February 13, 2015 Interview – Levi Benton of Miss May I
Modern Metal music has seen such a saturation of bands over the past decade, it is often time hard to keep track of them. Looking to stand out among the crowd, Troy, Ohio’s Miss May I began their journey while still in High School back in 2008 releasing their major label debut Apologies Are for the Weak. Spending the past eight years honing their sound and performing live, the band has developed into a dominant force in the heavy music scene. Looking take matters to another level, their 2014 album Rise Of The Lion shattered their previous success. Now they look to continue steady touring in 2015, ready to take on whatever challenge comes next. Recently CrpyticRock had the chance to speak with lead vocalist Levi Benton about the creative process behind their latest album, the connection they have with their fans, struggles, new found goals, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Miss May I has been together some eight years now and in that time the band has released a series of successful albums, toured all over, and built a strong following. When you first began the band did you ever imagine you would be where you are right now?
Levi Benton – No way, I think we have surpassed our bucket list multiple times. It has been really crazy.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is. The band’s sound certainly has grown over the years and become more diverse. Are you satisfied with the progression of the sound to this point?
Levi Benton – Yeah, we always try to change it up each record, so the next record will probably be different as well. We always like to try new things, even if they don’t work. It is more experimental and fun for us.
CrypticRock.com – Right, you have to keep trying new things and see what works. That is what being an artist is all about. Rise Of The Lion is really strong evidence of the band’s growth. It will be a year of that record’s release in April. Looking back, what do you think attributed to the growth?
Levi Benton – On Rise Of The Lion, we had a really great team behind us, who really pushed us to write a diverse record, which we never really thought about writing. As we went into writing this heavy record, we tried to make each song different and give it its own little vibe. I feel like that diversity is a really important part of the record. It is really exciting for us but also really challenging, because we are used to just playing riffs and throwing them in the record. This time, we were focused on writing every song a little different. I think that is the biggest difference between Rise Of The Lion and our other records.
CrypticRock.com – When you are taking a different approach, as you stated, you are really pushing boundaries and trying to see what you can get out of yourself when making the music. What were some of the greatest struggles you had in the studio?
Levi Benton – It was difficult lyric-wise. We wanted to make everything really pop and be meaningful. We were working with Terry Davis for the first time, and he had me doing vocals on the first day. Usually, the order is drums, guitar, and weeks of other people recording, but I came in and started demoing the same songs multiple times to see if I could find anything different each day. That was the most challenging part for me because never recorded the same song seven times before.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a lot of stress. What were some of your inspirations for the lyrics?
Levi Benton – Our last record was really personal and I over-thought it, so I wanted this one to be a little different. I didn’t want to write another personal record again, I wanted to spice it up a little bit. We had the idea to write it from fans’ letters, because we have gotten so many letters from all of these fans from these past years and we wanted to write from their point of view. For this record, we put ourselves in their eyes. Every song was more of experiences our fans went through because I wanted to write them their own songs.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great way for you to connect with the audience. What is it like interacting with your fans and meeting them at shows? Can you recall any especially memorable moments?
Levi Benton – There are so many! The most memorable things about meeting fans for me is when I meet the really young fans, like 13 years or younger. I remember being that age and going to shows, so its awesome to influence fans that young and have them be a part of the Miss May I family. Usually when you think of Metal shows you think of big, burly dudes beating the crap out of each other but it is also a crowd of kids and parents having a good time. The best part too is when children and their parents can connect through our band. That’s priceless.
CrypticRock.com – It is always a really incredible moment to be a young kid falling in love with music for the first time. Clearly, to them, you are one of their musical influences, but who are yours?
Levi Benton – For me Killswitch Engage is a really big influence, as well as As I Lay Dying and Lamb Of God. Those are probably the big top three.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some heavy hitters for sure. When you are writing music, are you listening to a lot of music to help your creative process?
Levi Benton – I get inspiration from my influences. I listen to get the gears rolling. It’s cool when I can show a friend an underground band that I like and tell them that I hear a lot of Miss May I in it. I can listen to it and tell how we influenced them, and that’s pretty cool.
CrypticRock.com – That must be a great feeling. Progression is something a band certainly strives for. With that being said, do you sometimes feel resistance from fans after your growth or do you feel more of an acceptance?
Levi Benton – It is 50/50 really. There are a lot of kids who hate that we changed and wish we sounded like our first record, but then there are newer fans that we gain with every record, and then hear our old catalog and enjoy it as well. It depends. You have to have an open-minded fan and they have to understand that the band want to grow as well.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. How do you feel when perhaps some people are not as open to the changes?
Levi Benton – It is what it is. It bums me out that they aren’t open-minded enough. Most of the time if it sounds different or made with a different record producer the quality isn’t the same as the last record, but they won’t even give the record a chance, but I think you need to be a lot more open-minded.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is essential to be open about music. Would you say that you are very open-minded with the bands that you enjoy and look up to?
Levi Benton – I do that too sometimes. I admit I will be sort of bummed, but I give it a chance. I will listen to it a few times then understand the sound they are at. For instance, one of my favorite bands, In Flames, released a very different album recently, and me and my wife didn’t know how we felt about it at first. Then we just drove around with it playing for about a week then we understood where it was coming from. That’s when you start to appreciate the writing. I love getting tweets from fans who give it a chance then finally understand our record.
CrypticRock.com – That is what it is all about. Sometimes it needs a few listens before you get it. As stated, one should always be open-minded though. The band recently released a new video for the track “Hero With No Name.” It is really quite fitting to include these everyday people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. What was the band’s objective in using the music video to relay a message onto society?
Levi Benton – The video was originally just supposed to be a live video, and then I had the idea to add some meaning to it. I wrote the script to have the soldiers come in and include clips from modern, inspirational military footage. We weren’t going for a huge response, but it’s been bigger than we’ve ever thought. Everyone has been loving it, and we’ve been getting so many touching letters from soldiers since that video, and we didn’t even mean to do that. That’s some of the magic of music. You can touch somebody on accident and brighten up their day.
CrypticRock.com – That is what so great about music, it has that effect on people, no matter who they are. Now that you have been in the music industry for a while now, you have been gaining so much experience. If you could choose one moment or event that has changed or widened your view on the music industry, what would it be?
Levi Benton – A big changing moment for me was when we just finished touring main stage for Warped Tour after having a great momentum. At that point, we accomplished everything we though we could accomplish, so what do you do from here on out? We ended up getting on the Five Finger Death Punch tour, and they are a heavier band, but a radio band. We toured with them and played a hockey arena for the first time, so being there reset my clock. I realized that there is so much more you can do. There’s not just a cap. That was a moment that changed my whole life. It re-inspired me to be in the band, because I lost a lot of ambition after doing everything we wanted to do. When we walked into that venue for the first time, I thought “You could do this”. Since then, we have pushed ourselves harder and harder.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you have that drive and determination. Where are your goals at right now?
Levi Benton – Right now, we are planning on putting together a big headliner in the future. We are planning on doing a US headliner but that’s all we have so far. We haven’t done a headliner in a while because we’ve been doing a lot of festivals, so it’s about time.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting to hear. Right now you are in the midst of the Frozen Flame Tour with August Burns Red, Northlane, Erra, and Fit For A King. How is this tour been so far?
Levi Benton – It’s been awesome; the shows are amazing every day. The crazy thing is, we haven’t played to this type of crowd before. Like I said, we’ve been playing to different markets at festivals, so going back to this was awesome because every fan that comes here is 100% into every heavy, thrashy band. We sort of stuck out in the past tours we’ve done, which has been fine, but we haven’t had the entire crowd. This tour has been amazing because all of the crowd is our kind of crown. It’s been a blast.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it, and it certainly is a great line-up. My last question for you pertains to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and horror films. If you are a fan of horror films, what are some of your favorites?
Levi Benton – All of the Hellraiser movies are my favorite. I love the A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and Puppet Master (1989) as well. They are all older ones, because my mom was a big Horror movie fan and those are all the ones she made me watch growing up. The movie I thought was the scariest as a child though was Salem’s Lot (1979), although now I not scared of it anymore. Child’s Play (1988) was the first horror movie I had ever watched; I was probably 5 or 6. I wasn’t very scared afterwards because my mom dressed me as that for Halloween.