Interview – Leigh Kakaty of Pop Evil

In the current social climate, the tension is so thick it is as clear as a storm brewing in front of our naked eyes. A time where people are torn between opinions; rather than hearing a message of unity and seeking a common ground, all we hear is venomistic chants of division. Is this the way we want to live? A very serious topic at hand, sometimes it takes music to bring us all together and Pop Evil are doing just that with their new, eponymous album. Released on Friday, February 16, 2018, with their fifth overall studio album, the successful Rock-n-Roll band push the envelope musically, as well as lyrically, making their own stand against the divisive atmosphere that presently plagues society. Most of all, they vow to keep Rock-n-Roll alive in a turbulent music world where no one knows which way is up anymore. Recently we caught up with founding Vocalist Leigh Kakaty to discuss the inspiration behind their new album, his burning passion for music, uniting people, touring, plus much more. – Pop Evil has been in the Rock-n-Roll game for over 15 years now. In that time, the band has attained a great deal of success touring, as well as with highly-charted albums. Being a part of it from the start, what has the ride been like for you?

Leigh Kakaty – A lot of ups and down, a lot of grinding it out. A lot of personal growing pains as well: losing my dad and life lessons along the way. Overall, the music has been the key that has been a saving grace. It has been that musical landscape that is life – the peaks and valleys. It has been fulfilling! It is crazy to think 5 albums now and that day is finally here, from the 10 year anniversary from the record deal when we really went full-time. We dropped our first record in 2008, it’s crazy. – It certainly has been a great ride for Pop Evil. Like any band, as you alluded to, Pop Evil has had growing pains. What have you learned from those twists and turns?

Leigh Kakaty – It’s that the fans can certainly lift you up out of those hard times. I think when you live this lifestyle, on a tour bus, all you see is cold, white walls from dressing rooms to venues. Then you see walls in your tour bus! I can understand why it can get lonely for a lot of people, especially as a singer, because I literally have to lock myself in a room and not talk. It is a lot of by yourself stuff as a singer. I think what you learn overall is when you see those fans singing back to you, coming to those shows, hands in the air, and they are 100% open to letting the music take over their lives and be a part of it. It brings you back to when you were a kid and you had the first dream; I thought it would be so cool having a crowd singing and knowing our songs. That’s the dream but there is a big responsibility that comes with that! I think when you get back to it, it is that lesson that the fans are there to pick you up. It doesn’t matter how hard things are, it’s knowing you can play a show, people are going to show up and get your back. It is a very rewarding feeling!

Universal Republic
eOne Music – Yes, it sounds like a fantastic feeling and gratifying. Speaking of the fans singing back to you, Pop Evil has always had an old school Rock vibe with a modern flair. You do bring a sing-along atmosphere to your shows.

Leigh Kakaty – Sure! That’s been a big thing for us from day 1. Maybe it’s the influence from where we’ve grown up – Michigan, the Midwest, it is very blue-collar. There are not many independent things there, there is just not much in general – you get your radio, you get your mainstream things and that is it. That is where we were going to find our music, radio. We were very much influenced by songs that were bringing lots of people together.

When you think of those songs at parties or weddings when you were a kid, people would come together; all different genders, races, ages, whatever it was, and come together singing. I always thought it was interesting what songs made grandma sing: she will be at the wedding singing Pantera’s “Walk,” but she might not even care if she hears Pantera again in her life but she likes that song. What brings different people together based off a song or a hook and a chorus? I think it was in those early years we really understood about hooks, choruses, and things that were catchy. That’s number 1 when we write.

It’s always like a little game, especially for me vocally, if I play it for the band and they can’t sing it after one listen, then maybe that’s not the right song for this record. That’s definitely been the key that drives Pop Evil all these years – melodic hooks. Because of that, we thought our Evil – especially of our name – has been a little neglected. We always feel like we were rushed in the studio. Obviously being a radio band, once the radio songs kind of take shame, it was, “Ok here, there’s singles.” We didn’t really know the business, we were just a couple of poor kids from Western Michigan that were trying to live the dream. We didn’t know anything about the business or what we should do with the radio singles. Radio broke our band, so once that ship got steered in that direction, it was like, “Ok, we don’t have any more time or money, so let’s just put these singles out and roll.” Now 4 or 5 albums in, we know, no, everything all goes back to our live show; that is where true fans are made and lost.

Obviously we want our albums to be great, but we want our live shows to be the best thing everyone talks about. So we steered back, and a lot of what we were hearing was there is something raw about you live that we don’t hear on these albums. We really took that to heart this time around and put all the emphasis on the guitars. We wanted the heavy definitely prominent to remind people that, look, we aren’t going anywhere. Just because we have Alternative influences, we are not trying to shift one way and forget the Rock roots that we have been born and raised with, hell no! We are going back: we are going to show and remind everybody that we’re not going anywhere. Then once “Waking Lions” was written, it all kind of just fell into place.

That is the mentality of the band: always coming back to that live show. So when people come see us, they get that yin and yang that is more relatable to life. Those peaks and valleys that makes us who we are. – Yes, and Pop Evil has always been an exceptional live band. Many fans would look to 2013’s Onyx as a turning point for Pop Evil. With 2015’s Up, you continued the upward climb. Now you return with your self-titled album. This record certainly has a very distinctive theme laced throughout it. Tell us a little bit about the message intertwined in this album.

Leigh Kakaty – There is a very strong message of people standing united. I think that where the world is today with all the division, even if you look at the music business, they divide us. Everyone’s allowed to listen to any genre on their iPods, cars, or cellphones, but when it comes to artists they try and put all artists in different categories. As musicians, especially as a Pop Evil musician, this is all I have to express myself. I think we are in a great position where we haven’t branded ourselves either way, that is never what we wanted to do. That is not the kind of people we are. If we wrote “Waking Lions” and did eleven more tracks like more of that, what would be the point of writing one? They would mean nothing! We want to give ourselves opportunities to release our coping mechanisms that we are dealing with life. From that beginning song of the record, “Walking Lions” to the last one, “Rewind,” we want to take you on that journey that is more like the musical backdrop for people’s lives.

It is interesting how all these divisions have started to frustrate our band. We say, look, we just need to stand united. If it’s good music, it’s good music. We are influenced by tons of different things in life; we are influenced by tons of different musical genres. When you think of all the greats that came before us, how many new genres of music will be created? There is only so many now, they have almost all been created. Every band moving forward is going to be somehow influenced by what we’ve been hearing now for the past couple of generations.

Again, not being afraid to be able to take those chances and risk to fail has always been Pop Evil’s M.O. We don’t really care what people think! We are just going to try and make the best music that entertains us and gets us excited, so we can bring it again back to our live show.

eOne Music
eOne Music – The new album is quite diverse, some tracks are perhaps the heaviest the band has done. It does take risks and it works. The theme of the division, that is something very prevalent right now, especially socially. It seems as if there is division everywhere you turn.

Leigh Kakaty – I think it’s just part of the social media animal. People are just more vocal: you think about everyone’s opinion now, it’s very strong. You can’t just say something and not be held accountable for it now; because of it now there’s these divisions. It’s waking people up! Obviously with the MeToo Movement, even with the division with men and women in general, which has been going on for centuries. All this stuff is coming to light now where people are at least acknowledging that we need to be better, but it is almost like we are taking a few steps backwards to move forward.

From a lyrical standpoint, it was something we wanted to address. We didn’t just want to write fluffy songs this album and ignore the issues of people dealing with life. I think that is the cool thing about Rock, you think about some of the times where we were going through war in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, where the music was always reminding us of what was going on. It was almost like a time capsule of what was going on. There are just those songs that are timeless to this day. When you listen to them you get an eerie backdrop of what life was like in that era when those bands were around, when they were playing Woodstock, what they were dealing with. There is just something beautiful about the honesty in those bands and the performances.

We wanted to try and let people know, future generations when they look back and maybe listen to this Pop Evil record, that this is what we were going through, these are the issues we were dealing with. We wanted to take a more modern spin on it and do it our own way. Again, after “Waking Lions,” it just started to fall in place. It just felt right. It was what was coming out of me, I didn’t want to cage it and put it aside. I wasn’t going to run from it, I say, “Hey, let’s do it.” – That is great and you are right, you can use music as a time stamp of decades. You spoke about “Waking Lions,” it is really is an uplifting track with an anthemic vibe. Was it the first track you wrote for the album or were there other tracks written prior?

Leigh Kakaty – No, every band does it a little different. We spend so much time together, over 200 shows a year, whenever we get a break, we all just go our separate ways and sort of recharge our batteries. I am the only one who writes lyrics, so it’s a little easier for me to write lyrics and music and get a different idea going. It is a lot harder for them, they have to write music and think, “Is Leigh even going to like it? Is he going to feel it?” When we are singing, you want to sing on the music that moves you, otherwise you are going to be there stiff as a board trying to sing songs you don’t believe in, that’s not good. I think as you get further in your career you try and get more honest with your yourself and your band. They will give me 5-10 musical instrumentals, I won’t care who wrote it. I will go through them and say which ones I like. Then I will go in and pitch them the songs that are almost fully done. They will then say ok, this is where Leigh is going with that.

As a band, we demoed 10-15 songs in the process, we decided which was cool. When I ended up with “Waking Lions,” we were all like, “Oh my god, this is something we haven’t done before.” It was in a different key first of all, it was a whole different key they never heard my voice go. That was kind of the springboard. Then we did another 30 songs, we did around 30-40 songs. I won’t say they were full songs, some just riffs and concepts that were floating around. Then we started to narrow it down. We really wanted to make our identity that we are the band that mixes Rock, Metal, and Alternative. We don’t want to sound like every other band, we want to have our own thing. Plus, to be able to do different things differently, we were pushing envelope and we are still growing. We still feel like this album is taking us a huge step forward, but now we can’t wait to re-find that as we move forward, develop, and take it from here.

eOne Music – Progression is fantastic. You should always be trying to do something new and take chances. It is great Pop Evil is still eager to do that.

Leigh Kakaty – Absolutely. Music is not only for the fans, it’s for us. If we’re not growing… I don’t know how other bands are, I only know this Pop Evil world, but if I have to write another “Torn To Pieces” or “Trenches,” I already did that. Let’s do something different! Now, if there’s an ode to it, if people are liking it and want something in that vein, I was always a huge Kid Rock fan growing up, and I always wanted another “Bawitdaba.” I understand that the fans you built over time have a certain love and passion for you not to abandon them in some ways. We try and think of that as well on this record. We try and give fans on both sides the best of both worlds.

We try to create more opportunities to bring more people into our world. When you think about how tough the landscape is in this genre just to survive, we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to live in one box, we’re not going to survive. Even though fans might not be happy about it, we want to be around a long time and be able to make music, that’s the only thing we know to make a living in this world.

If I say to a fan, “Hey, why don’t you come hang out with me on Monday night, we will stay up all night.” They may say, “Well, I have a job.” You can say, “Who cares, let’s go party, let’s hang out.” Well guess what, we have a job, this is our livelihood. It is not like we are a Pop group and we can make two albums, go retire with our billions of dollars. That doesn’t work for us. We are the janitors of the music business, we stay in business by working on weeks and working nights. That’s how we do it. It is literally just like that. We have to be creative to keep it fresh and keep it interesting to bring as many people as we can in to experience Pop Evil when there is so much competition. When we actually turn their heads in our direction, we want to keep you there.

Pop Evil live at Chicago Open Air Festival Bridgeview, IL . 7-16-16. Photo credit – Aint-Tellin Photography. Agreed. Pop Evil has done a solid job of diversifying. Speaking of which, Pop Evil are currently out on a headlining tour and then you will be hitting the road with Poison and Cheap Trick. The band is no stranger touring with elder bands, as seen with Whitesnake. Do you like having the diversity to play in front of different audiences?

Leigh Kakaty – Absolutely. Again, we just get tours with bands we played with over and over again. That’s great, but it’s the same fans all the time. How are we going to grow our brand? When you play with legendary bands like Whitesnake, Judas Priest, now about to be Cheap Trick and Poison, those fans are coming with their kids. Those kids are going to bring their kids one day. It is giving us longevity, which is so unique to those iconic Rock bands. That is one thing that you see touring with Judas Priest, those bands who have been around 30 years or more, those fans aren’t with you for an album cycle, they’re not with you for a single, they are with you for a career. That’s the beautiful thing about Rock, that is why we chose this path and why we believe in this genre so much. People have your back. It is like the original question, fans are there for you, they are going to be with you through thick and thin. They may let you hear it when they don’t like something, but most of them are not going to turn their heads to you. They are there, they believe in you, they are going to get your back. We respect that and we want to honor that by doing things that sometimes they don’t even necessarily think are a good move.

We want to be out there and get those eyes of a younger audience. When you think about Poison, Bret Michaels has been on TV with Rock of Love. He has a whole new audience who doesn’t even probably know Rock at all, they just know TV and reality TV shows. You are getting an audience in a more mainstream audience that loves Rock, they just don’t know it yet. They just don’t know it because it is not given to them. So it’s so important for us to try and be creative to get Rock in these young kids’ mind, this way they grow up, they don’t think Rock and Metal isn’t just mom and dad’s music, it’s their music too! It’s a grind, it’s a big one day at a time of mentality that needs to be shifted. It needs to start with each other. As a band, a citizen of Rock and Metal, it’s important for me to do my part. Not only that I’m a lead singer of a band, but about educating us together to think, “Wow, I didn’t think about it like that.” Of course you didn’t, because life happened, you guys are busy doing your thing. It’s my job to be thinking about this 24/7. It’s not just about the music, the music is the easy part. Oh, you don’t like the music? We will go write a Rock record for you tomorrow. That’s not the point. The point is we need to survive as a species of music to be able to fight through these tough times. So we can once again be on top, or at least be on the same level. It’s important it needs to start with us, we can’t focus on the negativity, we just need to be loud united rather than divided. That is what this album is all about. – You are right and your passion is really inspiring. Hopefully things will change. Last question for you. CrypticRock covers music but we also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, do you have any favorites?

Leigh Kakaty – You know what I hate? My pet peeve is when someone comes behind you and scares you, you do that jerk motion where you say, “Oh my god,” your heart sinks literally into your toes for a minute and comes back up. I have never been a fan, I hate roller coasters. I was never a huge Horror film guy, I always like more action-packed films. I watched all the Friday the 13th’s, that reminds me of my childhood. Obviously I love the Rob Zombies, we have toured with Rob too, so I am little biased toward him because I love him.

I am not the best guy for Horror. I shy away from the Horror films with all the blood and guts, I always have kids around with my nieces and nephews with all those Disney films. I barely get to watch TV and movies these days. I do respect the Horror films but I am probably not the best candidate at task, I don’t watch enough of them.

Tour Dates:
17-Feb Minneapolis, MN Music Hall
21-Feb Denver, CO Summit Music Hall
23-Feb Boise, ID Knitting Factory
24-Feb Spokane, WA Knitting Factory
25-Feb Seattle, WA El Corazon
27-Feb San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall
28-Feb Sacramento, CA Ace Of Spades
1-Mar Los Angeles, CA Roxy
2-Mar Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre
3-Mar Phoenix, AZ Van Buren
5-Mar Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theatre
6-Mar Lubbock, TX Jake’s Backroom
8-Mar San Antonio, TX The Aztec Theater
9-Mar Houston, TX House Of Blues
10-Mar Dallas, TX House Of Blues
11-Mar Little Rock, AR Metroplex
13-Mar Birmingham, AL Saturn
14-Mar Atlanta, GA The Buckhead Theatre
16-Mar Baltimore, MD Baltimore Sound Stage
17-Mar Clifton Park, NY Upstate Concert Hall
18-Mar Lancaster, PA Chameleon Club
20-Mar New York, NY Gramercy Theater
22-Mar Philadelphia, PA Theatre Of Living Arts
23-Mar Portland, ME Aura
24-Mar Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
25-Mar Syracuse, NY Westcott Theatre
27-Mar Buffalo, NY Town Ballroom
28-Mar Cleveland, OH House Of Blues
29-Mar Cincinnati, OH Bogarts
31-Mar Kansas City, MO Truman Theater
2-Apr St. Louis, MO Delmar Hall
4-Apr Ft. Wayne, IN Piere’s
6-Apr Detroit, MI The Fillmore
7-Apr Columbus, OH Newport Music Hall
20-Apr Las Vegas, NV Downtown Las Vegas Events Center
27-Apr Jacksonville, FL Metropolitan Park
28-Apr Sunrise, FL Markham Park
4-May Charlotte, NC Charlotte Motor Speedway
22-May Salt Lake City, UT USANA Amphitheatre *
25-May Pryor, OK Rocklahoma
31-May Nashville, TN – Ascend Amphitheatre *
2-Jun Mendig, Germany Rock Am Ring
3-Jun Nürnberg, Germany Rock Im Park
7-Jun Indianapolis, IN – Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center *
9-Jun Solvesborg, Sweden Sweden Rock Festival
14-Jun Hartford, CT – The Xfinity Theatre *
15-Jun Gilford, NH – Bank of NH Pavilion *
17-Jun Bristow, VA – Jiffy Lube Live *
19-Jun Toronto, ONT. – The Budweiser Stage *
22-Jun Bethel, NY – Bethel Woods Center for the Arts *
1-Jul Bucharest, Romania Shine Festival
6-Jul Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic Rock For People
12-Jul Oshkosh, WI ROCK USA
13-Jul Cadott, WI ROCK FEST 2018
* w/ Cheap Trick & Poison

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