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Rock 101: Pop Evil’s Leigh Kakaty on How to Write a Hit Rock Song

Anne Erickson
|
04.14.2014
Pop Evil - Leigh Kakaty by Drew Bacca

Michigan hard rockers Pop Evil write the kind of music that makes you throw your fist in the air. The group’s sonic fingerprint is a blistering, loud-yet-melodic brand of rock music that’s earned the guys a staple of rock hits: “Trenches,” “Boss’s Daughter,” “Hero,” “100 in a 55,” “Monster You Made” and “Last Man Standing,” to name a few.

Pop Evil frontman Leigh Kakaty says the band’s hits usually start with a few acoustic strums on his Hummingbird or, sometimes, a plugged-in Les Paul.

“I write on a Hummingbird, and I’ve been writing more on Les Pauls lately and doing some more electric work, too,” he told Gibson.com. “We’ve had such success with acoustic guitar, and with this band, I always like to explore different things, so that’s where writing on the Les Paul is coming into play.”

We chatted more with Kakaty about his early days with Pop Evil, his love for the Gibson brand and how to write a hit rock song.

Pop Evil just got back from Europe. How was the tour?

It was amazing. It was cold and grueling, and it felt like we were starting all over again, but the fans really made it all worth it. We were so excited to see so many people excited about what do on stage.

What’s your journey been like from your first show with Pop Evil to today?

Our first show was on Nov. 16, 2001, at the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids. We’re a totally different lineup now. Dave (Grahs, guitarist) and I are the only guys left from that original lineup. It takes drive. It takes somebody early on to not want to take “no” for an answer. It was important to get the right guys and musicians that were hungry and felt same way I did, because this business is tough. You don’t know who’s going to go crazy today or tomorrow. The demand is intense. It’s not a normal life style. But, we’re blessed that today, with this album (Onyx), to have solidified the core for Pop Evil. We needed the right combo of band members, manager, albums and everything else to keep going.

Pop Evil came out of West Michigan. What advice do you have for groups that are also breaking out of smaller areas?

You have to write the songs that can interest other people around you and make them want to take a chance on you, whether that’s radio, managers or labels. Don’t save money on your demo. If you’re opening a restaurant, don’t save money on your average cooks: Get the best cooks. Don’t go get the cheap guy to do your songs: You have to get the right producer to record you that can maximize your talent and build you as a studio musician and not just a live musician. Al Sutton, Kid Rock’s producer, worked with us, and we learned about how to record songs and write better songs. Start with your songs and build a buzz locally, wherever you are. You have to create that buzz and get people talking.

Pop Evil are known for great radio hits. What’s your advice for writing a hit rock song?

It has to start with a catchy melody. It shouldn’t be so complicated that people don’t know what you’re trying to say. Everything always comes back to that hook. So, go back to the chorus, and ask, “What are you trying to say here?” Always find a way to keep that melody catchy.

Tell me about the Gibson guitar you play on “Monster You Made.”

It’s a Gibson L-4A EC. I love it! I wanted it so badly and for so long, and I finally found it. The thing with Gibsons is that you don’t need a ton of new equipment. You get so used to playing your old babies, and they stand up so well, that you end up keeping what you have.

What’s the story behind your prized Hummingbird?

Well, Gibson sent me this Hummingbird to try out, and what they usually do is send you a couple and let you pick one, and then they send you a brand new one. When I got this one, I said, “I don’t want a new one. I want this Hummingbird. I love it!” So, they gave me the used one. I think the wood holds so much energy and passion and drive. It tells the story of people’s dreams of wanting to make it in this business. Every guitar holds that energy.

What makes Gibsons special?

The look, and the fact they have so much history. When you hold it in your hand, you know you have a quality product, and it brings more out of you. When you have a Gibson, you earned it, and you take care of that thing. You always make it sure it’s safe and clean, not mistreated. It’s interesting to see how many different sounds you can get from your Gibsons.

When do you plan to start work on Pop Evil’s new album?

We’re hoping to start recording the new record around top of the year, then hopefully, if it all works perfectly, it’ll be out by spring, 2015. We like to record during cold winter months, because when spring hits, it feels like all the weight has been lifted off your shoulder, and you want to go out and share all that new music.

Photo by Drew Bacca

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