Guitarist Jeremy Popoff and his Lit bandmates have been known for bringing the party since they formed over three decades ago.
Here, Jeremy tells us three very different stories of being on tour between 1999 and 2001.
As told to SPIN Managing Editor Liza Lentini.
The KISS New Year’s Eve ’99 Disaster
We got asked to open for KISS on New Year’s Eve ’99/2000 in Vancouver. We were all huge KISS fans, Kevin, especially — they’re his favorite band, and he’s a very well-known KISS collector in the KISS world. He’s got all the stuff.
It was a big deal, we flew up our parents and friends.
I had laryngitis, of all nights, but I was able to get words out. We only had a 30-minute set. We walk up to the side of the stage, my guitar tech hands me my guitar, and I hit the string to test it, make sure it was coming through.
It struck me as odd. I go, “Dude, I think we tune all our guitars a half step down from standard. This is tune standard.” He’s like, “No, no, I tuned it half step down.” I’m like, bom, bom, bom. “No dude.” I handed it back to him. “Give me another one.” He hands me another. “What the hell?” I’m thinking maybe it’s the antibiotics I’m on, maybe it’s affecting my hearing.
KISS’s guitar tech sees us struggling, and he’s like, “What’s going on?” I’m all, “Dude!” Then I’m looking across the stage, telling my bass player, “Give me an A.” We’re hitting it, and sure enough I’m sharp from him. Now we’re 12 minutes into our set and KISS run their operation very tight. We’re just cutting into our set like crazy now. KISS’s tech takes it and puts it on his big fancy tuner, he’s tuning it up and gets it ready, hands it back.
He’s like, “That’s definitely half step down dude.” I put it back on, I’m like, dom, dom, dom. “What? Fuck!” I was going crazy, I was about to smash it. I looked over way out on the stage. I see this red light on one of my pedals that changes the pitch of the guitar, the DigiTech Whammy pedal. My tech accidentally stepped on it when he was setting things up.
It’s a pedal that I only used on one song, and I don’t even think we were playing that song that night. That thing was the reason we only played two songs opening for KISS in Vancouver. It was one of those situations where it was so Spinal Tap, it was ridiculous.
We got the photo backstage with us and them. At the end of the day, that was all that counts, right?
I love the saying: “There’s no emergencies in rock ‘n roll.” That night felt like it was a 911 situation, where I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.
“The word got back to RCA Records that Lit destroyed a suite at the Hyatt, threw a TV out of the window, and then we were doing heroin.”
Our album had just gone gold, and we were playing in Hollywood that night. It was the first time in a few months that we were seeing our friends from home, and we had a suite at the Hyatt across the street. I’m not a big reader, but the books I do read tend to be autobiographies and rock ‘n roll road stories and stuff like that. I just thought that’s what you did when you stayed at the Riot House [as the Hyatt was known], you threw shit off the balcony, and you rode motorcycles through the halls, and did crazy stuff.
We had a party in our suite after the show. We were leaving in a few hours to take a red eye to Chicago to do a radio show the next night. We were on top of the world, and feeling like rock stars.
Of course, it was a tube TV that was mounted to the wall unit. I ripped the TV out of the wall unit, and then took it over to the balcony, and it was heavy as shit. I just remember throwing it off and waiting for the big ending, but it landed in a bush down on Sunset Boulevard, I don’t even think it broke. Then, a little while later, we heard pounding on the door, and the security was there, and we snuck out.
We left people in there partying at the suite, and we jammed down a staircase, and got down into the lobby and hopped in a waiting car to take us to the airport. We just narrowly avoided getting arrested, and then they sent me a bill, and it was $3,000 in damages…they charged a lot more those days for a tube TV, and a wall unit and some paint, some drywall, and whatever else.
Then we woke up the next morning, the record company was calling and everybody was like, “What the hell happened last night?” Then my [now] ex-wife at the time, she’s a diabetic, I guess, she had done her insulin shot earlier that night and broke the syringe in half, and it was sitting in a trash can. The word got back to RCA Records that Lit destroyed a suite at the Hyatt, threw a TV out of the window, and we were doing heroin, [laughs] and I was like, “Wait, what? Okay, some of that’s true. I don’t know where the heroin part came from.”
That was a one-and-done kind of thing. I got it out of my system. I actually tried to get the TV back, because I figured I paid for it and I thought that this would be a cool memento to have, and they said, “No.”
The funny part was, about two years later, we were recording an album, and we took a night off to go see Dave Matthews in concert at Dodger Stadium.
We were hanging out backstage afterward, just having drinks and shooting the shit, and this girl came up to me and introduced herself. I didn’t recognize her, but she was the girl at the Hyatt who had set up the suite for us, and the label contact there. She was like, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was your rep at the Hyatt when you pulled that shit in the hotel room.” I was embarrassed. I probably turned red.
I was like, “Oh man, sorry about that.” She goes, “I actually thought it was pretty fucking funny. The TV didn’t even break.” She had this disappointed look on her face. I was told I was banned from the Hyatt, but after that, I think everybody was cool. I was like, “That’s clearly not the worst thing that’s ever gone down in that hotel.”
September 11, 2001
We did a tour to promote the Atomic record coming out, which was our follow-up to A Place in the Sun. We decided to do a six-week tour to visit radio stations, and introduce the new stuff. The first show of the tour was at Birch Hill nightclub in New Jersey, right across the river from Manhattan. September 11, 2001 was the first show of the tour, and it was my birthday.
The night before, the 10th, we got into New York. The band would always stay in the city because we would have to go to the label, or do press, or go to MTV. We would put the crew on the other side of the river in Secaucus, or whatever because there were always big hotels there and room for tour bus parking and all that kind of stuff and a hell of a lot cheaper.
The label took us out to dinner for my birthday. We were out in Manhattan, just bar-hopping and having a good time. It was about 4:00 in the morning. We decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel. One of our guys just happened to mention… Instead of staying in the city tonight, let’s go to Secaucus and stay with the crew in the buses so that we could roll out tomorrow. We won’t have to dick around with traffic and all that.
We even kicked and complained a little bit, too. We were like, “Oh, man, fuck that. We’re staying at the W tonight. It’s my birthday, whatever.” Finally, they talked us into it, and thank God, because we would have been not right there, not in the epicenter of it, but we would have definitely been stuck. Instead, we watched it happen real-time — we could see the Manhattan skyline from our hotel.
I had only been to sleep for a few hours and my phone was ringing. I answered, it was Kevin. He said, “Dude, turn on the TV, man. A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” I woke up and I turned the TV on, and of course, it was live, but I also went over and opened the curtains in my room, because I knew I could see the skyline, and I could see the smoke coming out from the building.
Then while we were on the phone watching the news and looking out the window, we saw the second plane hit in real-time. That was when it was like, “Oh, shit.” We knew something really big was happening. Then we just threw clothes on, ran downstairs, and there was maybe 200 or 300 people in the hotel lobby just standing there silent staring at the TV, jaws open. Then right around that same time, you just saw white car after white car after white car, vans, trucks, sedans, cars just going, “Shoo, shoo, shoo,” just outside the hotel.
It was a really surreal experience being there. Up until that point, I was, for some reason, concerned about turning 30. I was like, “Oh, man, I’m old, and this sucks.” Then that happened, and I was embarrassed for feeling weird about my birthday. For the next week or so it was super surreal being out on the road, because a lot of people were afraid to come out.
The shows just had a weird film on them. If that happened, obviously in these days, everyone would probably have just gone home and postponed it, but at the time, we had our crew, and we had our bus and our truck, and we were all on the other side of the country, and we were like, “We’ve got to bring all this stuff back, so what else are we going to do?”
It was wild. Also, a super interesting time, too because it’s probably the most united that I’ve ever seen in the United States.
It didn’t matter what side of the fence you normally stayed on, the whole country… everybody had their flags out. Everybody was nicer to each other. It was a crazy time to see that all take place.
The first night on the 11th was Jersey, and then the 12th was DC at 9:30. Our bus driver didn’t want to go to DC, and we’re like, “No, dude, we’re going and you’re driving, that’s just how it is. We’re getting out of here, and we got nowhere else to go.”
We got off the stage that night in DC. It was a sold-out show that probably 50% of the people showed up to. Instead of going into the dressing room and drying off, and doing all that, we literally walked into the crowd from the stage, and just started hanging out and talking to people. It was that wanting to exchange stories and where were you in this, and what you know, who you called first, or what you did and all that, and just people sharing stories. It was really powerful.
I remember feeling that same — I don’t know what the word would be — but that same vibe. We played in Denver not long after the Columbine shooting. We went on the radio there, and we put the word out, “If you have a Columbine school ID you get into the show for free,” and we did a free meet and greet. Which sounds cheesy, but we were really big in Denver at the time, and those were our people.