Not only is he a member of Lit, but A. Jay Popoff is one of the most underrated frontmen in rock music. Having just come off an exciting tour in the UK, I spoke with A. Jay about live shows, which frontmen influenced him, his love for metal, the recent nineties nostalgia tours and more!
Alex Obert: What did you take out of the recent UK tour? It seemed like a good time for you.
A. Jay Popoff: The most recent UK tour was part two, kind of an unexpected part two to our UK run. We went out in the springtime for some dates and had a blast. All the shows went so well that the promoters our agent out there asked if we would be interested in coming back. We were to perform in what I guess are considered B-markets, but for the most part, the UK is a pretty confined area. The whole market in general is just a blast for us. We got to go to some spots where we never played before. It means a lot to the people in the UK that we come to their hometown, the small markets. They’re stoked that we actually came to their town. For some of the people out there, they don’t like to travel much. In California, we can play LA and then play in San Diego, and a lot of the same fans will show up. There are a few in the UK that will follow you around, but for the most part, they don’t like to go too far. (laughs)
Alex Obert: What are some of your favorite foods that the UK has to offer?
A. Jay Popoff: They don’t offer a lot of good food, unfortunately. (laughs) But when we’re in the UK, we’re pretty excited when we can find a Wagamama. It’s a chain of noodle restaurants out there that we keep saying they need to open out here because it’s pretty much our favorite kind of food. We spend so little time eating healthy food while touring. We’re going from the tour bus to the venue back to the tour bus, we’re living on rider food. That’s basically a loaf of bread and some deli meat and an occasional vegetable tray. But when we can find a Wagamama with a nice hot bowl of soup, we can give back to our body a little bit with the vitamin intake and chicken and proper vegetables.
Alex Obert: On the topic of travel, what do you do to pass time while on the tour bus?
A. Jay Popoff: We sleep a lot while we’re on the bus, especially in the UK. We kept the hours as close to California time as we could. We’d play a show and get back to the bus then probably wouldn’t get to sleep until 4 or 5 AM. For the most part, we’re having a post-show drink, putting on a good movie, then we lounge and shoot the shit until we get tired and then we probably sleep till two in the afternoon, just in time to go to soundcheck. I guess it sounds kind of boring on a tour bus, you’d expect a lot more partying going on, but we’re pretty chill. (laughs)
Alex Obert: Was there more partying going on for you in the nineties?
A. Jay Popoff: It’s about the same. We may have gone a little bigger when we were a little younger, but we still drink the same way we always have and we’re just a bunch of dudes on the bus that act like we’re in high school again. When you’re on a tour like that where it’s back to back shows, you don’t spend a whole lot of time staying put. You’re lucky if you get a little bit of rest in and then you get to the next town, you’re ready to go. A lot of times when you wake up, you’re half asleep while doing soundcheck. Even though it’s midafternoon, it’s just kind of a trippy existence. (laughs)
Alex Obert: While playing shows, what’s your favorite type of venue?
A. Jay Popoff: We have fun, no matter what kind of venue is. We definitely have fun in little sweatboxes. For me, ideally, I love House of Blues. You still have the intimacy of a relatively small room, you have a nice dressing room and a decent shower, and it always sounds a little better. We played at Brooklyn Bowl, that was probably my favorite venue in the UK. It’s very similar to a House of Blues kind of experience, but on a bigger scale. We had a bowling alley on the side. It was very Lit. It had a little bit of a nostalgia factor, it’s a really nice venue. It sounded great. As a concertgoer, I would love to see a show there.
Alex Obert: While you perform on stage, what’s the secret to being a good frontman?
A. Jay Popoff: It’s crazy because I’ve been extremely shy my whole life. Anybody that you talk to that went to high school with me would probably say that I was awkwardly shy and that I didn’t talk to many people. I had my small circle of friends that I hung out with. When I started going to concerts, I was really young. My first concert was Iron Maiden when I was eight. I learned how to be a frontman from guys like Bruce Dickinson and David Lee Roth. With a lot of bands back then, it was more about being a showman than a singer. Bruce Dickinson was a great singer though. But it was more about entertaining. So that was where I got my start. I wanted to be the best frontman I could be. It looked like a fun gig, getting up on stage and commanding attention while putting everything into a show. And I’ve been doing that now for over twenty five years. A few years into that, I started realizing there was more to the picture. I started focusing more on writing songs and lyrics. I was getting into guys like Elvis Costello and focusing on my vocals little more. I was learning to shift my focus over and find a good balance between the two to be the frontman I wanted to be. I think I still have a lot to learn. I’m forty one now, but every time we go out and do a string of dates, I feel like I always learn something new. And that’s when I come back a little bit better.
Alex Obert: Since you mentioned that Iron Maiden influenced you, what do you think it would have been like if you were in a metal band?
A. Jay Popoff: We’ve gone through a lot of changes over the years. There was a period of time before we had a record deal where we were pretty heavy. Our influences are all over the place. The first instrument I played was drums. I was a drummer for a few years. I actually played drums in the band when I started it with Kevin, our bass player. We found a guy at our high school to sing. My grandpa was a jazz drummer, an organ player and singer. And he wouldn’t let me play his drum set unless I was playing one of his jazz records. If you wanted to be a musician, in my mind, you had to start with jazz. That’s what my grandpa taught me. So I went from that to pop music. My brother Jeremy and I, our dad was a DJ on pop radio. During those years, pop just meant hit songs in every genre. Kenny Rogers was pop. You had Michael Jackson, you had Def Leppard, if you had a hit song, it was on pop radio. I guess I grew up not really having a favorite genre until I became a metalhead and I went through a phase where all I listened to was metal. I was listening to Metallica and Judas Priest and all those bands. But when we started writing music, it just came from every direction. To this day, we write a lot of country songs. Flashback arena rock stuff, our most recent record has a lot of that. I guess we could never have been just one thing. To be a metal band, I think we would have felt limited. It probably wouldn’t have worked.
Alex Obert: With bands of different genres, but from the same time period, what are your thoughts on the recent nineties tours such as Summerland and Under the Sun? I attended a show on the 2012 Summerland tour when you were on the lineup.
A. Jay Popoff: At first, I was a little bit opposed to it because we had a new record ready to go and we were touring and supporting that. I kind of didn’t feel like going backwards, I wanted to keep moving forward. The more we were talking about it and coming into the fifteenth year anniversary of our A Place in the Sun record, we thought that if we wanted to do something for that, now was the time. It was something we felt ready to celebrate. The MTV generation had moved on and there’s really nothing like that now. I think people were craving a little bit of nostalgia and wanted to go back to those days. That’s something I think we wanted to do as well, we wanted to relive some of that. It’s fun to talk to people after shows and have them talk about when that album came out, they were in college or they were in high school and it was their summer anthem. It’s cool to go back to a time where you saw your favorite band on TV and you saw their videos. You weren’t able to necessarily download and regurgitate everything you’d hear so quickly. So I think we were lucky to be a part of something like that, it was more like a celebration than something that felt stale to us. It ended up being something that was exciting.
We got to tour with a lot of the later nineties bands. It’s just great fun. There was just so much energy in the shows back then. We toured with The Offspring and No Doubt and a lot of shows with Sugar Ray. The nineties were a blast, I can’t think of an era after that that really captured that kind of a camaraderie or movement. I don’t think the 2000’s really had anything like that. Our song hit the radio in ’99, so we caught the tail end of the nineties.
Alex Obert: For those who discovered Lit in the nineties and remembered the first time they heard your songs on the radio, how would you describe your 2012 release, The View from the Bottom, to them?
A. Jay Popoff: We were a little bit surprised when we went out on tour recently. We did A Place in the Sun front to back and as soon as we finished that record, we would launch into a second set. And a lot of the songs from that second set were from The View from the Bottom. I guess on one hand, we play My Own Worst Enemy or Miserable and there’s going to be a handful of people that are like, “Alright, we saw what we came to see.” You expect people to trickle out or whatever. But the room stayed packed and I think the energy level kicked up a notch when we went into the new record. That’s what’s really cool about the UK fans, when they invest in a band, it’s something that they stick with as lifers.
We’ve put out a few records since A Place in the Sun. We have a really awesome core following that has followed us every step of the way. But for those who maybe haven’t bought a record since A Place in the Sun, you’re gonna hear a record that’s like an old high school friend or someone you were buddies with in college and you’re just catching up. We grown up and we’ve matured a lot with what we’re writing about. We’ve had life changes. If you grew up on Lit, there’s a chance you’ve grown up a little bit, you got married and maybe had kids, maybe gone through a divorce. All the things we’ve gone through, I think a lot of the Lit fans have gone through as well.
Alex Obert: You played at Mohegan Sun on the 2012 Summerland tour, but what are your thoughts on Mohegan’s smaller stage, the Wolf Den?
A. Jay Popoff: We’ve done the Wolf Den a few times. That’s a cool venue. We grew up going to casinos back in the day. Obviously low stakes. (laughs) You get to be in the heart of the casino. It’s a bigger stage and it sounds good. That’s a venue I love doing, I’d come back and play again.
Alex Obert: Looking back on your entire career so far as musician, what do you consider your proudest moment in music to be?
A. Jay Popoff: There’s so many cool moments. You dream of being a rockstar when you’re a kid. You dream of getting on the radio. You dream of playing an arena one day. You want to be able to see your video on MTV. Those were all moments where when we finally got there, they blew us away. I think definitely the first time we heard our song of the radio, it was definitely one of those moments. We as a band grew up together from early, early high school years, and we ended up reaching a goal that was pretty much like winning the lottery back in the day. To get a record deal and get your song on the radio was what we’d dream about. And we achieved it.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, do you have any website for readers to check out?
A. Jay Popoff: We have LitBand.com. LitBandOfficial is our Instagram and Twitter. As far as the social media stuff goes, we’re still relatively new. Our Instagram is still fairly new. We’re from the days of flyering and postering in the neighborhood. (laughs)
Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time and a great interview.
A. Jay Popoff: Hey, thank you buddy!