After helping define an entire generation of SoCal power punk with hard-charging hits like “My Own Worst Enemy,” “Zip-Lock” and “Miserable,” the laid-back country spirit behind Lit’s sixth album These Are the Days might seem like a drastic left turn. But to the band, their latest Nashville-inspired progression is just as natural as the changing of the seasons.
Now comprised of brothers A. Jay (lead vocals) and Jeremy Popoff (lead guitar), Kevin Baldes (bass) and Ryan Gillmor (guitar), Lit has actually been crafting songs in the Nashville tradition their whole career – right back to their Platinum-certified 1999 breakout, A Place In the Sun. Real-life experience and skillful wordplay, authenticity and self-made sonics, hard-working independence and unflinching loyalty to each other, all of these are bedrock country values … and bedrock Lit values.
And besides, they’ve never been ones to do the expected.
“We didn’t get into a rock band to follow rules,” says Jeremy. “If we wanted to follow rules and live in a box, we could have gone to college and got a 9-to-5 job. We’re making music for ourselves first and foremost.”
Indeed. Despite a rockstar history that begins in an Anaheim, California High School in1988, the band’s creative core has roots all over the stylistic map – and at this point in their lives, the country influence which is starting to show. Growing up, the Popoff’s father was a DJ on Top 40 radio at a time when genre lines were fluid, a foreshadow of today’s online-streaming culture. Because of his eclectic, unruly record collection, they cut their teeth on the songs of Glen Campbell and Van Halen alike.
“When we were kids, we didn’t know that Waylon Jennings and Kenny Rogers were country, just like we didn’t know that Boston was rock,” Jeremy says. “It was just all songs that we thought were cool.”
Leaning in to that anything-goes mindset, the Popoff brothers, along with Baldes and Gillmor, have been frequenting and living in Nashville for nearly 13 years, soaking in a creative community and sense of camaraderie they’d never experienced before – even at the height of their chart-topping, globe-trotting popularity.
“It was a rebirth of wanting to write music again,” says lead vocalist A. Jay.
They penned heartfelt tracks with country artists like Jamey Johnson, Colt Ford, Parmalee and Cole Swindell, and shared stages with hit makers like Dustin Lynch, Chase Rice and Randy Houser, all the while learning how much their own music impacted today’s genre-busting stars. So when it came time to record a new batch of tunes, they knew exactly where to turn.
“We didn’t set out to create a ‘country album,’” Jeremy explains. “We had just been writing country songs and spending so much time in Nashville, and the way we write today is much different than it was 20 years ago. When we sit down to write a song now, it’s usually during the day with acoustic guitars, not in a sweaty warehouse in Anaheim, plugged in at full volume and drinking beer in the middle of the night.”
“We were loving what we were doing,” says A. Jay, “It was like ‘Well shit, let’s record some of these songs that we’ve been writing and see what Lit sounds like doing them’”
These Are the Days features 13 tracks – all but two of them written by the Popoffs – and longtime fans will still hear the same youthful sense of us-against-the-world abandon the group has always highlighted … but with an added appreciation for each and every moment of the ride.
“We still know how to have a good time,” A. Jay says. “We still party together and maybe get into a little trouble here and there. But we also have other things that play into our songs now, like marriage, divorce, kids who are growing up and parents who aren’t getting any younger. We’re evolving as people and learning that maybe it isn’t all about what you’re trying to achieve. Maybe you’re missing your moment in the sun, because it’s actually right here and now but you’re looking around for what’s next.”
Produced by Corey Crowder (Chris Young’s Losing Sleep and I’m Coming Over) and featuring some of Music City’s world-famous studio musicians, Lit’s classic sound is still in force – with pounding drums, crunchy guitars and A. Jay’s sly vocals leading the way. But now it’s soaked in Tennessee whiskey, mellowed by rolling banjo hooks, twangy dobro runs and whirring B3 organ lines.
“The common thread that never changes with Lit is that you can tell the Popoff brothers are in the mix,” Jeremy says with pride. “I’m still playing a Fender Telecaster or a Gibson Les Paul down to my knees, through a Marshall amp with an overdrive stomp box pedal, and A. Jay still sounds like A. Jay. But just about every solo on this record is like a Southern-rock harmony solo, because we just said ‘Ah screw it. We love it, so let’s do it.’”
Songs like “These Are the Days” and “Good Problem to Have” still bring the party, celebrating the once-in-a-lifetime perfection of the here and now. Tracks like “Back to You” and “Someday Maybe” feature pure-country storylines of heartbreak and hope, “All Eyes on Us” and “I Could Be Wrong” revel in romance, and “Easy” and “Just Feels Right” point to their sunny West Coast roots.
Meanwhile, heartfelt confessions like “Fast” and “California Son” document the band’s entire journey, laying out lived-in stories of both good times and bad. If fans want some primary-source evidence for why Lit made a Nashville record, this is where they should look.
“I know old school Lit fans have grown up with us and gone through similar life experiences,” says A. Jay. “And probably a majority of them listen to some country music now, too.”
That’s the defining element of Lit’s These Are the Days. The album isn’t about an iconic rock band cashing in on country’s growing popularity. It’s the natural result of life lived and miles traveled, families founded and visions of new horizons in the distance. Modern music has no time for rigid genre divisions anymore, and neither does Lit. It’s almost like the old-school days of Top 40 radio – so pivotal to this band’s formation – are back.
“If you’re gonna draw a line in the sand, let’s also throw down a couple of lawn chairs and some beers, and listen to some music,” A. Jay says with a laugh, offering a toast to any potential naysayers.
“I don’t think anybody cares about genre anymore, and that’s pretty cool,” Jeremy adds. “We just hope people will find a song or two on there that means a whole bunch to them … and we’re gonna keep doing it.”