By Matt Doria
Michigan rockers Pop Evil are gearing up to release their fourth full-length album, they’ve just released two massively successful singles, they’re playing to thousands of European fans every night, and ringleader Leigh Kakaty is stunned that his band is at the magnitude it is. “The reactions have been overwhelming,” he confides over a shoddy phone line somewhere in Sweden. “Travelling outside of the U.S. is still new to the band, so it’s pretty shocking to us that people around the world are listening, and responding, and supporting this band.”
Pop Evil have been kicking it hard since 2001, but their big break came in 2013 at the hands of their third LP Onyx. Taking the five-piece from local scene pub hoppers to international luminaries almost overnight, Onyx paved the way for Pop Evil to reinvent themselves, completely free of the fear that they needed to fit a certain mold. “The success of [Onyx] finally put us in that position where we could go ‘f*ck it. We’re gonna take chances on this record.’” says an avid Kakaty. Looking back to their early days, he reflects on the difficulty a lot of bands face when they try to make money from their art. “We got into rock to have a good time and have fun, but somewhere along the way, it got serious for us. We would only focus on just surviving,” he says. “Being an independent band and a small band that was growing every year, we weren’t able to take chances. We had to run that straight line because we had to pay the bills, and when you’re in a rock band in this day and age, it’s harder to make money. The only way you can do that is to play things safe.”
Now that Pop Evil have a legion of dedicated fans behind them and a future of sold out shows and chart topping singles ahead, playing by the books is the least of Kakaty’s concerns. Alluding to his word on wanting to take chances on their next record, he continues; “at the same time, we wanted to take the sound that’s gotten us to where we are and give it steroids. Take it to the next level.” Up is without a doubt the magnum opus of Pop Evil, but the genius on the album didn’t come out of nowhere. “We did a lot of rough drafts. Some of the songs got into the eighth, ninth, tenth draft for lyrics because I wanted to challenge myself differently in the studio,” Kakaty reveals. “It reminds me of being back in English class when you’d try to write a paper, and your teacher would make you go back and revise it what seemed like a hundred times before you could turn it in,” he laughs.
“When we started off, I made sure that I was bringing nothing to the table until January 1ST,” Kakaty says of the band’s writing process for ‘Up’. “We didn’t want anything old on this album because when you play these songs, and you write an album, it usually lasts for two years. By the end of the two years, you’re set up, but you’re tired. I wanted to make sure I planned ahead this time.” As he explains, Pop Evil never cut corners when it comes to writing rhymes and etching out the perfect riff; “I think we all try to be honest with ourselves and write the hooks that make us think. If we have a good demo idea, we record it, and everyone brings it home that evening. If everyone can still see it happening the next day, we know that we’re onto something.”
At the end of the day, you really can’t afford to put out a shit song in 2015. “Especially nowadays when people can listen to anything on their iPod or smartphone, you want to stand out in front of all of those other great and talented musicians out there,” says Kakaty. While putting together music with the intention of reaching the masses can come with it a fair bit of stress, Kakaty realises the importance of taking it easy and making your trade something you enjoy. “Rock isn’t always fun. It’s work,” he declares. “So with this album, we wanted to remind ourselves – forget the work, let’s have fun!”
As the band enjoy success touring across Europe and other areas of the world they never thought they’d journey to, the question had to be asked – when will Australia see a visit from Pop Evil? “I know the whole band has been desperately asking managers and labels [about coming to Australia] since day one,” Kakaty says with instability in his voice. “When you grow up in the U.S., you hear about the UK, and you hear about Australia. You see it on TV, you see it on postcards, you see it everywhere. It’s always a destination that American’s dream of going to. It’s always been our dream to go there, so we’re always like ‘Australia this year? No? Okay. What about next year?’” While we don’t have a solid answer as of yet, Kakaty hints that he probably wouldn’t turn down an offer from the blokes over at Soundwave HQ, should they consider the band for next year’s festival. “We’d love to do Soundwave or another festival,” he closes.
Up is out on 21 August via eOne Music.