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Timelessly Lit

Lit’s Ajay Popoff talks about his career with the band. Picture by Jenn Noga

Listening to Lit’s music sets the scene for the best kind of nostalgia, the kind that takes you back to a moment of freedom or a summer road trip with your friends. Maybe it’s a memory of seeing Lit live that takes you back that feeling of pure fun when their pop-punk sound waves hit you in the chest. Songs like “My Own Worst Enemy” defined modern rock in the late 90s. Now we get to create new memories with Taste Like Gold, Lit’s new LP that dropped last month. The entire album is filled with party anthems from the same Lit you loved in ’99 but with a freshness that not every artist is able to accomplish after over two decades of making music.

We got to sit down with frontman Ajay Popoff at The Gathering in Cleveland, Ohio. When you talk to Ajay, you really get to feel the heart behind Lit. Their music holds a sense of fun and letting go that is easy to get lost in. It keeps up with the times and evolved while still staying true to who Lit is at the core. That isn’t because they have some manager pushing them into something or a front they are putting on. It’s simply who they are.

“RCA Records came on board. Catapulted us into the world we dreamed of: MTV, music videos, songs on the radio… It just blew up and we rolled with the punches.”

Ajay talked about the moment he knew music was the path he was going down. It was early on, he says, “My brother and I went with our dad to an Iron Maiden concert when I was 8 years old… Seeing them on stage and the energy we felt in the crowd. We’re like, ‘we gotta be up there.'” From there the band formed during his sophomore year of high school and they spent the next 10 years trying to make a name for themselves. Ajay went on to say, “It was a long road. That moment where you’ve made it, those develop over time. The first thing is like, ‘we got a gig’ . . . ‘we’re playing a show.’ It took us 10 years to get a record deal.” He continued with, “RCA Records came on board. Catapulted us into the world we dreamed of: MTV, music videos, songs on the radio… It just blew up and we rolled with the punches.”

However, that long road doesn’t mean they’re stopping anytime soon. When continuing to talk about the band he said, “There are still bars we haven’t reached. I can die a happy man tomorrow but I’m not done.”

Popoff giving insight to what helps Lit be a nostalgic band while continuing to keep up with today’s music industry. Picture by Jenn Noga

The world has changed quite a bit since Lit first formed. Everything from how we listen to music to how shows look on stage has made a shift since the 90s. Popoff’s goals are still similar to what he wanted back then but now there are new challenges and new perspectives to be had. He says, “We’ve never gotten to the point where we’re headlining arenas. To build from the nostalgia, to build from what we’ve created as a band over all these years. Along with new perseverance and new music. You’ve got TikTok. You’ve got all these things. You’ve got to keep an open mind. Honestly, if you can find inspiration in those things instead of getting mad at them and fighting them. There’s no sense in not rolling with the times…we’re not going to do something that feels wrong or doesn’t feel like us but we’re having fun with the new school.”

In talking about the differences between now and then he says, “Pop culture as we know it was the MTV thing and accessibility wasn’t there. So I look back to when we went to MTV and went on TRL and there was a crowd of people outside the window. Those people didn’t get to see when we woke up in the morning and had our first cup of coffee… I really embrace and cherish those years right now because we don’t know where this new school is taking us. I think we’ll look back on this and think ‘that’s cool.’ I love that we got to be part of the world of touring without crazy cell phones attached to your hip.”

 “There are still bars we haven’t reached. I can die a happy man tomorrow but I’m not done.”

So how does the new music compare and how did they get there? Popoff says, “I think it’s just been like that eclectic playlist we all have. Not putting ourselves–– pigeon holding ourselves into one category. I’ve always hated being a specific genre. But I think over the years [through] a collection of people we’ve collaborated with, learning different ways of approaching a song when we write, and just learning and gathering tools along the way. I think we’ve gotten better. It was an intentional move to turn the clock and say, ‘we’ve learned a lot. we feel like we’ve gotten way better as writers but let’s go back. What were we thinking when we wrote A Place in the Sun or Atomic?’ We didn’t want to overthink things and we tend to. So it was letting loose of all self-judgment and letting things happen organically.”

While at The Gathering, we were surrounded by a wide range of bands, including some that were fresh out of high school. I asked Popoff if he has any advice for those artists and he said, “I don’t try to give other artists advice because that changes all the time. I would say it’s advice from one human to another but when things start moving they move quickly and it’s a cliché but stop and smell the roses. Really slow down any chance you get and suck it in. I look back on certain moments in our career and think ‘damn why didn’t I slow down and just really absorb it.’”

Lit at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio under the CBGBs Awning

When talking to Ajay, you almost get a boost of confidence in yourself because he exudes that confidence so well. He is as approachable as that person you want to be friends with at the party. But something he says his fans might not know about him is, “It’s something I feel really strongly about—mental health and awareness of that. As a kid, probably more so than now because I’ve learned to overcome. I’m a closet really really shy and anxious person. There’s vulnerability there. You put on this front like you’re extremely confident. We put more pressure on ourselves than others do.”

To have Ajay sit down and open up the way he did was special and it makes Lit’s music all the more tangible and personal. Learning how in touch they are with their fans and the world around them makes us excited to see what comes next. There’s one thing we know, Lit’s music withstands the test of time. Their willingness to be open-minded and their approach to life is fully reflected in their sound. It’s the kind of passion and connection that will be relevant beyond TRL, TikTok, or whatever is next for society and music. 

 
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