what we sought out to do was take a minute to ask songwriters to put ourselves back in the head space we were in when we wrote the first three records. I should say the second and third, but that was to go back to that, what made us a band? What are the things that gave us our individuality and our sound? That was something that we couldn’t tap into because I think as songwriters, we just let ourselves evolve and change, and that had an impact on our sound as Lit. It really took us, Jeremy and I, a minute to step back, call some friends, get some sessions with some of these younger writers and younger producers that grew up on Lit, and we influenced them. We leaned on them to sort of, “Hey, how did that music make you feel?” That’s what we want to do again and help take us back to that place. It literally, it was one of those things. Once you opened those gates back up, it was just, “Oh, no shit. There it is,” and it was easy. We really hit it off with our two co-producers Eric and Carlo, YOUTHYEAR he goes by, and Carlo. We got together to write the first song and just loved hanging out, loved that we had everything in common when it came to this new chapter for Lit, and we just kept going with it. Then eventually, it just became this production team and co-writing team, and really found that I think when fans listen to it, they’re going to say, “Holy, shit. Lit is back.” This is the Lit I grew up on, but it’s also going to have this element of 2023, how I could jump ahead of year, but this modern approach to what that was. There’s a little more new school production things going on that I feel makes it a little fresher and more relevant today for maybe young people that didn’t even grow up on Lit.

Toddstar: Right, and that’s an interesting point, especially this day and age. I mean, we’re all getting to an age now where that music that you were cranking out twenty plus years ago is now in some channels known as classic rock. It’s different now. The one thing I really appreciate about, again, the tracks I’ve heard, and I love the new single, “Mouth Shut,” but “Kicked Off The Plane” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” First of all, they’re unmistakable, it’s Lit. You know it’s Lit the minute the music cranks in, especially once the vocals drop. But it doesn’t sound rehashed. It doesn’t sound like you are trying to recreate a glory sound. How did you approach this album, both from a writing and a production standpoint that you were able to keep the bones of your music together, while putting a fresh coat of paint on it?

A. Jay: Yeah. I mean, I think, I was saying with these guys, with YOUTHYEAR and Carlo, that it really, it took finding the right chemistry, the right production team, because we’re always very hands on with the production element of our records and, of course, the writing. But I think we’ve always just been really selective about who we collaborate with and making sure that, although we write with a lot of different people, a lot of times those songs don’t necessarily make the Lit record. I think once we found that chemistry where it almost felt like we were writing… It didn’t really feel like a typical Nashville writer’s room. What happened when we all got together was it almost felt like a band. It felt like we got along, we loved hanging out. We’d have some drinks together. We just got to know each other really well as just friends and although they don’t play instruments in the band, it literally was like how we used to write songs back in the day in this warehouse. It would be the whole band. We’d go in and we would just start jamming and having fun and not always writing. Sometimes just hanging and that’s what we did with these guys. I think that that’s probably why it just sounds so authentic Lit, but also, I mean like I was saying before, they brought it. They’re quite a bit younger and they brought that interpretation of it to the table.

Toddstar: How different is it for you to differentiate when you’re writing that it’s a Lit song? You have written so much and collaborated with so many other artists that people would be very confused by the list. Like you said, being in a Nashville type session where you’re not afraid to contribute or collaborate with anybody. How do you differentiate when you’re doing these different things or you’re laying the framework for a song between yourself and Jeremy? Yep, this is going to be a Lit deal, or this is going to be, let’s just find this out, do a songwriting team or whatever? How do you decide which songs will wind up where?

A. Jay: Well, I think that might be a little bit of what had happened maybe on the last record, These Are the Days, where Jeremy and I as individual songwriters and just coming to Nashville so much and loving it so much and loving country music. That influenced us a lot just as writers. It was the excitement of getting in rooms with these different, amazing country songwriters and learning so much from them, and just falling in love with those kinds of songs we felt that was what we had become. Which in a way, we still are and we, Popoff brothers, we still have unreleased songs, and we still love that music and love writing it too. But what clicked with this record, and with previous records that I feel captured that signature Lit sound, is that we don’t really get distracted. We typically would lock ourselves in a room, in a warehouse or whatever, and we’d finish an entire record. When I say lock ourselves, obviously we would take six months to a year or whatever to write it and letting ourselves out on occasion. But we would not veer off course too much, and I think that’s what we did this time. We didn’t step away as writers and work with other people on other songs. We just stayed focused because it was something new. We tapped into something so special and something that we had been searching for, so we didn’t want to fuck it up.

Toddstar: That’s the best way to go about it. Especially now, with everybody coming out of the gate. Everybody’s faced all the question of the pandemic and COVID and all that other stuff. How was it you were able to weather that storm, especially in the recording industry, you’re able to keep the magic alive, to where you still want to write together, you still want to tour together. It’s not out of necessity, it’s an actual desire. How is it you were able to just really shut everything off and turn it back on and make it still something you crave?

A. Jay: T think with this current record, this new material and using that as an example, I think is actually it was the perfect storm for us. I guess the COVID shut down and all that, that was the perfect storm for what I think what we needed. I think a lot of artists, a lot of musicians that I know all tend to be a little ADD. So, when you have any kind of distractions, it’s really easy to think you’re focused and in a zone and then like, “Oh, hey. Well, what’s that over there?” You can you lose focus and can sort of derail a little easier, but when it can to the whole shutdown COVID thing we started out. Obviously, we were all locked up in our own houses and not leaving and spending a lot of time just drinking a shit ton of alcohol and Zooming people and doing what everyone else was doing pretty much. We weren’t in a creative mode at all, but I think once we realized this doesn’t look like it’s going away, we were forced into a more permanent than semi-permanent lockdown feeling. That’s when we picked up our stuff and sold our houses and moved to Nashville, and that was a reset for us, but we were still in that shutdown mode. We took that as an opportunity to, well, we can’t tour. So, all the focus was on, let’s create, let’s make a new Lit record and make it one of the best records, if not the best record we’ve ever made, and what’s it going to take to do that? We literally put our heads together and figured out for the first time, because we were so focused, what exactly we wanted to do, and we executed it.

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

Toddstar: You’ve definitely done that again. I’ve got limited exposure to the new album, and I can’t wait to check it all out. I believe June 17th is still the drop date. That said, what are the songs off the new album that you think will forever be able to hold their own against some of those deeper, more well-known tracks from the Lit catalog in a live situation? Are there any that you know are just going to be over the top? Or are there some that you just can’t wait to get out in front of the crowd and play?

A. Jay: Man, I would love to just go out and play the entire record front to back live. I mean, that’s how excited I am about all the songs. I’m trying to look at the track listing right now because my head’s all over the place when it comes to that stuff. But I do know we’ve always, with our records, we’ve always tried to make sure that we have from front to back what felt like a set list. When I say I would love to play the album front to back live because that’s how we set up our track listing is opening song. We would come out with this song and then by the time you get to the end of the record, which would be the closer. I think it’s definitely a lot of ups and downs emotionally. There are definitely your quintessential Lit party anthems on there. I think one, in particular, that we did with the American Authors guys, Jeremy and I wrote with them and they have a song called “Life That I Got,” and that sounds like to me something you haven’t heard on any Lit record, but when you hear it, you’re like, “Okay, that’s a Lit song for sure, but they haven’t gone there yet.” I think that has the potential to be a summer party anthem, but there’s also some slower songs on there that are a little more tugging on the heart strings, a little more relationship oriented. I think, vocally, I tried some new things that texture wise, and just the approach I took to singing the songs that I hadn’t really done in the past. I think that opened up a new, I guess, texture is only the only word I could think of, for I’ll let say, when they listen to it for the first time they might be like, “Oh, this is cool. It’s different.” Standout standouts. I mean, “Mouth Shut,” definitely has been a standout since we delivered it, the demo form. But there, I would say, and I still can’t find it. I’m trying to find a track listing for you. An example of one of the slower songs. Yeah.

Toddstar: I know it’s one of the newer ones released. It just dropped.

A. Jay: Yeah. Today.

Toddstar: Even “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” that, to me, took me back to what you called your second album, but it took me back to the first big album instantly.

A. Jay: Right. That’s cool.

Toddstar: Touring. Unfortunately, I was super pumped, and I know all the guys including Kevin at The Machine Shop were very pumped that you were going to kick this thing off at The Machine Shop in Flint, and some scheduling things popped up. But what is it about Lit and a place like The Machine Shop once you hit the stage?

A. Jay: Well, we definitely have a lot of heart and a lot of foundation in Detroit. I mean, in the very beginning, when we first set out to support A Place In The Sun record and we started touring heavily, everybody from our manager, Ruta Sepetys, to Bill Kozy our sound engineer, our guitar tech, Wonder Boy. We just had our entire crew, were all Detroit based. In a way, it got to a point where, and they stayed with us for so long that we, obviously, went through Detroit quite a bit and different parts of Michigan. I guess, I look at Michigan, it’s probably one of those people that say LA and they call it, it’s Orange County. I sound like that guy, but I mean, I just think that it became like a second home for us and anytime we get through there, and also, we have a lot in common with just good, hard-working people. That’s, to me it sums up The Machine Shop and Michigan in general.

Toddstar:     It’s been over 20 years since you put that first disc out, the first big disc. If you could go back and talk to yourself 20 plus years ago, A. Jay, what would you tell yourself? What do you know now that you didn’t know then that you think would be valuable to help carry you through two plus decades of the recording industry?

Photo credit: Jeff Mozey

A. Jay: Well, first I’d say I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then. It’s one of my favorite Bob Seger lines ever. But I guess I would tell myself to slow down a little bit. Not lifestyle wise, but slow down when it comes to every minute moment of achievement, whether it be a new city, a new crowd, a new single on the radio, an MTV moment. Any of those things, I think it, like anything in life, like kids. I can use the same analogy with my kid growing up. Once that time passes, it’s too late to go back and really soak in every little moment. You know what I mean? I think I would have to remind myself, “Dude, in 25 years, you’re going to go, holy shit, where did that all go?” Although we have video and pictures and things like that, and memories in our minds that are amazing, it’s just like, “Damn, you only live it once.” You know, your life just flies by. Yeah, I would tell myself that.

Toddstar: That’s fair. I know you’ve got a lot going on, so I’ve got one more for you, if you don’t mind, before we cut you loose.

A. Jay: Cool, man.

Toddstar: Going through the history of the tracks that you’ve been a part of, whether you put it on a Lit record, or it was collaborated and recorded by someone else, what’s the one track that you can think of you always thought would get more attention than it did?

A. Jay: Oh, that’s a good question, man. I don’t have an immediate answer for. Oh, boy.

Toddstar: Conversely, while you’re trying to mull that one over, is there one that you put out and you thought, “There’s no way this is going to fly” and it just winds up being a standard?

A. Jay: Well, okay. That one would be “Miserable,” for sure. Just because we never thought in a million years that lyric would fly on the radio or on MTV and somehow, that song wasn’t even supposed to be a single and what had happened with that one was we started putting it in our live set. As we were touring, that song was getting just such a great reaction from the audience that we went back to the label and said, “Man, you guys, wait till you come to the show and watch the reaction to this song.” Then immediately became slated as a single. I guess, to answer your other question, I can’t think of a particular song, but I would say our Atomic record follow up to A Place In The Sun, I feel like was a better record than A Place In The Sun. I think a lot was going on in the world. I mean, in America, especially with the World Trade Center and the climate immediately shifted and there was a fun backyard party band’s music wasn’t really on the menu. No one was really ready for a good time rock and roll record. It was a combination of that, and who knows? There’s no guarantees in this business. We make music that, at the time, we feel like is great, and as long as we love it, we put it out, and then what happens after that is a mystery.

Toddstar: Well, that featured one of my favorite collaborations of yours, and that was “The Last Time Again” with Butch Walker.

A. Jay: Oh, right on.

Toddstar: I love that track.

A. Jay: That was a fun one. We used to bring him up on stage and do that together. Did you know Butch is on one? We brought him on, he’s on this record too. He does a guest vocal with me on “Let’s Go,” the Car’s song.

Toddstar: I did not know that.

A. Jay: You have to listen to that.

Toddstar: I can’t wait. A. Jay, again, I appreciate the time and can’t wait until you get out there, get this thing going. The public gets their hands on this, and hopefully we get all those dates rescheduled from the beginning of the tour so we can still catch you at The Machine Shop.

A. Jay: Absolutely. Dude, right, and that’s the other thing is that The Machine Shop’s on the top of our list. It kills us to have to have to cancel shows or move them or whatever, but we’re definitely, we’re a hundred percent coming back as long as they’ll have us. But we’re going to come back and just kill it.

Toddstar: Awesome, man. I appreciate it, and we’ll talk to you soon.

A. Jay: Thanks Todd.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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