After an eventful and inspiring weekend at NAMM we were really excited to get back to Chicago and head straight to an interview with Leigh Kakaty from Pop Evil that afternoon. During our 4 hour plane ride to O’Hare we talked about not wanting to do the typical “How’s the tour been?” interview that, if you’re interested, can probably be found elsewhere. We really wanted to get to know Leigh more in depth and find out about who he was and what inspired him to get into the business.
On Stage Review: So earlier today we were on our flight back home from LA, talking and feeling really inspired, and we decided to gear this interview a little differently than planned – hope that’s okay! We just really want to get to know you more as an artist and musician – sort of what drives you, what your inspirations are.
Leigh: This business right now is the most inspiring thing. I mean whenever you got into it, it was, you know, just about having that passion for music and passion to just be a part of something. And partly, being from the Midwest, we had no other options, we had no money, we had nothing you know?
On Stage Review: When you were younger who was someone that made you realize music was what you wanted to do, despite the hardships you mentioned? Someone you watched and wanted to be like?
Leigh: Oh man, I don’t know now. When I was really little it was Michael Jackson. When you’re younger and you don’t know what all of this is yet – just what he did was so cool, like when I first saw the moonwalk I wanted a glove and a pair of loafers. Then I grew up and realized that it wasn’t what I exactly wanted.
On Stage Review: I’m sure it stuck with you though, right? It gave you a look into what being a performer was like and how having talent gets you places.
Leigh: I mean there’s been a lot that’s stuck with me. I’ve always been a song guy. Growing up when I was more into my high school and college years it was the songs. Of course you wanted to break some shit and listen to Rage [Against the Machine], or be on the beach on Lake Michigan playing some STP, really anything that was acoustic was fun for me. I think that’s why Pop Evil’s inspiration has always been to just be honest with your moods. You know like when you put that song in, maybe with that guy friend, and he’s like “Ohh yea, you got good taste” sort of like [Tammy’s] Guns N’ Roses Pants, and you think “Well I’m glad I didn’t put that other thing on…”
On Stage Review: Haha oh yea, as we hide away our Backstreet Boys CD’s…
Leigh: Exactly, you can keep those hidden just for your girlfriends!
On Stage Review: Yea! Sort of like how people wouldn’t expect it, but we’ve been so into country lately. We got to review a Jamey Johnson show recently and that got the country phase going. We left that show and started browsing more music, going back in time and jamming out to old school outlaw stuff like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard.
Leigh: Nice! Those guys are like rock n’ roll/country though!
On Stage Review: Oh yeah! It stinks sometimes walking into newer country shows dressed in our usual rock gear. We get strange looks, but it’s who we are and we aren’t going to change just because we’re going to a show where we are surrounded by jeans, plaid and cowboy hats.
Leigh: I think as Midwest people that’s the beauty of rock: it’s being honest! I think that in some ways that’s why rock is where it’s at. You think back to the eighties and there’s so many people on stage dressed one way and then off stage they’re another, and I think that’s why like country is so big, people have passion about it. People are such big fans and people are smarter than ever nowadays. You can get on your smart phones and interact with your favorite band members that night or that day.
On Stage Review: Yeah these days you are able to have more connection to your fans than ever before. Do you think that makes it harder on you, always trying to interact and maybe sometimes being too open? I mean back in the day fans weren’t able to tweet at their favorite bands right after a show and have a response right away.
Leigh: Oh yeah, there was definitely a mysterious factor to it back then.
On Stage Review: Like your only chance to see them was if they had an interview on TV later at night, and you had to make sure to tune in and watch because that’s the only chance you would get to be able to know more about them.
Leigh: Yeah, I think that was definitely an element of the cool. But in this day and age there isn’t really anything that is hidden anymore. I was just on my twitter earlier and I pulled up a video of Vin Diesel dancing to a Beyoncé song. I mean I was just watching Riddick, and I didn’t know he was like that! But that’s a little of the beauty of today, for better or worse you can get more of a personal attachment to your favorite artist and that’s good for some fans but a turn off for others!
On Stage Review: Yeah, the internet and social media isn’t going away any time soon!
Leigh: Nope it’s not!
On Stage Review: Is there any genre that people would be surprised to know you listen to?
Leigh: I mean I’m a writer so I respect all genres. I’m more obviously in a heavy rock state. I think we got our first deal in ’07 and to be a rock band in this day and age you have to tour nonstop, so I was pissed when I was home for less than 24 hours yesterday then I’m gone again for 2 months. That’s all we get, and you have to understand that your fans are a part of your family. And that’s easy to say as an aspiring, hungry artist, like “cool man, my fans are my family!” But when it actually happens, and having to deal with your life moving with your career, there aren’t any cliff notes for that and that’s been the real challenge.
On Stage Review: That sort of leads into your new single, “Torn to Pieces,” though, it being about your late father. I saw an interview you did a while back and you said that you hadn’t really been able to fully feel the song yet because you were so involved in getting the technical details down, but now that it’s been out for a while what’s it been like connecting emotionally with the song?
Leigh: That’s a great question. I think really what that songs about, you know my father passed during the last record, and kind of talking and getting back into your first inspiration question, it was my dad. My parents are first generation to this country, straight out of India, barely spoke English, gave up everything so I could do this. I don’t know if he really understood the magnitude of what he did for me, he was always my number one fan and he was always the one telling me to do it. And I think that’s the same with all five of us in the band. A lot of us were close knit families growing up together, so we’d say, “we’re gonna be rockstars when we grow up!” And they were all like, “We think you should! That sounds cool to us!”
On Stage Review: You were all in it together!
Leigh: Yea! And maybe deep down they were like, “Well… good luck!” but they never said that to us, and maybe to some degree that’s why we’re here. They helped give us that drive we needed. So back to your question, maybe it hasn’t fully set in yet because I do have to think about my pops, and everyone handles loss in a different way, especially males, and so I can only speak for how it’s been with me. It’s been weird because when you do what we do, when you lose somebody we’re not really home, so it’s like when you do go home and you have the holidays it can be a very trying time. I don’t really know how this song is going to go for me – it’s a very personal song to me and I think that if it helps just one person then that’s what this song is really about. Also having the guys support me, I think it’s going to be tough times, but it will be easier since I know they have my back.
On Stage Review: I bet it’s great to have them! Any song you guys absolutely love to play?
Leigh: Any song off this album “Onyx” has been amazing. Any of the radio hits – it’d be a cliché not telling you they’re not fun to play. I think when you start out as a writer you write songs not necessarily always about yourself, but sometimes for others. The songs are still a part of you, so singing the radio hits to a crowd full of different people from all walks of life that you never knew would’ve liked you or your songs, seeing them singing your songs right back to you, you just think “wow these are the coolest mother fuckers I know.”
On Stage Review: You guys have an awesome energy to you! I work with FM Entertainment and we always have you guys at our shows but I’m always running around working so I never get the time to watch you guys. When we booked you guys in November, Kat and I made the trip out to Austin’s, and we finally got to see you guys live. There was so much energy in the room, man! We loved it so much that we drove out three days later to Planet Rock in Battle Creek, Michigan to see you play again!
Leigh: No way! I love it! You went all the way out there?
On Stage Review: Yea! And you guys brought the same energy to that Tuesday show that you did to the Saturday night one – it was rad! You guys don’t mess around no matter what day of the week it is.
Leigh: Thanks! I truly believe that’s the Michigan/Midwest in us, its just a lot of the angst and anger, not being able to pay bills and seeing your family struggle weekly. Like always hearing, “make sure you unplug that iphone cable!” – “What do you mean Mom, I’m a rockstar!” Not that I would ever actually say that, it’s just that mentality to preserve, like you’re fighting to scrape for that all mighty dollar, it never goes away.
On Stage Review: We noticed the Midwest in us when we were out in LA, they’re so different out there. We’re very friendly people so we would walk around smiling and saying hi to everyone, but we got barely any love back! It was our first time out there and it was crazy to see the difference.
Leigh: Oh you’ve never been before? It’s so amazing.
On Stage Review: Yeah, it’s beautiful! It’s just such a different vibe than what we’re used to. Either way, we found some cool people and made a lot of new friends!
Leigh: I bet you did! You guys are beautiful women.
On Stage Review: Thanks! We had a great time handing out smiles to all the “nice” people out there. Kill ‘em with kindness, right?!
Leigh: Oh yea, handing out Midwest love is great! I love it here. I’m actually having Garret’s popcorn delivered to the bus – it’s my favorite. I remember when we first came to Chicago I never knew where to go, it was always so busy. I never knew what to do other than Water Tower, Nike town, or Michael Jordan’s restaurant. But we did all of our records here with Johnny K. and finally had a chance to really hit the city up since we were here for 2 or 3 months, and just wow, it’s one of my favorite places – especially Three Aces!
On Stage Review: So, we always like to end an interview with asking – everyone has that moment with music that changes their life, that moment that inspired you to be who you are now, or when you knew where you wanted to go in life. What was yours? We just love hearing stories about that “it” music moment.
Leigh: I think the front man one for me was, well obviously I’m a singer so I love to sing and bring my acoustic guitar back in the day and run into girls like you and be like, “You like Stone Temple Pilots? Wanna hear Plush!?” That was all I could play back then so you know I just got out and poured my heart out. I didn’t know much but I could sing the shit out of that song. I would just do it right. Then I’d watch their DVD’s constantly or get the pirated DVDs of Pearl Jam in Sweden or Europe… and just seeing Eddie Vedder’s passion when they first came out.
On Stage Review (Tammy): YES, Pearl Jam – that’s my moment.
Leigh: It’s one of my favorites.
On Stage Review (Kat): Don’t mess with Tammy when she’s pretending to be at a Pearl Jam concert…
On Stage Review (Tammy): Dude I’ll like turn off all the lights and jump around in front of the TV pretending to be there, just to try and relive a little bit of the energy they would give off back in the day. Pearl Jam Pink Pop 1992 is my favorite! Maybe it’s weird, but whatever it’s so fun!
Leigh: I’ve done it! You just get the vibe going! I mean, yes, I love Pearl Jam now, but there’s something about Pearl Jam back in the day, the hunger, they were just grimy and raw, and probably wearing the same stuff all week.
On Stage Review(Tammy): Have you seen the Pearl Jam 20 DVD? The last 10 minutes of it make me want to cry.
Leigh: It’s beautiful- seeing the crowd singing together, and him jumping off everything!
On Stage Review: He’s nuts, its incredible!
Leigh: To be a part of that time, even for us on a small scale, to just to be a part of the rock landscape is a huge humbling honor. Sometimes you have those moments as a band member where it hits you, because it all happens so quickly. It gets hard leaving home so much and you feel kind of crappy, and it reminds me of being in school, but our weekends and summers are spent entertaining everyone else instead of being on break. But every now and then you get hit with that moment that reminds you just how special and precious it is to be able to sing and play rock music for a living.
On Stage Review: Well, you guys do an awesome job!
Leigh: You guys get to see it again tonight!
On Stage Review: Nope we’re stealing your Garret’s popcorn and going home, sorry Leigh!
Leigh: Oh, I figured! You go to our Austin’s show in Libertyville,IL and then drive to Battle Creek, MI but yeah fuck the House Of Blues Chicago show! *laughter*
Maybe our jet lag was getting the best of us, but we had a great conversation just messing around and getting to know Leigh as a person and an artist. He proved to be a really down to earth guy, letting us see a more serious side to him but also joining in on our jokes and adding laughs to the night. We were so excited about seeing Pop Evil play that we kept forgetting Stone Sour was the headliner, and then we’d get even more excited that we were going to be watching both of them in one night! The entire show ended up being amazing and so full of energy; both of us just rocked out together all night, song after song.