The Grammys and metal have never had the easiest relationship. For every worthy win in the best metal performance category (Megadeth in 2017; 2018’s Mastodon) comes the questionable (Tenacious D in 2015; 1989’s still haunting Jethro Tull victory).
Though relatively unknown beyond a rabid fan base, list I Prevail in the “worthy” category of nominees as its sophomore full-length, “Trauma,” is up for a 2020 best rock album Grammy, with its single, “Bow Down,” scoring a nom for best metal performance.
That’s terrific for a group of Michigan hardcore pop-punks whose vocalist-lyricist Brian Burkheiser was still delivering pizzas five years ago.
“When we got word of the nominations, it was surreal,” said Burkheiser. “It feels like just yesterday my hands were in a Domino’s oven.”
Renowned for embracing anxieties and depressions with an emo-hardcore rap-rock vibe and lilting pop melodies (the latter of which go handsomely with Burkheiser’s creamy croon), I Prevail got together in 2013, not as a unified musical front, but with a diverse one. “I like the pop elements and was never a fan of heavy rock and metal,” says the singer, “yet being a bunch of dudes with different musical styles opened us up.”
Such openness led I Prevail to its first notoriety, 2014’s raging metalcore cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” — a risky move that could’ve wound up less than savvy and more of an albatross. “We were recording an EP on our own of seven songs… I loved those ‘punk goes pop’ cover albums, saw that Swift was coming out with a new album, got a leaked copy of her song, and recorded it.”
Luckily when I Prevail went on tour with their first EP, “Heart vs. Mind,” rather than yell for “Blank Space,” Burkheiser stated that “everybody was screaming the lyrics to all of our songs. That felt great.”
That the emotional lyrics to I Prevail songs such as “Paranoid” and “Bow Down” are rich with the fears of damaging vocal cords, the anxiety of throat surgery and the strains of depression run rampant is what Burkheiser believed more deeply connected his fans to his band and their sophomore album, “Trauma.”
Burkheiser said as a “bunch of nobodies” put in a position of succeeding, I Prevail knew that its next moves had to count. “With ‘Trauma’ we knew we had to get real with our fans,” he said. “The realer we get, the more connection our fans are going to feel. Everything may look hunky dory, but I remember being 14 and relying heavily on bands I loved to help get me through tough times. That’s what we wanted to do — a breakup song here, a song about depression there, and another where you can just be pissed off and let loose.”