Back in January, the hard rock band, Pop Evil, came through Charlotte. They arrived on Wednesday afternoon and did a show at the Fillmore that night. They’ve been touring the country like madmen for a while, so by all accounts this was just another show. But the trip to Charlotte was a big deal for the band. On that Thursday morning their tour bus pulled into the gravel parking lot at The World Famous Milestone Club. They were there to film a promotional video, remixing the band’s huge hit, “Trenches,” with legendary rapper DMC for the ACC Tournament.
Given the expanded ACC field, this year’s tournament reached an expanded audience from New York state all the way to Miami. The full promo video led off every broadcast of the Tournament (in North Carolina, we capitalize the “Tournament” much the same way clergy capitalize the “Church”) and promo clips also aired at various points during game broadcasts. This kind of exposure could be huge for a band like Pop Evil.
Their fans know that they are one of the hardest working bands around, touring almost incessantly in the last year since they finished recording their most recent album, Onyx. When I first caught up with them in May 2013 at the Carolina Rebellion, lead singer Leigh Kakaty said that while the band was proud of their previous work, they knew that the new album was something different. “We’re kind of proud of the new record. We really feel like it takes us to a new level and shows that we’re maturing as a band and as songwriters,” said Kakaty. Damn right it does! Even though 106.5 The End doesn’t include Pop Evil in their new alternative format, creating a shift in audience sensibilities, I still get occasional requests for them.
One morning in the summer of 2013, I got a call from one of my best friends in the world. This is a friend who looks like he belongs in an 80s hair band, but happens to be a United Methodist minister. He woke me up at 10am and said, “Dude, have you heard of this band, Pop Evil? Their new album kicks ass! Like, I’ve listened to every song on this thing and there’s not a single bad song on it. Like, I haven’t skipped a song yet. Dude, you have to play them on your show!” After that breathless introduction, he then launched into why he loved “every damn song, man!”
That week I played “Trenches” thinking it was well-known enough that it might make sense even in the new format of the station, but it turns out that mine was the song’s only spin on our station and possibly in the whole city. If this band, who admittedly offer up driving rock “evil” with “pop” hooks isn’t a fit for FM radio in Charlotte, then what is the future of rock music? Formats change over time, for sure, constantly making shifts according to market research and advertiser sensibilities. This reality is as old as radio itself. But it feels different in that there are so many rock bands who are better than really good, and they are expanding the musical heritage passed down to them by everyone from Hendrix and Zeppelin to Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. But radio companies seem unable to know what to do with rock, so they ignore it, largely. Sure there are companies that have rock stations, but those are becoming rare despite the massive crowds that turn out for events like the Carolina Rebellion or Rock on the Range.
So, back in January I got to hang around while the video for “Trenches” was being shot. I took a ton of pictures, but I also got to hang around with Chachi Riot, Pop Evil’s drummer, and Matt DiRito, bass player. Among other things, we talked about the state of rock right now. “Man, people are making some great rock records but I’m afraid there’s a whole generation that’ll miss out on it,” said DiRito. “We had the 90s where people got to pay attention to grunge and hard rock because it was on the radio all the time, but things change and the music that evolved out of that doesn’t get a lot of airplay on the mainstream FM stations anymore. People will eat what you feed them, you know.”
“Yeah,” says Chachi. “There’s a lot of pressure that comes from record companies, too, to make records that are ‘perfect.’ But that doesn’t always express the raw human emotion a song is intended to. We could over-produce our record or change our sound to fit the mold, but that wouldn’t be us. Plus, folks get caught up thinking about how to categorize music.”
“I mean, we listen to a lot of different stuff and we play with a lot of different folks,” said DiRito. I mean, look who just walked in (referring to DMC). What we’re saying isn’t about genre. It’s about what’s real and authentic. But seriously, man, the creativity of rock has always thrived in the underground until it bubbles up into the mainstream. The problem is that there might be this whole generation of people who missed the great stuff that rock bands are making these days.”
That’s really the catch, now isn’t it? Like so many periods in musical history when music was just a little too sanitized, eventually it becomes essential to our existence to have somebody who just screams at us: “Tutti frutti!” “Been a long time since I rock and rolled!” “Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games!” “Here we are now! Entertain us!” “Take my hand. Off to never never land!” These are the sounds that permeated the boundaries that market research said would work, and they did so because they were real and expressed something that was almost primal. That’s not to say that there aren’t mainstream or “alternative” artists who make great and passionate music. But it is to say that hard rock doesn’t always make advertisers happy—except for sports advertisers.
Perhaps that’s why Pop Evil and DMC were really perfect for the ACC Tournament. We know how talented those athletes are, and how hard they worked to get to the ACC. We pay top dollar to watch athletes at that level they play with an almost primal passion, intensity, and desire. We also know Pop Evil are especially talented. If you don’t know how hard they work, then you aren’t paying attention. And their music and their shows explode with that same kind of primal passion, intensity, and desire. If this band is at a turning point in their career, then being coupled to a major sporting event should expose them to a large audience of people who are looking for music that expressed the passion, intensity, and desire that they want in their own lives.