Meet: Lit’s Ajay Popoff talks cancel culture, COVID-19, and leaving California

Rock band Lit

It’s been over 20 years now since American rock band Lit hit the big-time with A Place in the Sun and that album’s smash lead single ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, which has since been featured on NBC’s political satire sitcom Parks & Recreation (2009-2015) and on pretty much every version of Rock Band or Guitar Hero that you could think of.

After over 30 years in the business, Lit are still trucking. This year, the band (comprised of lead singer Ajay Popoff, lead-guitarist Jeremy Popoff, bassist Kevin Baldes, and drummer Taylor Carroll) are set to unveil their seventh album, ‘Tastes Like Gold’, on 17 June, via Round Hill Records. It marks a return to the sound of their heyday, with energetic rhythm sections meeting lyrics about good and bad times involving alcohol and relationships.

Ahead of the release of their latest single ‘Do It Again’, Backseat Mafia caught up with Ajay from the band to get everything you need to know about what the ‘Miserable’ hitmakers are up to these days.

Hey, Ajay, how are you?

I’m doing good. I’m at home in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a nice day. I was running a little late there because my brother [Jeremy, guitarist] called me last minute saying he couldn’t make it to this interview. I was pulling weeds in the garden before you called and I suddenly realised, ‘Oh shit, this might be poison ivy’. So, if you see me swell up with rashes [on Zoom], you’ll know why that’s happening.

We saw that you’d recently been touring the UK with Bowling for Soup. How was it to be back over here after the pandemic?

I was just relieved that we were able to get over to the UK and tour properly without restrictions. A lot of our friends [travelled] about a month prior to when we did, and they had to deal with them. It’s what everyone’s dealing with all over the world – but to be able to get around without all the extra testing and masks on our faces meant we could just do regular rock shows and enjoy the UK.

And how was it to be back in front of a crowd at all?

We’ve sort of been doing shows pretty much all along. Even in lockdown, there were certain events that we were invited to, and always we say: ‘If you’re down to hang out and put on a show then we’ll be there – we just want to play.’ Getting back over to the UK was something that we’ve been trying to do for years; getting in front of crowds and seeing their faces, exchanging energy – it’s something we’ve missed. We started to feel ourselves starving for it. It takes a little piece of your soul when you don’t get to do what you live for.

Speaking of the pandemic, how was that for you?

Jeremy and I both took that downtime to move from California to Nashville. We’d lived in Orange County our entire lives, so it took a lot of factors coming into perfect alignment. I guess we used the pandemic to finish things we’d been putting off – one of those being moving to Tennessee. Jeremy’s son went off to college and my daughter did as well, so we thought ‘We can get the hell out of here too’. We couldn’t think about playing live shows, so we started tackling this new record with zero distractions.

Okay, time to discuss the new record. Tastes Like Gold. It comes out on 17 June. What were your intentions with this one?

Over time, our music had evolved into this Nashville-infused country-rock sound. With Tastes Like Gold we wanted to get back to the way we wrote years ago, in the 90s & 2000s. It was a tough thing to jumpstart but once we started talking to some of our old peers, getting back to our roots, and exploring that area again, we were able to reset the wheels. It started flowing. We ended up working with two younger co-writers, Eric Paquette and Carlo Colasacco, and the chemistry was dead on. They grew up listening to us and covering our songs; they have modern ideas. They gave us a facelift: 1999 meets 2023 – I say 2023 because I’m always looking to the future.

Where did that title come from? And the artwork?

Well, ‘Tastes Like Gold’ was a song before it became the album title. That song was originally about a relationship with a substance abuse which then became about a girl. We just love the way ‘tastes like gold’ sounds, and the imagery it conjures up. Our bass player, Kevin, he’s a photographer – he shot the cover. It’s a girl who does a lot of lips work – she’s got a lipstick line. We shot a bunch of lyric videos with her. We thought it was sexy and we thought it was retro, like a disco girl!

I’ve been told that a song from the album, ‘Kicked Off the Plane’, is autobiographical. Would you be able to tell us about that?

We’ve been flying for the majority of our lives and have never had any issues, you know? [laughs] We play by the rules. But one day, we spent a long time waiting for a delayed flight, and our guitar technician, Christian, was with Jeremy and me. The airport bar staff were serving us drinks, so we drank while we waited. When we boarded the plane, Christian poured the rest of his beer in an empty coffee cup. But then a flight attendant [approached him] and said, ‘Sir, you’re not allowed to drink alcohol on the flight’. Christian just apologised and gave it to her. But then the flight continued to be delayed and then [lots of people wearing] different uniforms appeared… they approached Christian and asked him to go with them. We asked why they were kicking our buddy off the plane, but they wouldn’t really answer us, so we all got off. And then we got back to the bar where they continued to serve us more and more drinks and eventually gave us an upgrade. It was a little confusing. [laughs]

How’s about lead single ‘Mouth Shut’?

We try not to write about politics or get too heavy with our lyrics. Our lyrics are usually about partying or girls or bad relationships. But ‘Mouth Shut’ – we all say things and put our foot in our mouth and wish we hadn’t said something. In this day and age – I’m sure we’ve all done it – you write a text message, and you delete it before you send it, thinking ‘Argh, I can’t say that’. But you can be in the middle of a really shitty text conversation, and you can send something to the wrong person, or send something that you wish you could take back. That’s the line in the song, ‘I don’t regret what I said / I just regret hitting send’. And I guess with things like “cancel culture”, the song took on a different meaning: sometimes you’re better off saying nothing at all, otherwise you’ll cause trouble for yourself. But honestly, I don’t know what’s better – holding it back or blurting it out.

Tastes Like Gold is out on 17 June and can be pre-ordered/pre-saved here.

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  1. […] as well as a logical sequel to 2001’s Atomic; “1999 meets 2023”, as A. Jay described it in an interview with us. It’s a jet-engine streamlined, polished rock record that’s aware of its own limitations […]

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