Pop Evil brings ‘lyrical hard rock’ to Jergel’s Rhythm Grille | TribLIVE.com

Pop Evil brings ‘lyrical hard rock’ to Jergel’s Rhythm Grille

Clay Patrick McBride
“We’ve got a great stage show. The production is awesome. All that said, the weird thing is just getting used to this new material,” says Pop Evil’s vocalist Leigh Kakaty. Pop Evil plays Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale April 18.
Clay Patrick McBride
Pop Evil plays Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale April 18.

It’s said that people are products of where and how they grew up.

Leigh Kakaty, vocalist of Pop Evil, certainly seems to buy into that idea, saying his group’s music is very much a product of his Muskegon, Mich., hometown roots. On a musical level, that experience translates into a rock band that is anything but a one-trick stylistic pony.

And the ability of Pop Evil to show musical variety within their melodic hard rock/metal core sound and a cohesive point of view lyrically has never been more apparent than on the group’s fifth album, a self-titled effort. Pop Evil will appear April 18 at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale.

“The big thing with Pop Evil is we’ve always been that band that had that yin and yang effect,” Kakaty says in a recent phone interview. “We never really got into music because we wanted to play one style of music all the time. We’d get bored. I think that’s a direct reflection that I don’t think fans always realize of the Midwest. It’s kind of like we’re the test market, especially Michigan, we’re the test market for a lot of things. So we were always exposed to all kinds of different genres. Even on our local alternative rock or rock stations, it was always a bit of blend of rock, metal and alternative. So we’re very much a product of that.

Kakaty feels Pop Evil showed it could touch on different styles within the hard rock/metal spectrum on its first four albums. But the self-titled album, which was released in February 2018, is the best representation of the band’s music, particularly when it comes to finding a heavier and harder edge to the Pop Evil sound.

Working for the first time with a writing and recording schedule that didn’t rush the process, the group members — Kakaty, rhythm guitarist Dave Grahs, lead guitarist Nick Fuelling, bassist Matt DiRito and drummer Hayley Cramer — had enough time to explore different directions they could take the songs both musically and lyrically.

One foray involved Kakaty, the band’s main songwriter, getting together with a couple of musical friends whose backgrounds were more in heavy metal to help him explore how writing songs in different keys might open doors to a fresh sound in his songs. He hit paydirt early on with “Waking Lions,” a song that combines crunching guitars with melodic vocals sung by Kakaty in a bit lower register.

Setting a new tone

“Once I wrote ‘Waking Lions,’ it rejuvenated me all over again. I was like ‘Wow, this is finally the heavy with the melody that we always wanted,’” he says.

That song set a tone for the rest of the album, and Kakaty feels it’s the band’s most fully realized effort. It is the heaviest of the group’s albums, thanks to songs like “Art of War” and “Colors Bleed,” which boast pile-driving beats and razor-edged guitars. But there are also slightly lighter rockers that balance pop hooks and heft, “Be Legendary” and “God’s Dam,” a lighter ballad “Rewind” and even a particularly ambitious multifaceted track, “Nothing But Thieves,” which moves from ambient tones to industrial rock to metal-ish rock, topped off with a melodic chorus that verges on pop rock.

The musical range helps the “Pop Evil” album provide the kind of rich listening experience the band intended.

“We try to spend a lot of time making sure we can give you an album where you can literally listen to ‘Waking Lions’ number one, listen all the way through to track 11, ‘Rewind,’ and want to start it over and listen again,” he says, mentioning the opening and closing songs on the album. “We have thought about that from the beginning, but hopefully we’re (now) able to steer it a little more direct and in that way, we can really identify ourselves with our fan base to know that when they think about Pop Evil, there’s going to be a little bit of mystery (where they ask) ‘I wonder what they put together on this album?’”

On the road

The next mystery from Pop Evil won’t be answered until the band releases album number six. That’s probably a year or so down the road. For now, efforts are on touring and getting the word out on the “Pop Evil” album.

“We’ve got a great stage show. The production is awesome. All that said, the weird thing is just getting used to this new material,” Kakaty says, mentioning that it’s taken a bit of effort to dial in the new songs for live performance. “Obviously, every band with a new album wants to play all the new stuff, of course. But we want to be responsive, too, because fans don’t want to be bombarded with all new songs. They want to hear old ones that they’re familiar with. Just kind of finding that blend has been a bit of a challenge, and finding ourselves with that new music on stage has been a bit of a challenge. But that’s what makes it fun.”

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