Standing out: Pop Evil vocalist talks about breaking out in rock

JAMYME THORNTON/Special to the Sentinel Michigan-based Pop Evil is the first band to play at this year’s Rock Jam. It is touring in promotion of its third album, “Onyx.”

Pop Evil, a rock band from Michigan, will be the first band to play at this year’s Rock Jam, taking the Main Stage at 2:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23.

The band released its third album, “Onyx,” in May and has toured promoting this album and past work since last year.

The band is currently made up of lead vocalist Leigh Kakaty, lead guitarist Nick Fuelling, rhythm guitarist Dave Grahs, bass player Matt DiRito and drummer Chachi Riot. They have been together since 2001 and sold more than a half-million albums.

Kakaty talked about growing up in Michigan, rock music, in general, and the band’s newest album.

Melinda Mawdsley: You played more than 250 shows last year and haven’t stopped through this year. Are you guys exhausted?

Leigh Kakaty: I don’t know if that’s the right word. We understand to be a band in this industry it’s just a different time for rock music. Fans are really won over when they see a band live. There’s so many more bands and so many fewer spots. It’s very demanding and probably why more bands don’t succeed and don’t continue doing it for a long time.

Mawdsley: Does that live experience help rock music stand out?

Kakaty: I grew up on rock music, so maybe I’m biased, but fans do get won over. It’s hard sometimes to get a definition of how real a band is from a recording, but when you see it live you see this band defines rock ‘n’ roll. Fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. Fans aren’t willing to just throw their money around, especially in blue-collar markets. People want to believe in something and follow something worth their time. With so many more entertainment options, we are all competing for fans’ time, for that moment in a day when they listen to Pop Evil over another band. When they see us live, they can see us. They are more likely to become friends, I don’t call them fans.

Mawdsley: How difficult is it to break into the rock music industry?

Kakaty: It was real tough. We started off playing covers and had no money. We never had money, so we asked “How can we sustain this entity that is our band?” We always liked to give ourselves goals. We always wanted to be a radio band and make music for others. ... It’s not about how much you are doing; it’s about how much quality work you are doing. Once we did that, more high-end opportunities followed us. Once we finished (the single) “100 In a 55,” it blew up. It really gave us a big-fish-in-a-small-pond status. We started to become a household name locally, where we could kind of control our own destiny.

Mawdsley: What was it like growing up in Michigan with all those musical genres special to that state? Music’s serious business there.

Kakaty: It was awesome. We grew up in West Michigan, always looking to the east for rock music influence, (hearing) “Real music’s in Detroit.” You kind of grow up with a chip on your shoulder. We learned from a young age it’s not about what you say, it’s about making people listen. That chip gave us the fuel to not move to Detroit, LA or New York. If we were good enough they’d come to us. There’s no cliff notes to starting a band. I think about that sometimes. “How’d I ever make that happen?” It just happened. It started with drive, desire, a little bit of anger and frustration, and then we got better. We are still a work-in progress. We just play songs to make people connect. Once you get to a national level, once you have fans, the selfishness goes out the window, and you have to have a responsibility to your fans. The thing with new bands, we don’t have the budgets they used to have in the past. You used to have all the help, all the high-end dollars because rock ‘n’ roll was such a demand in pop culture.

Mawdsley: How involved are you in the writing process for Pop Evil?

Kakaty: We all write. We are very demanding on ourselves. Inevitably, the best songs make the record. We demoed 35 and picked (13). We wanted to put together a good collective piece of work to represent on “Onyx.” ... We have a single that comes out Tuesday. (“Deal With the Devil” was released Tuesday, Aug. 20.) It’s our second single off this album. Once it’s released, that song’s no longer ours. It becomes property of this rock ‘n’ roll thing. I know our music video is dropping on the same day, which is the first time we’ve had a single and a video launch at the same time. We did a music trilogy for this album. This is the second video released in the trilogy.

Mawdsley: Describe your sound on “Onyx.” The bio on your website mentioned the “grandiose melody of the ‘70s, the danger of the ‘80s, emotion of the ‘90s and loud modern riffs all combined.”

Kakaty: Yeah, that sums it up perfectly, how we take it from Point A to Point Z. You see all our influences come out on this record. We aren’t trying to write 10 heavy songs or 10 soft songs. We still believe in albums. Hopefully, you can put that album in and be moved.


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