And rest assured any levity around I Prevail is welcome these days as the quintet's sophomore album, Trauma, rolls out. The 13-song set, produced by Tyler Smyth of Ohio's Dangerkids, emerges from a protracted dark period for the group and Burkheiser in particular. He battled depression and anxiety -- partly the result of a "whirlwind" after I Prevail broke big with its gold-certified cover of Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" in 2014 -- and also damaged his vocal cords, forcing him into surgery and off the road for a period of time.
"We just put everything we had, everything we felt and went through, into these songs," Burkheiser says. "Everything we went through led us to saying that if we're going to continue with this path, continue with this band, we really, really need to open up a lot more and just lay it out there. I think all the experiences that have gone on the last five years dictated how the record turned out." Guitarist Steve Menoian adds that I Prevail determinedly spent most of 2018 in the studio working on new music rather than grinding on the road. "We wanted to make sure we had the time to make the record we wanted to make, especially with, lyrically, how vulnerable this record is. It took time for us to open up and get it the way we wanted."
The mental health component of Trauma is particularly important to the band. A hot button issue around the world as well as in the music industry, it hits further home for I Prevail after the death last August of fellow Detroit rocker Kyle Pavone, whose We Came As Romans supported I Prevail on its 2017 Rage on the Stage Tour. Menoian notes that the members of I Prevail "all grew up fans of" WCAR, while Burkheiser says his handful of meetings with Pavone on tour were very friendly, and his death further fueled I Prevail's message on Trauma.
"Hopefully this record and these songs can help prevent certain things from happening in the future," Burkheiser says. "We've all gone through moments where things have gotten pretty blurry. You hope certain people can put on a certain track in a time of need and feel like, 'Wow, someone else is dealing with this, just like me,' and can realize, 'Hey, these are just raw, powerful dudes who go through the same stuff,' even if we're in a rock band, y'know?"
Leading into the Trauma campaign, I Prevail has also taken steps to protect and insulate itself from repeating any traps it fell into prior. The group is heading out on tour during late April with plans to be on the road fairly non-stop, and the new track "Deadweight" stands as a "battle cry" for what lies ahead.
"One of the biggest things has been getting rid of people who have caused us negativity and drama," Burkheiser says. "We're just not going to deal with people who bring us into a negative space and cause us pain or stress. It's time for us to be exactly the band we want to be -- that WE want to be, not what anybody else thinks we should be. That's kind of our mantra now, and we're going to stick to it."