In 2013, in a small town in Michigan, a group of musicians decided to start a rock band. Little did they know that within a short time, their wildest dreams would become a reality, with one, simple click of a button.
Last year, a relatively unknown rock band with the bold namesake I Prevail (IP) burst onto the rock scene in a most unconventional way. Initially, most musicians must pay their dues by doing whatever it takes to get their music out there. Bands will even resort to booking gigs at some of the cheesiest venues nationwide, just to establish their fan base. Yet not all bands take the usual road to success, and some even appear to know a shortcut or two. IP is one such band who didn’t take the conventional route to the top; in fact, you could even say they just sort of landed there. I Prevail consists of Brian Burkheiser: vocals, Eric Vanlerberghe: vocals, Steve Menoian: lead guitar, Lee Runestad: drums. Though they may look like the guys next door, don’t let their mild appearances fool you; these guys rock, with an aggressive intensity that may well catch you off guard. IP has an edgy sound, with all the angst you’ve come to expect from your music, and then some.
First, we’ll rewind to the beginning, back to where their story began. There’s little question that the places we call home undoubtedly shape who we are and what we may become. Like much of the USA, IP’s home state of Michigan was hit hard by the aftermath of a severely depressed economy. Between the housing market crash and the U.S. automakers collapse, areas whose survival relied on auto manufacturing (like Detroit and its surrounding areas) were completely devastated. Sadly, thrifty consumers have forsaken American pride and workmanship for much cheaper cars and products from overseas. As a result, entire factories were shut down, and local commerce was forced to follow suit. What was once the mecca of the American auto industry was left in ruins. The extended economic decay fed these crime laden & impoverished areas, creating ghost towns. Cities once booming with industry and job security now almost mirror the facades from post-apocalyptic video games. Desolation was everywhere, like the scattered remains of ransacked homes that once housed families, and the streets that once served as thoroughfares left empty, aside from shattered glass and the remnants of broken dreams. Fortunately, some Michigan communities fared better economically than others. Likewise, many displaced autoworkers managed to find work by migrating to smaller, nearby communities and continued chipping away at the American Dream.
However, the American Dream means something different to everyone. Ironically, there appears to be something about small towns & depressed economies that seems to make people dream big. Case in point, Michigan’s own I Prevail (IP) became an Internet sensation virtually overnight, when they decided to record their own intensified version of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space and uploaded it onto YouTube. Screamer had the distinct pleasure of interviewing IP drummer Lee Runestad, who explained how it all went down. Runestad stated that they “knew they wanted to release a cover tune, and were waiting for the release of Taylor Swift’s album” to see if there would be anything that they could use. Runestad admits that they kicked around the idea of covering another one of Swift’s songs, but it just didn’t seem to mesh well enough with their genre. After listening to her entire new album, they decided on covering Blank Space and just seemed to hit the ground running with it. When asked about the filming of their Blank Space video, Runestad stated that though their other videos were professionally filmed, they actually filmed their infamous Blank Space video themselves! Nice job, guys!
It seems their fans agree too, since their Blank Space cover has received over 10 million hits on YouTube, and its single sale downloads have now exceeded 200,000. But their popularity doesn’t stop there, they also still remain on Spotify’s top ten weekly chart of the most viral tracks globally with over 3 million streams. But even that’s not all, their own self-released EP Heart vs. Mind consequently shot up to #1 in December 2014 on the iTunes Rock Chart as well. In addition, more than 20k have now been sold and their success also got them picked up by Fearless Records. Their extensive media presence is even felt on Facebook, where they have garnered over 100,000 “likes” and counting. As if that weren’t enough, they are also supporting the popular band Amaranthe on their U.S. tour. Yet Runestad admits that the group didn’t anticipate such phenomenal success at all. In reality, they really only expected for family and friends to be their primary supporters, and also admit that they had hoped for maybe, “5,000 -10,000 views.” Yet astoundingly, nearly 10 million people worldwide have now viewed their video, and that number just keeps climbing.
Yet the story of how I Prevail came together is equally noteworthy. This band, with its phenomenal rise to success on the Internet, ironically, also met on the Internet! Yes, Runestad admits that the band members made their initial connections via the World Wide Web, and then just hooked up and started making music. Before they decided on their inspirational name, they all agreed that they wanted it to convey a “positive message, like their music does.” Runestad said that after some group brainstorming, they came up with the word “prevail” and before long they had the perfect name for their band, I Prevail. Runestad stated that “spreading a positive message” with their music is important, especially hailing from areas of Michigan that have really struggled through some hard times. It seems that being able to show the folks back home that dreams can come true, even rock star dreams, means a lot to these guys, and their namesake I Prevail sends that message loud and clear.
Speaking of rock star dreams, Runestad jokingly admitted that his own musical aspirations (aka his own dreams of rock stardom) were quite different when he was young. He explained that he actually wanted to play the guitar and begged his mother to get him one! But it seems his mother knew best, because she undoubtedly noticed her son’s self-proclaimed incessant tapping on everything imaginable, and acted accordingly. So on Christmas, Runestad exclaimed, “instead of getting the guitar” he had been “begging her for,” he woke that morning to a shiny, new drum set. From that point on, for more than ten years now, he’s been drumming away.
The guys also seem to have a great deal of camaraderie between them, and the creative process seems to just flow. Runestad explained how when writing songs, they all have creative input and seem to play off each other’s ideas. One will try something, then another will add to it, or try something else, until they get it where they want it to be. Also, he explained why they chose to have two vocalists. “One singer (Berkheiser) has rockin,’ yet smooth vocals but doesn’t have the scream, and the other (Vanlerberghe) has that gritty scream, but doesn’t have the smooth vocals!” He explained with a chuckle… Runestad feels that they are both “such talented individuals that for a rock band, they individually offer the best of both worlds.” Also, he explains, that not only do they play well on stage together, but they also enjoy playing together offstage as well. In fact, the group gets together for NHL video game playoffs and sets the bar impossibly high! He boasts that they are all super competitive and according to Runestad, there are some sore losers amongst them as well!
Ironically, though many musicians may curse the Internet for piracy and the demise of vinyl, (aka profits) I Prevail is one of the few bands that could attribute much of their success to its ability to instantaneously share their music with a worldwide audience. Since they uploaded their intense rendition of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space last year, they have already achieved what many bands strive their entire careers for. Not only did they have a successful headlining stint recently, but they are now touring with the internationally acclaimed bock band Amaranthe and are spreading their music and message all across the U.S.
The group is also getting their first real, taste of fame in its most pure form; the undying devotion of a loyal fan-base which now spans the globe. Unfortunately, though most rock stars have the opportunity to acclimate themselves to their stardom as well as the pros and cons that come along with it, IP’s relatively, instant success afforded them no such luxury. These guys were given a crash course in stardom first hand, and though this notoriety is not something the Michigan natives had ever experienced back home, they seem to be adapting relatively well and fast; while humbly taking their success in stride. In fact, Runestad and company are still amazed at the magnitude of their good fortune, and they are deeply appreciative for their loyal following. For example, when asked, what the most outrageous thing a fan has ever done, before answering, Runestad first expressed how honored they are for their fan’s loyalty, and then admitted they have fans that have actually had their autographs immortalized in ink, by getting their signatures tattooed! Judging by the surprise still expressed in his tone, it was apparent that the depth of sentiment really seemed to hit home. But Runestad is equally as dedicated to his fans; so much so, that he didn’t let a back injury stop him from hitting it just as hard, nor has he let a recent bout of sickness slow him down at all, at least, not onstage. But that’s just Runestad’s work ethic.
After all, to the world, Lee Runestad is the rock star drummer of the hit band, I Prevail, but at heart, he’s still that small town boy, whose cat and dog are patiently awaiting his homecoming. Now THAT’s what I call devotion.