If you’ve ever gone to a smaller concert, you’ll know what I mean when I mention The Hunger – and yes, the capitalization is necessary. It’s not any specific action, but an air of unbridled lust for the very essence of live music, it’s the joy despite any hardships in the industry of just playing onstage. It’s this very feeling that was unmistakable and overwhelming in one of Austin’s prime venues, Red 7, where one of the most recognized breakthrough bands, I Prevail, is playing a date of their headlining tour; with a still fresh contract on the notable label Fearless Records, a million views on YouTube, and a venue so full that the crowd is pushing towards the bar in the very back of the room, this is an odd place to find it not yet replaced by routine. This is a band that has erupted into the music spotlight without an apology, raised the bar and kept their energy electric the whole way through. I sat down with Lee Runestad, drummer, and Steve Menoian, lead guitarist to get their take on the phenomenon that has become I Prevail .
ADRA: I imagine you guys have settled into touring by now, having been on many with more still coming up. What has the Crossroads Tour been like so far?
LEE: It’s just getting back in the saddle, you know, it’s pretty painless once you’ve been doing it for a minute, then you just take like a week off and get right back into it. You pick up where you left off.
STEVE: Yeah, we’re like seasoned veterans now, I think. [laughs] This tour has been awesome, there’s four other bands, and they are all really cool.
ADRA: Who’s idea was it to do the matching tour tattoos?
LEE: Hmm .. I don’t really know …
STEVE: I think it was you and I sort of driving that boat.
LEE: Yeah, alright, well we were just going to kind of do the arrows, and then Eric actually thought of the Michigan outline. So we’ll take credit for the arrows, Eric came up with Michigan.
STEVE: I think it was actually your idea, the whole tour tattoo thing. You’re the one who told us it was a thing, we never knew it was a thing!
LEE: So we’re going to try and get a tattoo for every tour, something small you know. Just little mementos. Now, Brian doesn’t participate in the tour tattoos.
STEVE: He’s too good for it!
LEE: Brian doesn’t, and Dylan doesn’t. So it’s me, Steve, Tony and Eric who do the tour tattoos.
STEVE: We’re the fun ones.
ADRA: Going back to the beginning, what’s the story of how I Prevail started?
STEVE: Brian and I were the first to link up, we actually met through this band networking site. We weren’t childhood friends or anything like a lot of people seem to think we were. We had similar bands that we liked, and decided “Hey, let’s start writing and see where it goes.” Then we found Eric through a friend of a friend…. of a friend, of a friend [laughs] Then we actually found Lee through YouTube, he was posting cool drum covers and stuff. Lee, didn’t you say bands were hitting you up, like, all the time and you were about to be done with it?
LEE: Yeah! I put out a video, and like four different people hit me up, then Brian sent me a message that said nothing but “Hey, are you in a band?” and I was about to be like “Yeah.” But he had a cool profile picture, and so I was like “This kid looks kind of cool, maybe he’s got a legit project.”
ADRA: When you all decided to cover Blank Space, did you expect it to blow up or go viral like it did?
STEVE: Yeah. We knew it would, from the second … [laughs] No, we had NO clue. Brian talks about it all the time – we were expecting 5,000 or maybe 10,000 views, just friends and family. The “oh, shit” moment was when Billboard did an article on it about three days after we posted it, and that’s when we saw a huge spike.
ADRA: This is an unspoken subject regarding that, but for awhile there was sort of a backlash from certain people about the cover being your major breakthrough. What are your feelings on that?
LEE: It is what it is. Some people just throw a little hate out there, like “You got big off of a cover instead of your originals” – but we wrote our EP, which did well, so we’re super proud of that.
STEVE: We considered that, for sure. Whether we wanted the first thing we ever put out to be a cover.
We knew the downside that would come with that. But we spent the first year and a half on this whole project writing our own, original music. The cover was a tool to mark that, and we totally own it.
ADRA: What was your reaction on signing to Fearless Records in the midst of all that, and how has it changed things for you?
LEE: It’s sweet! They have a great team, and it’s definitely crazy to sign with a label that you’ve looked up to. They’re super helpful, and an awesome label to be with.
STEVE: We didn’t even fully know what it meant to “have a label.” We knew some of the components, we were just piecing the whole business side together. It’s been great so far, they’ve been super supportive, especially creatively. They have an awesome fan base, and people watch Fearless just to see what Fearless does next.
ADRA: Getting real for a second, something that not only I want to know, but I’m sure thousands of fans want to know – what’s the deal with the stuffed frog?
STEVE: So, band off day. We needed something to do, and Dave and Buster’s was nearby; drinks, food, arcade games, why not? All of us – band, crew – we all went there and started having a great time. You know those giant claw games where there’s a ton of different prizes? Dylan and I were just standing outside this claw game, and I was just like “I see that frog, it’s poking it’s head out, I’m going to get the frog.” I was lining this thing up for like ten minutes. It comes down, clamps down on his head, drops him in; and the funniest part is, the door didn’t work! So we’re just sitting there like “Our frog is in there and we can’t get to him!” And that’s the moment you realize you’re a grown man who’s about to go ask another grown man to come get your stuffed frog out of the game machine.
LEE: One thing led to another … and now, Steve’s a father.
STEVE: It’s a movement, really. It’s a lifestyle. He’s part of the team, he helps sell merch every night, he poses for pictures every now and then. Fans do try and take him though, so that’s bullshit. We just gotta keep him sober. If we can keep him sober, he’s fine. [laughs]
ADRA: What’s been the most difficult part of your lifestyle change, since it’s still in a way recent?
LEE: I’ve got two. One, of course is being away from family, and your hometown. I think a lot of people have that. The second one is when you’re on a tour bus, you’re driving, and there’s no access to a bathroom at times. that is one that’s tough to adjust to. So I’ll give you that.
STEVE: One thing about being on the road is, when you’re on the road you think everything back home is stopped. You’re so caught up in it, and when you go back, there is that distance with people you’re normally close to. Then, just, eleven dudes living in 50 square feet. I’m going to go with that. Think about it. Everybody smells really good. [laughs]
ADRA: Finally, do you see yourselves going on this journey indefinitely?
LEE: I hope so, if the fans allow it. It’s not entirely up to us.
STEVE: The support from our fans has been awesome, we have the greatest fans. We’re so lucky. In this kind of life, it’s just day to day to be honest. You just keep enjoying every moment. If you can play music for another night, if people want to see us play, and connect to our music then we’ll take it. *