Keep your hipster hubs of New York, Nashville and Los Angeles. Pop Evil founder Leigh Kakaty wouldn’t trade his home turf of Michigan, crediting the Midwest state’s dizzying list of musicians – from Kid Rock to Eminem – for a sound on his band’s sixth album, Versatile, that sweeps up rap-rock, nu metal and more.
We joined Pop Evil’s ebullient frontman and their British-born drummer Hayley Cramer to hear more.
How did the new album go down?
Leigh: My big thing this time was harnessing that demo magic. But then you had COVID – we were literally doing the photo shoot as they were shutting down the city. So this album had a whole other element of crazy.
Hayley: The drums were tracked at Studio 606. For me, to be in Dave Grohl’s world, hearing my drums through that awesome Neve desk from Sound City [studio], I was petrified but so honoured. We borrowed [Foos drummer] Taylor Hawkins’s Rototoms, too.
What subjects did you write about for this album?
Leigh: With Let The Chaos Reign I wanted to capture the feel of a reckless live show. I was imagining two guys in a circle pit, blood on their foreheads. All they want to do is have that moshpit hug, which is basically when the crowd comes at each other, almost attacks each other. When you’re six albums deep, the fun aspect can get lost if you’re not careful. Because it is work, it is business. With that song I wanted to remember why I started doing this in the first place.
What’s the significance of the album title, Versatile?
Leigh: We’re one of those bands where we can flip the songs totally to the left or right. There are so many different genres infused into Michigan, and that’s an influence on how I write. When I was young, we’d go down to the lake, write on acoustics and play rock on the weekend, but maybe in the week we’d be doing the hip-hop thing.
Michigan is such a test market for new products in the US – if you want cereal, you come here and you’ll get all the craziest flavours you could ever imagine. It’s the same thing with music.
How difficult was it for a Sussex-born drummer to join a Michigan band?
Hayley: I think that was more scary than being a female going into a male-dominated band. I really felt the [vibe]: “But she’s not from Michigan!”
Leigh: I was such a Michigan purist in the early days, every band member had to be from Michigan. To be in a band now, you have to play two hundred shows a year. People come and go. Pop Evil was a Michigan boys’ club, but we all loved Hayley. Her audition was basically opening for Disturbed – and she killed it.
Your band name – are you actually saying that pop is evil?
Leigh: Yeah. When we were getting started, popular music was giving up on rock and metal. Coming from a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, somehow the rock and metal voice meant a little less, and that just pissed me off. We were almost like crusaders for rock. It was like pop was evil.
You’ve gotta remember, I’m a mixed guy – my dad was from India, my mom is Canadian. I didn’t look like the other guys I grew up with. I just didn’t fit in. Rock gave me an identity.