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Rise Above It All: On the phone with I Prevail

I recently got the chance to jump on the phone with I Prevail guitarist, Dylan Bowman, and was able to pick his brain about their new album Trauma, touring, making music, and how they marketed themselves starting out.

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I recently got the chance to jump on the phone with I Prevail guitarist, Dylan Bowman, and was able to pick his brain about their new album Trauma, touring, making music, and how they marketed themselves starting out.

Josh: A couple of years ago I remember checking Facebook all the time and I just couldn’t get you guys out of my newsfeed. There was a constant relay of videos with extracts from “Scars” and the Taylor Swift cover you guys did, all captioned with “tag a friend that needs to hear this”. What was the original idea behind that kind of marketing?

Dylan: A lot of what we do through our social media goes through our clean vocalist Brian, so he’s really the mad scientist behind all that. But I think the idea behind it was to try to get people to have fun with the idea of sharing music with their friends. Personally, when I hear a song that I love I share it on my Facebook, for instance, I did the new Parkway Drive song, “Wishing Wells”, I just shared that today. So that’s just the idea with it, getting people excited. Through that, I feel like we have a really nice organically grown fanbase.

Josh: Oh yeah for sure. It seems like it happened really quickly, and for me like I’m from a really small country town, and a lot of my friends that don’t typically listen to heavier music actually love you guys, and it came largely from those videos and how you marketed yourself. Do you think that is because of any particular reason? And was that intentional?

Dylan: You know that’s interesting because that actually happens in the United States too. I’m also from a small country town where not a lot of people get into heavy music, but I find that even some of those people still get into I Prevail because even though it’s the heavy instrumentals with the screaming and the growling, our heavy vocalist Eric is pretty good at articulating his screams. So you can still understand him, and I feel like that’s one thing that makes it easy to get into. On top of that, I think the way we grow our market helps, like most people use social media, so no matter what they’re going to see it. And if you’re scrolling and it’s the third time you’re seeing that post or that flyer that day, you’re gonna go “oh well what’s this I Prevail band about”, and you’ll at least end up giving it a listen.

The new album, Trauma. Out now via Fearless Records.
Josh: I saw you guys at Download Fest in Melbourne earlier this year, and noticed every song after you guys finished playing that you were met with a huge amount of screaming from the crowd, which I’d say is something quite rare for heavy bands?

Dylan: I think some of it was because that was the first time we had been back to Australia since 2017. We did a short run over there and sold out the entire tour, which was amazing, then went on a little bit of a lull for a while. We’ve had such a great fanbase in Australia, and they’ve been really vocal on our social media about like, “when are you guys coming back???” So when we announced Download I was dumbfounded with how many people were commenting things like “I can’t wait to see I Prevail again!” Just being there was kind of like a homecoming, even though we aren’t from Australia which was pretty cool.

Josh: Do you guys enjoy it here?

Dylan: Oh we love it there. Obviously, it was nice there, it was Winter back in the US in Michigan, so it was nice to get into the warm weather. On top of everything else, the food, the culture, it’s so interesting and so fun to be around.

Josh: Yeah it’s alright I guess. So can we expect you back soon?

Dylan: Yes! We don’t have anything set in stone yet, I wish I could give you some dates but I don’t have anything yet. I know we are trying to get back in our Fall time, so around November. We’re doing what we can to get back there as soon as possible.

Josh: Oh yes lovely, lovely. In regards to the new album, Trauma, I was just wondering what the inspiration behind the songs is, instrumentally and lyrically?

Dylan: A lot of different things. As far as instrumentally it’s gonna vary from song to song, but as for singles like “Bow Down”, we take inspiration from even video games. Like if we’re playing Doom or something that has Nine Inch Nails, we take influences from a lot of different places instrumentally. With the lyrical content, a lot of it talks about traumatic experiences. Going through what we’ve gone through in the past two and a half years with the end of the Lifelines cycle, and touring for so long, it obviously took a toll on our home lives. Brian went down with a vocal injury and that was a big deal. So we kind of had a lot to write about to do with being anxious or being depressed, and that’s kind of the message that goes through Trauma.

Josh: That kind of thing I guess is always really tough to write about, so when you’re doing so what is the writing process like?

Dylan: It varies. Kind of like when you start a puzzle and you’re just looking for a piece or a corner you can start with first. Most of the time we try to lay down some sort of musical base, then Brian or Eric or somebody will come up with a pretty good idea for a melody or a verse of things like that. It really just depends. As far as Trauma goes we had a lot of time with a few producers doing some co-writes, and then we brought those home to an Airbnb in the middle of nowhere in the country. From there we plowed through the rest of the album.

Josh: It’s interesting how everyone goes about it. I know a lot of bands here write songs purely just by sending each other bits and pieces through dropbox from home, is that kind of thing really a thing in the US?

Dylan: It certainly can be, it just depends on who’s doing it and what genre of music it is. With I Prevail we feel like it wouldn’t be the true magic if we all didn’t sign off on the idea before continuing forward with it.

Josh: That’s true, that’s a really cool way to go about it. The last few years you’ve been on a hot streak of US headline shows, but you’ve had nearly a year off them now. The next tour is looking quite big it’s fair to say, how are you guys feeling about that?

Dylan: We’re super excited. We’ve really upped our production, and this is a much more mature look for us. The Rage on the Stage tour was the last headliner we did and that was all pro-wrestling themed, and there was a bunch of gimmicks and monologues and stuff like that. But this tour is so much more about the music, to match the feel of just what this album means to us. We’re trying to take out as much talking between songs as we can, and are just going to let people enjoy the music for what it is on this tour.

Josh: Oh yeah so trying to focus on the atmosphere. Cool cool. So I know you played some shows with We Came As Romans before all that horrible stuff with Kyle Pavone happened, how was that?

Dylan: Well we had the Rage on the Stage tour right before Kyle’s passing, and they were all big influences on us growing up as we were from the same area. They’re from Detroit, we’re from Metro Detroit area. I can speak for everyone that was living with us at the time, Eric and a couple of the other guys and crew guys and I, that when we found out about Kyle’s passing it was devastating. When they asked Eric and me to be a part of his memorial show we said “absolutely”. But to be able to play the last full tour with the full lineup of We Came As Romans, it sucks to say because I miss Kyle because he was a great guy. But it feels good to say that we sent them off in a good way, but that’s not to say that they’re done. They’re on tour right now and I’m going to go see them this weekend actually and they still kill it.

Josh: So awful and it sucks but it’s still special to have those memories. I remember in particular we watched them perform a few years back and it was actually Kyle’s birthday so we all sang happy birthday to him.

On that slightly sadder note, we ended our interview, but throughout the conversation, I feel Dylan shared some incredibly insightful things about what goes into I Prevail. Their new album, Trauma, is available via Fearless Records and on Spotify, Apple Music, and all music streaming services.

Interviews

Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist

Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.

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Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.

We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.

Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?

We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.

How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?

The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process.  We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.

Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?

I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing. 

Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?

It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP.  To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.

You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?

Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area,  so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.

Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?

I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.

What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?

Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.

And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?

We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.

You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?

We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.

I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?

Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!! 

I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.

What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?

We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!

Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.

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Interviews

Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool

We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single

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On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.

It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.

I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.

Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.

They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.

“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves

– Jenna maranga, okay cool

Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”

“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”

Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?

Listen to “Back To You”

Okay Cool’s new single “Back To You” will be available July 10th on all streaming services. You can find more Okay Cool on their website, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

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