A precocious toddler is stiff competition — even for the heaviest band in the room.
And so it is that the five members of I Prevail, the Grammy Award-nominated outfit that released its third album, True Power, Aug. 19, are momentarily upstaged at their own release party by guitarist/co-founder Steve Menoian’s 18-month-old son, Ronan, bouncing around in front of family members, friends, media and Fearless Records staffers at the Tigers Club in the Comerica Park baseball stadium.
“Nobody’s listening to me now; everyone’s just looking at how cute Ronan is,” co-frontman Brian Burkheiser says mid-answer during the evening’s Q&A session.
“A cute baby running around — what are you supposed to do?” adds drummer Gabe Helguera.
Ronan, rejecting his father’s attempt to put him on his lap, trots off in short order toward another part of the room, his maternal grandmother in pursuit. I Prevail gets back to business.
And business is good for the group, which formed in the Detroit suburbs in late 2013 and launched shortly after with an adrenalized cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” which became a viral sensation that hit No. 90 on the Billboard 100 and went platinum.
However, the band scuttled any concerns that the hit might be a fluke with the 2014 EP Heart vs. Mind that went top 10 on multiple Billboard rock charts. I Prevail followed that with 2016 debut album Lifelines, which debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200, launched the rock and alternative chart hits “Alone” and the title track, and was certified gold.
The angst-filled Trauma, meanwhile, moved the needle even further in 2019, scoring Grammy nominations for best rock album and best metal performance for the track “Bow Down,” along with a Mainstream Rock Songs No. 1 in “Hurricane.”
So the bar was clearly raised for making the third time another charm — and True Power switched on with 15,000 U.S. album-equivalent sales during its first week, according to Luminate, and top five placements on the Top Hard Rock Albums and Top Alternative Albums charts.
“I think coming out of Trauma, there was a side kind of pressure going into [True Power], just having the Grammy stuff and things like that floating around in the back of your mind,” notes Menoian, who formed I Prevail with Burkheiser and co-frontman Eric Vanlerberghe. (Guitarist Dylan Bowman joined in 2015; Helguera has been on board since 2017.)
“But weirdly, for me, this was pretty much the most confident I felt making a record, even in how much the stakes had been raised and everything that we’ve got to try to live up to. Even through the ups and downs and how long it took us to make it, I always felt very … confident.”
Sitting to Menoian’s left, Vanlerberghe concurs. “The last record, we pushed the boundaries and tried things we haven’t done before, and [we] were rewarded by how well it did, how well it connected with people. Going into this record, we had the thought, ‘Why not do it further this time?’ ”
But I Prevail had to follow up Trauma during some pretty traumatic circumstances. The band was on tour in Germany during March 2020 when the pandemic shutdowns began. “That night, I had this weird feeling that this may be the last show,” Burkheiser remembers before one of his bandmates shouts out, “It’s your f—ing fault!,” to general laughter.
Vanlerberghe recalls that he had bought “a bunch of wine” while the group had just been in France, and “it felt like it was the right night to open that wine, and somebody had a bottle of absinthe …”
Back in Detroit, I Prevail pondered its next move. “We had to decide, ‘Do we cross our fingers and hope we can still tour on the Trauma cycle, or do we kind of just say, ‘Hey, this is probably going to be a couple of years of going through this pandemic, so do we just get in the studio and start going crazy’?” Burkheiser says.
“Basically, we made the call to go in the studio and just see what would happen. Before you know it, two years later, we were like, ‘Damn, we’re still working on the record.’”
Time, in fact, became an ally for I Prevail as the band worked on True Power. The “very small writing circle” included Burkheiser, Vanlerberghe and Menoian; producer Tyler Smyth (Falling in Reverse, Blessthefall), who had also worked on Trauma; and friend Jon Eberhard.
Initial sessions were done via Zoom before the troupe took precautions to begin working together, with later recording done with Smyth in California and at Menoian’s home studio in the Detroit suburbs.
“The nice side for us was the ability to not have any deadlines,” Burkheiser explains, “and be able to just work on this record consistently and to constantly be tweaking things, whether it was the melody and the chords or the lyrics in a certain song — or even just saying, ‘This song isn’t good enough for this record. We’re going to scrap it and use another track.
“It was certainly an interesting time for the band, but one that I think we’ll actually look back on pretty fondly,” he continues. “It really brought the band closer together and allowed us to really dive into these songs in a way that we never had been able to before. That was the cool thing for me.”
True Power’s 15 tracks were culled from an estimated 25-30 that the band worked on, according to its members; Vanlerberghe frowns as the group talks about a “last-minute” entry that everyone loved but was “just not up to the quality” of the other tracks.
With the single “Body Bag” leading the way, the resulting album covers plenty of stylistic ground — sometimes even within the same song — as I Prevail blends its core heavy rock with elements of rap, electronica and even some smooth, contemporary pop melodies.
During the more melodic passages of tracks such as “Deep End,” “Closure” and “Doomed,” the group could comfortably coexist alongside any act charting on the Billboard Hot 100 at the moment, and the latter is an atypical piano ballad that the band convinced Burkheiser to leave “small” when he considered adding more instrumentation. And Vanlerberghe, whose specialty has been I Prevail’s “dirty” vocals, sings cleaner more than ever on True Power, taking both lead and joining Burkheiser on harmonies.
“There are things we did on this record … that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought were cool when we started the band,” Menoian acknowledges. “Your taste needs to evolve as a writer and an artist and a musician. I think there’s a sweet spot we hit [while] making this record where we were able to dial in what felt like was cool to us and felt represented us well and is a good expression for us. You can’t really explain that to somebody, especially to your younger self, but for me, that’s the thing that moves the needle the most as an artist.”
Burkheiser adds, “As much as this is a rock and a metal record, and I feel like this is our heaviest record to date, it still does have a very, very diverse soundtrack. I do think that time allowed us to sit down and really look at this record as a whole and say, ‘What are some of the things we haven’t done before that we want to try, some outside-the-box ideas that we can bring to the table and say, ‘Hey, maybe this’ll work’?” This is a record I’ll look back on and just think how fun it was to be so creative and have so many different aspects to it.”
Following True Power’s long gestation, I Prevail is more than ready for the road. The band did play some U.S. festivals during 2021 and made a short tour of Australia earlier this year. The True Power outing, meanwhile — with Pierce the Veil, Fit for a King and others — will begin Sept. 9 in Asbury Park, N.J., and features a pair of homecoming shows during Thanksgiving week at the Fillmore Detroit.
“I am so excited,” Burkheiser says. “We’ve been waiting so long. Australia was incredible, to be like, ‘OK, we’re on tour. We actually have a set of seven shows in 10 days’ or whatnot. It was so good just to do that little stretch, so I’m so, so, so excited to come back to America. With this new record leaning into the heavier side, I’ve got to imagine that right out of the gate, I’m going to look out and all these crowds are going to be crazy. We can’t wait.”