INTERVIEW: Eric Vanlerberghe and Lee Runestad of I PREVAIL

In late 2014, I Prevail exploded onto the scene, its cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and debut EP, “Heart vs. Mind,” each rocketing to the top of the rock charts. And it was done as a completely independent act—no label, not even management. That’s changed now, as the Michigan-based band recently signed with Fearless Records. Considering the heights reached already, it’s mind-boggling to think about what the band might achieve with the support of a label. When I Prevail’s first tour brought the band to Empire in Springfield, Virginia, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down with drummer Lee Runestad and vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe to discuss their early success, what got them there and more.

LIVE METAL: The big news for you guys this week was signing with Fearless Records. I’m sure you’re excited about that.

LEE RUNESTAD: It’s incredible . They’re a great company. They have an awesome roster. I’ve been following their artists for a long time. I’ve just like stalked their page since I was 15. So it’s cool to finally be a part of something so big.

Eric Vanlerberghe of I Prevail

ERIC VANLERBERGHE: And all the bands on that roster, bands that I looked up to since I started playing music and even before that, and like he said, stalking their page, and thinking that we’re one of those bands now. When I was a kid, I would follow them to see what bands they were looking at, what bands they were signing. To be one of those bands that these new kids, new listeners are gonna be looking at us, it’s just such an amazing feeling that I will never be able to live down.

It’s only been in the past couple months that people have really been discovering your band, but I think a lot of people would be surprised that a band that has had such a monster hit was independent up until last week.

LEE: Yeah. We were as small town as you could possibly imagine. We were just doing this thing. We had a great producer—B.J. Perry at Wall of Sound—so obviously, we had a lot of help there. But we were just kids writing. We had a purpose and everything, but we were just like lost. Just kind of like, alright, let’s just write music and see what happens. And then, what do you know—boom!

ERIC: I think it also helped that each one of us had our own little special trait, I guess you could say. Brian (Burkheiser), our other vocalist, he’s very good at social marketing and marketing. We have Steve (Menoian) on the business side, our guitarist. Money and business—he knows what to do. And Lee and I are just public relations, good at getting our faces out there, meeting new people and talking to new people and having that friendly attitude. So I think we just lucked out with the type of musicians, the quality of musicians we all encountered with each other, the connections we made with each other and outside the band, and just the jobs and traits we had as individuals. It’s just incredible how it all meshed together so perfectly.

You guys haven’t been together as a band for that long, really, have you?

LEE: Well, actually, about a year and a half. We just launched. It’s kind of like the tip of the iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is like 10 percent, and there’s like 90 percent down here. The majority of our band was outside of the public eye. So that’s kind of interesting.

ERIC: November 2013 was right when Steve and Brian started. Then they picked me up—I think it was December time. And then we picked up Lee about a month or two later. Wrote the EP, finished it—I think it was about eight months. Then the last five, four months up until we wrote the cover in November and released it in December along with our EP, that’s when we were just practicing nonstop in a tiny little storage unit in Rochester, Michigan, in the cold, in a little steel, metal box. So for about a year, we were writing and practicing, and then now, for about three, four months, going on five, is when we’ve been publicly known as a band.

LEE: It’s funny. People don’t know that, so there’s a lot of, whether it be local bands or anyone in general, they’ll just be so furious that things developed so quickly for us. “These assholes have been a band for like two months, and they’re doing all this!” And they hate it. But they don’t realize that there was a year of hard work going into building up to that launch. There’s a lot of haters out there, which is fine because we have so much support to overshadow that. It doesn’t really matter.

Did you have any idea it was going to blow up like it did as soon as it did?

ERIC: No. I think the first month, we were shooting for 5,000, and one of us, I think, was shooting for 10,000 views in the first month. I think it was Brian maybe who was like, “We can get 10,000.” We were like, “No way! We’re not getting 10,000 views.” And then a million views in a month—holy hell, what just happened?

LEE: We hit 1,000 views, and we were celebrating. We were like, “We got 1,000 views in a day! Ten thousand, we’re gonna get 10,000! Like two days later, I bet you we’re gonna get 10,000!”

ERIC: I think it was day two that Billboard picked it up and wrote an article. We were all still working our jobs, and I was at IHOP working, and I was serving a table, my phone’s in my pocket, and it was just going off and off. So I ran to the back, and I get all these text messages and Facebook messages and everything—carrier pigeons messaging me—like, “Holy crap! Dude, check it out!” I looked, and I was like, “I have to leave, I have to leave!” And then we all met up at Brian’s apartment, just like dancing the whole night, jumping up and down in his apartment. Just couldn’t believe it.

LEE: We’d go work our shitty jobs. Brian was a pizza delivery guy, I was a waiter, Eric was a waiter. And we’re watching our album go to number one on the rock charts and our single go to number one at the same time. We’re all sitting there working our shitty jobs. Like, how is this possible?! We don’t have a label behind us pushing us. How is this possible? It was nuts. I’m gonna tell my kids that story.

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I just checked today, and it was at 7.6 million views. That’s insane.

ERIC: It’s unreal, man. It’s so unreal.

LEE: We shot that video, the music video for that in our storage unit. We went to Myer and bought black sheets for a bed and put them up all around the unit.

ERIC: We couldn’t even afford to go to a craft store for it. We had to go get blankets from Myers. That’s how broke we were. And then we took the camera my parents got me for a graduation present and we filmed it, and we had another guy in our band edit it. So it was all done in house. But we were just scraping up money together. We bought some crappy lights just to light the background and stuff.

LEE: People were talking about the music video being shot in a studio, and we were like … (laughs) Not quite a studio.

ERIC: But yeah, had no idea this was gonna happen. Not a clue.

57f97abd45bf29a4636967df_heartvsmindepThe EP, “Heart vs. Mind,” there’s a song with that title. Why did you choose that for the title of the EP?

LEE: We picked that album title, and we knew we were gonna write a song that reflected how we were feeling. So one of the last songs we wrote was the title song for the album. That was basically how we were feeling at the time, which was we were battling our mind telling us, “Hey, you need to stick to your 9-to-5 job, you need to go to school,” and then your heart telling you, “Follow music.” So there was this inner struggle that we all had. We were all feeling the exact same thing—“This is stupid to follow music. We don’t even stand a chance. We’re a grain of sand out on the beach. How can we possible get noticed?” This was before we released anything. We just didn’t think anyone would know. So we wrote this song kind of with that inner battle of following music, and that’s definitely a reoccurring theme throughout the album, just the struggle.

ERIC: Every time we went to the studio to write a song or start scratching a new one or to finish a song, there was three things we were talking about: the next song, fart jokes or being nervous about putting all our time and effort and energy into this project, flopping and then having to struggle to just maintain again. Every time we were in that studio writing a new song, doing anything, we always had that battle. “It’s great. I can’t wait to go write more. I can’t wait to go finish this. I can’t wait to go lay down some tracks.” But in the back of your head, it’s like, “Shit, should I be going to school right now? Should I be going to work right now? I just called off.”

LEE: We’d get into the studio, and we’re trying to pay for studio time. We’ve all got $1 bills. We’ve got a stack of $1 bills and some change. We’re trying to pay for studio time.

ERIC: So it’s like, “Are we really doing this? Is this what we need to be doing, should be doing?” So every time we went in there, that’s the mindset we had. So we just figured that’s the perfect title for the whole album.

Now that you’re with Fearless, I know it just happened, but is there any talk about maybe adding a few more songs and making it a full-length album?

11023431_10152898476253305_3914849895047505196_n.jpgERIC: Well, actually, once we’re done with these tours, we’re working to go back in the studio and write a full new album. We want to keep this “Heart vs. Mind” its own entity, and then, after we get done with touring right now, we’re gonna go back and create a full new beast, full new album.

So is this your first real tour?

LEE: Yeah, definitely. This is the debut tour. This is new for all of us. It’s been interesting. It’s been fun as hell so far. Funnest time in my life. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’re having the best time of our lives so far. Go out every night and play for people, and they fuckin’ love it; we love it more than they do. It’s incredible.

ERIC: Other than missing our family and friends back home, I never would give this up for the world. This is just amazing.

With it being the first tour, did you really know what to expect?

LEE: No, we had no idea. Honestly, I remember talking, we were like, “Are people gonna come? How are we gonna get people in Virginia to come to a show?” You just don’t know. I remember me and Steve having countless talks, just freaking out, like, “What if people don’t come to our show? We haven’t done anything outside of Michigan yet. What do we do?” So yeah, that was definitely kind of a scary thought, but people are coming out. That’s all we wanted, was people to come out and listen to our music.

ERIC: So far, I think our lowest attended show was 100 people. For being the first time in any of these states—not even just for music, just me personally being in this state—it’s just unbelievable the amount of support we’ve gotten via the Internet and radio play without backing, and then come out here and see a full crowd for us screaming our name—and not even just that, every word of the songs. It’s unbelievable.

You’re doing some headline dates now, and then you’ll be supporting Amaranthe.

LEE: Yeah, I’m pumped for that. I’ve only heard good things about Amaranthe. They are incredible musicians. Those guys can throw down—and girls. So I’m pumped for it. I can’t wait. I think it’s gonna be an awesome tour.

ERIC: Yeah, the fact that we get to see the country once with ourselves, along with these other bands, Chasing Safety and Too Close to Touch, and then come right back and see it again with another band. We hit one venue in New York, and then a month from now, we’re hitting the venue down the street. It’s just crazy. It’s awesome.

Will there be more touring in the summer?

LEE: We’re tossing up. I think we’re either gonna devote more time to touring or to writing. Probably one or the other, maybe a little mixture. It’s kind of up in the air right now. That’s gonna be interesting to see where we go with the summer. It’s still undecided, I guess you could say.

Anything else you want to say?

ERIC: Overall, thank you so much for the support and this interview. Never thought six months ago, right before we launched, that we’d be sitting in Virginia right now in a back room—not a dirty back room; this is actually really classy—talking to someone who actually wants to hear us talk. It’s just incredible. Thank you for the support, the time for you here sitting with us, the support from the fans. It’s just incredible.

LINKS:
www.iprevailband.com
www.facebook.com/iprevailband
www.twitter.com/iprevailband
www.instagram.com/iprevailband
www.youtube.com/iprevailband

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