2017 is ten years since Miss May I started as a band, which is bonkers when you consider just how far they’ve come in that time. Starting back in high school, the teenagers grew into one of the biggest metalcore bands in our world, with five albums under their belt and another one due on June 2 through their new home on Sharptone Records. To find out how they got to this point, and how the band have evolved since their garage days in Ohio, we caught up with frontman Levi Benton for the album-by-album guide to all things Miss May I.
Apologies Are For The Weak
“80% of the record was a demo we had when we were a garage band playing on the weekend at our friends’ houses. We originally tracked them at a friend’s house and we didn’t know what we were doing because we were 15 years old, and when we got the record deal they wanted us to re-record six of the songs. It’s so funny listening to that record now because there’s no structure, we didn’t know what was going on.
“The craziest thing about that record is that because we were signed so young, the label wanted the record out in like June and we graduated in June. To to get the record done we’d finish school then drive two hours to the studio to record, and then at 4am we’d drive home and go back to school. We did that for like a month. One or two record labels wanted us to drop out of school and start recording right away, but Rise Records were the only ones who said we could finish it while we were in school and would wait until we graduated.
“We got our record deal in our last year of school. We were looking at college options and then boom this record deal comes through. Our whole mindset was to do a tour and release a record and if we like it then try again, if not then we’ll call it quits and go to college. That was eight years ago, so I guess we didn’t stop!”
“Monument was really a big learning experience for us because we learned how to write songs. If you sit back and listen to this record, it’s the first time Miss May I has verses and choruses that aren’t just sporadic cool parts smashed into each other. We never sent out press kits to try and get signed, it all came to us, so we were always learning. I remember studying and studying, trying to figure out what a Miss May I verse and chorus would sound like, how we’d be a metal band. That’s when we really got into As I Lay Dying and Killswitch because they’re so structured and write great songs, they’re not just heavy bands.
“We didn’t pay attention to a lot of the other bands coming out at the time, the only thing we thought that was saturated was between 2010-2011 we toured almost 11 months and we never toured with the same band. We thought ‘How the hell are there this many metal bands playing the same place and the same venues?’ Now, I could count every single tour flyer we’ve ever played and give you at least three bands that aren’t around any more.”
“Our influences going into At Heart were Bullet For My Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch – not that they were our favourite bands, but they were taking it above and beyond. We did Warped Tour but we thought, ‘Okay, what’s the next step?’ So we looked at the arena bands that are stepping up and we really wanted to do what we could to get out of what we’ve already done, we didn’t want to get stuck in this loop. So when it came to a producer, we chose Machine because of his work with Lamb Of God, who are outside of the Warped Tour loop and are a real metal band, which is what we wanted to do.
“At Heart was when Miss May I decided to be a career metal band, not just a heavy/mosh/Warped band. That whole record I think sounds so mature because we really went out of our way to make it that way, like adults.
“Working with Machine was scary because he was the first big producer we went to. Going to this producer with gold records was so weird to us because we only sold 20 records a day – we were even fanboying out that he met Lamb Of God! We ended up bro-ing down and it was a huge learning experience because as a producer he taught us how to be real musicians. Before we’d do stupid stuff to make it sound as heavy as possible, but with Machine it was like ‘Okay, you’re writing a song, but how are you going to make it feel, how are you going to make it emotional?’
“Machine was a vocal producer, he’s a madman. Every lyric I wrote he was right by my side telling me if it was good or bad, asking how I was feeling. There’s a Lamb Of God DVD that shows Randy Blythe running around the block getting winded because Machine told him to, then he runs into the recording studio to record because he needed to sound winded. When you’re recording vocals he’s in your face and throwing stuff in the room, it’s so different to me, but you can hear the emotion in it. It was the first time that I thought I could let fans hear emotion in my voice, I didn’t know I had that in me until meeting him.”
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Rise Of The Lion
“This was the fourth record and we were trying to find different inspiration. When you’re writing those many songs you obviously want to do something different every time and the idea came up of writing it from the fans’ perspective and to the fans. At the time we were getting letters and gifts from fans all the time, so we took all of those and implemented them into different ideas for songs, and that was the direction we started writing lyrics in.
“There were a lot of sad songs because we get so many letters that are very intense, deep, sad stories from young kids telling you that their song helped you out, and they tell you about what they went through. A lot of those letters are about things no-one in the band has really experienced either, so it’s really heavy to read, and to write from their perspective was really difficult for us.
“We went with a crazier producer this time – we went with Terry Date who did all the Pantera records. Talk about fanboying out, we were losing our shit! But when those records were recorded, he’s still in that mindset. When we recorded things he was talking about recording vocals through a rap pedal while we’re used to computers and plug-ins, but he’s using pedals for effects – it’s a much more old-school way than we were used to. This was right when Sempiternal came out which was so digitally produced, and we’re over here recording vocals with pedals and weird shit to make the record sound crazy, but that was just how Terry Date does things. It was a live and learn thing doing the Terry Date record because we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. I think it was the most controversial record we’ve released with fans and it all comes down to how it was tracked.”
“Between Rise Of The Lion and Deathless we started doing arena tours in the US with radio bands, we started doing huge rock festivals that accepted Miss May I, which was groundbreaking because they don’t really accept bands like us except Shinedown and Rob Zombie. All that happening was crazy and they saw our progression, so we went back to our first producer Joey Sturgis as a curveball.
“At that time all of our friends in bands are getting radio love and mainstream festival love, and all of our peers started releasing lighter records, and that wasn’t something we wanted to do. Everyone thought were going to release a softer record, so it was intentional that we made a heavier album to stand out because if we just did a radio record it would blend in with everyone else. We saw it from a mile away and we wanted to step outside of the box. It was probably the easiest record we made because it was like ‘Oh, make a heavy record? Shit, we know how to do this!’ We wanted to be true to this band and give the kids something really heavy.”
“This whole record feels so right, it feels so good, but it might just me our heads saying that because it’s so refreshing. It feels like we’re 16 again, about to release Apologies… again. All the ideas we’re coming up with is such a cool vibe that I don’t think we’ve had in ten years.
“We wanted to turn heads with this record, we wanted to write a record that’s bigger than Miss May I, bigger than what people are used to listening to. A lot of the stuff we put in the songs I feel like we’d have scratched in the past for being too out there, it’s not safe, but this time we want to go over the top. We have this new opportunity, and everything we’ve got is upgraded, we’ve got all these bigger people working with us. Every time I felt too comfortable we re-recorded or rewrote it, and I’m really happy I did that because that’s when the best songs come out. It’s a bigger, better Miss May I now.”
Miss May I’s new album Shadows Inside is out June 2 via Sharptone Records, and is available to pre-order from iTunes (opens in new tab).