Pop Evil’s Leigh Kakaty: We’re ‘Rejuvenated’ With ‘Waking Lions,’ Ready to Embrace Our Identity [Interview]
It's been a somewhat quiet year for Pop Evil as they've been working on new music, but the band is making sure they're going out with a bang by unleashing the harder-hitting new single "Waking Lions" ahead of their self-titled 2018 album.
We had a chance to chat with Pop Evil's Leigh Kakaty about the track, which serves up a heavier sound for the group and get some insight into how that feeds into the identity of their upcoming album. Kakaty also spoke about the band's 2018 tour plans, which finds them headlining with support from 2017 breakout bands Black Map and Palaye Royale. Check out the chat below.
"Waking Lions" is definitely a heavier shot right out of the gate for the band. If you want to talk about putting that song together ... Is the song kind of representative of a heavier sound we might be getting on the new LP?
Great questions, "Waking Lions." I think the last record was just going back. Going back two albums, Onyx was obviously a successful record, three number ones. Heavy record. I was in a really depressed, angry state when my dad passed away 2011. So there is a lot of pent-up emotions I think inside. And you know, I’m always trying to be inspiring not only to my fans but to myself, to keep me motivated. I think when you’ve been doing it two to three albums, let alone five albums, you’re probably playing this material for two years. So it’s a big piece of your life. It was important for me with this last record to have a little bit more fun. I needed it for myself as for a man, as a person, both on and off the stage.
"Footsteps" kind of was the awakening for me. It’s like, "Wow, I’m having fun again." I didn’t feel like, I guess just being angry. And then of course with the success of the last record as well, "Footsteps" being our biggest song to date. It was like, it was time to really just get into this identity.
I really feel like people still don’t know really what Pop Evil is to them and even to myself. And Pop Evil was being able to have finality, which was the pop and then of course the evil was supposed to be the heavy and break some windows and crank the amps up. It just really felt like we haven’t identified ourselves properly from the evil standpoint, and we had big discussions about this record. The managers and the label were so gracious to give us a year to write this record. That was the big thing that we’ve always been saying, we didn’t want to rush it and I wanted time to explore different tunings. "Waking Lions" is in B. We do a lot of things in B. [It's a] different vocal range for me and I think when I first heard the riff, what I was working on with a buddy of mine, I was like, "Look, I want something like this," and I sang him the guitar riff.
We put this thing together. It just kind of rejuvenated us. It’s like that one song that sets the record up. Two records ago it was "Trenches," then it was "Footsteps." This one it was "Waking Lions." I felt like it was time for us to wake up. We can’t stop the complaining about where rock might be or if the song is going to cross here or there. I’m sick of it. We’re an active rock band. That’s what we are, we’re rock and roll. If we’re going to make a song, we’re going to make an album and starting with this song, we’re going to make a song for an active rock fan base and not worry about anything else. We know who we are now at this point. It’s important for us to just make sure that identity is showcased on this record so people don’t have any kind of questions anymore about what we are. We’re the one band that can do songs like "Footsteps" and do a song like "Waking Lions." There’s not many bands that can do that. That’s our identity and we want to embrace that. And it exploits it essentially.
Great low end, great bass sound from Matt. It is heavied up, but how cool was it to see this song come together and have that grit to it?
No, it’s awesome. It turned out amazing. It wasn’t, it didn’t fall into our laps. There is always some demos that come in and you’re always chasing them, there is something so special about this demo. I remember when we demoed "Waking Lions," we put the band in the house in Michigan and they brought all their songs. They were able to write all theirs and I went and kind of did my own thing and wrote my own, because I find with the band a lot of times it just turns into my song. And that’s not cool. I want them to get their ideas out musically, also their own lyrics.
So I went out to LA and wrote it. A lot of them, they don’t write lyrics, they just write music. So I write songs too because I can write music as well. It’s hard for them to know internally what I’m trying to get out of my system. So I kind of went out, "Waking Lions" was one of my first batch of songs that I wrote and I was like this is incredible. And then I had to pitch it to the band if they were going to like this song. But everyone when they heard it it was kind of like this no-brainer. Like oh my God, this is what we’ve been waiting for. And we brought it into the studio and of course, Kato [Khandwala] had a big, big influence on the music. It’s so awesome choosing him as the producer.
I'm backpedaling a bit. Once we kind of were all in that wheelhouse and on the same page, the song really did start taking shape. I remember, we did the first batch - we did all the music in Nashville. And then I did all the vocals in LA, I'm a LA guy so I just kind of like being in LA. It's something that growing up in Michigan I always dreamed of being in LA. So I think when I'm there, there's just a different vibe internally for me. You want to work because there's so many talented people in Los Angeles, it makes you want to work because everywhere you're around people are doing big things. So it's like, wow, I want to get in the studio now.
I think when we got to Nashville I was worried, like nah man, it's gotta be like this or it's gotta be like this. Then of course once Kato got it all lined up and mixed and planted in, I was like, "Oh my god, this is insane." It was one of those songs where every time the band members would come into the studio I'd videotape their reaction because that's a big part of it for me. If people around you, your loved ones, especially your band members are starting to come in and get excited after you start dropping your parts, that's a great sign that your fans are probably going to be very responsive as well. At that point it started to fall into place and started to look like it was going to be the first single. That was always since March, when I wrote it, was look it's gotta be the first single. We have so many great songs on this record, but you just never knew what was going to happen. That one kind of just fell into place and here we are.
The video for this has an interesting visual representation as well. You kind of see a person being chased by an unseen entity and eventually confronting the pursuer. I wanted to get your thoughts on the visual representation for the song.
It's great. Everyone is trying to wake up that voice inside their head or that voice internally and be something better. Especially when, there's a lot of fans we have, a lot of young ones listen to the music and people deal with real issues. Unfortunately their not always pretty -- abuse, struggle, frustration and striving to just be better. It's about speaking up and looking at all the stuff that's going down in Hollywood right now. It's important for people, to take a stand for themselves. It was definitely a powerful video that we didn't know how it was going to turn out. We just took a stab at it at the time, Columbia did such a great job on the video. We couldn't have been prouder.
The most we wanted with the video was, since it was a performance-based video, they shot this lineup, and if you look on the internet there's no Pop Evil video that has this current lineup with a new female drummer. It was important for us to not only be inspiring visually from a video standpoint, but to empower women. We have so many female fans that are out there listening to our band. It's not only important to empower the men around us the women are very important in our lives personally so it was important to kind of give back in a way there. And obviously choosing Hayley [Cramer] to be our drummer and having her kick some serious booty on stage and do her thing, it was incredible. Being empowering and being able to have a voice loud and clear with that video for sure.
The "Music Over Words" tour. We've got that coming up and I figure it plays into the record somewhere but what is the significance of that tour name?
Music speaks, man. We're not trying to sit here and talk a bunch anymore. We want the music to do the talking. It's pretty plain and simple. You look at all these bands that have had success and are bigger than us, music does the talking. You can say what you want, you can sound pretty, perfect and scripted but if the fans don't like the music then you're irrelevant. So it's pretty loud and clear.
Seems like yesterday that Pop Evil was just the new band coming up on the scene and now you guys are headlining. You've got Palaye Royale and Black Map joining you, two of the bands that have broken out in the past year. How does it feel to be that band that's now supporting your scene by taking out some of these best new bands that are coming up?
It's crazy to think about. I don't think it always hits you, that's because the business is all about the next single or the next song or album, so you don't really get a lot of time to look back. But people like yourself asking about it, you're actually thinking like wow we've been around over 10 years now.
This is crazy to think that we're making a small impact. It's something we take seriously. It's very important for us to try and take up and coming bands that are grinding. It's important to make sure this rock community is growing. And the way to do that is to not just tour with the same people all the time. Being a radio band it just feels like we tour with the same bands all the time, and that's great and awesome. We love them and we're grateful, but it's so important to try and get some youthful bands that are out there that are on the grind because you're bringing a whole young audience to the table. You're cementing that youth that didn't grow up with mainstream rock to be aware of.
I think there's those Warped Tour bands that we're always trying to watch and pay attention to because those kids, we want them to understand, look - rock is cool. It's important to go into a store and pick up a guitar instead of picking up a laptop. Let's play live instruments. Let's get the new sound an appreciation that has raised them and built this country, especially in the midwest where we grew up. Rock and roll, everyone around me in the midwest, if it wasn't for that music and playing those instruments, that was how we got through our 9-5. That's how we got through Monday through Sunday. Music was there for us. It's just important for us to be aware of what's going on in the scene and being able to give back to these young new fans that are great. They need opportunities to hopefully get on a platform on a level where they can sing. Our community just keeps expanding and there's a certain pride amongst all of us that we've started. Look, there's lots of bands and we're just trying to do our part but if we can do that hopefully we can continue to make a small difference.
I'm curious on your familiarity with Palaye Royale and Black Map. How well do you know those guys and what are you looking forward to in terms of the tour?
We're ecstatic about them, obviously we've heard a lot of good things and from what we could see with their music now but we don't know them personally yet. We're really looking forward to it. I think that's the part of it for us as well. When we do these tours is get out there and meet new people. A great place to do that is with bands like that who have that young energy and everything we've heard about those two bands, personally, that they're amazing and fun to be around. We're definitely looking forward to it. I know that our band needs that this past year because we've been in the studio so much so we're really looking forward to getting back on stage again and the energy that these two opening bands bring is infectious. I think it's gonna make for one heck of a live show for our fans all the way around from the beginning first note from the last band to the last one we play. A lot of great talented musicians with great music. It's gonna be an awesome night. It'll be our biggest tour yet of our career.
With the new record coming out and headlining shows, will there be new tour production? Are you planning any extra elements that might be worked into what you're gonna do?
Yeah, we're definitely planning on putting on a show. We're still in the beginning stages of that. We just announced the tour and got it all lined up this week but the tour production and that stage show is next on the list so we'll be working on that all through the holidays. Actually, we just finished up our 2017 run on Dec. 2 that we're doing now. We have plenty of time until Feb. 14 to really focus on the tour and the stage show. That's definitely important for us. We don't want to rush that so we're just gonna kinda - once we get the final budgets in we'll start seeing what we can do. We're definitely gonna make sure that it's very entertaining and it's fun to watch visually and musically for our fans.
Our thanks to Pop Evil's Leigh Kakaty for the chat. The band's new self-titled album is due Feb. 16 via eOne. You can pre-order the disc via Amazon and iTunes. After a pair of shows this weekend, the band will jumpstart 2018 on the road in February with Black Map and Palaye Royale. See all of their scheduled dates here.
Pop Evil, "Waking Lions"