With another NFL season coming to a close, Pop Evil frontman Leigh Kakaty couldn’t help but compare his band’s current state to that of the long-beleaguered Detroit Lions.
“We know we’re not going to win a Super Bowl every year,” Kakaty said just days before the Lions failed to make the NFL playoffs. “And we know that the odds are against Pop Evil, not only because of the way we look, or the way we sound, but because of where we come from.”
Formed back in 2001 outside of Muskegon, and rising from cover bars to mainstream radio stardom all right here in Grand Rapids, Kakaty said he knows Pop Evil doesn’t have the prestigious pedigree that rock bands from New York, or Los Angeles, or even Detroit have. But like his beloved Lions, he’s always taken that challenge to heart — working that much harder to make a name for himself and his band, even if they’re a little bit off the beaten rock path.
“There’s this certain kind of stereotype to our band, that we’ve had to break so many different molds, that if we can just worry about one song at a time, one concert at a time, and make every show we play be as good as we can, then we’re OK,” Kakaty said. “There’s always one person that’s hearing us for the first time, and that’s good enough for us. We never really got into it for money or fame anyways. We got into it to jam — that’s why we never moved out of West Michigan. It certainly wasn’t because we wanted to be rich, or we would’ve moved to L.A. a long time ago.”
Make no mistake: Pop Evil has had its share of success. One of the biggest active rock radio bands right now, the group has charted four No. 1 rock singles, with its hits Trenches, Deal With The Devil, Torn To Pieces and Footsteps all topping the national charts.
But any hype or pressure surrounding that level of rock stardom hasn’t phased Kakaty, who continues to hold his blue-collar, West Michigan work ethic close to everything he does.
“Ever since I was young, one of my big things was I always wanted to get out of Michigan, just to realize one thing: I never wanted to leave,” he said. “It’s in our bloodline. Just working for everything. I mean, Pop Evil, if you look at our success, it’s never been given to us. … Coming from the cover band scene, we didn’t really have the experience that some of the other bands had playing just original music constantly. So we took our lumps over the years, but I think that battle mentality we have here in West Michigan, like, ‘I don’t care who likes us, we’re just going to keep doing it. I don’t care who believes in us, or if they think that we can get out of Michigan at all. We’re going to keep pounding and prove it to ourselves first that we are worthy of being a worldwide band.’”
Dead set on definitively proving themselves, the members of Pop Evil will return this month with their fifth studio LP. Due out Feb. 16, the self-titled LP roared to life late last year with the release of lead single Waking Lions, which showcased a renewed fervor for the band’s heavier side and officially introduced new drummer Hayley Cramer, who moved from London to West Michigan to join the band last year.
“In a way, it feels like it’s all about our identity,” Kakaty said. “It’s like you can’t have a band name like Pop and Evil without giving clear definitions on who you are. Our pop sound is more vibe-y and melodic on this record. And obviously melodies have been the true constant that has followed throughout the previous four albums, but we felt like with a word like Evil in our name: ‘Where’s the Evil? Where’s the heavy?’ We’re very much influenced by heavy metal and rock music, and I think you’re going to see that on this record.”
Eager to reconnect with its roots, Pop Evil returned to West Michigan to demo much of the music for the new LP before recording in Nashville last fall. Coming full circle, the band will launch its massive nationwide tour right here in GR on Feb. 15.
“Anytime we can bring some attention back here to West Michigan is always a good thing,” Kakaty said. “But for us, we’re just constantly about pushing and expanding the band and getting this music to other countries. Of course, every time you come back home and play with a new record, it’s always humbling... (But) dreams come true, and being able to play it for your family and friends and the city that helped break you — it’s always a humbling experience.”
Pop Evil, The Noise Presents The Music Over Words Tour
wsg. Palaye Royale, Black Map
20 Monroe Live, 11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m. doors, 7:30 p.m. show
$23-45, 20monroelive.com, (844) 678-5483