Hey everyone! Malcolm Turner, your friendly neighborhood Metal Director and host of Metal Migraine, here! I’d first like to apologize for being so distant for most of last semester. Nonetheless, I am here and in rare form. So to make up for it, here’s an interview that I conducted a while back with Miss May I frontman Levi Benton at their stop at Pop’s Nightclub in Sauget on the AP Fall Tour in November of last year. We chatted it up about a number of topics – ranging from the tour itself and the band’s new album At Heart to crazy fan stories, gourmet cooking and going back-and-forth about our favorite metalcore bands.
How are you doing tonight, Levi?
I’m good. I just ate some local St. Louis food, so I’m excited.
Right on! So, you’re on the AP Fall Tour 2012. How’s it been going so far?
It’s been very awesome! The amount of kids that have been coming out has been really crazy, especially all the metalheads. It’s a really heavy tour, so for this many metalheads to come out around the US has been awesome. It’s been great!
Isn’t the tour also in its last few weeks?
Yeah, we have a week and a half left and then we fly over to Europe and do our headliner there.
What have been some of your favorite shows, moments and memories from the tour?
So far, Fort Lauderdale was one of my favorite shows. It’s been insane; every show’s been really good. Obviously, we’ve had our sketchy shows and bad days, but I think Fort Lauderdale’s been my favorite show. I think tonight’s looking like it’s going to be great, too.
I think it will, too. Can you tell me specifically what was so cool about Fort Lauderdale?
The amount of kids that came out and gave 110% for every band that played. They were just insane; they loved it!
Speaking of 100% – I’ve seen you guys play and you give 100% and the crowd sings every word and passionately enjoys the music. What is your favorite type of crowd participation?
I’d probably have to say that I’ve got two favorites. My number one favorite would have to be everyone jumping. I like how, when I start headbanging, everyone will start randomly jumping. My second favorite, because it gets a little wild, is crowd surfing. I love when people crowd surf because when they come up from the barricade and we make eye contact, I always try to give them a high five.
I know that when you guys did Warped Tour, you played to about 5,000 people a day. What is it like to go on stage and see an ocean of people as far as the eye can see? How does that feel?
It’s definitely crazy. The biggest thing for us is that some of the songs we play are the songs that we’ve played in our basement for ten kids back in the day, and now we’re playing for 5,000 kids. It’s seriously the biggest adrenaline rush that you can ever get. No drug or drink can give you the rush that we get when we’re on stage.
Which do you favor as a form of crowd participation: hardcore dancing or moshing?
I like moshing a lot more. Dancing is made for certain parts. When you mosh, you can mosh to a chorus, a verse or a breakdown and nobody really gets hurt. I feel like, even though moshing’s rough, it’s a lot friendlier. If someone falls you pick them up and you’re not really throwing fists.
It’s a family environment.
Yeah! I even feel like it was invented when people just headbanged so hard that they ran into each other and were like, “Let’s just keep doing this the whole time!” And it’s cool because when you’re moshing, you’re headbanging the whole time. You’re not stopping and throwing your arms around. You’re just headbanging, pushing your friends and having a blast.
Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth. So, you guys have been all the around the world. What are some of your favorite places to visit?
Everywhere in Australia is pretty beautiful. It looks like Jurassic Park, especially on the outskirts. We love the UK because it feels like the US on steroids. Outside of the UK and Australia, crowd-wise, anywhere in South America is probably the best in the entire world. I feel like I’m Justin Bieber when we play there. South America is nuts!
What do you think are some of the main differences between foreign audiences and American audiences?
I think that for us, since we’re a US band, the biggest thing is just the appreciation for the show and the band. When we play South America or Europe, we play there once a year or maybe two times a year if we’re lucky. In the US, we’re playing three or four times a year; so if they don’t see us now, they’re going to see us in three months. In the US, our crowd doesn’t appreciate the shows as much as the foreign crowds do. But for the future, what we’re working on now is, we’re going to play the US less and play everywhere equally. We’re going to try to space it out a lot more so everyone goes 110%, has a blast and doesn’t take it for granted.
I know that, after this tour, you guys are going to be on the road in the UK with Bleed from Within opening for you. Could you tell me more about that?
It’s our second headliner over there for the At Heart album. Scuzz TV’s helping sponsor it, which is really cool. It’s a big metal thing over there. We’ve never met those guys but, like what we did here, we’re really trying to push the metal crowd and the “Stay Metal” slogan. When we got the whole lineup, we wanted two European bands and two US bands. So it’s us, Texas in July, Bleed from Within and the other European opener. We’re trying to keep a big mix. I’m excited to meet those guys and they’re heavy as crap, so it’s going to be awesome.
Have you heard their new song?
I have not.
It’s really heavy! Whenever you guys get a chance, look up the song “It Lives in Me”. It’s the new track from their upcoming album and it’s great. I’ve been a fan of theirs for the past two or three years.
I wish you were there in the UK watching the show.
I do too! I’d love to be a part of that type of crowd. From all the things that you’ve seen and experienced, could you tell me a bit about the UK’s music culture?
Yeah, it’s crazy how music is so much more meaningful to people over there. In the US, everyone’s in a band; so every city has thousands of bands. There are not that many bands over there so when a band does make it big, everyone latches on to it and they love it. It reminds me of the 80’s and 90’s when bands were rock stars – that’s how it is in the UK. I feel like, in the US, it’s so accessible to be in a band and like all of this music, that people don’t appreciate it.
Let’s talk about At Heart. It hit number 30 on the Billboard charts and sold over 12,000 copies first week. How does that make you feel?
It’s really crazy! [laughs] It’s actually funny. When we did our first record and hung out at the record label, we always joked like, “Man, when we’re done as a band, we hope that we at least sell 10,000 records.” Then when this album came out, it did over 12,000 in the first week and for a metal band to be on the Billboard Top 40 is a whole other world. So we’re just happy to get recognized as a metal band because we’re not trying to go with any fads or any times. We’re just five guys in a metal band and lately people are taking an ear to it and loving it.
The album marks a very mature shift in your music with a bit of a darker feel. How do you think that your involvement contributed to the collective effort?
We didn’t want to make the perfect record; we wanted to make a record that people could feel. So when we were recording, there were plenty of tracks that were perfect, but we wouldn’t put them on the record because they weren’t believable. You couldn’t hear the sadness or the excitement in my voice, and that was really different for this time around. We’ve never done that before. We would do a one-line take for 30 minutes and [the producer] would go, “I still don’t believe you.” And I’d be getting really pissed, singing into a mic and then he’d finally go, “OK, I believe you. Let’s move on.”
You’re talking, of course, about Machine, who produced the record. I know that he used a similar technique with Lamb of God when they were recording Sacrament. He made Randy [Blythe, vocalist] run around the block, then come back to sing the outro to “Walk with Me in Hell”. Knowing things like that are in the background of a record lets you know the level of emotion and effort that’s put into it.
It made us better musicians, too. To us, we look at this as our first record. The other two records happened, but this one’s the first one that we’re real musicians on. Even live, when I say those lyrics, I have to mean them. I can’t just play the perfect show for everybody. I want people to feel what I’m feeling. At the end of the day it just makes us better musicians.
Another thing that’s made clear on the album is your scream has changed. Is there a certain technique that you went with or has your voice just naturally changed?
All the records we’ve done, we liked them, but they never sounded like we do live. I always thought the reason was because, when you’re going in [the studio] to record, you’re about a foot away from a $40,000 mic doing all this crazy stuff, and that’s not really what we do live. So when we did this record, I actually just used a SM58 and hooked it up like we do live and we recorded the whole album like a live show. I think that’s what made it come out as real as it sounded.
Now, the video for “Day By Day” was just released a few days ago and it’s been doing really well on YouTube. I really like the concept with you guys getting arrested. Tell me about the concept of the video, how it started and how it became what it is.
We wanted to have a concept of people getting held back and by the end of the video they finally just let it all go. So, we just took it to the extreme and were like, “Let’s get arrested and have a SWAT team holding back this crowd that just wants to let go.” Then they put us in a van that gets flipped over. When we get out of the van, the SWAT team’s gone and everyone gets to let go. There’s a whole concept of “Day By Day” when the breakdown comes and says, “I hope this makes you recognize” – to finally exhale and let go of everything. We just took it to the extreme with the storyline and had crazy stuff happen.
The fans in the video look like they enjoyed it. How was having the big circle pit around you at the end of the video?
It’s actually funny. They wanted the kids to mosh while they were looking from the camera and we were like, “This is a little awkward.” These kids were just moshing around us and someone was joking and said, “Circle pit!” and then a hundred kids just started circle pitting, and we were like “This is how we’re going to do the video!” We love circle pits and that’s how we ended up finishing the video. It was awesome.
Were you guys actually inside the van when it was tipped over?
No, we weren’t inside of it. If we were, we would’ve definitely gotten hurt. It took us three tries to flip the van. It’s actually a lot harder to flip a car than we thought. [laughs] Every time they tried to flip it, it would roll off. So, we actually had to get a tow truck, tie a chain to it and when the kids pushed it, the tow truck actually started pulling forward. So the tow truck helped.
Alright, let’s talk about metal. At what age did you discover that you could scream?
It was probably our freshman in high school. We played a bunch of cover songs and listened to Hawthorne Heights and Underoath, all that stuff was really big. The first song I actually screamed in, because I was singing originally, was the screaming part in the song “What It Is to Burn” by Finch. They were like, “Oh, just try it” and I ended up trying it and thought, “This is cool.” Then I started putting in Headbanger’s Ball CDs and was finding all these new bands that screamed all the time and that slowly got us into writing that kind of music. The biggest [bands] that got us to write [heavy music], when we started, were As Blood Runs Black and All Shall Perish. All Shall Perish’s vocalist [Hernan “Eddie” Hermida] is probably the reason why I try to do the crazy range, because he’s phenomenal. Doing the highs, lows and mids all the time was what we wanted to do because we don’t just want to be that band that, like I said, just wants to record well. We want to be the band that’s crazy and emotional on records.
“Wage Slaves” is one of my favorite songs by them.
The Price of Existence is my favorite All Shall Perish record. I can’t get enough of it. It’s perfect!
It seems that the best thing about being a metalhead today is that you can have access to bands from all across the board at your disposal and it helps to mold your taste. Do you agree?
Yeah! I do vocal lessons and I always tell people that everyone’s voice is different and that, when you listen to all these bands, they may sound like this but you’re physically not built to sound like that. But if you’re a fan of that band and you’re trying to sing after them, the sound that comes out is what makes you, you. That’s why everyone sounds so unique and different. I think that the amazing thing about screaming is that no one can really sound the same; it’s always so unique.
What are some of your all-time favorite bands that have helped influence your music? What bands have helped make you who you are?
As I Lay Dying is definitely the biggest one that really sets Miss May I where we are. [We like] a lot of All That Remains, Unearth, Darkest Hour and, recently, In Flames. [This is] weird, because it’s not really the thing that everyone would say, but we’re really interested in Five Finger Death Punch. We’ve been researching how they do everything because their story’s really cool. But As I Lay Dying and All That Remains are probably the biggest ones, along with Killswitch [Engage]. Those are the ones that, when we’re playing, that’s what we’re dreaming of, and it’s cool to be where we’re at now. When you’re in a metal band, as a local band you’re like, “Yeah, I want to play on stage with twenty-something cabs with all these lights.” [Now when] we’re playing these shows and I turn around to get a drink of water, there’s twenty-something cabs and lights and I’m like, “Holy crap! We’re really doing this!”
Speaking of Killswitch Engage, what do you think about their recent reunion?
I’m a huge fan of Howard [Jones, former vocalist]. I love that Jesse [Leach] is back. It’s awesome and I’m excited to hear new Killswitch, but I think the only reason I’m stuck on Howard is because when I first heard Killswitch, it was with Howard. So, to me, [Killswitch] with Howard is the original lineup. But with the actual original [lineup] it’s really cool because “Fixation on the Darkness” and all that stuff is really cool to listen to. With those songs it’s cool to have the original. I also love their new band, Times of Grace [side project of guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and vocalist Jesse Leach].
I still haven’t ever listened to Times of Grace. How do you like it?
It’s End of Heartache on steroids, and that, to me, is obviously the best Killswitch record. No offense to any of the members because I know they’ve written new records, but that’s a classic. The Times of Grace record, I feel, was the next thing they’ve written that was actually up to par with End of Heartache. If Times of Grace came out under the Killswitch name, I guarantee it’d be bigger than The End of Heartache. It sounds amazing. The only thing that stinks is that it’s under a new name so nobody really knows it that well, which sucks because it’s a great record. I wish it was huge but, obviously, they’re a new band.
I know that some time ago, you guys toured out in Mexico with As I Lay Dying and you got to get up on stage with Tim [Lambesis, vocalist] and sing a song. Tell me about that.
That’s a funny thing. Like I was saying earlier, all we think about is As I Lay Dying. So when I actually got to sing a song with them, to turn around and actually see them playing, and Tim’s got his arm around me and I’m screaming, I was just like, “This is literally my entire life’s dream.” It was my 21st birthday and I was singing what I think was “The Sound of Truth” and it was the craziest thing in my life.
Let’s rewind a little bit to the first album, Apologies are for the Weak. I know that you recorded it while you were in high school. What was it like being a heavy music fan in high school, let alone recording an album for a well-known record label?
It was crazy because it was a night-and-day difference. We were in a pretty substantially large local band and when we got the record deal it was crazy to come to school. That was when Drop Dead, Gorgeous and The Devil Wears Prada were the biggest things in the world, so it was crazy to come to school and say, “Oh yeah, you know Drop Dead, Gorgeous and The Devil Wears Prada? We’re on their record label!” No one believed us. Then when we started coming to school late and had the record label calling the school like, “Hey, they’re actually recording an album” the teachers were like, “Ok, we understand” and everyone backed it. It was funny because all the preppy kids were like, “What do you mean they get to come to school late?” and we’re like, “We’re on a record label; we can do whatever we want! We’re recording a record!” If you go to our school, our CD’s framed in the front office.
That’s awesome, to be commemorated for something like that! Going back to the subject of meeting your heroes, the Monument Deluxe Reissue has a track called “Rust” on it that features Brandan Schieppati from Bleeding Through on it. What was it like working with him?
He took us out on our second tour. It was awesome because he was so 100% for it and we didn’t even have to ask him to re-do it. The first take was perfect. It was cool to work with such a legend because that was our second album, so to have something that big happen was like, “Holy crap, we’re actually doing this metal stuff!” He actually respected us, so it was great.
I’ve got a couple of fan questions for you before we wrap this up. Colby asks, “Paper or plastic?”
Elliot asks, “Do you have any lucky underwear or gear that you wear for luck on stage?”
I have “show” underwear. We have “show” underwear and socks, and I change everything, but I try to keep the underwear as long as possible. It’s not lucky, it just feels weird to put new underwear on and play a show. I feel like if I’m clean on stage it doesn’t feel right. I have to be disgusting and smelly. That’s what a show’s all about.
Courtney asks, “What’s the craziest thing that a fan’s asked you to sign?”
In Vegas, a guy whipped his balls out and was like, “Sign this!” I didn’t sign it. That was probably the craziest thing.
Did you tell him to get [psychological] help?
No, I said, “I’ll sign your arm, not your ball sack. Come on, dude!”
Fair enough. What are your favorite things to do on and off tour?
On tour, I love playing video games a lot. It’s good to pass the time. I’m married so, off tour, I hang out with the lady. We have a business at home so we just work a lot. But it’s awesome, just hanging out and chilling. I’m trying to learn how to cook; that’s my new hobby. I suck at it, but I’m trying.
What’s your favorite dish?
I’m a big Italian fan! I like pastas, spaghettis, lasagnas and stuff.
What is in the future for Miss May I?
We’re actually already working on it. We’ve been writing a lot of the new record. We’re really excited to get this record out because we feel like At Heart is our first record because we’re actually a metal band on it. Our name is out there and everything, so we’re excited to work on the new record. We’re working on it now and hopefully we’ll be recording it soon. We have a lot of touring – [places] like Thailand, Australia, Europe, and a lot of US. We have some big things for the summer. We’ll be really busy, so this won’t be your last time seeing us.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Miss May I is currently preparing to begin a tour of Australia, where they will be supporting Bullet For My Valentine.
You can get all of the bands tour dates here!
Their new album At Heart is out now, which you can get here!
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