“At the end of the day, Lit means something to people, and we wanted to get back to that,” says Jeremy Popoff, of the impetus behind the band’s seventh album Tastes Like Gold (Round Hill Records), out June 17. When the lockdown started in 2020, the Popoffs, guitarist Jeremy and brother and singer Ajay, made the conscious decision to return to their roots, capturing the carefree days of making a mess of music in Anaheim , California warehouses, partying with friends and cheap beer and just having fun. “We wanted to make an old-school-sounding lit record with a modern production approach to it,” Jeremy tells American Songwriter. “It took them several months to wrap their head around what was happening in the world before we began writing. Then it just took off from there and really felt like we were making the record that we set out to make.”
Hacking through the rougher patches of little-to-no motivation, the pair found themselves in the pandemic lull—drinking more than writing. The pair already had a batch of songs, which were geared more toward their country project The Popoff Brothers. “Jeremy and I kind of went into the same sort of headspace where we were just not inspired to write music,” says Ajay. “I think it was just more the idea of being sick than all the fear of the unknown in the beginning [of the pandemic], and the last thing I could think about was writing a song. I was just not going there.”
To reset, the brothers left Southern California and made their way down to Nashville to work with co-writers and co-producers Carlo Colasacco and Eric Paquette (aka Youthyear), stripping down to the basics and connecting remotely with bassist Kevin Baldes and drummer Taylor Carroll to write Tastes Like Gold.
“There’s nothing like being in a room, and that energy between writers,” says Jeremy. “It’s more inspiring. I think that alone was the energy that felt more inspiring, and a little more normal. And we wanted to feel normal when we were writing this record.”
Working with Colasacco and Youthyear was the refresher the Popoffs needed to get back into an earlier creative space. “They were fans and grew up on Lit, so we influenced them along the way,” says Jeremy. “We were hoping to find that. We wanted somebody that we inspired along the way by Lit to inspire us during this new process. We wanted some fresh blood in there to tell us what they think would be cool for the band that they grew up on.” He adds, “We wanted to feel the way we felt when we were writing those early 2000s Lit songs, but with the newer production approach. We didn’t want to feel like we’re going backwards. We wanted to feel like we were visiting, and we were inspired by that, but we’re still going forward.”
The opening “Yeah Yeah Yeah” was the first song written and captures the party ethos of Tastes Like Gold, and opened the gates to the remainder of the album and collaborations, with American Authors on the nostalgic “The Life That I Got,” reminiscing of earlier days with good friends, parties on the weekends and drinking 40s—Maybe I ain’t got a lot / I never balled in a mansion or a yacht / but I’m in love with the mother fucking life that I got.
“We wanted a fun, cool collaboration party song where we reminisce about the simpler times and going back to your childhood house,” Jeremy. “It’s back to the days when you were dating somebody new, or looking at where I used to live and driving down that street thinking ‘I shotgunned my first beer in that front yard over there, and I used to walk to school this way every day.’ At the time, you couldn’t wait to get out, but now you look back on it and you have all these flashes of fond memories and stuff. We were trying to capture that spirit in a song.”
“Mouth Shut” sets party explores and the impetus to say all the wrong things at the worst time and features longtime friend, No Doubt drummer Adrian Young, who joined the band for live shows after the death of Lit’s drummer Allen Shellenberger, who passed away in 2009 following a battle with cancer. A mixed bag of memories and hangups, “Do it Again” covers the magnetic pull of a dysfunctional relationship through the more heartfelt “OK With That” and the more wistful “Tastes Like Gold.”
In “Kicked Off the Plane,” the band relives a real-life incident when they were escorted off a flight for sipping spiked coffee. “It’s similar to ‘My Own Worst Enemy,’ lyrically,” jokes Ajay, “because we’re still doing things that get us into trouble.” Retrieving one more drop from the early days, and influences, Tastes Like Gold closes on a cover of The Cars’ 1979 Candy-O track “Let’s Go,” featuring producer Butch Walker and multi-instrumentalist Jason Freese (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, Avenged Sevenfold).
Though the songs were written during the pandemic, Tastes Like Gold is more universally set. “I liked the fact that it felt fresh, but it felt old school,” says Jeremy. “For the most part, it’s pretty universal—party, relationships, friends, and good times. We’ve always been that band, so it was refreshing for me to see that we can take ourselves out of this weird headspace and put it into a place where we’re hoping we’ll be by the time this comes out.” He adds, “It would be a drag to have a batch of new songs that were so wrapped up in 2020 that when you finally got back on the road you had to play them.”
For the Popoffs, who recently released a four-part podcast documentary behind their 1999 hit “My Own Worst Enemy,” writing nowadays is less messy and more refined. “There’s a lot less noise when we write,” says Ajay. “Now, we know what it’s going to sound like once we do plug in, whereas before we weren’t good enough.”
Jeremy adds, “No matter how many songs we write, or how long we’ve been doing this, it’s just one of those things. Still to this day, I’m amazed when we walk into a room with nothing and walk out with something that could potentially be played at somebody’s wedding, or somebody’s funeral or somebody’s graduation, or somebody’s first time getting laid in the backseat.”
Somehow, Lit finds a way to tap into something in song without knowing how they got there. “We’re just lucky to intercept something that’s coming out of the sky,” says Jeremy. “I don’t want to say we’re given this gift. We’ve worked hard on it over the years, but it’s similar to a medium or a psychic or somebody that feels a connection with another thought, and it just comes in.” He adds, “We’re basically dudes fishing and waiting for a bite. And when we get a bite, it’s just mind-blowing how it happens. The only difference today from back in the day is that the fishing poles have gotten better—and we’ve got a lot more bait available to us.”
Now more than 25 years since the band’s 1997 debut, Tripping the Light Fantastic, not much has changed for Lit. “We put our pants on the same way we did back then,” says Ajay. “We really haven’t changed as much as the world has. When it comes down to playing music, when we get on stage, or when we write a song, it doesn’t feel any different. There’s excitement. I still feel like I’m in my early 20s.”
Ajay adds, “I think that’s what keeps a lot of musicians feeling young… because it’s such an inspiring job. We’re so lucky to be doing this.”
Photo: Nick Fancher / Ken Phillips Publicity Group