With their sixth album, veteran Michigan alt-metal stars Pop Evil sought to strike a delicate balance. “The title comes from that constant duality between respecting the old-school Pop Evil style—the sound that’s gotten us here—and the new experimentation we’re doing that will take Pop Evil into the future,” vocalist Leigh Kakaty tells Apple Music.
The LP was written entirely before the pandemic, and Kakaty later realized that his lyrics of hope and positivity took on new meaning in a world just emerging from lockdown. “We had no idea the pandemic was coming when we wrote these,” he says. “But it’s crazy how relatable these songs are now.” Below, he discusses each track on Versatile.
Let the Chaos Reign “As soon as I heard the riff, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I wrote the song in 15 minutes, I think. We haven’t been touring because of the pandemic, so I got to thinking about those guys you see in the mosh pit. It looks like they’re going to war with each other. They’re bleeding and stuff, but by the end of the song, they’re hugging it out. They get through the chaos together. And now, the past year has been the most chaotic time most of us have ever had in our lives, so it’s got kind of a double meaning now.”
Set Me Free “This is like those old cartoons where you’ve got an angel on your right shoulder and a little devil on your left. But you’ve got to do the right thing for not just yourself, but for your family, your friends, your kids. So, ‘Set Me Free’ is dealing with that inner darkness that we all have at times—and overcoming it.”
Breathe Again “This is a pivotal track. When we wrote it, it kind of spearheaded a mentality for our heavier sound on this record. The lyrics make a lot of references to the blue-collar environment I grew up in, in Michigan. It’s that underdog mentality that you’ve got to fight your way to the top.”
Work “I have a lot of athlete friends that listen to music in the locker room, and they seem to listen to every genre except rock. So, I started out writing this just for fun, for myself, and tried to use a bit of influence from every other genre they might be listening to. And then I wanted to smother it with guitars. I wanted it to be a reminder to the people that aren’t listening to rock and metal that guitars are still the most badass instrument on the planet.”
Inferno “This year is our 20th anniversary, and we’ve been on the road a lot of that time. I lost my dad in that process, so I lost time with him. You go through times where you’re like, ‘Is this really what I should be doing? Should I do something different and spend more time with the fam?’ That’s not a fun place to go, because this has been my dream since I was eight years old.”
Stronger (The Time Is Now) “We spent a lot of time figuring out how the songs tie together and how to put them in order on the album. This one comes after ‘Inferno’ because after you get through your darkness, it makes you stronger—unless you give up. It’s also about rock ’n’ roll not being dead. It’s true that there are very few bands living that lavish lifestyle like the bands in the ’80s did. It pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. We work seven days a week, man. We work on holidays. So, rock ’n’ roll isn’t dead—it just works a lot harder.”
Raise Your Flag “Having toured the world, it’s a pretty humbling experience to see people sing your songs back to you in their different accents. You realize that somebody from another country may look different than you or might stand for something different, but they’re with you for that four minutes of a song. I always think it’s awesome when people are proud in their skin and proud of where they’re from. Half of my family is from Canada and the other half is from India, so I appreciate people’s differences.”
Human Nature “This was the last song written for the record, and it’s got a different style. The guitar is kind of hypnotic and puts you in a mood. When we were first writing it, I didn’t want to move away from it. Lyrically, I was thinking about how—from what I’ve seen—when people are happy in their lives and know who they are, they’re able to give back in ways that speak volumes. It’s those people that aren’t happy or don’t have that foundation that are more likely to hate and choose sides. So, ‘Human Nature’ is really a message about finding yourself.”
Survivor “This is a very old-school Pop Evil writing style. I get a couple of emails a week from people saying, ‘When are you gonna write another “100 in a 55”?’ That’s the song that first broke us, and I wrote it on my couch in 2005. So, I thought if we were going to write that kind of song again, what would the current Pop Evil do? I think we’d do it with a Tom Petty vibe—one of those songs that just make you feel good, like ‘Learning to Fly.’”
Worst in Me “This song is for our loved ones. When you say the word ‘love’ in a song, people think it’s all girlfriend-boyfriend, but we’re way past the boyfriend-girlfriend days. We’ve got families, and they’ve been taking care of us for years. You don’t get to your 20th anniversary as a band without people that are a strong foundation while you’re out there chasing your dream and being selfish. So, I wanted to do a song for these people who have unconditional love for us while we’re far away, who have seen the worst in us and love us anyway.”
Same Blood “This goes back to touring and seeing different faces all over the world—different genders, different ethnicities—standing next to each other, putting their arms in the air, and singing your songs back to you. We might look different, but we all bleed the same color. We all love rock and metal—that’s a brotherhood. Having toured with iconic bands like Judas Priest, Cheap Trick, and Poison, they all say the same thing: Rock fans are fans for life. They will raise their kids with you. So, let’s pick each other up instead of hating. We’re the same.”
Fire Inside “We wanted to end the album with a motivational song, and this is almost an addition to ‘Waking Lions’ from the last album. I’m very much a sports guy, so it oozes out of me. I was one of those kids that would see the motivational posters in school and do a couple extra push-ups or a couple extra laps around the gym. So, ‘Fire Inside’ is that fun, competitive aspect of music. There’s so many good bands and probably so many good releases on the same day as ours. Let’s throw our log on the fire and see where it burns.”