A lot of Australians may not have heard of Leigh Kakaty or his band, Pop Evil, yet they have been around since 2001 and have been slowly gathering momentum ever since.
Forming the band in the Michigan town of North Muskegon, Leigh Kakaty is the heart and soul of Pop Evil who, as the name suggests, are a rock band with an amalgamation of melodic and heavy elements to their sound.
Since releasing their debut album, Lipstick on the Mirror, in 2008, Pop Evil have achieved three consecutive number 1 Rock Radio Singles, their last three albums (Onyx, Up and latest, Pop Evil) have cracked the Billboard Top 200 and they were voted the number 4 Mainstream Rock Artist of 2014.
Now, ahead of Pop Evil’s first ever Australian tour this coming April, we had a chat with Kakaty about coming to Australia, the creative freedom allowed on their latest, self-titled release and what it means to be Pop Evil.
Music Feeds: So why come to Australia now?
Leigh Kakaty: Well we had an opportunity, number 1, that was a huge part. In the early years, we were on a big indie label so being in debt, the band were trying to get these debts done. We were hot and heavy trying to break the band in the U.S. as well. So now finally the band, slowly but surely, is getting bigger where we can finally venture out. It makes more sense for the band now.
It was either Paris, France or Australia that was always fantasised about. I grew up a huge fan of the croc hunter. You’d always be fascinated about the culture and the wildlife. Growing up in Michigan, it was the opposite of how I grew up. It’s a bit of a dream, never thought I’d get there, let alone to play. It’s been 12 years in the making.
You’re asking, why now? We’re saying, it’s about time!
MF: So tell us a little about your new, self-titled album. It seems it’s back to the heavier roots after a lighter effort in your 2015 album, Up.
LK: Sure, I think that’s a good assumption. When we did our third album, Onyx, with ‘200 Pieces’, ‘Trenches’ and ‘Deal with the Devil’ all three becoming number 1 in the U.S, it was our biggest album to date. It was also written after my Dad had passed away, so I was in a very dark place. So the fourth album, Up was important for me to be positive again, both for me and for the fans.
Now with Pop Evil, this is the perfect record we’ve been trying to make. It’s got the perfect ying and yang of rock, metal and melody. Also, where American radio is now, they’re not interposed to being open-minded to heavier songs.
We were a radio band when we first got started. We didn’t want to write a whole bunch of songs that they’re not gonna be interested in. Now that we’ve gotten bigger here and have a bigger fanbase in the U.S. we’re able to do things a little differently now.
MF: Bands give their albums self-titled names for various reasons. At this later stage in your career, is the choice to name your album, Pop Evil, a way of coming to terms with and redefine who Pop Evil are as a band?
LK: Yeah, that’s probably part of it. For us, we know who we are now more than ever, off the stage, not just on the stage. Pop Evil has always been a lifestyle for us. In the early days, we were touring so much; we were doing like 230 shows a year maybe. We were never home. That was part of our problem in our earlier albums.
There’s always been a bit of a chip on our shoulders, since the mid-nineties when the U.S. started to abandon rock. It was always King for years, now all of a sudden it seems to be all about hip-hop, EDM, trance and country so rock and metal are now bottom of the totem pole, so to speak. Pop was always evil for us. We were kind of like rock-metal crusaders in those days, trying to remind people that that rock ‘n roll was very much alive and well.
It’s important for us now, to step out of the box and maybe get other people, who wouldn’t normally listen to rock or metal to open their minds. We’re always trying to create new ways for people to listen to our band. It’s important for us to create our own destiny and create opportunities that can help us.
MF: You also seem to deal with social and political issues with songs like ‘Colours Bleed’ and ‘Ex Machina’. Is this a chain reaction of everything you’re observing in U.S. with Trump and indeed the rest of the world?
LK: We’re constantly aware of what’s going around us and trying to be better for our fans. Now it’s important for us to write songs that are relatable, not just for what we’re going through but what they’re going through. Take a song like ‘Ex Machina’. These days, with kids and parents; all these kids wanna do is play with iPads, they don’t even want toys anymore. Is that gonna happen with instruments?
There is a beauty about picking up live instruments, still being able to read a book and learn how to play sports even. Everything about society is moving to, I want it, I want it now, quick, quick, quick.
With ‘Colours Bleed’, of course, we’re not choosing sides and any political issues. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re all affected. Whether you like Trump or not, he’s the president and there’s consequences that our fan bases are going through with certain reactions.
Just writing songs about drinking shots and partying, that’s not what we wanna write about. We wanna do our part to write songs that make people think and challenge them. It’s always about trying to bringing positivity to people’s lives.
MF: Speaking of positivity, while this latest album is definitely heavier, and even a little angry at times, the lyrics are quite uplifting and the music meant to inspire. Is this what you’re trying to convey to your fans, a message of hope amidst the madness?
LK: Yeah, 100%. The five of us collectively are good people who want to put smile on people’s faces. That’s the power of music. When you write good music and you’re a good band, it really resonates with the people. If you can bring positivity to that many people, good things are bound to happen.
If we can just focus on what we can control and that’s writing good songs and ensuring our live show is as tight as can be and as honest as can be, hopefully a lot good of musical anthems that get people singing will come out of it and the rest will take care of itself.
MF: The album itself seems very cohesive. There is a good variety, interludes between songs and nice mix of the melodic and heavy. Is this largely attributed to the space you were given to record it, you had a little more time to flesh it out?
LK: Exactly. We spent over a year to make sure that this record was as close to a masterpiece as we’ve ever done. There was a lot more experimentation with this record. It has peaks and valleys in it. Like you said, there’s separation from heavy song to ballad to up-tempo, groovy song to just a chill song. You’re just experiencing all the moods and there’s a song for any emotion that you deal with in life. Certainly a lot of time and effort was put in to make sure we did just that with this record.
MF: The story behind hiring your new drummer, Hayley Cramer, after Josh Marunde left to start his own CrossFit gym, is very empowering for female musicians out there. Who came up with the idea of inviting women-only to send audition tapes?
LK: Yeah, it was me. I knew that when it comes to the band, we have a lot of female fans and it just seems like you don’t always see that amazing, female drummer. It’s such a power position for stereotypes and for guys. This was such a boys club band for so many years. It was so important for me to find that girl, that girl’s gotta exist, she’s gotta be somewhere.
Hayley sent in her demo tape and we were like she’s a beast, let’s bring her in. It’s a nice mix to have her in the band. She gives that female perspective when things get tough, she really brings us together when the rest of us are fighting or bickering. She reminds us to be grateful for the situation we’re in. She’s been like that big sister/little sister that we never knew we wanted and, at the end of the day, male or female, she’s also just a great drummer.
MF: Lastly, what can audiences expect from your upcoming shows and what do you expect in return from coming to Australia?
LK: They can definitely expect a lot of energy. We are coming off a month of rest so we’re gonna be real fresh. It’s our first time of Australia, so hopefully we’re not too jet-lagged for that first show! I know we’re gonna be hyped up to finally be in Australia. It’s gonna be a very energetic, involved show for the fans.
As far as what we expect, obviously we’re gonna expect a lot of energy from our fans, whether there’s 10 people there or thousands. As far as the culture and the country, we don’t really know. We’re excited to be open-minded, that’s the best thing about being in a new country. Everything is new to us so everything is awesome because we’re seeing it for the first time. Everyone in my life that’s ever been to Australia has nothing but great things to say. The only thing we’re not looking forward to is the flight over there!
Pop Evil’s debut Australian tour kicks off next week in Adelaide. See dates and details below.
Pop Evil 2019 Australian Tour Dates
Tickets on sale now
Thursday, 4th April
Enigma Bar, Adelaide
Friday, 5th April
The Prince Band Room, Melbourne
Saturday, 6th April
The Metro, Sydney
Sunday, 7th April
The Zoo, Brisbane