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In The Trenches: An Exclusive Interview With Matt DiRito Of POP EVIL

By Geoff Ketler, Cleveland Contributor
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 @ 9:27 AM


“If you don’t have good songs, it doesn’t matter how much you tour or how many shows you play, it’s just not gonna stick.”

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After touring Europe and taking a month off before hitting the festival circuit hard, Michigan-based rockers POP EVIL rolled into Canton, OH as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival. Right after sound check ended, I boarded an RV to have a quick chat with bassist Matt DiRito about the band and life on the road.

KNAC.COM: My first taste of POP EVIL came from your tour with JUDAS PRIEST and WHITESNAKE back in 2009. You were pretty fresh in the group, but how important was that tour for the band?

DIRITO: At that point, the band itself hadn’t really been touring on a national scale. So I came to the band we were still doing cover songs and stuff like that. So as a unit I kind of missed out on some of the formative years of POP EVIL, but there really wasn’t a whole lot going on to be honest. I mean we were going out, making money, doing shows, and this and that but it was a lot of cover shows and stuff like that. That was kind of like the first tour that we landed.

KNAC.COM: That’s a huge tour to be your first. Along those same lines, let’s go back a couple years before that then. Can you describe to me the circumstances that brought you into the band?

DIRITO: Sure, yeah. POP EVIL was a band based out of Grand Rapids, MI. Myself and former guitarist Tony Greve, we played together in a small project in Muskegon – it’s about an hour away from Grand Rapids. I had been in a few bands and then him and I decided to come together to do an acoustic project. So in the middle of this acoustic project we’re doing, we are out gigging and stuff, he got the word that POP EVIL needed a second guitarist. At that point, they were looking at hiring on an additional guitar player. So he left what we were doing, went to POP EVIL and then two months later their bass player quit and I snuck right in.

KNAC.COM: I kind of think your entrance into the band coincided with the band turning a little heavier. Would you agree with that?

DIRITO: Oh absolutely. Tony and I were big metal heads. You know, (we were) super into PANTERA and all that. Back before we joined the band there was a lot of acoustic stuff going on, which we are very much known for that sound, but you are absolutely right in saying that. A lot of the heavier stuff came into the fold. Up until that point the main writers in the band were Leigh (Kakaty) and Dave (Grahs) and they were very much into STONE TEMPLE PILOTS and a lot of PEARL JAM and stuff like that. So their guitar riffs took on a different fold than what we were used to writing.

KNAC.COM: War Of Angels was successful for you guys, but it doesn’t really even compare to the huge success of Onyx with three number one singles. I believe you were in Chicago when you were writing Onyx?

DIRITO: Yes.

KNAC.COM: It is a pretty dark album – what was the writing experience like? What kind of mood and ideas brought that out in the band?

DIRITO: I think Onyx was born almost subliminally. You know what I mean? We really didn’t know what we were writing about until we were done. We would go in and tackle these songs and hit them one by one and just kind of knock them out and get out whatever was on our minds. It was only in looking back on it after it was done that we realized that wow, this really is a pretty dark album. Also, if you look at where we were at in our lives and our career at that point in time too.

KNAC.COM: You had some label issues, right?

DIRITO: Yeah, you know we had just dropped the label, we lost two band members in the process, we lost family members, and we were just beyond burnt out on the road; touring more than any band rightfully should to stay sane and it all kind of caught up with us. It just came out. We had no idea what it was going to sound like until it was done and we are looking forward now to doing our next album and I am really interested to see what we have to write about. We are just doing so well with this current lineup and everything has been really really good. The band has been on a slow, steady climb.

KNAC.COM: I wouldn’t say slow, but yeah, you guys have climbed pretty far. Since we are in Ohio, where we refer to the Michigan Wolverines as the “That Team Up North”.

DIRITO: That Team.

KNAC.COM: That Team. So I wanted to talk to you about the song “In The Big House”. How did that come about?

DIRITO: Their athletic director approached us about doing it. I think they wanted to keep it just like a Michigan-based thing. Here we are – a rock band from Michigan. They wanted to use that to reach out to their younger demographic. They have their fight song and everything like that which all of the old alumni have come to love. They just wanted to tryout something new. They approached us about writing it and we were like 'heck yeah'.

KNAC.COM: My follow up question then; if you were approached by the athletic director at The Ohio State University to maybe cover “Hang On Sloopy” would you guys be willing to talk?

DIRITO: Oh…I couldn’t even tell you. This situation hasn’t arose, so. At this point ummmm…probably not.

KNAC.COM: This sort of rolls right into my next question. There seems to be a relationship between POP EVIL and sporting events. I recall watching football last season and hearing “Trenches” a million times. Why do you think professional sports have picked up on you guys?

DIRITO: I think it is because of the way we write our songs. We write pretty aggressively when we do our heavier tunes and stuff like that; like “I’m the last man standing”, or “I’m gonna dig my way out of the trenches” – it’s very “anthematic”. We just have a tendency to write stuff that sort of pushes ourselves and picks ourselves up and pushes us to go harder. So it is very similar to that sports mentality, where those guys are so driven, it just kind of goes hand in hand. I think the songs more than anything just built that relationship. We talked to the guys at ESPN to first get songs placed. Once we had gotten – I think “Last Man Standing” was probably the first that got placed in a game, then it just kind of caught on from there.

KNAC.COM: Recently you guys headlined Ohio Bike Week in Sandusky, Ohio. I have seen some professionally done live footage from that. Will there be a live DVD in the future from that concert?

DIRITO: (Eyes get big) At this point, there is no DVD. We did get a lot of really good live footage from that. A good friend of ours shot it and put some stuff together. It was fun. We are looking for different ways to use that; possibly releasing that as bonus footage, and stuff like that. But a full, start to finish DVD is well…we are not quite there yet. We really don’t have the demand for that, just yet. But that show was great. It was a really fun show. We got to have pyro on the stage, it was fun as hell. Who doesn’t want like thirty foot flames behind them?

KNAC.COM: While being on the road for most of this album cycle have you guys started to write any riffs or anything towards the next POP EVIL album?

DIRITO: Oh yea – absolutely. Nick (Fuelling) does a lot of writing on the bus. He’s got a good little setup with his laptop and stuff just to get riffs down and get good ideas down. We all sort of write things here or there. You know if you pick up a guitar when you are bored and write something, we try to keep track of all of those riffs that we have, we log them, so when the time comes that we have to go sit down and write for a new album we’ve got a whole library full of riffs. We can listen and pick and choose and say; “oh I forgot about that one – let’s take that one and expand on it.” So that is how a lot of our stuff is born.

KNAC.COM: What do you try to do between shows, on travel days, before shows, etc. to try to pass the time?

DIRITO: Chachi (Riot) has actually gotten me into Cross Fit. That eats up a good portion of my day. I just try to make sure I get some kind of workout in. Like today, there’s not much around here, he got a ride to the gym, but we were running up and down the bleachers, doing pull-ups; just trying to fit that in. So it’s a good outlet, it is something to do. The other side of that is that in the past year, I have put the bottle down, and stopped doing everything pretty much except for smoking cigars – no mind-altering drugs or substances. You know it is so easy to fall into that on the road because there is nothing to do. We have hired people to set up our stuff for us so even during the day it’s like I really don’t have anything I need to do. Back in the 70s and 80s when people didn’t have computers or cell phones on the road it was like if you get bored, do a bunch of lines, party on.

KNAC.COM: I wanted to ask you then about the bass you have been using recently. I know in the past you have customized your stuff before and this one has that really awesome glow to it, that sheen that it has when the light reflects – I wanted to know if you did that yourself or if that was something custom made for you.

DIRITO: It’s an option that Spector Basses provides and I sort of adopted it as my signature model. In fact I have two more basses being made for me that are just a little bit different than the ones I am using now – neck-thru and in a white one and a black one. It’s called a “Holoflash” finish. It’s basically a foil wrap that they press in, iron in.

KNAC.COM: It is so hard to make a living in the music industry today. You guys have managed to break through and have three number one singles. What advice do you have for the aspiring musicians?

DIRITO: Song writing. Focus on the song writing. If you don’t have good songs, it doesn’t matter how much you tour or how many shows you play, it’s just not gonna stick. And that’s something that took us a while to and we really tried to focus on the song writing with Onyx – the proof is in, like you said, three number ones. I feel like we were always kind of close before and we really kind of refined our writing process. A good song can’t be denied and a bad song won’t get you anywhere.

KNAC.COM: Now I have heard you recount this story a few times, but I wanted to ask you about the guy from the Boston area that asked you repeatedly to bang his wife. You eventually obliged. Have you seen him or have you had any more requests from him since then?

DIRITO: Oh yea. I see them all the time.

KNAC.COM: Do they follow you guys around, or what’s the deal?

DIRITO: Yea, when we get up in that area he comes out. He has been coming out since we were on our first tour ever. He’s a big supporter of the band. He’s a good dude, I consider him a friend. It is funny, you know, I don’t drink anymore, but he still gets all messed up. He will be like; (in a Boston accent) “Come on Matty, just whip out ya cock, Matty come on.” He is the only guy that’s ever let me ride his Harley and his wife.

KNAC.COM: Nice. At the same time?

DIRITO: Different times.

Check out a review from the Canton show right HERE. Catch POP EVIL yourself out on the road at one the following dates:

  • 8.06 The Venue Fargo, ND
  • 8.07 Sturgis Buffalo Chip Sturgis, SD
  • 8.08 The 'O'riginal Bar Minot, ND
  • 8.09 Rockin The Rivers Festival Three Forks, MT
  • 8.10 MetraPark Rimrock Auto Arena Billings, MT
  • 8.12 The Wicked Moose Rochester, MN
  • 8.15 101 WRIF presents the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Clarkston, MI
  • 8.17 Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Cincinnati, OH
  • 8.19 Stage AE Pittsburgh, PA
  • 8.20 Mohegan Sun Arena Uncasville, CT
  • 8.24 X103 presents X-Fest as the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Indianapolis, IN
  • 8.26 WMMR Presents: Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Camden, NJ
  • 8.27 Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Gilford, NH
  • 8.29 New Rock 93.3 presents the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Simpsonville, SC
  • 8.30 98 Rock's UPROAR Festival powered by Rockstar Energy Drink w/ GODSMACK, SEETHER Tampa, FL
  • 8.31 Free Bird Live Jacksonville, FL
  • 9.02 97.1 The Eagle presents the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Grand Prairie, TX
  • 9.03 C101 presents the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Corpus Christi, TX
  • 9.05 98.9 The Rock presents the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Bonner Springs, KS
  • 9.07 KATT Fest presents the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Oklahoma City, OK
  • 9.09 Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival w/ SKILLET Broomfield, CO
  • 9.11 Greyhound Park & Event Center Post Falls, ID
  • 9.12 White River Amphitheatre Auburn, WA
  • 9.16 Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Irvine Irvine, CA
  • 9.17 The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Las Vegas, NV
  • 9.20 Isleta Amphiteater Albuquerque, NM
  • 9.27 Credit Union Centre Saskatoon, Canada
  • 9.28 Shaw Conference Centre Edmonton, Canada
  • 9.29 Brandt Centre Regina, Canada
  • 10.03 Bayfest Mobile, AL
  • 10.04 Louder Than Life Festival w/ Wilson Louisville, KY


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