Pop Evil is back with a sixth album called “Versatile” to blend and defy genres. RockUrLife got to talk with Leigh Kakaty about the various experimentations that make this record stand out.
So how does it feel to release a new record in this context?
Leigh Kakaty (vocals): Yeah, it’s, it’s awesome. But it’s so different. So crazy. Like, there’s no guidelines for it. We’re just kind of going one day at a time, but feels great to finally be able to put this album out. So long time coming.
You got all the writing done before COVID?
Leigh: We did all this stuff was done before the lockdown. It seems like it was actually supposed to be out last spring. So finally now feels like things are finally coming back, at least a little bit to normal. That’s exciting.
When one listens to your single “Work” it’s really strucking to see how relevant the lyrics are to the current situation. With all the restrictions and other constraints that we have, it seems that the only thing we are allowed to do is work.
Leigh: Totally! It’s crazy, because all these songs were written before COVID. So now that they’re kind of taken shape and come into life, it’s crazy how relatable a lot of these songs are on this album to this pandemic. So hopefully there’s gonna be a positive thing for helping people get through this stuff.
“Versatile” starts with “Let The Chaos Reign” a title that puts us in the right state of mind. A song with power riffs and unexpected rapping lines. And this paves the way for all your vocal experimentations.
Leigh: Yeah, I did a lot of different things on this record with my voice. I tried not to be afraid and the big thing on this album was to have fun. I looked back at the previous album and all the things I didn’t like in the recording process. I tried avoiding those situations and putting ourselves in a positions where it didn’t feel like that was the best thing for our creativity. I can’t stand recording in the studio in general. It’s always on a budget and money is involved everywhere. So it’s like, you can even go the bathroom without, being charged. You’re trying to be creative and it feels you’re always under the gun. We loved our house studio, we were demoing and kept lots of first takes in the first sessions when we were developing the song. I wanted the fans to hear the moments where the songs were taking shape and coming to life, and that energy just can’t be recreated. I think there’s something so daunting about being finishing an album or finishing the demos, and then finding a producer who may know nothing about you or your band. He has to record 12 songs, 14 songs with the band and it just seems a little fake to me. There’s nothing natural about that experience from the beginning to the end. So what if we just did things different? So we went back to the house studio and worked on the effects on the vocal, the effects on the guitars, and drums and bass. We were able to play around more with guitar tones and drum sounds, and that was key to this album. It was me, basically getting back to my poetry roots, and just spoken word. That’s in my real voice, not my singing rock voice, but me being able to jump around, bounced around vocally. It makes an album that stands out in our catalog.
In each song you keep experimenting with your voice, using different rythms and paces. Like, with “Inferno”, for example, you convey such a dark and melancholic feeling. What was the most difficult song for you?
Leigh: I don’t necessarily know if it was difficult. It was new and exciting. To be in an environment where I was having more fun, I was more apt to try different things with my voice. I wasn’t trying to overthink. We had to go back to the drawing board a couple of times and try different things. But as far as being difficult, when it started to get difficult, we scrapped it. When we felt like we were overthinking things, we just went to the different song. We did 30 demo songs to keep 12. But as far as the vocal perspective, it was awesome to just kind of try different things and not be afraid to overthink it.
Sometimes you caught us by surprise. Like with the song “Fire Inside”, we hear the beginning of the song, and we expect your voice to explode in the chorus. But that’s not what you’re doing. In fact, you’re doing quite the opposite. And we think, it’s a very smart choice. How did you come to this?
Leigh: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question. I love how intricate you are with it. Different songs need different things and a lot of times when you think about your back catalogue, the successes we’ve had, it was important to try different things. So not all the songs sound the same. We don’t sound the same with every song. We want to blend genre. You don’t have to put bands in a category anymore. And I think that’s such a it’s such an unfun perspective, when you think about artists we get labeled as rock or metal and then we have to live in that genre at all times. It’s really hard to sway off it and if you think about rock and metal, probably the genres that you know, collab with other genres and artists.
You see country collaborating with hip hop you see country collaborating with folk music, you see hip hop collaborating with all kinds of things. I want to see more rock collaborating with metal. Like, give me something I haven’t heard before. But then when you try this experimental stuff, people don’t always support it. So where’s that? Where’s that balance? Where can you experiment and try to collab and mosh different genres, and blend it with rock and metal and get basically heavy guitars? And where do you do that and get the support from the fan base. I mean, metal and rock fans are very, very passionate about the genre and style and they’re tough. We are not afraid to take risks, and the fans might not like it today, they might not like it tomorrow, but maybe they’ll accept us for who we are.
I grew up in Michigan, the core of the band was in Michigan and it’s a test market, the Midwest is very much a test market. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. It was boring, it was cold in Michigan for six, seven months of the year. So all we had to do was concert. So if there was a concert, that genre wasn’t your favorite, if you didn’t know, if you liked the band, we were still going, we’re still going to that show, we had nothing else to do, and it’s better than sitting at home. We’ve constantly be hearing and being influenced by a lot of these bands.
With this album, everything is very versatile, that’s for sure. You’re blending the frontiers between genres. And that’s very good. You still have heavy riffs, but you’ve incorporated quite a lot of electronic sounds and effects on guitar, but also on your voice, like in “Breathe Again”, or in the beginning of “Worst In Me”. How does it feel to hear your voice with those effects? And how did you select them? What was the intention between behind it?
Leigh: We loved it. You always compete with yourself, at the end of the day, you always want to better your old albums. I’ve heard my voice sound natural forever. So playing with my voice was game. I was open to anything. I just wanted to create some kind of emotion with the band members. The effects were a nice touch, something different that we haven’t heard. We were definitely excited about something fresh, something new for our catalog. I know that just before COVID hit, we were really excited about getting in rehearsals and playing these songs live and really having them come to life, and start owning them. It’s one thing to write them in the studio. Another thing to play them on stage.
Do you think you can go back to this fun when you go back on stage? We went through and wethink we’re still going through a very dark period and it affected lots of people. We don’t know how it affected you personally, and the relationships among the band members. We know that you talked about some of the guys going back to work to support their families, could you tell us more about it?
Leigh: Yeah, let’s be real. People don’t understand, they think rock stars are millionaires, but it doesn’t work like that. We got a crew that relies on the band. I don’t think fans always realize about that. Our crew or great crew devoted their lives to us for years. If we don’t play they make no money. So it’s not even just about us.
Then, there’s a sense of complete boredom, like, what do we do? We’re sitting out. A musician is not allowed to do anything productive to even make one dime. How do we provide for our families? A song like “Worst In Me” is such an ode to our family and friends. They do so much for us while we try to live our dreams selfishly. There’s a lot of factors that COVID kind of brought us to our knees and reminding us what’s truly important, things other than music. It gave us an opportunity to do things we always wanted to do. But some of us had to get jobs and a normal job isn’t something that people are going to hire a musician.
How did all the band members live through this period? Did you support each other and keep in touch? How did it affect the relationships between you?
Leigh: We were definitely supportive. We enjoyed the time away from each other. We spent so much time together that it was nice to kind of see other people. We know that once we get started again, it’s going to be nonstop, probably to make up for lost time. It’s been a healthy break for all of us. I think we all needed to rest. I think every band member is different, but we’ve been great. I know that everyone’s excited, we were at a good place, collectively as a team going into COVID. So hopefully things change. It’s a severe devastating time for a lot of people. We won’t really know the ramifications. So we really get on the field and how this pandemic has really affected you know, people individually. It’s a very dark time for life. Who would have thought we’d ever lived through something like this. Everyone’s been very supportive of each other. Everyone’s excited to get the album out.
That’s nice to hear. But we guess this is a period that also creates new opportunities. For example, we don’t think that animated video would have come out without the context. It’s an opportunity to try new things.
Leigh: Yeah, 100%. We didn’t have any options, but we knew we had to shoot a video so it seems like there was no better time than now to do an animated video. We just couldn’t get together, Hayley is our drummer from the UK. She was stuck in London, with the restrictions for travel overseas. I feel grateful for the video for “Breathe Again”. We knew we had to be in the video somehow, we hadn’t even played together in months. So we were so excited to just have something that we were doing together. We shot it with white backdrop, cut up all the videos where we were together and it looked look the part. That was the first time actually, we were all together, at least the guys in the band, we were together and shot in Michigan. Michigan was a real hard. So none of us were even allowed to be with each other. So that was really the first time we we all just kind of went for it push the boundaries. That was before the vaccines too. It feels very humbled that we were able to pull off such an amazing video for for both songs work and read again.
You keep surprising us with the songs, like when one reads the title “Raise Your Flag”, one expects something catchy that will make you want to raise your fist. But the rythm and sound of the song take us in another direction.
Leigh: I know what you mean. The song is about being proud of the skin you’re in. Like in all those European festivals, you see everyone with their flags, it’s not just they’re proud of their country, they’re proud of their roots, they’re proud of their heritage. And I think this song, is about raising your flag, stop running away, face everything. And this, again, was written before the pandemic, and now more than ever, you know, it’s like, we got to go through this tough time. The only cool thing about it is that you’re not alone. Everyone’s going through it around the world. It’s not like just a French thing, or it’s not just an American thing. It’s like we’re all going through this. I love that when you hear the title, there’s an emotion or thought process. We hear it, it flips it on its head, you’re like, oh, wow, wasn’t expecting it sounds like this.
You start listening to “Breathe Again”, the title makes you think it’s a ballad and then it hits you in the face with those guitar tones. And you might think the opposite raise your flag I’ll do this is going to be the like guitar anthem and then it hits you a different way.
How did your fans respond to the first singles?
Leigh: It’s been massive, and when we haven’t had this kind of response since, our third album. You want to put out a mix of new and fresh sounding stuff, but at the end of the day, you still want to respect what got you here in the first place. We want to respect that sound and the stuff the fans we do have stuff that they might expect you to play and put out so, this be our sixth album. That was a challenge.
It’s your sixth album over 20 years of existence, quite a milestone !
Leigh: Right? Crazy. Big year.
So hopefully you will be back on stage quite soon. To finish, as our website is called “RockUrLife”, what rocks your life, Leigh?
Leigh: Rock and fans obviously, and my family. From a band perspective, the fans mean everything. It’s about putting out a positive message whenever you can see that person smiling or you see that child on the shoulders of his parent at your show and they’re singing it together. What more could it mean than that? There’s no money, there’s no success or fame that can really see the joy of people coming together to celebrate the music that you create. As you get older, and you progress in your career, that means even more every year, and now with pandemic, and that being taken away from us, I just can’t wait to see those spaces smiling back.
When we’ll be back on stage, for the first time people are already going to be knowing the songs and singing them. It’s gonna be an emotional time. And certainly we want to grow the fan base overseas, there in Europe and in France, as well. And hopefully this is the next step to to get closer to that.