INTERVIEW: Pop Evil (06/02/2018)

US rock titans Pop Evil are back their self-titled fifth studio album. The first single from the record ‘Waking Lions’ was a hit with fans at the end of last year. Vocalist Leigh Kakaty said “This is a Dawn of a New Day for Pop Evil. The new lineup feels like a whole new chapter for us. We could not be more proud to lead off this new album cycle with ‘Waking Lions’, sending a positive message to our fans.”

We caught up with Leigh, Hayley Cramer and Nick Fuelling about Pop Evil‘s new record, what role singles take as part of an album cycle and how the band has developed since ‘Lipstick On The Mirror’.

DP!: Album number 5 is about to drop! How do you feel reaching such a big milestone?
Leigh (vocals): It’s awesome. I never thought that we would get to one, let alone five. You get to one or two and think wow, this is awesome, but five is really crazy because you have to have been around for at least ten years so it’s a huge honour and it’s a credit to hard work but it’s exciting at the same time. We’ve got some new fresh energy in the band and much like a sports team, when new young energy comes in it helps the guys and girls that have been there for a while get that extra spark and I think that the musical member changes in the band has just given that feel, that extra push that the other albums could have continued from when Nick first came in the band. It felt the same way when Hayley joined, it felt like we had a fresh energy with someone who loved to be here and her transition was great. When Nick came in he still had a lot of growing to do but Hayley was already a fully fledged musician. We’ve gotten better and if we were this cohesive and tight on this record it’s going to be awesome when Hayley has one album under her belt.
Nick (guitar): You do one record which is a major release but then to go on and have three of them, it’s awesome to look back on and the achievements that we’ve had.
Hayley (drums): I’m new on the fifth album and it’s definitely been great to be a part of it. Taking all of the previous albums which I had fresh in my mind from learning the back catalogue from when I joined the band so putting a taste of previous albums into this cohesive fifth album is just awesome.

DP!: How do you feel you’ve developed since ‘Lipstick on the Mirror’ was out a decade ago?
Leigh: We’ve definitely developed. From a lead singer perspective, I’m a better writer and singer. Learning to sing better ever when you don’t feel like it. Leading into this record, that was a big thing from the band, the managers, everybody wanted me to warm up and exercise the vocal chords and no singer wants to do that, c’mon dude, I don’t want to do that. So it’s about being disciplined enough and it’s a lot of extra work. Your voice is your body so when your body is tired then your voice is tired. It’s not like you just rev the amp up and your fingers have to work, it’s not like a guitar player. It’s about the little things that I definitely wasn’t doing on ‘Lipstick On The Mirror’. Back in those days everything was new, we were like a deer in headlights. ‘Lipstick On The Mirror’ was a very long process, we did about ten different versions of the record before we finally got the record deal. To have the big label logo on the back of the CD was my dream and all they did was put me in debt. So that was the dumbest move I could have done but I wanted it and I got it, but I’m still paying for it to this day. I think coming from a small town, I just wanted a record deal. I was so sick of being the little fish in the small pond and not being from New York or LA, I just wanted the major. We got it and it didn’t work out the way I hoped it would but luckily for us eOne came and scooped us up and we’ve been an independent band and had creative control since day one. It was a scary time because we had so much to learn, how we dressed and everything, but it was fun.
Hayley: If you look at the artwork on ‘Lipstick On The Mirror’ you totally wouldn’t do that now. But it’s fun to look back on it and see all of the different artwork.
Leigh: If I’m looking at ‘Lipstick In The Mirror’ and grilling it, I always had a problem with drums. We’d fight with the managers, they wanted the band to be as cohesive as possible but we weren’t great players back then. We weren’t great studio players so we had to learn how to do that stuff and if the drums are mediocre then everything else has to be on top of that. It was really refreshing to be on this record to have a true drummer, nothing to do with the fact she’s from England or she’s a female, she’s just a great drummer and it was nice to have that.

DP!: The Pop Evil albums have always been relatively consistent every three years, is it a case of write, release, tour, or does the routine ever change? Are you writing all the time or was ‘Pop Evil’ any different?
Leigh: Probably just because of the way the band situation is in the USA, you have to an album just so you can tour. Every tour you have to have something new and fresh and we’ve had four singles too pretty much every record. We have so many hits in our set nowadays but then the problem is we have hits that we just don’t want to play. You’d think it’s the new guys Hayley and Nick saying they don’t want to play that one but it’s us veterans because some of the songs remind us of the past and they aren’t always pleasant memories. I’d rather play songs with the lineup now, what do we even play off the first record? ‘100…’ and ‘Hero’. How many off the second record? ‘Boss’s Daughter’.
Nick: ‘Last Man Standing’, ‘Monster..’.
Leigh: OK, so three. Two, three, so five. I could cut them all, except maybe ‘Monster…’ but I’ve played them all for a long time so when you get asked that question “Do you get sick of playing your songs?” – Yes!

DP!: Bands often take longer to release albums as they continue through their career and concentrate on big singles to add to their catalogue. Do Pop Evil consider the singles as the high priority or is the album from start to finish the most important?
Leigh: Maybe the first single because that’s what your album is going to be focused around. That’s the first message you send to your fan base after you take a break so the first single takes a role. The singles always take a role to me maybe a little bit more than the rest of the band because vocally it’s a little different thing and I’ve been around the band longest but in some ways I’ve been a bit looser with it. For this record I had my two but after that I really don’t know. I’m honest with the band, if I saw four singles then I’d tell them.
Nick: We’ve always kinda known that these are the four that are going to be singles and we all agree.
Leigh: After the second single, your band has changed. Whatever you’re going to be in that album cycle, that’s what you are. After the second single is always a sad time for me because that’s means the album cycle is over. All the dreams you had and the expectations, that moment in your life is done. All that excitement is never the same. But that’s exciting in a way because the second half of the album cycle, everyone knows the words so they’re all coming and singing but then a little bit of doubt creeps in because you know if the songs are big and we’ve been lucky enough to have some big songs, but can I write another one? Can the band bring one like that, too? But that’s why ‘Footsteps’, ‘Trenches’ and ‘Waking Lions’ are the first single because they remind you that your back. But we are trying to put together an album that is cohesively different. We want our fans to figure out the different nuances that make it similar. We don’t want them to say ‘Waking Lions’ times eleven. We want them to notice a drum pattern or Nick’s guitar tone or a lyric reference rather than all the songs sound the same.

DP!: Why did you decide to self-title the new record?
Nick: It just feels like our coming of age. We’ve been experimenting so much and every record is so different, this time we know what we want to do and want to say, it felt like the right time. With Hayley coming in especially, we are able to do the things that we wanna do.
Leigh: That’s a lie, Hayley made us do it…

DP!: ‘Waking Lions’ and now ‘Colors Bleed’ from the record have been put out as singles with videos. How did you pick the tracks to do this with? Do you feel they represent the album best?
Leigh: After two years are up, I just have to go my own way. Not for anything personal, I just want to be my myself, not on a tour bus. I play music too and I don’t get to play in the band because they’re better than me so I like to sit with my guitar and not think Pop Evil. Just sit and play and see what comes. I’d been frustrated because I wanted to get lower tunings for years but every time I ask the band we’re in the middle of a tour so the guitars are already tuned so they don’t wanna fuck with it. When you’re trying to be creative, touring isn’t a great mix. They’re different. So I like to go to LA when I write, I’m from Michigan so it’s the total opposite. The first thing I did with my crew was tune the guitars down to B and they were like “Can you even sing there?” and I said I had no fucking clue, let’s just see what my voice does. We spent two days doing it and by the end of it we really tapped into ‘Waking Lions’ and when we hit that melee we immediately knew it was special. I got that chill moment and that’s the thing about being a little further in your career because I know the feeling I had when I did ‘Trenches’, ‘Footsteps’, some of our bigger songs – I got that feeling. I kicked it to the managers and they flipped. Managers don’t care, they can love you today, hate you tomorrow but when they give you that reaction I know it’s not fake. I wanted to hear what the band thought but only when they had finished their own writing in their own spaces so they could come back fresh without my ideas influencing their writing. So ‘Waking Lions’ was born there but literally took til the last day. A whole year later I didn’t have the verses. I couldn’t nail it. We took five different takes on the verse – it was almost the closest thing to metalcore that Pop Evil had ever been! I was sweating in the booth, I was literally down to my drawers! Poor Hayley wasn’t even there.
Hayley: I’m glad I wasn’t there for that!
Leigh: Yeah, you wouldn’t wanna be there for that. But then we put a bit more melody on it and it just wasn’t working. I thought that original melody I wrote in LA was too light but Kato got me to try it and when we did it in the booth, everyone said that’s it and it stuck. It was such a personal song for me so that was the hardest thing on the record and I’d had the song for a year, playing it from my friends to see what they think. ‘Waking Lions’ is so refreshing for me even now and when I hear it on the radio or on TV, I’m so proud. That momentum from ‘Waking Lions’ just started album five in a way that it felt like the self-titled record, I’d never been prouder. And then songs like ‘A Crime To Remember’, it was the first time working with Hayley from a writing perspective. She said they were loving the demo, but I’d never worked with her before and I hadn’t heard her on the more vibey, pop style Pop Evil tracks. So she did her thing and I thought “Oh My God…”. She’s got like Dr Dre influence on the piano and I was just so proud of her, and I knew we were going to be OK. Because of what the band were bringing, it was a great atmosphere for us to work together in a way we hadn’t in the past.
Nick: I remember the first time we heard ‘Waking Lions’ and I don’t even think Leigh sent it to us, it came from our manager and I remember thinking “Oh, he’s going a little bit more metal with this, alright we can do that” so it was kind of inspiring in that way. Immediately after I heard that, I drop tuned the guitar and kinda started messing around with some riffs and the ‘Colors Bleed’ riff just popped out and I remember recording it and thinking “this is pretty cool…”. We spent some time developing it in our writing house together and we shipped it off to Leigh and the managers and they seemed to really dig it.
Leigh: I fucking loved it. The cool thing for ‘Colors Bleed’ for me is I’m thinking about songs from the lyrical perspective and they were now developing the musical aspect so it was nice to have that ying and yang balance.
Hayley: When we were playing it when we were writing it at this lakehouse in Michigan, I remember being highly amused and laughing because when we were playing this really heavy beat, I saw this little lake boat go past with these two old people on it. It couldn’t have been further from where we at, playing hard and there was this beautiful cute old couple going by on their boat. I will forever think of them when I play this song!

DP!: When can we next expect to see Pop Evil back in the UK?
Leigh: We’re hoping before the end of the year, summer or late fall. We are still hoping to do some stuff where we are direct support so we can get maximum exposure here and then hopefully we can get to a place where we can start headlining. It’s important to us for Hayley to have a home in both places. We absolutely love England and we are so excited to grow here and learn about the culture and the great fans here who love rock and metal.

The band’s fifth full-length album, ‘Pop Evil’, is out on March 30th 2018 through eOne Music.

You can purchase it online from iTunes (here), Amazon (here), and Google Play (here).

You can keep up to date with the band online by following them on Facebook (here), Twitter (here), and Instagram (here).

Interview by Mike Heath (@MikeBeef)