Sitting in the back of the Pop Evil tour bus with lead singer Leigh Kakaty, two things immediately engage my attention. The first is the TV screen paused on a Playstation 3 game of hockey showing the Bruins leading the Capitals 1 – 0. I noticed this only due to the fact that Leigh has mentioned his love of hockey video games to me before.
“Still getting your ass kicked?” I ask with a nod toward the television screen.
He laughs in response. “Nah, no one beats me!”
“What about Theory? They are Canadian, you know.”
He smiles in response, committing to nothing. “Yeah, those guys are good.”
The second thing that I notice is how soft spoken and humble Leigh Kakaty is. This is the powerful front man for a rock band that is rising faster than the Phoenix. It is about 45 minutes until Pop Evil will take the stage, opening for Theory of a Deadman, and perform to a sold out Starland Ballroom crowd in Sayreville, Ne w Jersey. Seeing Leigh Kakaty in action on stage, and knowing what a wild and intense performer he is, I’m slightly taken aback by his soft spoken approach when being interviewed in person.
We talk about Pop Evil’s recent announcement first, which brings a huge grin to Leigh’s face. Pop Evil will be touring the United States this summer with several bands including Trivium, Killswitch Engage, and Five Finger Death Punch. I’m curious to know how Pop Evil got on the bill and even more curious to know how they think they will fair on such a tour. Pop Evil seems like the odd band out for the Trespass America tour.
“Five Finger Death Punch gave us this great opportunity,” Leigh states. “And now we have a chance to mix rock with metal and we’re trying to put on more of a festival type atmosphere. And the more we come together as metal and rock the more the fans can embrace that. And Five Finger Death Punch giving us an opportunity to do that is very humbling, because we are very much influenced by (them). We’re a lot heavier than people realize.”
Any band trying to make a name for themselves knows the rigors of constant touring, and Pop Evil is no exception. Over the last 2 years, they have played more than 400 shows and counting. I ask Leigh if he, or the band, ever get road weary and tired of the constant touring.
“What are you going to do with downtime? Play more Playstation video games? We’d rather be touring. We’re here to work. We’re here to play. When we start to work on the new record, then we’ll take some time with the family. Sometimes you miss the family and when your friends back at home are out on their boats and we’re in the middle of Texas where it is 140 degrees and you can’t go outside because it’s too hot. It has its moments, but at the end of the day we have the best job in the world and, you know, we’re pretty blessed.
“It’s very tough to maintain a band this day and age, and we just pride ourselves with touring and we just got to keep it going. It’s great to see the Pop Evil fans just growing at an alarming speed. It’s great. (You) just gotta keep playing,” Leigh says. “Keep writing the good jams, keep touring and staying out on the road, making a living.”
Speaking with fans in the parking lot prior to the show words like spectacular, amazing, and intense are thrown around when discussing Pop Evil’s live performance. While there are several fans that have not seen the band live and many others who have never heard of Pop Evil, there are still a plethora of fans that have seen Pop Evil live and give them high praise.
“I don’t see a band with this much intensity very often,” one fan tells me.
Back on the tour bus, Leigh confirms that sentiment. “It’s our live show that really makes people fans of Pop Evil.”
It is easy to understand why. On stage, Leigh Kakaty and the rest of Pop Evil are akin to un-caged animals set loose on a hostile crowd, ready to take over the world of hard rock. At the center of all the stage antics, is the band’s leader. Between rock screams of rage and passionately sung lyrics during power ballads, Leigh Kakaty is a Bruce Dickinson in the making. The way that he can command a crowd and mold them into his own image is awe inspiring. Leigh and his band mates have an uncanny ability to take a crowd that may not be into Pop Evil, or may not know who they are, and convert them into lifelong fans after just one performance.
Later in the evening, during Pop Evil’s performance of “Purple” a guy in the crowd turns to me and asks what album the song was on.
“It’s from their latest record, War of Angels,” I tell him.
Immediately, he logs into iTunes on his smart phone and downloads the record. He shows it to me proudly, like someone who has just caught a guitar pick in the front row. This is the power of Pop Evil’s live show. This is what the band can do with just one performance.
The previous week, Pop Evil and Theory of a Deadman performed at the Crocodile Rock Café in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was there that Leigh Kakaty walked on the crowd to the delight of the fans. And although Leigh has done this before, it was the first time I was made aware of it (thanks to You Tube). It was an amazing moment in their set where Leigh literally walked on top of a sea of hands. The crowd loved it. I ask Leigh about this and how it came about.
“Walk on the crowd, man. You know, it’s just always been my thing. You know, Jesus walked on water, why can’t a rock star walk on some hands? I think it’s just something that’s always been a fun thing for Pop Evil and our fans. It’s something that you don’t see every day. You know, you’ll fall off and take your lumps if it’s not crazy packed, but it’s cool, it lets the fans get a little more hands on…literally. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but I swear it gets harder to do the older I get. The bruises are definitely a little more painful.”
Later that night, Leigh would re-enact the walk on the crowd for New Jersey. “All right,” he screams into the microphone. “We’re going to try something that I don’t think has ever been done at the Starland Ballroom before.” Leigh instructs the fans at the front of the stage to band together and put their hands up, palms out. “We’re gonna try to walk on the crowd! Are you ready?”
The loud roar in response indicates that they are. Leigh leans forward from the stage, putting one foot on the first hand he can step on. He then hoists himself up to where he is standing high atop a sea of hands. Leigh breaks into song and sings from his position on the hands, walking out just a little bit further. The crowd is amazed and several people whip out their camera phones to make a video for the internet.
At the end of their set, Leigh careens around the stage demanding of the crowd, “When I say Pop! You say Evil!” to which the crowd gloriously responds. “Pop!” “Evil!” “Pop!” “Evil!” This may be a Theory of a Deadman concert, but by the end of Pop Evil’s performance, it has become a double bill, with fans screaming just as loud for Pop Evil as they would for Theory.
I ask Leigh if the band has any plans for a live DVD in the near future.
“No plans right now, because we’re still new, in the scheme of things. It would be nice to do a DVD when we reach some level of touring success—when we do something more monumental, like selling out arenas. We do film everything and have all the footage, but I don’t think that I’m emotionally ready to dive into a DVD just yet, and I don’t think the demand is there. We’d like to do it down the road at some point, but a lot of variables have to come into it. Maybe after the next record, but I don’t think it will be anytime before that. Right now, the Pop Evil focus is solely on new music and developing our identity.”
As we continue our interview, the band’s manager looks into the back room asking if everything was all right. It was his way of saying that we had to wrap up, Pop Evil was due on stage in a few minutes. Leigh politely nods and after the door is closed again he looks at me. “That’s the boss,” he says with both pride and respect uncommon in most rock stars. His humbled statement only confirms how appreciative he is of all the blessings his life has been given.
I transition to the topic of cover songs and Leigh practically shudders.
“(There is) absolutely not one song that I want to cover. We’ve played covers for the first eight years of our existence. And we played all the covers from Afro Man to Sweet Home Up In Michigan, the Michigan version of Sweet Home Alabama. Covers were such a big part of how we paid for our beginnings and we just want to do Pop Evil originals for as long as we can.”
I had heard rumors that the Leigh Kakaty Facebook page was a fake, so I decide to ask Leigh about this. He laughs, loudly, somewhat caught off guard. “I’ve never been asked that question before.”
“There have been some fakes. I do have one, but I just kept it with people that I knew from high school. I use it to look at what everyone else I grew up with does, but as far as me posting, it just seems weird. If you want to know what I’m up to, check out the Pop Evil page.”
Leigh talks of enjoying his privacy right now. He likes where the band is at, because fans know the band, but they don’t necessarily know him. He can go out to dinner without being recognized and he likes that. There seems to be a slight fear of getting too big, because he could lose his anonymity. He hopes the band gets huge, but he worries about the price of becoming too famous. Leigh then tells me a funny story of how Wes Scantlin from Puddle of Mudd would wear a wig so that he wouldn’t be recognized when he went out in public. “That’s just something that I don’t want to do,” Leigh says. “I like dressing the way I dress now.”
“What advice can you offer to bands that are just starting out?”
“You gotta give it up. If you really want it, you gotta be out on the road 365 days a year. If you really want it, you have to sacrifice. Set realistic goals, and if you’re goal is a record deal, start with the little wins. How many people are you bringing to a show? If it’s nobody, make it 10. If it’s 10 make it 500. And if you’re bringing 500 call your local radio station. Do your research.
“And then when you make it big, you have to decide, can you juggle everything? You’re going to want a family, you’re going to want kids, but can you handle everything?
“At the end of the day, you gotta write good songs. You gotta create something that’s going to make someone want to go to ITunes and pay a dollar for something that you created.”
When I tell Leigh that I am going to put him on the spot and want a prediction from him, he immediately stops me with a laugh and says: “Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl next year.” His love for all things Detroit is evidently unwavering, and perhaps he is not far off with his Lions prediction, but it is his band that I am more interested in.
“I want a prediction. How long until Pop Evil sells out Madison Square Garden as headliners?” I ask.
Leigh pauses, not sure how to approach this question. I’m thinking that his humbleness may be preventing him from making too bold of a prediction. “Ahhh, OK, opening act doesn’t count? No, you said headliner. So Pop Evil with Lady GaGa, that should sell out the Garden!”
We share a laugh and Leigh continues, “I’m going to say… 2017… and a half.”
Watch out Madison Square Garden. By the summer of 2017, Pop Evil is going to take over your arena with one of the most spectacular live shows that New York City has ever seen. I just hope Leigh remembers me and offers up front row tickets. I also hope that Madison Square Garden security is ready for when Leigh Kakaty walks on the crowd.
Follow RyoVie on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyoVie