"There it is," he says proudly.
Everyone leans forward. There it is: a tattoo of Elmer Fudd, armed with a shotgun and following some wabbit twacks across Shellenberger's right buttock.
Not to be outdone, guitarist Jeremy Popoff, he of the six-inch braided beard, unravels his sleeve to reveal a picture-perfect tattoo of Frank Sinatra and a Cadillac logo. Jeremy's younger brother, twenty-five-year-old vocalist A. Jay, pulls up his T-shirt to display the word STAINED emblazoned in Gothic script across his abdomen.
The members of Lit are passionate boys: They love their tattoos, they love their vintage cars, and they love everything that rocks. As teenagers growing up in the shadow of Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, they bought cheap tickets to Iron Maiden and Metallica concerts, and then jumped from the balcony into the orchestra seats.
That same die-hard enthusiasm carried them through ten long years of anonymity as a band. Then, this year, they finally hit the jackpot: "My Own Worst Enemy," their power-pop single about morning-after regrets, recently hit Number One on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, and their second album, A Place in the Sun, has gone gold.
This afternoon, Lit's Warped set is a giddy, high-energy marathon of metal guitars and indie-rock harmonies, singalongs and aerial leaps that leave both audience and band doused in sweat. Afterward, they greet fans with the unspoiled graciousness of suburban sweethearts. When a college journalist is too dumbstruck to recall his questions during an interview, A. Jay and Shellenberger think of questions for him. At a late-afternoon meet-and-greet, the band tirelessly charms a line of girls in Lit T-shirts who offer their breasts, rumps, tummies and thighs for signatures.
"It's not really what we're about, but once in a while we do get into some rock & roll shenanigans," says A. Jay, scribbling his name on the seat of a giggling teenager's white jeans. "Jeremy attracts the wild-looking punk-rock chicks. Allen attracts the ones who want to be safe, because he doesn't have any exposed tattoos. [Bassist] Kevin [Baldes] and I are cleancut, so we attract the girls who are looking for someone who's kinda dangerous, kinda safe."
Back on the bus, he continues mulling his teen appeal while preparing a cup of Folgers instant decaf. "I've never been smooth with the ladies," says A. Jay. "I was always the shy little tag-along kid hanging out with my older brother. I didn't get to say a whole lot; I just rolled with it." Pushing aside half-empty boxes of ice cream cones, he splashes water into his mug and shoves it into the microwave. "I still don't get with a lot of girls," he pouts.
Hard to believe. With his black-sidewall sideburns and crooner's good looks, A. Jay certainly looks the part of a teen heartthrob. His frenetic stage moves include Elvis-inspired pelvic thrusts, and he has a habit, after a few shots of Jaigermeister, of running around nude in public.
His love life is likely thwarted for reasons other than his lack of charisma: Both he and Baldes, 27, still live with their parents. Jeremy -- the only band member with a steady girl -- and Shellenberger, 29, share a bachelor pad packed with vintage furniture and golf clubs.
If Lit's forte is rock, their passion is the swanky Americana embodied by Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. They spend most of their spare time in Vegas, and the brothers Popoff own a pair of classic Cadillacs for cruising the Strip. "It's more the lifestyle than the music," explains Jeremy. "It was America's golden age, and it inspires us to write songs like 'A Place in the Sun.' Some bands are into skateboards; we're into Vegas."
The Popoffs grew up west of their Valhalla in an Anaheim suburb, where their grandfather was a jazz drummer and their father a popular DJ on the Top Forty station KISS FM. Music was an inevitable career choice: Jeremy started playing organ at six, and A. Jay was already proficient on drums when he joined his brother's band on vocals. They met Baldes and Shellenberger in high school, where the four Vegas-loving metalheads bonded over their Van Halen T-shirts.
After forming Lit in 1988, the quartet took a series of part-time jobs to support its musical career. A. Jay was a shopping-cart attendant at Target, where Baldes worked the snack bar. Jeremy delivered pizza and drove strippers to bachelor parties. Shellenberger telemarketed. And they all stuck with the band through eleven grinding years on the L.A. club circuit.
Jeremy figures that in the long run, the rock business has a lot in common with the gambling table: "It's like blackjack. I have a theory that if you know how to play, the law of percentages says you will eventually win."
Lit released a 1996 EP, Five Smokin' Tracks From ... Lit, and a 1997 debut album, Tripping the Light Fantastic, on the Malicious Vinyl imprint. They signed to RCA in 1998, but they still wax nostalgic for their indie years and have formed their own Dirty Martini label to rerelease their earlier CD. After that, says Shellenberger, they'll use the label to promote promising bands in need.
Those are Lit's official objectives for the year. Then there are the private dreams. "There's a big picture in Times Square of a Cadillac that's coming out in 2000," says Jeremy, slouching on the bus as the Texas sun sets outside. His eyes grow distant. "It's awesome. I'm looking for an ad so I can hang it up in my tour-bus bunk. You know how you're supposed to hang up aspirations and whatever? Well, this way, every morning I can wake up and see what I'm really aspiring to achieve: a brand-new 2000 Cadillac."
- by Neva Chonin
Rolling Stone, 08/19/99 Issue 819