Let’s face it: growing up is rubbish.
Out go endless nights of partying, disposable income and leeching off your parents; in come bills, mortgages, marriage, kids and, like, responsibility and stuff. It can be a shock to the system at the best of times, but when you’ve pledged yourself to music, living on the road and rarely being home to take control of your rapidly evolving life, reality can throw a few choice spanners in the works of anyone looking to forge a career in an already impossible industry.
For Miss May I, the last eight years have seen their ascent from plucky pretenders to legitimate contenders parallel awkwardly with the process of maturing from naive, over-eager college kids into streetwise young men. It’s no horrendous anomaly in the world of music, of course, but in the case of the Ohio quintet, the two duelling facets of their fundamental make-up – that of a band trying to make an impact on a scene awash with Next Big Things, and of five lads simply trying to find their way in the world – came to an ugly head last year, right at the cusp of what was meant to be the stepping stone that would carry them onto greatness.
“We had a really tough year,” reveals bassist/vocalist Ryan Neff today, as we catch up with the metalcore mainstays during a rare moment of off-time on this year’s Warped Tour. “Just young guys who have been on tour for years and years, getting used to being real adults. Now you have bills, you wanna get married, and you have to really work on how you can make things work. We were touring nine months a year, and in anyone’s life, when they have a ‘normal’ job, it only takes a couple of things to go wrong for it to go to shit. As it stands, we were all having a little bit of bad luck. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever worn ourselves out, and everybody was having a rough time.”
‘A rough time’ is one way to put it. ‘An absolute shitter’ might be more apt. While 2014 saw them release the Terry Date-produced rager Rise Of The Lion and tour with Trivium, Killswitch and Avenged, it may be surprising to learn that it was a potentially career-threatening 12 months for Miss May I. Trouble at home, with all five members struggling to pay mounting bills and drummer Jerod Boyd going through a divorce, coupled with frustration at their slow progression up the metal food chain and industry vultures “walking all over” the band, ensured that the guys were having a pretty crummy time come the tail end of last year. In the case of frontman Levi Benton, however, shit didn’t so much hit the fan as get rocket-launched at a 50-foot windmill.
“I lost my house,” sighs the singer wearily, 12 months of bullshit still evidently a bit too prominent in his rearview mirror. “It was to do with our contracts, but it happened while we were in the studio [3,000 miles away in Washington, Seattle], and my wife had to move out while we were writing Rise Of The Lion. So she’s bawling her eyes out down the phone, and I didn’t even get to go home while she and my whole house were just uprooted and moved. My whole life turned upside down.”
It can’t have been easy to record what was supposed to be a landmark record with all that going on?
“It was impossible,” Levi shoots back. “I was so mad about it. The whole of our career has been all happy smiles and flowers and stuff, and then last year just came out of nowhere…”
When anyone’s personal life takes a battering, it’s impossible for the effects not to seep into everything else around them. When everything else around them generally takes place thousands of miles from home, things can fester very, very quickly.
“We’re rather private personally,” explains Ryan. “We all like that separation of personal life and band life, and so when things go wrong, you can’t vent, because you’ve got 30,000 people watching everything you say. You have to keep a smile on your face, and when something goes wrong and you’re in this industry, you don’t have the luxury of going, ‘Stop. Wait. I have to take care of this.’ Literally everything else I’m doing is affected by things at home, but I have to carry on because I’ve got a tour coming up.”
“The last thing I wanted to do when we did Rise Of The Lion was record,” adds Levi. “My whole world was falling apart, I’m on the phone with lawyers, all this stuff is happening and people are telling me I have to go and track vocals.”
With things coming to a head in the Miss May I camp, the Rise Of The Lion era had unceremoniously begun, and while it saw them reach new audiences via stints with those aforementioned metal heavyweights, it also meant more lengthy bouts of touring – Ryan notes that for months it felt like they were playing “anywhere but home”. Finally, after what seemed like aeons without a break, the band were afforded some much-needed respite that, while offering some timely opportunities to fix troubles back home, also provoked some rather bleak reflections on their misfortunes.
“It was brutal,” recalls Levi. “We had three months – the most time we’ve ever had off – and there were so many times where we’d have calls, like, ‘Do we really wanna do this? Do we wanna do the band?’”
“Bands like us don’t make money when they’re not on the road,” adds Ryan. “I haven’t done anything in seven years besides being in a band, and now I have three months off wondering if things are ever gonna pick up for us again. I’m sure it sounds crazy for people looking in from the outside, but we were struggling financially and we were struggling emotionally.”
Soon, though, the five friends realised that not only did they want to keep the flame alive, but that they’d amassed enough anger, bitterness and frustration in the previous 12 months to keep it burning very fiercely indeed. So, with Rise Of The Lion barely a year old, they set about writing the next chapter in their story. It was time to show the world that Miss May I were united and royally pissed off.
“This time around, I knew I wanted to work hard and make up for stuff,” admits Levi. “I wanted people to know how I’ve been feeling for the last couple of years.”
One spin through new album Deathless, and it’s fair to say that no one will be left in two minds over how fired-up Levi and his comrades are. Opening with the blistering, less-than-subtle I.H.E., with its no-nonsense chorus breaking with a raucous, snarling ‘I hate everything / I hate everyone’, their fifth record is their heaviest, rawest offering ever. Stacked with jams fit to smash furniture to, it perfectly merges the muscular songwriting of their most recent work with the grittier sound of their early albums – something that, upon looking into the personnel tapped up for the album, is by no means a coincidence.
“We were listening to fans, and a lot of people were saying that it’d be really cool if we worked with [producer of their first two albums] Joey Sturgis again,” Levi explains. “It stuck in our minds, like, ‘That’d be a curveball.’ We did Machine [producer of Lamb Of God and Clutch], we did Terry Date, everyone’s seeing this progression, and we thought, ‘What if we write the heaviest record we’ve ever written and go back to Joey? Everyone will be blown away!’”
Joey, who last worked with the band on 2010 breakthrough Monument and has since put his touches to the likes of Asking Alexandria and Of Mice & Men, not only gave the band a heavier backbone, but urged them into taking their performances inside the studio to the next level.
“He pushed me!” chuckles Levi. “We did tracks and tracks and tracks…”
“There was a part in every song where Levi or I would be like, ‘I don’t think I can do this’,” adds Ryan, “and he’d say, ‘You have to, it sounds too good!’”
Luckily for us, the band persevered, and four months on it definitely seems safe to say that the results speak for themselves; in Deathless, Miss May I have not only produced the album of their career, but in themselves they’ve rediscovered a whole new sense of purpose. With their most difficult days behind them, a shit-hot new album in their ranks and the road ahead finally looking brighter, their mission statement is stronger than ever.
“That’s where ‘Deathless’ comes from,” concludes Levi. “We’ve been in this band for so long, and we’ve all got closer through this and wanted to prove a point: even when shit gets rough, we still got this. We are always gonna push through.”
*Deathless* is out now via Rise
When rock gets angry, the results are often spectacular…
Type O Negative
*Slow, Deep And Hard *(Roadrunner, 1991)
A semi-autobiographical take on the aftermath of a break-up and dealing with themes of revenge and suicide, Type O’s debut was a ruthless, sarcastic and royally pissed-off clothesline to the metal world.
ANGRIEST MOMENT: Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty Of Infidelity
The Great Southern Trendkill (Eastwest, 1996)
The tension in the band was at an all-time high when they set about recording their eighth album – with Philip Anselmo recording his part in a different studio to his bandmates – and it shows. Faster, harder and angrier, …Trendkill was pure, unadulterated fire.
ANGRIEST MOMENT: The Great Southern Trendkill
Iowa (Roadrunner, 2001)
Recorded at a time the band later referred to as the “darkest” of their career, with drug addiction, alcoholism, management issues and more running riot in the ranks, the Des Moines Nine held it together to record the most brutal album of their career.
ANGRIEST MOMENT: People = Shit
Grey Britain (Warner, 2009)
While their immense 2006 debut, Orchestra Of Wolves, was a no-holds-barred barrage of unbridled, youthful rage, Grey Britain focused the Herts punks’ venom towards more political waters. The results were vitriolic, impassioned and fucking spectacular.
ANGRIEST MOMENT: Misery