Pop Evil’s Leigh Kakaty Discusses ‘Onyx’ Album + ‘Being a Minority Frontman in the Rock World’
Pop Evil kicked off this year with a massive trek with Stone Sour, and now the band is hitting the road with Escape the Fate. For a full list of dates go here. We had the opportunity to sit down with Pop Evil frontman Leigh Kakaty, who spoke all about the band’s latest disc ‘Onyx.’ He gives an honest account of their need for creative freedom and expression on the album, as well as challenging recording moments.
Kakaty also talks about being a “minority frontman in a rock world” and how he wishes for more diversity and acceptance in the rock and metal scene as a whole. He delves into music, race and his intent to break down barriers. Check out our very compelling interview with Pop Evil singer Leigh Kakaty below:
You’ve been touring in promotion of ‘Onyx.’ Talk a little bit about the writing process of this album, as well as the reaction from fans to the new songs now that the album's been out for a while.
Well the writing process was demanding and I think more rewarding this time around. We were the new kids on the block in the studio and we were very driven in what we wanted to do. We realized in our career for the first time that we have to play these songs for the rest of our lives, not the producers or the managers. We were finally in a position to say “no” if that makes sense. We’re not putting more acoustic songs on the record when we’re already playing two live.
We want to make sure people understand why this band is called Pop Evil. We can certainly break out an acoustic guitar but we can also turn these amps up and start breaking stuff. That wasn’t really something fans got to experience with Pop Evil in our previous efforts just because -- to be a new band on the rise there’s so many variables, there’s so many people in power that have a voice and have a say until you reach a level of success.
Those people want you to play it safe and write a certain way and finally for the first time we said, “F--- it, we’re doing it Pop Evil’s way and if people don’t like it then we can go home knowing we did what we wanted.” Ironically once we did what the band felt we needed to do, it’s blown up for us.
It’s a thin line because if you don’t listen then you might not get the deal or you might not get the manager. It’s just about understanding who you are as a writer and it’s not just blaming it on them. I don’t care how good you are, if it’s your first time in the studio it’s new turf. It’s certainly not taking away from our previous efforts, without the success of ‘War of Angels’ we wouldn’t be able to do ‘Onyx.’ I just think as you grow and as the years go by we were just a little more experienced and understood who our target audience was and we understood who our fans were.
We’re making this record for rock fans and that’s it, we don’t care where we end up, we’re not in this thing for money, we don’t make nothing anyways. [Laughs] So it’s just like, we’re going to do this and go full speed ahead. There’s no fall back option for us, we’re going to dive in, swing for the fences and if we fall short then oh well. On the gambling side, if this works then we’ll have that much more leverage to have a long career.
While recording, do you remember a specific song that may have been memorable or challenging for you to get through?
Sure, I think we’ll start with the big one that changed our lives. ‘Trenches’ was just a pivotal moment in our career. My projection, the way I’m spitting or rapping or singing the verse, depending on who you’re talking to but it was a different style. It’s something I’ve been doing for years but management and labels push me away from it. On this record there was such an angst and such a feeling of urgency. With ‘Trenches’ you could almost talk the words like, “I've been sitting here waiting my whole life to get out of the trenches” like I’m ready to fight for it, I don’t give a s---. It was that military/sports mind like, “Look we’re five brothers, united. Let’s be honest with some lyrics in a song.”
It took a lot of hits early on. We demoed it out. We knew there was something cool there and we thought this is where we want to take ‘Onyx.’ As it took shape [producer] Johnny K. put his sauce on it and we were like, “Wow this is not only about us anymore, this is going to help and inspire a generation and it’s going to be around for a long time." We thought if we could just finish it and put the right icing on this cake we felt like this was going to almost be a movement for Pop Evil. We thought ‘Deal With the Devil’ was going to be the first single but we kept going to ‘Trenches’ for the single because the message is so much more universal and sure enough it’s the biggest song that we play live. It’s set the bar for the rest of the record.
‘Divide’ was another one that we kept re-writing, the division it felt like being a minority frontman in a rock world. It just felt like, “At the end of the day we’re rock and roll brothers and sisters and until we understand that as a society, as a brotherhood, as a family that we all need each other for rock and metal." We can make a difference, we can demand it become part of mainstream again, that people can say, “Hey if you listen to country, pop, rap and all that stuff that people like why can you listen to rock too?”
The rock culture is speaking loud, I always try to educate our fans, I know we’re new, but it’s like, "Stop the battle between who’s band is better or bigger." It’s just important to support those bands you love and get out there and don’t be afraid to explore new bands. The new generation of rock bands has this, demand, need, we have this bloodline and we have to survive with our fans. We have to go out and mingle with the fans. We have to be active on the social network platforms and if we’re not then we’re not guaranteed to be here.
I want to touch on something very important that you brought up when you said “being a minority frontman in a rock world.” Growing up, did your culture and background influence the music you gravitated towards or stepped back from?
That’s a great question, to some degree it’s possible. I think being a minority frontman was more influential in leading me away from doing any of it because I was never black enough for rap and I was never white enough for rock, I was kind of safe in the middle. If you really want the truth to it that’s when it was like, “Maybe I shouldn’t sing because I don’t look like Robert Plant” or “Maybe I shouldn’t rap because I don’t look like Tupac.” I have something to say though, I have a voice. I want to be heard so it was about breaking down barriers. I was a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s. I loved whatever was mainstream in the U.S. I loved Pearl Jam, I loved Biggie, I loved Nirvana.
I was a song guy, I wasn’t necessarily a band guy. I was always affected by the songs that could make your girlfriend get naked but also make your grandma jump around and sing at a wedding. Take Pantera’s ‘Walk.’ You have people that want to fight and you got grandma throwing up her horns. Those are the songs that show the beauty of music. It can really have lifestyles, races, genres, genders and all walks of life come together and sing in unison even if it’s for three or four minutes. I was always just mesmerized by that.
I can sit here and tell you all the clichés -- “I like Metallica.” Everyone says that, I liked them too. The big thing is being a minority frontman being like, “Maybe I shouldn’t do this” and being a little bit more nervous to take the fallback option. I’m not just going to work at Subway or Best Buy, it’s to break down the barriers like what I’m trying to do for Pop Evil. It will come out the bigger we get, I want to inspire other people that might look like me.
For example, you come in here to do the interview and I already stereotyped you, in a positive way because I see me in you. I wasn’t expecting that my interview was going to be someone that looked like you, just to be real. But it’s the same thing when fans come see me, it's like, “The guy who sings ‘Trenches’ looks like that?” I think that’s where the true excitement in the melting pot of what America is. You’re going to see more of that as the years go on.
You think about this country and how everyone brags about it being the best country on the planet if you’re from the States, but because of that greatness people from all walks of life are falling in love and being influenced by this music. It’s no shocker that someone like me would come out of that and now I’m singing rock in a rock and roll band. When you think about it on paper, it’s very exciting like, "Wow I am a product of what the ‘70s brought and all the sweetness of these different decades." At the same time now that it’s here, people are still afraid like, "Oh wow you’re doing rock music I thought you’d be like..." whatever the stereotype is.
I remember growing up I had to justify my love for Motorhead or Korn and all of these bands to other kids who weren’t into rock and metal. As a kid it was just a matter of “Well why can’t I listen to heavy music because of my skin color and cultural background.”
Totally, I feel the exact same way. It’s not something I feel like I can talk about in any interview, you had to have lived through it to really understand. Unfortunately it’s just a societal thing and you have to overcome that and it takes people like you and me. We’re just two people in the landscape of what this is. Hopefully when they see people like us, they’ll be like, “I want to do that too because I grew up on Hendrix and I grew up on rock.”
Watch the Video Pop Evil's Video For 'Torn to Pieces'