Pop Evil: towards the light

Pop Evil 2015

It is a fact of life that finally meeting success when you’ve spent years slaving away and trying to succeed by yourself is going to change your perspectives. You’ll see life in a new, brighter light. You stop pining and make the most of all the good things that are now available to you to keep the momentum going, because you know where you’re coming from. That’s exactly what Pop Evil are doing now. The band is back with Up, a new, much more positive and optimistic album. When they landed in Seattle to create their fifth record, alongside producer Adam Kasper (known for his work with big names of rock like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters, or Queens Of The Stone Age), they were moved by a simple desire to have fun, collaborate, and refine their identity.

Pop Evil don’t take anything for granted, and know that they’re only at the beginning of the journey and need to keep going. That, in substance, is what singer Leigh Kakaty told us in the following interview, which mostly covers the genesis of Up. There’s no doubt this record will keep Pop Evil on American wavebands for a long time, and the delighted frontman sees that as proof of a job well done.

Pop Evil 2015

« It’s always important to understand or at least be in tune with what your fan base wants from you. »

Radio Metal: Onyx was a pretty successful album. Did you feel some pressure while working on your new album Up? What was your state of mind?

Leigh Kakaty (vocals) : There was a little pressure around, of course, but we knew we really wanted to do a good record. I think that once we started the process in early January, all the pressure kind of vanished; it was all about having fun. What really comes first is writing music that we like, that’ll makes us jump up and down on stage, and challenging ourselves with it, we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. We wanted on this record to try different things and enjoy the experience. I mean, it was our first time being out in Seattle, far away from our homes; it was an all-new environment. We did our two previous records in Chicago, which is just a couple of hours from our hometown, with our families and friends that kept coming and going. So this time was much more focused but it was also all new to us, so the pressure was the last thing on our minds.

Your previous album was named Onyx because you were coming from a dark place. This new one is called Up, which sounds like a much more positive and optimistic title. Is this how you feel right now: going up with the band?

Yeah, exactly. That’s the right interpretation. I mean, Onyx was written from a very dark place: I’d lost my father and we were dealing with different issues with the band, trying making it and doing everything on our own, independently. But we got into rock to have fun. If you look at our past records, they’re all about the fun. With Onyx, we were very angry and putting all that into the music. But things are really different now. With this album Up, after all the success that we’ve had, we definitely have a more positive approach on the way we look at life. We weren’t mad anymore, we flushed our frustrations away and we wanted to have fun, and I think the lyrics kind of reflect that. I think when it just started we were more excited to work with each other. Everyone knew what was their role, everyone was helping each other out and everyone was open to the ideas that were brought to the table. And we’re definitely better musicians. We’re more experienced and we’re just ready to do something different and take this band to the next level. This title, Up, is all about moving forward but also getting up, being positive, to connect with people.

Still some dark moments remain. Were you trying to find a balance between darkness and light with this album?

I think that’s the underlying battle with the name Pop Evil. I mean, we’re constantly trying to find that balance. Even though you have an evolution, you do have that on this record. You have a song like “Footsteps”, which really came out of this change that I mentioned, it came out of realizing what we have as a band and being appreciative and positive about it, and then, of course, you have a song called “Vendetta” on there that shows that the anger isn’t all gone away.

You recorded this album with Adam Kasper who is known for having worked with The Foo Fighters, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Did the band need his expertise to take your sound to the next level?

Yeah, he was unbelievably instrumental in what we did on this record. His approach is just amazing and what he got out of the band was incredible. From the get go, his vibe was special. We knew when we started the project that we were gonna be in good hands. It’s such a cool experience to be able to work with him and to help him put together his visions of these songs. It was awesome. It’s my favorite record to this day, for sure.

You used a Seattle based producer, you have a song called « Seattle Rain » and some of the song do have a big Seattle grunge kind of influence. What does the Seattle scene represent to you and what kind of impact did it have on Pop Evil, and more particularly this album?

Seattle in general had a huge impact on this record. We’ve always heard that there was something special about that city, like an aura, a vibe. When we got there, it definitely brought a different element of work ethic out on us. When you think about all these great bands that have recorded in Seattle, in this same studio we’re recording at, you want to step up your game, you want to bring the best to the table. We definitely tried to step up our game and challenge ourselves in different ways we’ve ever done before. And we knew this was gonna be a pivotal album in our career. With every song, every hook, every riff, we did our best to make sure that it was the strongest we could put out. We definitely wanted to not be complacent. With the success we’ve had on the previous record, we didn’t want to just regurgitate that. We kind of know what our live show is missing and what we need to make it a more enjoyable live experience for our fans. We wanted to kind of work towards that in the studio to make sure that we had all of our ducks in a row and everything what lined up to give ourselves the best live show, and this album definitely helps to give us that.

Pop Evil - Up

« We’re fortunate enough to be on the radio, it’s something you don’t wanna take for granted. »

You declared: “When I listen rock radio today, I think, ‘Where’s the fun? Where’s that release that gets people away from their everyday stress?’ » Is it the artist’s purpose, to give the listener the opportunity to escape reality?

I definitely think it’s the artist’s responsibility to be aware of what the fans are in tune to. The more shows you play, the more people you know, the bigger your band get, it’s always important to understand or at least be in tune with what your fan base wants from you. For example, with our record, we wanted to take a chance to be experimental but, at the same time, we wanted to respect the sound that has gotten us to where we are. We just wanted to take that and take it to the next level but at the same time be open to grow and challenge our fan base with our capabilities. As you continue to grow as a band, you’re able to experiment. For example, a song like “Footsteps”, three albums ago we would have never been able to have a song like that and it now shows that the band’s growing. We’re constantly developing our identity. And in that case, I think it’s important to challenge yourself and challenge the band.

It is said in the promotional biography that « music doesn’t belong solely to the songwriters who create it. » Is it important, as an artist, to stay humble and not write songs just for your own satisfaction and ego? Many artists actually consider creation as a very selfish thing…

Sometimes you have a song that’s a little more about you, like “Torn To Pieces” on the last record, which is about me. Ironically, how many people that have received that song and made it their own, it’s helped with my own healing; it does become a part of them. Once you’ve put something out, it’s no longer yours, in a way. So, if you’re making music for other people, it’s definitely… There’s an element of selfishness that needs to go away and you have to consider how the people are gonna perceive the music and if you can help people. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re trying to do, it’s to put out music that can help make a difference and hopefully be a part of people’s life. If I think about my favorite rock bands, it wasn’t just about that band and that song, it’s was that song was a moment in my time where I was doing this or doing that and it becomes a part of your memory of your life, about what you were doing when you were listing to this song. It’s definitely important not to be selfish and be aware of other people’s emotions and feelings, how they might respond to your music.

You said that the feeling you have when a song of yours is broadcasted on the radio never gets old. You said that “it’s a reminder of hard work, and of having that dreamsitting in your garage, trying to write a song that someone would love one day. » Is it important, now that you’re a successful band, not to forget about those hard times?

Yeah man, it never gets old. Again, we’re an independent band. We’ve done everything grassroots, from the bottom up, and whenever you… We live on a tour bus and with two hundred shows a year, we don’t get to listen to the radio. When we finally do, you hear the hard work. When you see a person who’s got your song and he’s or she’s singing along, it’s a reminder that hard work pays off, that we’re doing the little things to put music out there that hopefully can make a difference and that we’re onto the right thing. So it’s exactly true. It never gets old to appreciate the hard work that you did just a year ago, or five days ago. It’s important to understand that there’s a journey behind it all.

Do you think that being broadcasted on the radio is really a sign of achievement? I mean, radios usually only broadcast music that’s in a certain format, and many great music don’t get that exposure because they don’t comply with that format…

Yeah, I mean, sure it’s a level of achievement. I mean, I think about the days when we were just a local band, when you heard those songs on the radio, you dreamed about being on the radio one day. When you’re on there, when you’re actually a band that’s on the radio, it is an accomplishment. Because there was a day in my life when I dreamed about being on the radio and now that we’re fortunate enough to be on the radio, it’s something you don’t wanna take for granted. You want to stay humble about it, you wanna remind yourself that there’s still work to come and you gotta put in more work to make sure that you’re responsible for the fans that are listening to that music on the radio. So you gotta be there for them, you gotta work hard, you gotta make sure when they come up to see you live that you sound as good as you can and you gotta make sure that when you put out your records it sounds as good as it can to make a difference.

Pop Evil 2015

« It was not always the case, at least for us, on our previous records that we could be that open and honest with each other. »

Do you actually sometimes have in mind how would radios welcome your songs when composing music? Do you specifically try to write within a radio-friendly format?

No. I mean, you don’t think about that when you’re writing. We’re thinking about putting a record together, a collection of song that can take you to peaks and valleys, that can give you moments throughout an album. At least, how we’ve written, we always have those songs that you feel like fans might enjoy a little more. We try to write hooks that we recall in one listen. We write the idea down, and then we demo the songs. The band members take them back, and are you still singing them tomorrow, are still singing them three days from now? Those hooks that you’re kind of singing in your head after you demoed them, you kind of know when we’re singing these songs, that there’s a good shot that other people might enjoy them as much as we do. That’s kind of just the guideline but if the songs are working from there, we don’t really focus on that anymore and we let the label and managers kind of run from that, kind of give us their opinions on what might be more radio-based. We try to focus on the songs, man, we try to write the best songs we can, put out the best records we can, just to make sure our live show is good… Those are the variables that we can control, everything else we don’t really focus on. It’s just kind of… Like your previous questions, we just try to stay humble about it, we just try to stay focused on what we need to do and be appreciative at the same time, to just keep working.

You said that the band doesn’t want to repeat itself. Is it natural for you or do you work consciously on that aspect by, for example, changing your writing method? I know that, for example, you did a lot of jamming for this album…

Sure. The band did more jamming. I mean, they had a lot of different ideas that they wanted to get out. On previous records it’s a lot of my old stuff and my stuff, so I wanted to be more open to what they had, and I know they had a lot of great ideas they’ve been wanting to get out. So what we did this time, is they went out to Seattle a couple of weeks earlier than I went out. I think they demoed something like sixteen to eighteen songs and riffs; they had a lot of great stuff done. When I got to Seattle to listen to what they’ve done, I was just overwhelmed my how much great stuff we had for an album. After that, I went to L.A. alone, at my own spot, to make sure that I could come up now and be experimental, and take as many chances as I could to give the band more ideas about possible way we could put together songs. That’s how a song like “Footsteps” was born. I wanted to take what they did, which was our core Pop Evil sound and then take it to the next level, but still blend it with the experimental stuff that I was doing. I wanted to make sure that we could come up with that to keep growing our identity. There was so much that I wanted to do, and I’m sure there was so much that the guys had wanted to do just keep becoming better musicians and writers. On our previous albums, we had time constrains, we were always working on stuff that we already had but by the time we were finished with that, there was never really a time to do new stuff. With every album cycle, you get better and there are more things you wanna try, so you’re constantly trying to perfect all the demos and not really growing as a band. This time around we didn’t wanna to kind of pigeonhole ourselves and put any kind of road block up for ourselves. We wanted to definitely be open minded to new stuff and the fresh energy that was in Seattle. It was a lot more fun this time around during the recording; everyone was even more supportive about each other to bring in their ideas. It was such a positive environment that it was really hard not to be excited and not to have a good time. Everyone was having a voice. It was not always the case, at least for us, on our previous records that we could be that open and honest with each other. When you’re having more fun, the music’s usually better.

Do you think that jamming gave this album a more « live » feeling?

Maybe. I think that it definitely gave it a more original sound. We’re definitely better musicians on this album. With every album cycle you’re that much more skilled and you get that much more road knowledge. And you’re a tighter band. When you have more shows under your belt, you’re jamming is even tighter and more cohesive, and I think you definitely find that on this record. It’s got a more organic vibe, a more natural sound. And it’s got a rawness, it’s got a recklessness to it that reminds me of the post-grunge era a bit. It reminds me of that swagger that the nineties had that I loved. The band definitely tapped into that this time around.

The seventh track on this album is a small untitled instrumental interlude. Can you tell us more about this specific track?

This track is something we wanted to put together for those people who still listen to albums from start to finish. We give you an experience, man. We wanna put you in a mood. We wanna make sure we play with your emotions. We can bring you up to bring you back down and bring you right back up again. And that song is almost a prelude to something possibly in the future. It’s awesome to kind of let… Just like you said with the band jamming, the band sometimes has a lot to say and sometimes that can be overshadowed when you put lyrics on it. And that’s such a powerful thing that the band was doing when they were going to the jam session; it was something that we wanted to intertwine with our overall listening experience when you play our album.

Interview conducted by phone 13th, july 2015 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription and introduction: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Dean Bradshaw.

Pop Evil Official website: www.popevil.com.

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