Interview

w/Levi Benton of Miss May I

                                                                                                                                   Miss May I- Levi Benton center (Boulevardbrutal.com)
Lisa Sanchez

Miss May I are one of the most active and influential new wave metal bands currently in the scene. The band, originally from Troy, Ohio, is coming back to their home state with tour mates Parkway Drive, Thy Art Is Murder, and In Hearts Wake. The IRE tour will hit the Cleveland House of Blues on November 19 and Bogart's in Cincinnati on November 20. Miss May I lead singer Levi Benton took time to speak with me about the band's fast track success, their unfortunate missteps, and why they hate playing Ohio shows now.

The band recently released their fifth album in as many years, Deathless, in August. Miss May I have had an eventful 2015, with the release of Deathless the quintet recently returned from Mexico, a place where, "The fans are insane and it is very, very hot. Anywhere in Mexico or South America, fans go insane. It's not like any other show," Benton said. The lead singer said there weren't many places on the map the band hadn't toured, but they have their eye on South Africa, Russia, and Indonesia for the future.

It's interesting to hear Benton mention future international touring considering Miss May I's current tour is comprised of only Australian metal bands. I asked Benton if the Aussie's made Miss May I feel welcome as the only yanks on the tour. Benton answered, "It's the first time in a long time where everyone was cool. We all clicked right away...They all crack jokes at us." 

Benton mentioned that the crowd response for this tour had been excellent and the singer believes it's because of the fresh material off of Deathless. "Every show is sold out or ten tickets away from being sold out. This is the first time we've ever played a new record live and we cut old singles, old songs, to show people who we are now.  It's the best decision we ever made and the crowd is going insane. We should have made that change a long time ago," said Benton

Although Deathless was just released in August, only a little over a year has passed since Miss May I released 2014's Rise of the Lion. The band has had an amazing turnaround time for new material and unlike other bands who aggressively tour, Benton told me it's because the guys have learned to write and record while on the road. In fact, according to Benton, the reason Deathless came out so quickly after Rise of the Lion is because the band was slotted to play the main stage at Warped Tour and wanted to deliver new songs to their fans.

"That started sparking us," Benton said. "We learned how to record on tour and we were writing all the time. We didn’t have to stress out to write a record. We already had 20 some songs. We can just throw them together and finish it up." The singer added, "We already started writing the new record. We at least hum ideas into our phones, just so we don't forget good ideas." Benton confessed Miss May I had already written three songs for their next release, an ambitious and promising beginning for next year's album.

Deathless is unlike any album the band has previously released. It retains the band's gritty, thrash-inspired sound with catchy hooks, but Miss May I also aimed to convey a different message this time around. The singer said, "I think this is the first time we’ve been pissed off on a record. We've always been a heavy band, but we really had something to say on this record.” Benton continued, "It was cool to do something new. It just sort of fell into place, it just happened. We were just pissed at the last couple of years and it was cool to show fans another side of us." 

The rough year that Benton mentioned included Miss May I suffering contract conflicts as well as the singer going through an unfortunate financial loss. "When it rained it poured," the singer said. "Becoming a bigger band, there’s a lot more corruption and stuff we weren’t ready for. Experiencing that put us in a weird mindset. But, we're getting over it and we're learning it and making changes." Despite the hardships, Benton believes Deathless to be Miss May I's strongest record yet. Maybe great suffering does yield great art.

The band's personal hardships weren't the only thing that influenced Deathless. While recording the album, Miss May I brought back Joey Sturgis, who worked with the band on their first two albums, Apologies Are for the Weak and Monuments, as well as producing albums for Asking Alexandra, Emmure, and Attila."He always challenges us as musicians. He understands what we want to sound like. He doesn’t have to feel us out. He doesn’t have to sit there and study us," Benton offered. The singer, touching on the band's Midwestern roots, continued, "We all grew up listening to the same local bands. He really understands our inspiration and what we're going for. It's what makes Joey the sixth member of Miss May I."

Benton and the band were signed to Rise Records while they were still in high school in 2007. Being signed to a major record label and propelled to almost instant success can be a harrowing ordeal for a teenager, however, Benton seemed to have learned a lot in the last eight years. The singer offered the most valuable lesson he's learned since Miss May I was first signed, "Don't stress out about what other people are doing. Patience, patience, patience. There’s so much stuff that happens in one day when you’re on the road in music. A band could come out of nowhere and be the biggest thing ever, then just disappear." 

Miss May I have come a long way since their Ohio beginnings. Benton acknowledged the life lessons he and the band have gained since they first burst onto the music scene. Although it was a great opportunity to be exposed to the music industry so early, Benton said, "It's really fast and scary. The faster you explode the bigger the fall. Don’t stress a lot, it’s easier said than done."

The singer also explained the importance of staying modest and being realistic about himself and the band's career. "You come off stage after playing in front of thousands of people and think you're on top of the world. You have such an adrenaline rush every night. Once you finally level out, you have to humble yourself."

In addition to becoming more even-tempered and business savvy, Miss May I have also evolved musically. However, Benton attributed this to the member's tight knit nature and openness with each other. "It's the same old school process. All of us writing together. We had a little writer's block on this last record, but we were all there for each other and talked each other through it. There’s a lot more brotherhood in the writing," Benton explained. "We can change ideas and tell someone if we don’t like them. We’ve done it for so long we're really just like, 'Hey man, my idea sucks can you help me?'"

The writing process is relaxed ad generally comes easy to Miss May I, but the band have to continuously tried to challenge themselves and take their music to the next level. Benton explained that over five albums, the band has released more than 50 songs so now their main concern is always trying to find something no other song has.
 
Deathless is not Miss May I's first stand-out album. The band has consistently made each album a little bit different from the next, which often draws a diverse fan base. Benton commented, "We change the records, the last one was more mainstream. It’s really cool to get on the radio audience's radar. When they come out [to shows], they don’t really know this world. It’s really cool to open up a whole new world for them. There’s a lot of Warped Tour kids that don’t know the radio rock atmosphere either. It's great to be the band that bridges communities to open up to other music."

As Benton explained, Miss May I's shows are usually packed, sweaty, and full of churning fans. Considering fans of all genres sometimes seem more concerned with taking a video of the performance instead of actually watching the band perform, I asked Benton if he thought widespread use of smartphones took away from the live experience.

The singer responded, "I don’t think it does in our genre of music. You can’t really stand still. You don’t have the opportunity to not get pushed or smashed into a wall. It’s not as big of a deal for us as it is for other genres. It comes with the times. Technology is too powerful and too fast to fight. You just play the best you can." Benton added that he prefers to use advanced technology to put on a better stage show for fans and record concepts for future songs.

Miss May I has been around long enough to experience a number of technological advancements and changes in the music scene. The band was directly affected by the New Wave American Heavy Metal in the early 2000s, including bands like As I Lay Dying, Darkest Hour, and Killswtich Engage. The band still encapsulates the genres aggressive vocal style while integrate groove-driven guitar and drums. But, considering New Wave American Heavy Metal bands have faced a steady decline in recent years, I asked Benton where Miss May I fit on the metal continuum.  

"I really feel like we're just floating solo... It's so weird because we used to be with all of these other bands. I don’t think we can categorize ourselves with those bands because they're a decade older than us. I don't know how to describe it. Parkway Drive are sweet, but they're like a generation before us." Giving the question some thought, Benton took pride in the band's singular sound and lack of categorization, he stated, "I love being the only other band with this style. We want to be 40 or 50 years old and say the name of our band and people are like 'Whoa!' There's garage metal, bar metal, we want something bigger and next level and I don’t think a lot of other bands take it to the next level."

Considering the band will be visiting Ohio very soon, I wanted to know what the singer thought about playing Ohio shows at this stage in the band's career. His response was so honest and real it was hilarious. The singer stated, "I hate it with a passion. We just get so many haters in Ohio. It’s the only place where the majority of people come to hate us." 

Benton continued, "For a metal band out of Ohio that’s just what you get. It’s not like 21 Pilots or Walk the Moon. It’s a different kind of love. I just remember being a fan and seeing an Ohio band that got big, like, 'Screw those guys, man.' It's karma we get back now." Benton knows that the band also has loyal Ohio fans, but described his perspective on the situation. Benton said, "I love the fans that do want to be there. The other 70 percent that just want to hate on us just make the show very difficult. It's all the people who came to our local shows, now they come to our big shows and glare. It's like, 'I'm just following my dreams, man.' From my point of view, there's 200 people in the back shooting stares. Like dammit," The singer laughed, and appeared to take the ill will in good stride. 

In addition to reuniting with people who have seen the band from the beginning, Miss May I also have family in Ohio "The backstage is full of 30-40 family members. It's like a family reunion which sounds cool; but it’s not," Benton chuckled. He shared an anecdote about not allowing family members on the bus, only to find they somehow found their way on board. "There's lots of family on the bus and backstage who want to hang out, but you're just like 'Sorry, I have to go do an autograph signing.' Then our moms ask for water and it's like 'You guys drank all the waters!'" Benton's account of family backstage is by far my favorite band member story. Of course, I can totally relate, because my mom would drink all of the water also.

Despite the fact that Ohio can be a difficult tour date for Miss May I, Benton attributes the band's style and success to their Ohio roots. The singer stated, "When we were growing up and started writing music, we were listening to local Ohio bands. We weren't listening to national bands. Music was flourishing through the internet. They [Ohio bands] become our favorite bands. Ohio metal doesn’t sound like anywhere else. It’s awesome to listen to our band and other bands around Ohio. It's a Midwest thing. I love that so much."

Miss May I will continue the Ire tour with Parkway Drive until the beginning of December and then will go home for the holidays. However, Benton promises the band already has a new tour planned for early 2016.

Miss May I will be playing House of Blues in Cleveland Thursday, November 19 and Bogart's in Cincinnati the next day on November 20. Tickets are currently available, but as Benton said, the shows have been selling out fast. Don't miss these Ohio metal kings return to their home state and conquer friends, fans, and foes alike.