Interview by: Adrian Hextall
Pop Evil is due to release this week, their fifth studio album and one that simply carries the band name. To eponymously title your album shows great conviction in the band name and recognition that a release carries something special.
This new project has something for everyone, there are many different flavours of music and content for you to enjoy and savour. As you’ll see from my colleagues review of the album every track takes the listener in a new direction, something, as I talk to vocalist Leigh Kakaaty and guitarist Nick Fuelling, that confirms their exact intention on this release. With Nick conceding the chair to Leigh for the majority of the interview, the rapid firing lead singer takes us on a walk through his mind and life in Pop Evil.
Cricket Hook’s review of Pop Evil can be read here:
MGM: Pop Evil manage to blend of the rock and the metal on your music. I’ve always thought that you can really do that with the tracks. The band have the ability to pull it right back if you need to or when necessary, let loose with some of the most powerful riffs thanks to Nick’s playing. I’ve heard you describe the influences from home before. How much is that still the case on this album?
LK: Well, starting with when I first met Nick, for example, I was rock, he was more metal. So, as a band, you’re only really—from a lyricist standpoint, you’re only reshaping what your guitar players can do, right? I mean if you’re – I mean I don’t play the guitars as good as them, I’m a chord rhythm guitar player when I play but I played enough so I can write, so, when Nick first came in the band, you know the band was- our radio band at home so– that’s such a dangerous thing for a band because when you have radio singles, if it’s too light, it’s not good. If its too heavy, that’s not good.
So we maybe battled in the early years when Nick first came in the band about how to really tackle that issue. I’m gonna think about some of the talks that him and I had lately to when we started. It was I was like “look, we got to get in to more of the sound you got because Nick would bring these riffs something like “awesome, we got to get into that.”
On the previous records, we really didn’t get the chance to really tackle that again. The singles come out and the we felt that we never had enough time. We get rushed just when we’re ready to do more ‘evil’ so to speak and then “Oop, album’s done guys. Got to wrap this one up. We got to get the single out,” “What do you mean? Okay Nick–” And the Nick so spits out “Okay, well, next–don’t worry about it” like he never complains. He’s not one of those kind of people.
Nick waves and smiles at various points during the interview to remind us he is still here!
No, if you looked at our first release in Europe, our first real taste of Europe. I’d lost my Dad during the making of that record and I was just very angry. Hence, the album was a very dark album and the good news is that album broke us, the bad news was I just did not want to go back there. I’m sick of being dark. I’m sick of writing angry stuff. I mean I didn’t get in the right the – I mean I’m a rock guy.
So, I never really got into this to be tougher than the next guy, got to be so metal that it was just too much. So, the next record which was our last one, “Up”. I just didn’t know if I wanted to do it anymore as far as I just didn’t know where I was. I just lost the fun in it. I’m like “This is really what I want to do?” And I spent five to six years chasing this dream and I missed five to six years with my Dad. Like I mean, “Was this really the right move?” I mean I don’t think I’ve ever question I was going to quit but is this worth the passion? I couldn’t find it. Then ‘Footsteps’ was written and it all seemed like “Wow, we can have fun again.” So, I really wanted to just consciously last record, have fun. So that was more, maybe and the band was willing to just accept that with me. Like, “Look, this is the front man, like we trust him, let’s him do it.”
So that album, there’s no aggressiveness on it because it’s just not what I wanted to be as a lyricist but in that after I was able to digest the last record. I realized, you know, look, we have a lot of fans now that are really starting be get interested in the band and they have a voice and they’re saying “We love when Pop Evil gets that infusion with metal.” We love that and probably that’s when I’m starting to say those things probably Nick’s on the back of his mind like, “Yeah, Let’s do this.” I know he was really excited and then when I started doing a way again, I have to process from the writing standpoint. I mean got into the band experience to be a writer first, musician second. Writing is always my passion. So when I got away this record, I was like, you know, I started messing around and we always- and Nick will vibe and I always said to Nick, “New tunings bro, I need new tunings, we have to do it like the other bands, we got to do this shit! I got to get these melodies. I want some new melodies.”
That’s the big part of it, man. If you hear the same chord progression all the time and writing the same wheelhouse is just not fun for me. So finally, I went away with some of my boys and we dropped guitars. Just–we’re dropping. I had no pre-conceived notions from any band and member anything like that. They went and did their thing and I did mine and boom! Waking Lions was born. And then I was able to bring that back to Nick and then of course when the band heard it and they’re like, “Oh, shit, we need to start dropping,” So they were able now to understand but they didn’t know what my voice could do in those keys, right?
So they’re like, “Wow, this is- I never sang, right?, and even if they- if you were in that room while we were doing ‘Lions’ that day, and that just didn’t happen overnight. I mean I have credit, cracking and all and just find the wheelhouse what my voice was going to do. And once we found it, we know it. I remember the time we did four different versions of the chorus and we’re like, “Ah, I don’t know man, maybe this isn’t the thing. Maybe- and then boom! We’re like, wait a minute, let me try one more thing,” and once we found it, we were like, It wasn’t like, “Oh, this is cool,” It was like–oh my god– it was the [singing] “Oooh” Angel’s moment were like, this is where the next album. This is where it needs to go.
MGM: Similarly because you can pitch your voice here, here and here [gestures]. It’s just you’ve never tried it before?
LK: We’ve never tried it and we never knew like that staple sound where we felt like on the flip side of our pop, more viby side, the band’s Pop Evil for a reason so we could ying yang and go here and go there and do it well and that was the whole purpose so we stay more energized and we don’t get pigeon-holed on one side of the fence and then we have to break a box for our career. We just don’t want to give ourselves limitations. We want to write good music. That’s it.
I mean, however, critics want to judge us, that’s fine but we still have to respect now as we’ve grown. We have a fanbase. We have to cater to them too. We can’t just like, “Okay, we’re going to write a country record about Forget you,” You know what I mean. That’s not what our plan is you know. So once Waking Lions [The lead track off the latest album] was starting to really come to fruition, we just, we’re like, Oh my God, this is where we need to take this for the rest of this record and really explore that.
I think that the roots of where we come getting back to your question on the great lakes play the role really cementing my rock values. Again, naming the band. If you think about the word pop, it’s a bad word to a lot of people. And in Michigan, it’s very blue collar and very grassroots. I mean, people working 9 to 5 with their music and their radios. That’s their salvation and rock, that genre, is their salvation. You’re talking, Bob Seger or Kid Rock and I mean even Motown, I mean it’s still very rock rooted in a way. A lot of rock influence.
MGM: The band name is one that can easily stir up a conversation. If you don’t know the music, you could easily be swayed by the name to making assumptions about the content.
LK: So I think for me, when thinking about my family in France, pop was always evil that word, Pop Evil, the band name, was like, the battle cry to be crusader for rock and to remind myself why I got up in the morning fighting for this. So those, the rock roots and the Great Lakes really cemented me early on to fight and really assemble this team that’s evolved over the years. I mean I think new rock bands nowadays, especially in the US are like sports teams. People retire. They’re coming and going because the commitment is so great. It’s not like it was years ago when you can have one album, it’s a success and everyone’s got enough to take a year to off and process it and not be so worn out by the business, you know.
But right now, a band in this day and era, we’d literally have to tour the US over and over so we could pay our bills month to month. We have to keep the lights on so if you don’t do that, now finally the band’s starting to have the success we’ve been able to have. Start chipping away at our monstrous debt that we had just to get here. So we could finally say, Look! We need to make some efforts to get to Europe and then we had our past drummer go, I mean one of our favourite countries in the planet is England.
Seemingly able to latch onto a word or an item to drive the discussion forward, with Leigh sitting with Nick in London the conversation moves seamlessly to British heritage;
Obviously, I’m Canadian as well so the link, the British link to my Canadian family as well as my American lineage in Michigan, very prominent, you know.
We had an opportunity to look for a new drummer, we thought would- is a female out there? You know when I got the audition tape from Hayley [Cramer, the band’s new British drummer], well like, Oh my God, like, this is a girl. Could she live with us? Like it’s not only could a female to male thing work but is our culture- is she willing?
Because we play in the US a lot. I mean it’s a big commitment for anyone let alone a female coming over there with female needs and you know what I mean, it’s just different things. Everything from the need to shower differently, they want to be a little more clean. Well some do, I guess. [Laughter] But Hayley… we had to think about this, is that going to play a role? You know just stupid stuff like that we’d always think about.
Hayley had initially been invited to join us for the interview but with Leigh set to ‘full steam ahead’, Nick chipping in as and when he needed to, Hayley took the wise decision to make the most of a pleasant sunny morning in London to go outside for a coffee break and a smoke.
And once Hayley came over, just breath of fresh air changed and taught us a lot like, the British life, in our opinion, with the people we know from here in London, in England that we’ve met, the work ethic is different in a way. Right? I mean, we all want to succeed but the way they go about it, is different than we do in America.
So those differences have kind of motivated us in ways like, Oh my God, look at how Hayley’s grinding. We’ve never seen that from our rhythm section before. We had a drummer that was great but he was in the position where his passion was gone. He would wanted to do crossfit and lift and that’s okay. That’s great, that’s what your passion is. If it changes, hey, that’s life. So finally this record we’re able to write with someone that’s ready to play so again, we finally had a drummer that gave us no limitations. It was like, “I’m down.”
NF: You know having her and her technical abilities was kind of green light, taking the lead so to speak. So you know what? You know what? I’m going to-Let’s write.
LK: And after they heard Waking Lions and this whole now transformation for Nick, like, “Oh, I can roll with this?”, ‘Colors Bleed’ was written.
So they wrote the music to ‘Colors Bleed’ like they had heard — so that’s what’s so exciting about our band, like, it’s not like me starting the band like, “i’m going to be sole writer, we’re going to do this my way all the time.” No, no, no. This is what I want to do. Let me go on my corner and work out my stuff so I can just let all that out. Then let me come back to see what you guys got and let me just do what I do when I would do my rap deals. I would go play that track. No, I don’t want that song. I would just play music instrumentals until something move me. And I would just go buy a track from my boy and just drop a sixteen or eight bar on that thing and I would learn about pockets and hooks and that was the big thing for me with Pop Evil as always been about hooks.
And people ask me at time what influences me…… hooks!! What can make Grandma go [sings]. You know you go to any wedding reception in the world in America there’s a Grandma there and be like, [sings] and the kids were like, “Yeah, grandma! You go give it to them and-” You know, that’s fucking power, man. Not because Pantera’s an influence. It’s because, a hook is, you know.
MGM: It’s got to be something that draws you in, you know?
LK: It’s going to be something that draws you in.
MGM: It can be the most intricate piece of music ever. If it doesn’t draw you in, it’s just well played.
LK: That’s why I don’t understand the……., I do understand rock influence because rock fans and metal fans in general support their bands for life. So totally, I don’t want to word this differently but the average person is that influenced by a certain band. You’re in because you can be listened to on Spotify, you’d listen on TV, you hear that hook and you don’t need to hear but once. You’re like, “What was that?” And you stop the TV and you’re like, “What is that?” and you’re like, “I like that”. Now wouldn’t matter who it is, if you like it, you like it. You know what I mean?
So I think that understanding the business for what it really is is hooks and great songs and what would grab somebody and there’s musical hooks. Not always the vocal hooks that grabs.
With a nod to Nick at the recognition of what he brings to Pop Evil, the most enthused and fired up front man I’ve had the please to interview (or listen to) puts another round in the chamber and fires off another salvo of insight into what makes him tick.
LK: You know it’s like, “Oh my God.” Like, to this day, I love the message, I love the positivity, I love being able to challenge myself and do things lyrically that I haven’t done and Pop Evil but the guitar riff on that song [Colors Bleed] , just gets me amped. Just like a Rage [Against the Machine] song or just a Metallica song back in the 90’s from me. You know it brought me back so being able to be open to us with discussions like this and not be so selfish and childish about “Oh no, we need to do this,” I think the bands are in a different place now and let’s like, “Let’s go.” Let’s sort it down. And give hopefully our set list the missing pieces that are going the people here in London or when we’re Ireland or in Germany or France make them move same way they will move when we’re back at home playing in the US.
We know that that’s the real tie that binds is that bounds that effort that emotion that we can portray on stage and if we can do that then hopefully we can continue to grow and just take the next step whatever that might be.
MGM: Is that one of the reasons as well why this album in particular comes out self-titled? Because you’ve really found “This is us, this is what we want to be,”?
LK: I think so yeah. That’s exactly right. You know we felt like, it’s almost like a coming of age. It’s like a rebirth in a way. That we- I mean, Bands are, and again we’re a classic case, we’re growing up right before anyone’s eyes and ears. You know, not being afraid. Like, it’s okay we’re learning. We’re going to tell you- and we all know this is as a fan. We can hate a day or we can hate a band or song tomorrow but we can love the next one the next day. We’re allowed as fans to say “I don’t like that band. That band, that song sucks” but then you know, next album and they’re like, “I like that band, you know what, I like you guys”.
It kind of taught us to just not be so afraid of failure and made us excited about like even the response we’ve had, and again not to keep talking about it, ‘Colors Bleed’ and you know, it’s not being safe. Not just doing what they want us to do and wrapped up a bow on a little heavy safe rock song and put it out there you know it’s not an official single but if we’re not going to have an official single, we want it to be a song that can really have an impact with all the stuff, show people that what’s going in with the me too movement back at home–women all over the world, what else is going on with all the division without swinging this people make it more of a political song as more as a social song more than a political song in every way because it’s about standing up to be united rather than the division that is the US right now.
To be in America now is the biggest division I’ve seen. And in my adult life. It’s like, Wow! It’s terrifying for us as fathers with kids in the next generations to be like, I don’t want them to grow up in an environment where they will feel divided. That’s what’s so exciting when you come to Europe, you see like a city like London.
You see the melting pot that is culture like, even today for lunch? And you’re like, we’re going for Mexican food. And I’m like, “I love Mexican.” And then yesterday, in France we got Morrocan, you know it’s that culture that makes- it’s the differences that makes us all, that makes us special because if there’s no differences why do we need to come to Europe to play? We’ll just get a little video via our basements and we’ll all just play while we’re safe and comfy in our PJs in our houses. We’re coming here because there’s differences and that’s awesome. So we can go back and relay the good things about England that we can come back and say, wow! Whether our rock community in the US doing that we’re doing here and what you guys are doing here that we’re not. It’s like, how can we use this knowledge to really build a platform for our great format, our great genre that’s in a really struggling transitional state, having to be creative to infuse alternative, rock and metal.
So we can create more opportunities for ourselves. Whether it’s more–I’d love to see more festivals instead of just wrapping us up in the same genre, mix it up like most big pop festivals do, right? They’re mainstream. They give a variety, there’s country, there’s pop, there’s rap. Pretty much everything about rock. So if they’re going to alienate us, why can’t there be rock shows and have alternative band, rock bands, metal bands, metal core like whatever it’s got to be, whatever genre and we’re all infused.
Instead of us saying that the thing that’s tough with rock right now when everyone’s so or with whatever this rock metal genre is everyone so proud of their place in it. They’re really really anti. Yeah so what does that do? It just really puts us in smaller capsules, right? So again, this is my belief on it and everyone is– it’s not going to happen tomorrow but if we can educate our fans one at a time and you can get one more fan to be open to that opening band we’re bringing. For example, on this run we’re bringing in the US. We’re bringing Palaye Royale and Black Map. Two bands that are not really big in the rock mainstreams.
NF: Nothing like us at all.
LK: Nothing like us at all. You know, whole different audiences and therefore, we’re giving them a more mainstream rock audience that’s going to love them because we’re there and they’re giving us a younger different demo from an alternative rock aspect.
MGM: In other words, it spreads in two different ways there, isn’t that?
NK: And then I’m seeing more entertaining shows. We’re not seeing the same bands over and over.
LK: And you’re not sure you’re not going to win everyone over all the time but at least you’re putting a better expectation to your fans subliminally and they’re going to come like, Oh they’re going to come in, “Wow! You’re good.Oh.” If you’re good, you’re good. It’s just thinking out of the box.
That’s the bottom line. We as a rock band of community think out of the box, create rock opportunities and more avenues for us to thrive and survive in this business you know. So I think that’s where our heads are at. I mean, the way we’re thinking and that’s why self-titling it just feels like this is our first official record like we get now in ways we haven’t before. I think we feel like we were trying to do things coming from a more positive place and we want to do- we want to stand for something, every album more than we did the last.
MGM: Lyrical and content aside, style alone, the eleven that you’ve picked out [for the new album] of I think it was thirty available, there’s no two really that are the same.
MGM: Presumably deliberate, out of those thirty that you had, what are you going to to do with the rest? I mean there’s another album and a half there?
LK: We hate albums that sound the same. I won’t say hate but those are not my favourite albums, When I want to listen to one song, and we hate as musicians having to play the same songs over and over on stage. So we really want to conceptually put a record together. So like we ramble but definitely from start to finish you can listen to the whole album and not have to turn it. You know that would be a win for us.
When the fan, put it in his car and he can play ‘Waking Lions’ and by the end he can hear [sings] “rewind and start again,” Rewind and start again.
So the whole point is to take you on this peaks and valleys and journeys. I call it musical book writers. We take you the first try we get you inspired then by crying to remember were telling you how it’s a musically even seductively creeping when there’s a crime going in, you’ve gotten away with it.
We are trying to send a positive message with eleven songs. We’re not just trying to get famous with one song. We couldn’t care less. We want to send that message from song 1 to song 11 that there’s an overall theme, a story of life going on there.
MGM: Got you.
LK: Because that’s what our rock band is. It’s a sort of life. You’ve got the songs that kind of get a little attention and that’s how the game works but for us we are lucky enough to make records. I mean who knows how long the bands will be able to make records anymore in this digital era. But every chance we get, we try to send a message from one to eleven-
MGM: As long as you continue to play live, I think there’s a space these days, isn’t there? It’s almost like you have studio work is your calling card now?
NF: Absolutely. It used to be the other way around. You used to play live just to sell your records but now, you’re making records so you could play live.
THE LAST TIME MGM GOT TO SEE POP EVIL IN THE UK WAS HERE:
MGM: One last question just back to ‘Colors Bleed’. Social awareness, social commentary and the new line up allow you to have a cross Atlantic view on things with Hayley’s input as well, her seeing what’s going on here and in Europe as well, whole different world to what you have in the States, that’s got to add to what you’re able to put together these days as well now?
LK: Yeah. See all her pain, the Brit Exit stuff was going on and she was really struggling with that, you know stuff back at home and us trying to be there for her because honestly we don’t know really- we’ve only played London a handful of times so we’re still very new to the area.
But she’s been over in the US like she stayed chunks of months at a time. So she’s really getting the taste and to be honest, growing up in London is not even close to what it’s like growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I mean it’s like, London is like New York. If you’re talking about London, you might as well talk stuff about New York because we can. We’re a small town America, man, we’re talking about the hubs. Whatever stereotypes we have of England which is the small areas and villages, well that’s pretty much what we are in the US. They’re not necessarily villages but they’re little small towns and there are just people the core of America.
NF: Just grinding to get to the next day.
LK: So I think for her, she’s really gotten the taste of just normal boring America sometimes. You’re there when you come to London, like I don’t think any American even if you take them to New York, there’s nothing boring about New York, I mean either you like it or you don’t.
But it’s going with or without you. But if you don’t want to move in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you don’t have to move like it’s there. You know, that’s not going nowhere. So I think it has played a little bit of the role and for me just probably more with Hayley just having a little more patience with us.
Because she has probably learned to calm it down. She can take a breath because it’s slower paced from probably back in the UK but obviously now since where our government and things like that I think it is very important for us not to turn a blind eye and not tell our fans and even if it’s from an American view point.
NF: It’s not about left versus right, it’s about people
LK: You know, stand up and watch the Colors Bleed it’s just seems like people that have a problem with it. Even myself included. It was like an ode to me. We got problems with it. What can you do about it instead of saying it’s bigger than me or that happened in Charlotte or that happened in LA. Well, okay, I can start to day by being hopefully a little more positive when those situations come up and I’m like judging and I’m like “Oh, I don’t want to talk to them” or whatever that negativity might be in my head, I can remember, watch the colors bleed.
How about we prevent those colors and push for those colors to bleed in good reasons. That we’re mixing the cultures properly because if the colors didn’t bleed I wouldn’t even be born.
It’s been on the papers and it’s been on the ideology for decades, okay we’ll going go get there. One step at a time. In this social media era they don’t let you get away with anything. We’ve got to draw a line so I think as a band and it is important for us to record to in someway start to hold ourselves accountable and try to step up and change and be better. We can’t change the past. It is what it is but guess what, rewind and start again. We can be better, be a better band, be a smarter band to not just write songs that are fluffy.
If you’re not out of breath just reading that, trust me I was by the time the interview came to an end. Nick’s commentary, short and precise just when it was needed offset Leigh’s hundred word a minute view on the world at the moment. A band needs a presence front and centre and in Leigh Kakaty Pop Evil have an intelligent persona with a real desire to make a difference. You’ve heard many times in this interview about ‘Colors Bleed’, check out the video to understand one of many points the band wish to get across.