Interview: Leigh Kakaty of Pop Evil Talks New Singles + Upcoming New Album + Life After Lockdown

Interview by Tracey Moyle – The Music Maven

American Rock powerhouse Pop Evil have shaken things up keeping the rock coming with not just one but two new singles to help shake away the  lockdown blues.  Let The Chaos Reign and Work have given us a taste of what’s next with an upcoming sixth studio album due for release later this year. 

A popular addition to many American festival line-ups, his band have hit the ground running since their debut studio album ‘Lipstick On The Mirror’ hit the charts in 2008 and have continued the reign the charts with a barrage of massive hits including, Trenches, Footsteps and Waking Lions.

Our very own American Rock loving Music Maven, Tracey Moyle, had a chat with front man Leigh Kakaty recently, finding out the secret behind keeping their music raw and passionate, how the band are going through lockdown and the possible change 2020 will have on the music world as a whole.

Great to talk to you again Leigh, it’s been about a year since we last spoke, right before your Australian tour last year.  It was so wonderful that you came out to see the fans. It was great to meet you and Dave (Grahs) after the show.

“Yeah that was so much fun, such a fun tour.   I can’t wait for this thing to be done so we can get back down your way.   Its interesting times right.”

How are things with lockdown laws in your area at the moment?

“Yeah we’re pretty heavy. I’m in Michigan so we got hit pretty hard, so we’re still dealing with that. Very few things are opening up. I think I heard end of May. I think they just went down and put a in second lockdown or something.  There’s so many lockdowns it so confusing I just stopped paying attention.  Either way whether they’re opening or not I’m not going anywhere. I ‘m just going to stay safe and try to make sure I take care of myself so that when we are able to finally tour again I’m ready to go.”

That’s all anyone can do at the moment.    

With the way things are at the moment bands are finding new ways to connect with the fans, which is great.  You went live on instagram a few weeks ago.  How did that feel connecting with everyone in that way?

“It was great.  At first al little stressful for me because I’m not a big face time live, Facebook live or Instagram live type of person.  At first I was a little bit nervous that I wouldn’t do it right, but apart from that it was great to do it and just get to jam, that was a lot of fun. 

A lot of times when I’m home playing these songs, if I do play, I play them in my own way.   I call them my campfire versions, because I just play them the way I feel like, I don’t usually play them to the entirety so it was great for me to get in touch and keep the songs fresh in my head, get to play the guitar.   Obviously I’ve got two great guitar players in my band so I kind of take for granted how much I can play the guitar and I haven’t played in years the way I’ve played lately the last two months.  So it’s been awesome to get back on the guitar and find my rhythm with that acoustically.   And obviously its awesome for the fans, whenever you get to see a vocalist on a guitar and singing the songs its always a lot more personal type of experience and its’ definitely something the fans have been loving to see.  And you know, if things go well, maybe it triggers more opportunities to do those kind of things, even when we are able to get back on tour, take the acoustic performances we do live, whether it’s a radio or VIP experience with our fans, it just takes it to a whole other level.   So it’s been pretty refreshing and certainly something challenging and new for me. It’s been awesome. I’ve got plenty of time for it and it s been great.”

I remember the last time we spoke something that stood out to me was how you talked about the importance of keeping in touch with your fans and that connection.   And that was evident when you came out after the Brisbane show at The Zoo and spoke to the fans that were still there.    I think this down time might have created something really positive going forward, that personal connection between bands and their fans, and hopefully that connection will still happen going forward, perhaps not on such a big scale.

“Well it’s definitely interesting.  It could create more opportunities to think out of the box for our fans, you know.  Maybe it’s something we can do in-between tours, who knows. It will be interesting, people are saying on TV that after this virus, it’s going to be a ‘new normal’ when things go back to the way we want it to.   So it will be interesting to see how the music industry adapts and how bands adapt moving forward.  Maybe it will trigger more opportunities for fans to see their favourite bands and get more music out of them in ways.  So it will be interesting to see how this all transpires.  Either way Pop Evil is always open to, and I am always open to, play to the fans, it’s what I do.   To play a raw and uncut version of these songs is great for fans.   At the end of the day it’s how songs are birthed and how they are born and then of course they get tossed up and recorded in a studio and that’s the version you all know, but they all start a little more intimate than that, so its cool to kinda get an awesome acoustic version of that. And certainly I don’t have any of my guitar players with me because they’re quarantined to so when ever you can play that single guitar track with that isolate vocal its definitely special.  It’s the only option I have. (laughs)”

Pop Evil have still kept the music flowing, you’ve released not just one but two new singles;   Let The Chaos Reign and Work.   They are both great tracks, both different and both absolutely rock.    Let The Chaos Reign is a belter. I can’t wait to see Hayley (Cramer) smash that one out live on the drums.   This song has its own sound.

“Yeah it’s awesome, it’s definitely something that we’re hoping, by putting it out, it would become a big live song for us.   It’s very anthem-atic, it’s very crowd friendly, its got all the things you need to make an awesome live experience out of.  It’s got a lot of energy, a lot of guitar all over the track. Hayley is just a beast on it.  It s definitely something we can’t wait to play live.   It started out as this song – something like, me verses you in the pit, ‘you want to bring it, yeah, let the chaos reign.’  It’s funny how these songs kinda predict the future.  It was written before this pandemic.  Now its like almost become like a united song to come together and try to beat this virus, to try to find our normal again.   You know get back to the way of life we all know and miss.  It’s going to be awesome to finally play it live.”

It’s perfect timing.    Work also tells another story and it works together perfectly musically and lyrically.  It’s so raw, to me it’s got that familiar Pop Evil sound but then it’s also not like anything else I’ve heard.  I love the energy of it. I’m interested to know, what came first the music or the lyrics?

“The music came first, for sure. The music was there and it was grooving, and maybe that’s why symbolically the Work thing came out because that’s all I was doing especially around those days its all we seemed to do. I was probably exhausted that day and missing the fam and next thing you know I’m thinking ‘Ah, all I do is work man’.  So, music first.  Definitely one of my favs on the record, so different, we’re so excited to put that in our set list.  We don’t’ have anything like it in our set live so we’re excited to finally play that one as well.  And again the pulse of the music, it almost puts you in a hypnotic state and next thing you know you’re grinding.   Its’ so symbolic to life where we’re always busy, too busy for this, always something going on, and before you know it we’re in a bit of a mental rut and you realise, man these things that are so important to us like our loved ones and fans, all the people we end up knowing.  When I was writing this song I was like, hey man it feels like I’m just pushing everyone away.  They were like ‘text me, text me’ and next thing you know I’m like ‘Wow, all of the relationships I have are with this phone’. I mean, are these people even real, I’ve got to start to appreciate some of the little things. 

A lot of the older Pop Evil catalogue of course is very wordy as far as the melody, as far as the chorus. So I made sure with this chorus, I didn’t want a lot of lyrical content I wanted the music and the guitars to carry the song and we certainly do. Those guitars are so infectious, you can’t help but dance you can’t help but groove, and just bop your head, you know so it’s definitely something we’re keen to play live.   I can’t wait to see how the fans respond to it.  So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive so I can’t wait to see, as the song becomes more familiar with the genre and how much people loose their mind when the finally get to hear us play it live.”  

Those songs each have their own personality and that is I imagine just a taste of what we can look forward to from the new album.  Have you approached the new album any differently this time to previous albums?

“Yeah, we used multiple producers number one.  I wanted to make sure that from the demo process that the creative energy from the start was always respected.  That we weren’t trying to duplicate that magic that you first feel when you like a demo.  Like when you first write a song and you know you’ve got something special, there’s something about the ‘it’ factor of that song or demo, it’s kind of perfected.   A lot of times you can try to recut it, recut a vocal and it just doesn’t have that ‘it’, just doesn’t have that source, it doesn’t have that magic.  So this album specifically we were not going to recreate that special thing these demos had.  So we made sure we stayed in house, wherever we started it off is where we finished it. We weren’t’ going to try to come in and have one producer make it sound like a record.  That’s just not something I’m interested in.  This isn’t an album business anymore this is a singles business; this is a streaming, online, live, social media business.   As a band we want songs to be different, we want to be unique, I mean this is a statement album for us.  It’s our sixth album, we’re blessed to have success on five albums but those are behind us, we have a great set already but we want to add to it, be we don’t want to regurgitate and recreate songs that we already have on our set, we don’t want to do that to our fan base.  We want it to be constantly challenging to them, to write better songs, more songs that are more impactful, more energy. Lyrical content, more things you can be attached to and relate to.  So this album is incredible, its my favourite one yet, I mean I say that every album but every album we try to get better and try to bring it a little harder.  And that’s definitely what we are, that yin and yang of this genre, in this format, there’s not many bands, if not we’re the only band that can give you that extreme left and extreme right of the spectrum and everything in-between. We actually had a fan in the studio earlier who said it’s like every pop evil album’s a great Styx album –  all the songs are different. I’m like’ that’s just it if you think about it’.  Different people have produced all our albums anyway.  If you go to listen on a streaming platform and if you go to our top songs well guess what, you’re getting songs that are produced by different producers.  Again it’s always about writing great songs and the rest will take care of itself. So again, I’m doing everything I can to make sure I always respect the song and the original idea and wherever that comes from and whereever it goes from there I trust it, but I don’t want to try to recreate it when we know there’s something special about it.   It’s special to keep it.   I want the fans to hear as much raw and high energy and excitement from when those original tracks were cut so.   From the first taste of this new album your hearing it already. That’s all original stuff from the original sessions and those are basically the original demos; Let The Chaos Reign to Work, those are original demos.  Obviously we perfected and we added to that but I mean we didn’t go to another studio and another producer and recreate that.  You’re hearing exactly what we heard when I demoed it when the band got their first taste of it and that’s what I think is making these songs so special.  That’s an indication of what’s to come because the rest of the album is definitely the same way.  We fired so much energy into this album, it’s the yin and yang man, there’s definitely nothing fake about it.  We’re excited to have it come out whenever that is and see what everyone things.”

I guess it’s not over thinking it.  People second-guess themselves all the time; they work so hard or over think things and in the end they go back to what the original idea was anyway.   It sounds like that’s what you’ve done with the music.  You haven’t over thought it, it sounded great, you recorded and just tweaked it rather than recreated it.

“You nailed it, you know.  It’s just that.  If it sounds good then we’re onto something, lets keep it, lets roll, what’s the next part, you know.    It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and demo-itis and ‘No I hate this cut’, you never know what sounds good, your exactly right you go back to the first, and you’re right you spend money and time in the studio and again, it’s not our first album, we’ve done it, we’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years and we’ve e had a lot of success so we can. It’s about scraping the fat off and making sure we don’t run down those same paths again by making some of those mistakes that we don’t like. And again it’s all relative, we’re all just trying to make music at the end of the day it is our take on where we are in our lives at the moment.  But we don’t want to have to wast money by recutting a bunch of stuff that we feel is already great.   I definitely was excited about that process of this album and I think that led to more excitement from me all the way down and because of that, the music shows we are having more fun in general.   It just feels like it hits harder than any other Pop Evil record we’ve done.   Even all five put together, it’s a beast.  I mean obviously you’ve heard the first two, they already hit harder than anything we’ve ever done. That was a big part of it too; we wanted the music to represent our angst and our passion about where we are in our career.”  

You have such a great fan base, and that’s why.  People know that when a new Pop Evil Album is coming out they have something to be excited about.   They’re not going to hear the same thing rehashed over and over again.

“Absolutely. I’m a grateful, thanks for saying that.  It’s something we pride ourselves on.   I mean there are tonnes of bands that will give you what you want, and what you expect and that’s fine, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, we’re just not that band. We’re a band that prides ourselves on being different every record. We’re still going to try and give you some of the hard core original Pop Evil stuff but we’re not afraid to mix it up a little bit. Again we want to give you the peaks and valley’s the ebbs and flows that are more relatable for life. You come to a Pop Evil show you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna high five your neighbour, you’re gonna meet somebody new.  We have the best fans in the world man, they are so open to meeting new people and we found that out even when we were in Australia.  It was the first time meeting everybody and they were all so kind and everyone was so open to not just meet us but meet other Pop Evil fans.  It’s a people business now, you don’t have to overthink it, we make music and we want people to be happy and we want to hopefully provide some kind of motivation, some kind of fuel that can help us get through those tough times, you know, that’s what music is.  You think about where no doctor or no teacher or mother father who can help, what’s there for us?  Music. So we definitely want to hold ourselves responsible to create music that can hopefully make a difference in peoples lives and right now we definitely need this more than ever.  So to be able to have two songs out now is a huge honour, it’s a blessing, and I feel real fortunate that we got these all done before we got locked down.  The managers and labels and fans of course, everyone’s been so great to play team ball so to speak and everyone’s on the same page to understand, to all get this going, so that when we’re ready to play rock and roll again we’ll be ready to go.  We won’t be all internally struggling, we’ll be ready to go.  We’re excited. There’s a new kind of energy that these songs have provided for us so I can’t wait, not only just to play them for you guys and rock out at the concert, I’m excited to get to the concert hall and just start practicing. We didn’t really have a chance to dive into that because we got shut down in Los Angeles pretty quickly so you know there’s a lot of fun stuff ahead and we’ve just got to take it one day at a time and number one focus on keeping everyone safe.  The last think I want is for people to get hurt. It’s a really rough time for a lot of people, especially here in the U.S., it’s just a chaotic show here, I don’t know what’s going on.   It’s a scary time.  Hopefully the doctors can find some sort of medical cure, some sort of treatment and they buy us a little bit of extra time so they cannot rush these vaccines. One day at a time.”

It’s hard when everything in your life seems to be someone else’s hands. 

“Totally, you’re totally right.”

Do you have a release date for the album or is that held up with everything at the moment?

“No. Nothing.  It’s all held up at the moment. There’s so many variables now its outta my hands.  We’ll see.  There are still some little things we’ll try to get done.  Right now its just about trying to get to that next month and see where were at with these lockdowns and see if we can start opening it up here in the us for the summer time maybe.  Maybe the cases will taper off here with the warmer weather, I doubt it, you guys are in Australia and you’ve had some but you never know. Who knows?   We’ve just got to stay hopeful and maybe there are some little miracles we can have along the way and you know, get back to some kind of normal here. As things start to kinda heat up here in the mid summer hopefully we’ll have some more answers about what we’re gonna do as far as concerts and albums but for now its about these two (songs) and we’ll just take it as a win.”

I’d love to see you guys play a festival here in Australia.  It would be the perfect set for Pop Evil.  Seeing you play at The Zoo in Brisbane, it seemed like the stage was way too small for a band as big as you guys?    

“Definitely smaller but you gotta pay your dues right, you gotta pay your dues (laughs).  But we’d love to do a festival in Australia, Brisbane especially.  I feel like I didn’t get enough time in Brisbane, that was the last show so we flew out back to the U.S. the next day so I really didn’t get to enjoy your beautiful city.  Obviously people were so awesome, it was such a fun show actually.  I wanted to go up to Australia Zoo – it was so close. I wanted to get to the Great Barrier Reef, I didn’t get to do that and again they told us we were going to be in and out.  It was going to be the first tour and we weren’t going to get to see much. so we gotta come back and to see so much more.”

Collectively, the band’s previous five albums account for over 600 million worldwide streams so if you aren’t familiar with Pop Evil, there is no time like now to jump on to your favourite streaming platform and get the rock pumping. 

Let the Chaos Reign and Work are available to buy/stream now. 

 POP EVIL is Leigh Kakaty (Lead Vocals) , Nick Fuelling (Lead Guitar), Dave Grahs (Rhythm Guitar), Matt DiRito (Bass) and Hayley Cramer (Drums)

Stream/Buy Let The Chaos Reign HERE

Stream/Buy Work HERE

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With thanks to eOne

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