Heavy Montreal Preview: An Interview With Leigh Kakaty of Pop Evil

Pop Evil (Photo by Dean Bradshaw)

Success has been a long time coming for American pop metallers Pop Evil. Formed in a small Michigan town in 2001 by singer Leigh Kakaty, the band released its first album “Lipstick on the Mirror” in 2008. The follow up “War of Angels” reached number 43 on the Billboard charts while 2013’s “Onyx” reached the 35th position. Their fourth album “Up” was released in August 2015 and has continued the upward trend by reaching number 25. But despite the chart action, it’s still a challenge to be a heavy rock band these days. “Our opportunities are very frugal and few and far between,” explains Kakaty. “We have got to be out there grinding Monday to Sunday,” he says with a laugh. “It is about staying open  24/7, you know. It is a grind, man; it is all about work and so many bands have come and gone since we started in 07.”

This obligation to tour constantly makes it hard for a band to take time to record an album. “There is a lot of pressure to get it done quick because if you don’t, then you are not making any money,” Kataky says. “You know bands live month to month, making money off shows. It is not like we were around in the 90’s and 80’s and could afford to take months or years off at a time. Bands from this era, don’t get to do that. If you take a few months off for the studio, you‘re not making money. “

Despite these pressure, “Up” represents a big step forward musically for the band. “It just gave us a different kind of confidence with the writing process, taking more chances on being experimental doing different things,’ Kakaty explains. “We went out to Seattle to do these records, so we went out of our comfort zones of doing the last records in Chicago. It was so important to be open minded to what we might write and what might come after it. So it was just incredible kind of personal journey that gave us a different kind of swagger and confidence.”

This new found confidence came in handy for the band, who’s been playing a lot of festival gigs around the world. “Festivals are just a lot of energy,” he says, “it is almost like proving grounds. You go out there and bring it and in some ways they feel easier to me now because we have done so many of them in the past 3 months.”

Playing festivals turn the spotlight on the band (“the press, the media, everyone comes out to the those kind of shows”) who feels the psychological pressure of  having to perform at their highest level, but for headline shows it’s their bodies who get the wear and tear. “If you played 5 shows in a row, for a vocalist, your vocals have to always be in check, you have to be health conscious. You can’t be drinking, you can’t be doing all of those extras, but it is rock n roll…”

Kakati, a native of Kingston, Ontario (“It doesn’t make it any easier for us to go over the border”), is excited at the prospect of playing in his native country. “It has been a personal mission for me to get the band to Canada for years and now to finally see it regularly on our touring schedules is exciting. We’re looking forward to these Canadian festivals, it has been a long haul to get those, so we’re definitely blessed and humbled by it and definitely want to make the most of it. It has been exciting to see how fast [the album] is growing in Canada.”

The singer explains that fans in the Great White North seem to have a different connection to rock than elsewhere in the world. “The fans in Canada they come out and they still believe in rock differently than people in the States, there is still a bit of that old school lustre there. It is inspiring man when we go there. Not always about how many people, but the kind of people that are there and are just so minded from the first note to the last lyric and they are singing their hearts out and they are there to support and that is what it is about.”

The band’s name “Pop Evil” has a ying/yang duality about it, describing two sides of metal music that rarely reach the same audiences. For fans of the more evil side of metal, labelling a band as pop is the ultimate put down, while people into a more melodic kind of metal are not necessarily attracted to the darker corners of the genre’s musical language. “We were big into Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, Black Crowes,” he says, “but then we were also into Rage Against the Machine and all those other bands, you know. I am a melodic singer, so it is important to be us and always want to stay true to yourself and what your band can do.”

I wondered how Pop Evil’s music goes over with the more hardcore audiences found at the metal festivals they’ve been playing. “We have toured with everyone from Judas Priest to 5 Finger Death Punch (who’ll headline day one of this year’s Heavy Montreal),” the singer explains. “We are a heavier live band, there is a lot of heavy energy that comes with these songs live. We are still growing in the studio and I think a lot of our evil side we haven’t really been able to record it because we are rushed in the studio.”

But Kakaty feels the band can deliver the goods and prove themselves to fans. “There will be a few metalheads that don’t like us, so you have just got to go with it. You bring it live, and that is really where the war is won, on the battlefield.”

That battlefield is the stage, and the band tries to refine their show constantly even going as far as writing songs to fill a specific roll in their setlist. “We don’t have money for pyro and big budgets for props, but how can we still give that raw live experience that flirts with rock n roll, but also flirts with metal.”

When the band went to write their latest album “Up”, it was important to them to not copy the previous album “Onyx” despite the success that record found. But for the music to change, Kakaty’s mindset also had to transform and take him to a different place. “Our mind was being more positive on this last approach,” he says, “because the last album that we had success on, it was a dark album, especially for me. I had lost my dad, so it was really tough on me; there was a lot of anger and soul searching I was trying to do over those years. When we got ready to do this last record I was just tired of being negative around the business and where the band should be. We should be more focused on what we do have. You know, we are still a band that is doing it when millions and millions want to be where we’re at. You have got to be appreciative and look at the glass half full, rather than half empty.”

With a year old album under their belt, the band is starting to think ahead to their next record, but Kakaty tries to keep an open mind and let the music dictate its own direction. “We call the band Pop Evil for a reason and there is definitely some opportunities for us to do some cool stuff. You know we definitely want to experiment. With every album the band gets bigger, so we are able to spend a little bit longer at the studio to weed our way out of some of the traps that I think that we fell into in our previous efforts.” When the band hits the studio again, it will be with a new drummer, Hayley Cramer. “It will be her first time with an A list producer here in the States. So you got to get through some of that, but luckily the veterans in the band will push the project along. I will make sure there are no hiccups on that end.”

Pop Evil will open Heavy Montreal on August 6th at 1PM. Tickets are available here


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About Jean-Frederic Vachon

Jean-Frederic Vachon is a pop culture aficionado who mainly writes about music, here on Montreal Rampage and at his site Diary of a Music Addict. But given the right subject, he also likes to cover comics, video games and hockey. Contact: Website | Facebook | Twitter | More Posts