Interview with Ian Fike of It Prevails

Posted on July 19, 2011 - by Scott Sugarman

Photo: Shoot 2 Kill

Despite a frequently changing lineup, It Prevails have proved their skill at crafting memorable melodic hardcore over two albums and two EPs. The band's upcoming third album, 'Stroma,' showcases singer Ian Fike's flexibly emotive screams and clean vocals over lushly layered guitar riffs. With 'Stroma' coming out August 2 through Mediaskare Records and the band gearing up for The Beautiful & Spineless Tour with No Bragging Rights, We Are Defiance, and more, It Prevails have an exciting summer ahead of them.

Ian was kind enough to spend some time outside of his band's busy practice schedule to speak with Rock Edition over the phone about recording 'Stroma,' lyrical inspiration, and It Prevails' band dog, Luna. Check out the conversation below.

What's the band up to these days?

We're just prepping to get ready to get back on the road. We're leaving here in two weeks or so, so we're getting a bunch of the songs that we're going to play off of the new record tight in a practice setting. [We're] getting ready to get back on the road for a couple US tours in a row.

That's for The Beautiful & Spineless Tour, right?

That's the first tour, yes.

What are you looking forward to the most about that one?

Well, I'm looking forward to touring with bands we've never toured with before, including No Bragging Rights, but we're just really excited to get back on the road, actually supporting, too. We've been headlining most of the year, so it should be a lot of fun. We're going back out with our friends in We Are Defiance, too, so we're excited to see those guys again.

Awesome. You said you're excited for supporting instead of headlining?

Yeah, definitely.

Why is that?

Because it's... [chuckles] Right now we feel -- Hmm, let me think. [laughs] I like to think that we're trying to build our fanbase more. We're trying to expand our demographic and find new fans, as opposed to headlining, where you don't really have a chance to get the amount of new fans you normally would if you were supporting. You get a little more exposure.

So you're saying that people who are coming for the headlining bands may see you play before them and become fans after that?

It helps. I don't know if they will, but it definitely helps a lot with reaching out to new fans, people that would never normally go to your headlining show if they're going to go see No Bragging Rights. Then maybe they'll watch you, and you might pick up a couple of new fans.

Cool. How would you say It Prevails have grown since 'Capture and Embrace'?

A ton. Musically, we've grown in the sense that we've been listening to a much more vast array of music in general, from instrumental electronic to indie rock stuff to minimal instrumental music. Just a wide array of music is what we've been soaking in, so what came out with this new record is a lot more focused, we feel. It's a lot more rock-minded. 'Capture and Embrace' was a very melodic record, and so is 'Stroma.' 'Stroma' pretty much picks up right where we left off, and we feel we've grown a lot as musicians in our skill, our ability, and our songwriting. Everything's been upped, in our eyes.

Can you name any of those artists you've been listening to a lot?

You mean new or old?

Anything, really. Just what you're into.

Oh man. Really, what I've been listening to -- when I get down, when I want to listen to chill stuff, I listen to a lot of instrumental electronic. I love the artist Tycho, from San Francisco. It's really melodic instrumental stuff, like actual electronic stuff. I've been listening to a lot of A Wilhelm Scream, too, like melodic hardcore punk. The new Living with Lions record is really good. We've been blasting that, and we've also been blasting the new Moving Mountains record. It's great.

Awesome. I really dig A Wilhelm Scream.

Me too, man.

You guys have had a lot of different band members come and go over the past few years. Has it ever been a challenge to keep the band going because of those lineup changes?

The only time it ever was was after we released 'The Inspiration.' We were heading out on that early '08 run, and three of the members had decided to leave. That was when it was difficult because they decided to leave only a couple days before some of the tour, so that was the only time it's ever really stopped us. In the past two years, no, definitely not. It's been pretty easy to keep members coming in. We've never really wanted anybody to leave, so that kind of sucks, but replacing the people has never been an issue, especially the rhythm guitars because I write most of that stuff. As far as teaching it to somebody, it's pretty easy. It definitely hasn't slowed us down, no. But the lineup we have at this point is mostly all original. The original drummer, Aaron Marsh, is back. Nic Toten, one of our pretty much original rhythm guitar players, is back as well, and then myself. And Nate [Dorval, bass] and Chris [Tsanjoures, guitar] we've had on board for over a year or so. It's a pretty comfortable lineup at this point.

So it was pretty easy to get back into the groove of things when this lineup came into place?

Definitely. This lineup we have currently, the one we're going out with the rest of the year, is definitely the strongest we've ever had.

That's good to hear.

Yeah, we're really comfortable with each other; we know each other's skills. It's a lot of fun when you can play with people that you've been playing with for years and trust them. There's no worry about comfort level, skill level.

What aspect of 'Stroma' are you most proud of?

I feel the songs are well put together; they've grown. The lyrics, the content has grown. It was a lot of fun to record because we had a good amount of time. We had like a month to record it. The best aspect of the album -- that's kind of tough. I can't put my finger on it.

That's a good thing though, right?

Yeah. I mean, as a vocalist, I feel that my clean vocals especially really stepped up. I've been on the road for -- God, we've been on the road for pretty much a whole year solid. After that many shows and after that many strenuous weeks of touring, you become conditioned. With practice, you get better at anything. So my clean vocals, I feel, were a lot easier to record this time. I wasn't trying as hard as 'Capture and Embrace' or any of our releases. Everything came out easier; I was a lot more relaxed. We feel it shows. It comes off really smooth. I feel 'Capture and Embrace' was the first time I ever really tried singing on a record in every song. Some of the notes weren't exactly on key. Every time you listen as a musician, you're going to find flaws that you wish you could change; even now, two years later, there's stuff I'd like to change on that record. Then you go to 'Stroma,' and all my flaws that I've been listening to, I've been working on. I kind of figured out the way to push myself and get my voice in the areas that felt most comfortable, and I got the results.

So would you say that you were more comfortable with the harsh vocals before?

My heavy vocals have changed in the sense that when I was younger on the albums 'The Inspiration' and 'Capture and Embrace,' I was trying to depict the sound that I wanted to hear, not necessarily what my body was most comfortable with. With that being said, I would almost sound a little heavier than what my voice wanted to actually fit in the range. A lot of our friends and anybody who's listened to the album so far are like, "Oh, your heavy vocals have gone up in pitch. They're higher." People can figure that out, even just from the two songs we put online so far. But really why I did that is -- there's really no explanation to it, it's just that over the past year on tour, I've become really comfortable in that range. It's been easier for me to switch back and forth from that to screaming, or to singing. The heavy vocals I'm doing now are easier to go to singing, so it's just a more comfortable experience for me to get the best results. It's not like I even did it on purpose or consciously knew it. When we went in to record the album and I started laying down the heavy vocals, everybody was like, "Oh, I like it a lot; it just doesn't sound like anything you've done before," and I was just like, "Oh." I didn't even really notice it. I was just like, "Well, this is my voice now." I guess I've just grown, and this is what's come of it.

Photo: 40/60

Like you were saying, I really noticed how on this new record there's tons of switching back and forth between the clean and heavy vocals. I think that's really cool.

Definitely. Thanks, man. You've listened to the record?

Yeah. I've listened to it a few times.

Nice!

Yeah, I dig it. I think that the album name itself is really interesting. Why did you guys decide to name the new record 'Stroma?'

Well, stroma is a depiction of the overall encompassment of something, whether that be when you're building a house, the frame of a house, or if you were to hold an organ, like when doctors use the term stroma... If you're holding a heart, besides the valves and things inside of it, the whole outer layer of it is the stroma. So it basically means the framework, the building base of something. When me and Aaron were putting the skeletons of the songs together -- I was playing rhythm guitar and he was playing drums, and we were putting the basic structures of these songs and coming up with ideas -- Aaron kept saying this is the framework of our new ideas, this is what we've grown into. He was really proud of it. We were all trying to decide an album name, so we pretty much took that big word -- like I said, framework -- and we decided to find a synonym or a word that's similar that came across well. We went with stroma because we really liked the way it felt. Once we saw the word, once we discussed it, it was pretty set in stone, and that's what we wanted to go with.

Cool.

The framework of what we've grown into at this point is what it means to us.

So would you say that the new album is sort of like a big mission statement for you guys?

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. This is our first album we've released on a label in a number of years. We've been working really hard the past year and a half on the road and with the release of our little EP on our own on vinyl and stuff. Going overseas -- this is all before we got signed, and all that. Last year was a big year for us, so we're really proud of it. This is what we've got to show for it. It's just the growth of being musicians. It helps being out on the road for a year and then writing these songs in two months' time. At first, we were really scared, but when we started writing it, it was the easiest process we've ever written music, by far. With 'Capture and Embrace,' it took us a long time to come up with those songs. We struggled at points even just getting something together. It wasn't forced, I shouldn't say, but it took longer to get to that point. Whereas when we were sitting down writing 'Stroma,' it was so much fun. We had all these riffs, and it was very natural how it all came together. That's the best way to put it. The writing process was very natural, unforced, a lot of fun.

You were saying that you write a lot of the rhythm guitar parts. Why don't you play rhythm guitar when you record or play live?

Well, when we record I do. I record most of the rhythms, yeah. All our studio videos -- the studio updates we did for 'Stroma' we released in February -- I'm playing guitar a lot; I even played bass a few times. I played a few beats, and I did all the vocals. That's really how it's always been. With 'Capture and Embrace,' it was even more so. I recorded all the rhythms and all the leads for that album. And then 'The Inspiration' as well; I recorded all of the rhythms and most of the leads. It's never really changed. That's kind of why the music hasn't really gone too far off from each other. I mean, it's grown, obviously, progressively throughout the albums, but it hasn't really gone left field. We feel that's because I've been writing the rhythms -- just the skeletons. The overall songs, me and Aaron will figure out on the drums. He's a big part of the structures as well.

That must really help when you have that revolving door of other guitar players coming in and out.

[laughs] It definitely does, man! If it was another way, I think, like you said, we would've had some bigger issues at hand, so we're thankful. People are like, "Well, why don't you let them write?" Well, it's not that I don't let them write, its that nobody's ever really been around long enough to have a say in it.

That's an interesting approach. I was looking at your Facebook page the other day and saw that you guys mention that you're influenced by "struggles, life lessons, negative situations, and mistakes." Would you say that exploring conflict is one of the lyrical focal points on 'Stroma?'

Definitely. We've always written lyrics about life experiences and altruistic actions because when we grew up listening to music and bands, reading lyrics, we liked that push that we got from uplifting lyrics. A lot of my lyrics are of personal experience and growing and learning from this age and taking what you've learned, whether it be a poor situation or a great one, and growing from it nonetheless. That didn't change on 'Stroma.' Like 'Capture and Embrace,' there's a few -- but 'Stroma' even more so -- there's some frustrated lyrics. A lot of people say, "You sound frustrated," and it's true. There are a lot of things about this earth that frustrate me, and it angers me at points. Some of the lyrics are slightly angry. There's many moods to the lyrics on this album. That's how it's always been, and those are the things that influence me most with lyrics -- life experiences and regrets or whatever it may be, growth, discovery of skills. There are so many subjects I could write about that I do. There's constant ideas flowing through my head. [laughs]

Were there any particular moments that inspired some of the songs on the album?

Yeah. Let's see here... My older sister had a baby, my niece. When I saw that -- the song "Artisan" -- I wanted to depict a song, lyrically, that could explain how wonderful it is that people on this earth can create something and be proud of it. I don't know; it's hard to explain. The song "Artisan" is about the people that I have looked up to that have created something, whether they be musicians, inventors, or mothers. It's the whole idea of making something that's yours, that's beautiful. It's a beautiful thing, to me, and that's what I really wanted to depict in "Artisan," the idea of being able to create something and being very proud of it. When I saw my sister have her child, it made me really happy to see that she -- she really wanted to have a baby; it took her some time, but she was so proud. My niece is beautiful, and I saw the primal or the primitive root to the situation, the creation of something. When I wrote "Artisan," that's pretty much the basic idea of it. It's really hard to explain, man. [chuckles]

No, I get what you mean. That's a really cool idea. [laughs]

Okay, cool. I try to make a basic idea for each and every one of our songs, similar to that.

When you say, "Similar to that," do you mean a similar sort of idea or the same approach?

Yeah, same approach, I should say, exactly. Same approach.

Switching gears a bit, how are you liking working with Mediaskare Records so far?

Oh, it's great, man. We've known Mediaskare for a number of years. When we weren't necessarily taking our touring so seriously after the release of 'Capture and Embrace,' they reached out their hand and said, "You guys should've maybe come to us, and we would've put this out," and we were like, "Oh, thanks! That's flattering." So when the time came to get serious -- we wanted to actually put out this record on a label -- it was a really easy interaction. They wanted to help us big time with tours and getting back on the road and putting this album out and helping us record it. It's been a lot of fun; it's been a great time being on Mediaskare. They helped us big time.

Nice. Will we be seeing any music videos off the new record any time soon?

I don't know about any time soon, but probably within the year. Within the end of the year, you'll definitely see one. We've worked on something, as far as a music video. We're not sure -- it's in early stages; we don't know if we're going to end up using it. We might just do another video. There definitely will be a music video for this release. We've done that for every release, so we're going to stick it out.

Cool. I have one last question: You guys have a "tour dog," Luna. What's it like having her along when you guys hit the road?

Well, our first real reasoning for it was everyone loves a dog -- well most people, anyway, especially when they're really nice and adorable, like Luna. So whenever we're angry or something -- touring can get pretty frustrating, living in the same small quarters with four other dudes, or even five, depending if you have a merch guy. Six guys can start getting on each other's nerves, and it just brings an overall calmer mood to the van and the touring outfit in general when you have this adorable dog you can take on a walk or pet. She's always smiling at you; she's always nice. It's just nice having that companionship, you know?

Yeah.

And she's cool -- she doesn't take off; she doesn't go running away on us. She loves it. She has a great time. She loves hanging out with people at the shows. Our fans come up and say, "Hey, can I meet her?" She's running around, pulling people on skateboards. She's a lot of fun; she keeps us in high spirits.

Sounds like a good time. [laughs]

[laughs] It is a pretty good time! Hey, can I ask you a question?

Yeah, go for it!

What's your favorite track off the new album?

That's sort of a hard question because I feel like it flows really well.

Oh, cool.

I'd say the first one, "Holes," actually.

Nice!

I like the way it kicks off with a big bang.

Yeah, super fast?

Yeah. It seems like most bands will do a little buildup thing at the beginning of an album, but you guys just floor it right away. I like that a lot.

Right on, man! That's good to hear. We like that song a lot, too.

Pick up It Prevails' new album, Stroma.

For the band's upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.