All photos by Julius Aguilar
Vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe isn’t afraid to speak his mind, especially when it comes to those who doubt the success and vision of his battle-tested metalcore outfit I Prevail.
Take the band’s head-jarring, aptly titled track “Deadweight,” for example. “Keep it up motherfucker, I’ll cut you out,” he warns ahead of the song’s vicious breakdown.
Using I Prevail’s triumphant second full-length Trauma as a place to openly and honestly discuss things like internal negativity surrounding the band’s camp, co-vocalist Brian Burkheiser’s battle with a vocal polyp, and the recent unexpected passing of a close friend, Vanlerberghe and his bandmates put it all out in the open for fans to fully digest.
“We want to write the music that we want to write. We want to try something different. We want to do what we want to do,” says Vanlerberghe about working on I Prevail’s latest 13-track effort. “So going into that whole process, I think that’s why we all couldn’t be prouder of what we put out. We couldn’t be prouder of what we wrote. And to see the reaction of the fans, the only people that matter, I’m so glad. I can finally just, to everyone that was in our ears, give them all the middle finger and be like, ‘See, it doesn’t matter. We told you so. We’re gonna keep doing it our way.’”
Opening up more about the punishing and genre-blending LP from the Michigan natives, including his venture into the world of hip-hop rapping on tracks like “DOA” and “Goodbye,” Vanlerberghe sat down with The Noise to discuss all things Trauma as well as their first headlining tour in nearly two years.
So you’re a few dates into the tour. How’s it been going getting back on the road again?
Eric Vanlerberghe: It’s been going fucking great, man. Every night has just been topping the last one. So that’s all I can ask for.
Was there any rust getting back into things?
It’s been about a year and a half since we toured and a little bit over that, I think, since we had Brian on the road with us after he had vocal surgery. And we played a few festivals without him. So when we were practicing and rehearsing these new songs after the record was finished, it felt good getting back in the swing of things, you know, as the whole full band. And then when we were rehearsing going towards tour – I feel like the first two, three tours, we did [in the beginning] we were so practiced up to the last minute and we’re like, “Okay, we’re good, we’re good.” Now we just get to this feeling like, “Alright, we’re at 85%.” There’s no way we can be at 100% going into tour because you’re not going to be there until you’re in front of those fans and having people sing back to you and all the technical problems that you’ll run into on the road. But yeah, it felt like [we] had a little bit of rust coming into it. But once we hit that first show, once we played that first song, I think that’s when I was like, “Oh man, this is easy. I feel like me.”
How awesome was it just having Brian back on stage with you?
You feel whole again. It felt like we put training wheels on our last set [without him]. When we didn’t have Brian, it felt like you’re taking a step backwards and it’s like, “Man we’re not at our full potential yet.” So to finally have Brian back, it’s perfect. I Prevail’s sound live is 100%. And Dylan [Bowman, guitarist] did a great job covering his parts when we had to take over for Brian, but there was just a little something missing to it and now I feel like we’re back.
Is it nice not be the sole center of attention now that you have Brian up there by your side?
Yeah, definitely. I have these problems where I’ll start talking fast and my brain can’t think and I’ll be like, “So yeah, anyways, I’m talking about black matter and energy. Why the fuck am I talking about this onstage? Help me out. Where am I at right now?” So it’s helpful to have someone there to be like, “Hey, anyways, you guys having a good night?!” before I go on this whole space talk or something. You know?
Totally. What’s it been like playing these new songs live?
I feel like we talked about this before Lifelines. [During that album cycle] it was great to have people come out and sing those songs and what a great feeling. Coming out here [now] it’s like, “Oh man, it’s gonna be cool having these people sing the songs back” thinking that the first three singles that were released, kids are going to sing along to and the rest of the people are going to be filming or listening or just wanting to hear it.
[During these shows] not a single damn song was there a kid not singing the words. It’s unreal. It blew us away. I mean, we thought we knew what we were expecting. And just be like, “Oh yeah, the kids singing along and pushing people and having a good time.” But when it came to it, some of the deeper cuts that we think are not the [frontrunners] for like “show songs” – we weren’t gonna play “Low” [for example]. It came to the last week of practice. We’re like, “Man, I really want to play it.” Steve’s like, “Yeah, I do too.” And Dylan and Brian were like, “Fuck. Let’s throw it in there.” We come out here and kids are singing that as loud as they’re singing “Bow Down” and “Breaking Down.” So it’s so cool, man.
Obviously there’s a newer musical style with the record. So were you nervous playing those songs live for the first time and what the reaction would be?
Yeah, we had a little bit of anxiousness going into it. We all love all these different genres and being able to try and explore what we really want to sound like and really want to do – [so we had] a little anxiety going into that and putting that out there. You feel somewhat naked putting out a new style and on top of that, I’m doing a lot of the rap and going out onstage and if I forget a word or something, I can just go [*heavy vocals*] and people are like, “Yeah!” and I can save my ass. It’s way different to perform some of the songs than what I’m used to. And the first night I was having a little nervousness going out there but after seeing the reaction, seeing how well received it is, I get this confidence and it’s like, “I’m not even worried anymore. This is great.”
So with you rapping onstage, do you have a newfound respect for rappers who do it every single night?
Oh man, I’ve always loved rap. I grew up with metal and rap and rock and everything. And to be able to perform with no band behind you, that takes something, man. That does. And now doing it ourselves, in a small way – yeah, I do [have] a lot more respect for these artists, man. It’s crazy to be the only person onstage and have to build hype and just be on and it’s about having this confidence, swagger, and stuff like that. There’s a lot to it, man.
Has it been interesting watching Justin Stone rap every night on this tour knowing you’re going to be doing something similar later on in the evening?
Yeah, it’s cool to watch. And seeing our fans get into it, it’s nice to know that most of our fans are open-minded and not like, “Oh, it’s not screaming? It’s not rock and roll. It’s not metal.” It’s like, “Fuck off, man. It’s music.” If you can just look past your little insecurities about what you like and just enjoy what you enjoy, you’re gonna have a fun time. So watching these kids get hyped for Justin and watching his set, it’s dope. It’s really dope. And then right after that, you have Issues who have heavier instrumentals. And you have Tyler Carter, who’s got the voice of a frickin’ angel. It sounds super smooth – R&B, hip-hop kind of stuff. And it’s just a cool mix overall on the tour to have all these genres just kind of feel like it blends well together. It’s a cool melting pot we have out here.
Talking about rappers. Who were some of your favorite rappers growing up or that you still listen to today?
Oh, man. I remember the first CD I ever got was 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I got that jewel case CD somewhere in my parent’s house and it’s smashed because I think my sister stepped on it. But yeah, I grew up listening to that, G-Unit, Eminem and like, nothing crazy. Anything that was on the radio that I could sneak past my parents, you know? But nowadays I like Joyner Lucas, Token. He’s sick.
NF for sure. Yeah, love NF. Recently, I’ve got my Spotify on and it’s like Bones, Scarlxrd, Pouya, Shakewell. Shit like that. And then the other one’s got Joyner, NF.
When you were going into the booth to first record your raps, was there a certain artist that you listened to to hype you up and help bring your flow out?
Honestly, I tried not to listen to as much rap when we were recording those songs. I just wanted to try a bunch of different ways and feel what was comfortable and what I wanted to sound like. I didn’t want to be the typical rock rapper [where] it just kind of feels the same. And maybe it does sound the same. Maybe what I’m doing sounds just the same. Who knows? But I wanted to do that for myself. I wanted to go in there and try seven different ways and be like, “Alright, that one feels good. That feels like me.” That’s what I want out of it. And that’s how I feel about a song we have, the interlude called “Goodbye.” And then you got “Breaking Down” where I just I get more aggressive with it. And “Breaking Down” is a perfect example. I kicked everyone out of the room and sat down with the producer and sat in there for half an hour just doing that one verse over and over and over and over and over just to be like, “That’s what feels good. Okay, got it. Let’s do it again.”
Was that difficult? Considering you’re obviously comfortable screaming and you might be able to do that in one or two takes but then rapping - you’re like, “Why is this taking so long?”
Yeah, definitely. There’s an art to it, man. I feel like a lot of kids out there that are like, “I hate [rap] music,” it takes – maybe not everyone on the Top 40 is quote on quote, talented – but rap it takes talent, man. It takes a lot of skill to track something and make it sound good. Not just like, “Cool. I’m rhyming a bunch of words, or I’m saying something.” There’s something to it, man. There’s a magic to it.
So you guys obviously spent a lot of time on this new record Trauma. What was it like compared to your previous recording session? There was a lot of pressure during Lifelines because it was your first full-length. So do you feel as though there was more this time around?
Yeah, because going back to our first record – being new and we just did the [Heart Vs. Mind] EP and then you have this full-length record that you’re supposed to put out. And you have your management, the label, other musicians, or your A&R guy all in your ear trying to tell you what’s best. Like, “Oh, you need to go this route or that route” and for Lifelines, we started taking that direction. We’re like, “Oh, that? Alright, we’ll give that a shot.” And we’ve always had this model to keep an open mind like, “Let’s be us but let’s just take direction.”
Throughout the [recording] process, we just got more and more like, “This ain’t it.” So we left LA, went back home and redid it all. Didn’t rush it, but kind of had this feeling like, “No, it’s gotta be this.” And we put all this pressure on ourselves and I think it was needed as a first record to get out there and reach all these people, but the next time around when people started saying like, “That was great. Now you need to follow up with something like that.” That’s not what we want to do. We want to keep stretching the boundaries of our music. On our EP, we had a super heavy [song] and then we had a really light acoustic one. And all these people talking shit like, “I Prevail is putting this EDM hip-hop garbage in their music.” Go back to our EP. We’ve had electronics in our music. We’ve had sounds like that.
So on Trauma, we wanted to do shit that was outside of the box. Like on “Paranoid” where instead of a chorus, it goes into an electronic drop. It’s different and then it goes no third chorus, no breakdowns, it just goes out. And when we started doing that, we had people like, “Oh no, that’s not how you do it. That’s not going to make you money.” We want to write the music that we want to write. We want to try something different. We want to do what we want to do. So going into that whole process, I think that’s why we all couldn’t be prouder of what we put out. We couldn’t be prouder of what we wrote. And to see the reaction of the fans, the only people that matter, I’m so glad. I can finally just, to everyone that was in our ears, give them all the middle finger and be like, “See, it doesn’t matter. We told you so. We’re gonna keep doing it our way.”
Do you have a favorite song on the record?
Oh man, that’s tough. That’s so tough. Right now I think my top three are “Bow Down,” “Paranoid,” and it’s tough between “Gasoline” and the interlude “Goodbye” because that’s a close personal [song].
“DOA” is a banger too.
That’s another one. [We’re] playing that every night. That’s what I’m saying, listening to the record when we were writing it was like, “All of these [songs] are great. They’d probably be my top contenders for [playing them live]. And these [songs], I’d like to play those.” And then there’s [no songs] that we’re like, “Nah, we’ll just not play that.” “DOA,” right now, that’s pushing to the top [of my favorites]. It’s so fun to play. It’s one of my favorites.
With songs like “Bow Down” or “Breaking Down,” it seems like sometimes the style of the song dictates if you or Brian sing more on the track. Is that something you guys consider when you’re writing and recording? To maybe try and even out the “Eric songs” versus the “Brian songs?”
When we were writing the songs, I think every process is a little different. And sometimes that starts with a melody that we came up with or an instrumental or an idea or whatever. But when it gets to writing it sonically and the song’s getting 50%-75% of the way there and we start going through with melodies, verses, choruses and all that, we’ll try a couple different things and be like, “That’s the best.” Whether it’s putting a big hook or putting a crazy heavy part or even the rapping on some songs like “Paranoid.” That could be singing all the way through [or] I could see maybe a little bit of screaming here and there, but it’s just what felt right. Then when I tried that rapping part, right after Brian comes in like, “Oh man, I think that was it. Yeah, you guys feel that? Alright, cool.” Other than the ballads and stuff like that, it’s all mainly just been going off of feel.
So moving on – not that we need to look into the next record since you just put all this time into Trauma – but how experimental do you guys want to get moving forward?
The best way I can answer that is I think for the next process I want to just take what we have – what we did with the EP and what we did with Lifelines, the sonic sound side of everything – then we [have] Trauma, where we took a step out on our heaviest songs “Bow Down” and “Gasoline” and then we have these experimental [songs] like “Goodbye,” “Paranoid,” and stuff like that where it pushes those boundaries. I want to do that on the next record [and be] like, “Fuck man, maybe put a death metal song and have like a full on rap Top 40 song on the same record.” I want to get to the point where we can do that kind of stuff because who says a rock band or a band in general has to stick to one sound? So I just want to keep pushing the boundaries and never lose what I Prevail is at the core.
Yeah, at the end of the day, you’re all musicians.
You don’t have to play one specific sound.
Exactly. I listen to from slam death metal – like the Ingested shirt I’m wearing right now – to like I said, the Top 40 stuff. So like rap and hip-hop to whoever. There’s no reason to like be like, “Oh, I only listen to this. I’m better than you. I’m going to type with my Cheeto crusty fingers on the internet why this genre sucks.” What good is that doing? Just enjoy this shit. If you don’t like it, move on. Find something else. But why live in a world where you just have five songs or five albums you listen to? I got so many albums on vinyl or my Spotify playlist I’ve only listened to once or something just because I like it. I know eventually I’m going to go back and listen to it. Why not have a shit ton of music? Whatever man, there’s too many people focused on being too narrow-minded.