Pop Evil's Michigan anthem precedes them
May, 1, 2012
By Jeff Arnold | Special to ESPN.com
The request comes almost nightly and, by now, is almost expected.
Pop Evil will be performing at one of their nationwide War of Angels tour stops and inevitably, someone asks to hear the only state-specific song on the band's entire playlist.
When the Michigan-based metal band wrote "In The Big House” in 2010, paying homage to the nation's largest college football venue, Pop Evil lead singer Leigh Kakaty never expected a hard-charging single composed as a musically-inspired thank-you note to Michigan's football program to draw the popularity it did.
But fans outside Michigan are out of luck. Pop Evil only plays it in their home state.
Kakaty and his band mates grew up attending football games at Michigan Stadium. The lead singer is a former high school quarterback, wide receiver and running back and came to love Michigan not only for its tradition as the winningest program in history, but for the 109,000-seat venue the Wolverines call home.
Two years ago, the Big House became the inspiration for a football rock anthem that now plays routinely inside Michigan Stadium on football Saturdays in Ann Arbor.
"Once we recorded it, we knew it was something special,” Kakaty said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
But a funny thing happened. Originally recorded at the end of Rich Rodriguez's troubled tenure at Michigan, Pop Evil was going through its own drama with its former recording label.
The band decided to hold off on releasing the song. After Brady Hoke was hired to replace the fired Rodriguez, the Wolverines ushered in a new era. Pop Evil was part of the new movement, making "In the Big House” an immediate hit, first getting major exposure during and after Michigan's prime time come-from-before win over Notre Dame last season.
"[Delaying the song's release] ended up being the greatest thing for the song,” Kakaty said. "It was just a fresh start for the team and for us. It worked out perfectly.”
Since being released on iTunes, the single has generated about 20,000 downloads, coinciding with Michigan's 11-2 turnaround season under Hoke that culminated with a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
But the feedback wasn't entirely positive. Traditionalists argued a storied football program and its 85-year-old stadium didn't need a heavy metal hit from a rock band -- fans or not -- blaring through the venue on game day.
Kakaty said the band knew they'd take heat for honoring the Wolverines with a driving beat, gritty guitar tones and catchy vocals, but it was a risk Pop Evil was willing to take.
"To be a respected song, it's got to stand the test of time,” Kakaty said. "You don't have to like it -- some people don't like new jerseys when they come out, but if you don't try new things, you don't ever grow.”
The single has become a staple inside the stadium, drawing praise from fans and Michigan players alike.
Former defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, a native of the same Lake Michigan area Pop Evil calls home, says the song's theme and musical style struck a chord with his teammates during last year's Sugar Bowl run.
"I thought it was going to be popular when I heard it,” said Van Bergen, who recently signed a free-agent deal with the Carolina Panthers. "I just like the fact that it's so new age because Michigan has always been so traditional and it just seemed it brought a whole new attitude toward Michigan.”
There has been some talk of Pop Evil performing the song live at a Michigan home game although nothing has been cemented. Until then Pop Evil, who will be part of this summer's Trespass America Tour along with metal acts Five Finger Death Punch, Killswitch Engage, Battlecross and others, will allow the hit single to continue to stand on its own.
"It's kind of fun to see that song kind of take a life of its own,” Kakaty said. "It's crazy how big that song got that quick.
"It was just one of those song that was bigger than us at the end of the day.”