By Daniel Kohn
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Jeremy's hard-rock looks—a 6-inch braided goatee, tattoos, body pierces and spiky bleached hair—make him easily identifiable. "Sure," he says as he and Kevin slide out of the booth.
"Think I should go over there?" Allen asks you. "She didn't know who I was."
He hesitates for a moment and then, deciding that she just didn't see him because his back was to her, gets in the shot.
"It's been getting progressively"—and then he stops himself. "I mean, it's rad and everything, but there have been times when it's just been, like, 'Whoa,' you know?" asks Jeremy, easing himself back into the booth and perhaps trying to put words to feelings so new that it's difficult for him to say whether he knows exactly what he means. "It's a strange concept when you're in the Midwest and two girls follow you around for, like, seven or eight days. They buy tickets to all the shows, they get hotel rooms, they have a car, they know where we're staying at all times, and they know what we're doing. There are fans who know our schedule long before we do, and I don't know how they do it. Yesterday, in New York, we walk out of our hotel to walk over to RCA before our thing on MTV, and there were two hardcore fans waiting in front of the hotel. We'd just gotten there the night before at midnight. I have no idea how they knew where we were staying."
"We had one guy who had a really shitty Kiss tattoo right here," says Kevin, pointing to his upper arm. "He asked if we could all sign his arm so he could get it tattooed."
"We're like, 'Please don't,'" says Jeremy. "In D.C., some girl got the dot of the 'i' of the Lit logo—it's like a starburst thing—tattooed on the back of her neck."
"Perfectly tilted and everything!" adds Kevin.
And how does that make them feel?
"That's fucking really weird," says Jeremy fervently. He pauses for a moment. "Oh, well. How bad can it be?"
But it's not really a question. It's a subtle cue to change the direction of the conversation because he's savvy like that and not about to risk being perceived as a star complaining about fame, something for which the public has no tolerance.
"There are worse problems," Jeremy continues. Allen and Kevin, suddenly humbled, nod in agreement. "It's not a problem. It's just such a new thing for us. It's just such a weird experience that we're still learning about—learning how to do it and learning what our boundaries are and what we can and can't do. So it's always those situations where you don't even know what your limitations are until you've gone past them, and then you go, 'Oh,' and kind of back up."
For 11 years, the members of Lit have worked and struggled and convinced themselves that this kind of success is what they want. For 11 years, they've imagined how they will act and, it's safe to assume, how they hope they'll never act. And like anyone who gets what he wished for and discovers (as is always the case) that it's a little different from what he expected, they're stuck in that weird position of trying to make sense of it all in a way that sits right and still allows them to be the anti-rock stars, forever bending over backward for their fans, forever polite and pleasant, forever grateful and humble, never forgetting what it was like to want this.
"Growing up, I was the biggest Iron Maiden fan ever," says Jeremy, leaning forward. "I worshiped them, you know. And a few years ago, I met Bruce Dickinson, and he was such a dick. It totally tarnished my image of him. I was devastated. That's why we always try . . . I mean, there are days [when] we wake up at the crack of dawn, go do radio, go do press, go to sound check, do another interview, do the show, and then do something after the show like a meet-and-greet, and we never get shitty with our fans. That's just total bullshit. It would really suck if there were ever a situation where a kid was stoked to meet us and got denied somehow. Or if we were assholes accidentally or the fans felt like we didn't appreciate them somehow."
But what about the fans who just won't let up?
"They love signing autographs, but I'll pull Jeremy away from signing autographs sometimes, and we'll argue about it later," says Brian Schechter, an affable spiky-haired guitar tech nicknamed "Wonderboy." At a show in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, the band waited backstage for a while. Jeremy wanted to watch Fuel, Wonderboy remembers, "So we walked out there, and he just got surrounded, and finally, I had to say, 'Okay, guys, that's enough,' and I pulled him away. They're so devoted to the fans, but all they are is human."
While it's impossible to turn on the radio these days without hearing Lit (surely you've heard the ubiquitous bouncy first single, "My Own Worst Enemy"), it is possible to live in Orange County, where they kicked around the scene for more than a decade, and feel like they came out of nowhere. Name changes are part of the confusion. In 1994, Lit were called Stain and were something like the house band at Fullerton's Club 369. At 369, they built their initial following playing something a little more like the Soundgardens and Korns of the world than the infectious grinding pop they're known for today. After a legal battle involving the name Stain (someone in Ohio had copyrighted it), they changed their name to Lit and released Tripping the Light Fantastic in 1997 on Malicious Vinyl, a label that subsequently folded. They signed to RCA in late 1998 and were thrown into the studio instantly. "My Own Worst Enemy" was "leaked" to radio early, before the album had even been released, which meant that everyone had to bust their asses to get A Place in the Sunout while radio listeners—who are potential album buyers—were still excited about the song. All went as planned: the song was No. 1 on modern-rock radio charts for 11 weeks, the album is certified gold and looks like it will be platinum by the end of the year, and they've been touring nonstop—including two dates at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre with the Offspring—since February. They could probably count their days off on one hand.