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It has been a long, rough road to success for hard-rock band Pop Evil since forming in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2001, to the point where vocalist Leigh Kakaty has a novel answer to the oft-asked question, “If you could go back, would you do it all over again?”
“Nope, not us,” he said.
“It was years of bologna sandwiches, playing so many cover shows until the early morning hours because we needed money to make good demos,” Kakaty said. “It’s a blessing and a curse, because there were some memorable times, and they shaped who we are today. We’re proud of that past, but it was a lot of work, and luckily the right people (finally) heard us.”
The “blessing and curse” dichotomy extended to more than just putting in long hours and scraping together pennies. At one point during those difficult years, Pop Evil shot an independent video for their song “Somebody Like You.” The video tells the story of a man who loses his girlfriend in a car accident, with a twist at the end that symbolizes the man’s mental state as he works through his grief and tries to move on with his life.
“I had a girlfriend pass away in 2004 under tragic circumstances,” Kekaty said. “She was the love of my life at the time. First, I had to find the strength to write about it, and be vulnerable about it. (When we met with the director for the video), we worked on it together. I wanted to tell the story from her perspective. But that was the song that got us out of Grand Rapids, turned us from a cover band to a national band, which is what we always wanted.”
Even with mainstream success, the struggle didn’t end. In addition to a much-publicized label dispute that led to the band changing labels in the midst of their second album’s release, Kakaty became a rock star in a climate where people were no longer buying albums, everyone was making less money, and rock and roll generally was in a state of decline.
“I try not to complain about it, but there’s less money being spent on the music, but they still expect your best music,” he said. “Rock is tough. It’s tough for any format right now. You always hear that rock is dead, but we’re doing our best to ensure that it’s alive. We’re in a downward cycle now, but we’d like to be part of that story that brings rock back and gives it new energy. There’s less fans at our shows than you might find at a Top 40 show or rap show, but they love rock.”
Between the scantily clad girls dancing through their videos and the live guitar solos, Pop Evil can easily be described as a throwback, though Kekaty said this isn’t entirely an accurate description of the band.
“We didn’t have much of budget for the first two records,” he said. “We didn’t have 40 songs to choose from. We had 10 songs, and they were all going on the record. There were a lot of hands in the pie and we didn’t have as much say or as much time to experiment in the studio. So we just wanted to make sure we could at least crank up the amps and do the acoustic stuff.”
That’s why Pop Evil is looking forward to recording their third album, which Kekaty said will be the first time they’re working in a stable environment.
“We can’t wait to get started,” he said. “It’s going to be a bigger and better album than the first two, because we’re a better band. The label battles are behind us, and we’re at a place where we know who we are and who our fans are.”