Metalcore. It’s a word most metal heads above the age of 17 hate to hear. It conjures up images of over-stylized clothing, fashionable hair and the idea of style over substance. For the most part that’s true, but every so often a band within the genre turns expectations on their ear.
Such a band is Troy, Ohio’s Miss May I. Formed in 2006, the band quickly found a fan base for what they do based on their lives shows and from that came a record deal with Rise Records. This summer sees the release of their third album At Heart (arriving June 12). I got to sit down with Miss May I frontman Levi Benton to discuss the new album, the songs, the whole Christian band deal and the curious fact that Mr. Benton does not like heavy metal
CRAVEONLINE: Your new record At Heart is about to drop. How are you feeling now that the release date is so close?
LEVI: I’m just really nervous, I know that every record is make or break, there are no second chances in the music business. If people don’t like the record then it’s the end of Miss May I. I guess every time you finish a record it’s like flipping a coin.
CRAVEONLINE: Does fan reaction worry you that much?
LEVI: Oh yeah. I’m always checking my Twitter and my Facebook statues to see if people are liking the songs, or what people don’t like about them or what we can do better next time. It’s just nerve wracking.
CRAVEONLINE: How much of that plays into what you write?
LEVI: Criticism is always constructive and most of the time people are right. They’ll say this song sounds to much like this or all the songs end the same. When we go back in to write we’ll think about the hate we got for a certain thing and try to change it.
CRAVEONLINE: So what have you done differently with At Heart?
LEVI: This time we worked with a new producer, Machine, who was amazing and that made a big difference. We sort of wrote each song as a football play with little parts and not so much structure. We didn’t want this CD to be so structured. We did some pre-production with The Devil Wears Prada’s guitar player Chris Rubey and he put us in the mindset that “Hey you’re the band and you should do whatever you want.” It opened up our minds that we could do so much now. Screw music theory and the structure, let’s just play what we think sounds good.
CRAVEONLINE: Are you happy with At Heart?
LEVI: Yeah. This sounds like the songs that got us signed and got us where we are today and it’s nice to release a record like that. I think Monument, people liked it, but there was a lot of reaction of people liking the older songs and how it used to be. I think we just grew up to fast. We broke those walls down this time and said we’re kids who play thrash metal, let’s go crazy.
CRAVEONLINE: So do you think Miss May I fell into the dreaded sophomore slump?
LEVI: Not a slump. On numbers we did way better but I think there were bigger hits on the second record but more hits on the first record. If that makes any sense. I think we thought too hard about it. We compared ourselves and said how all these other bands write like this and we just thought about it too much.
CRAVEONLINE: How did working with Machine help?
LEVI: As a producer, Machine pushed us all over our boundaries and made us better musicians. When I’d do vocals, I’d sing a lyric and he would say something like he didn’t understand me or didn’t feel it so I’d do it again and again and again. Machine put me into the mindset that I should feel it. It’s cool because now I do it live. With the guys it was cool because we’ve never done pre-production before on a record. We would tour ten months out of the year, come home and have ten days to write a new record. This time we had two weeks where we just hung out and ate Taco Bell and listened to music and just chilled out.
We recorded crappy versions of the songs and listened back thinking we could do better here or change something there. That was just mind blowing to us. We could actually hear the songs and work with them. I think there’s a lot of stuff now that sounded good then but we don’t like it now. We actually went back and worked on these songs. I think this is the first album that front to back we’re 100% proud of.
CRAVEONLINE: How do you write lyrics?
LEVI: I do it sort of backwards. I don’t even have an idea or anything. I don’t have a notepad with lyrics for songs. They write the song completely, I don’t touch the guitar parts or the drums and they give me the instrumental completed. Then I usually use a feeling I get from the song to write the lyrics.
We’ve been on tour with other bands and I feel like a lazy ass because I’ll be hanging out with other singers and they’ll talk about how they just wrote all these lyrics the other night and I’m all like “Yeah I don’t do that”.
CRAVEONLINE: I didn’t get a lyric sheet with your record so I wanted to toss out some song names from At Heart and get your reaction to them.
LEVI: Cool. Sounds awesome.
CRAVEONLINE: “Gold To Rust”
LEVI: The whole record has a lot of Hip Hop mentality to it because I think metal subjects are really overplayed. “Gold To Rust” is about how money isn’t important. It’s sort of an imagery thing about how you can get everything you wished for or prayed for but there are so many better things in life.
CRAVEONLINE: “Hey Mister”
LEVI: That song is about growing up without a father. The end of the song talks about how you don’t need it and you can do anything you want in life without it. I guess tough your way through it.
CRAVEONLINE: “Bleeding Out”
LEVI: I’m trying to think of a good way to explain it. I guess the imagery is a scar is like everything people try to fix but at the end of the day people still try to hurt you. It’s like a scar bleeding out and never healing.
CRAVEONLINE: I read somewhere that you don’t like heavy metal. Is that true?
LEVI: Yeah that’s true, I’m not a big metal fan. I have my handful of heavy metal bands I listen to.
CRAVEONLINE: Okay, start there. Who do you like?
LEVI:I like a lot of the older metalcore bands. When I listen to metal I always pick out the vocals and I usually hate the vocals. I do like As I Lay Dying, All That Remains, Darkest Hour, In Flames, and It Dies Today. That’s pretty much it.
CRAVEONLINE: So if you don’t like metal how did you end up in a metal band?
LEVI: It’s actually weird. We hadn’t played in font of people and we were covering a song one day that needed a screaming part. I started screaming at practice and the band liked it and that’s what kind of got me singing metal. I guess I stick with because of the crowds. The type of metal we play gets a reaction no other music does. If you’re a rapper or in a country band you can’t do the things I can do to the crowd.
CRAVEONLINE: Would you ever do a Hip Hop project?
LEVI :I’d love to do it but I stutter too much so I don’t think I could. I’d love to though.
CRAVEONLINE: Who are your favorite Hip Hop artists?
LEVI: I’m not really a big underground guy. I like Dr. Dre and Yellowwolf, I like rappers who tell good stories, not just about money. I think I like rap more than metal because you can rap about anything, the lyrics can be anything. In metal you always have to be pissed off because it’s metal.
CRAVEONLINE: Do you ever get problems from the metal community for not liking metal?
LEVI: No, I usually get respect points because I’m so open about it. Most people aren’t that honest about that kind of thing. I never got any crap for it. It’s always a cool subject to talk about. Usually when people say our music is a little different and I say “Yeah that’s because I don’t like metal.”
CRAVEONLINE: I know when Miss May I came out you were originally pegged as a Christian band, which isn’t true. Are you still battling that?
LEVI: It was never really a battle. I feel like when people find out our ages we get pegged into the Christian band thing because we’re not big bearded gnarly metal guys yet because we can’t grow facial hair yet. I think our age and the music we play gets us put in with bands like The Devil Wears Prada. I’m the only Christian in the band but I would never let that get into the lyrics.
CRAVEONLINE: Which of the new songs are you most excited to perform live?
LEVI: “Hey Mister “is my favorite but we’re getting ready to do “Day By Day” on Warped Tour and I’m really hoping that goes over big because there’s a lot of crowd participation in that song.
CRAVEONLINE: Crowd participation in what way?
LEVI: We’re really trying to do that through the entire record. We used a lot of crowd chants and choruses in the record because we want kids to be amped when they hear them live.
CRAVEONLINE: You’re on the WARPED Tour this year?
LEVI: Yep and we’re a little nervous because people keep saying “Oh you’re the metal band on this tour”. We have to hold it down for all the metal bands.
CRAVEONLINE: Are you scared?
LEVI: No. Well, yeah I guess I am scared. I’m scared and bummed that there’s a ton of kids in the pop punk band scene and then when we play the crowds will get a little smaller. Other than that I’m just honored to play the tour and get that far just being five kids who play metal.
CRAVEONLINE: Most people in the metal world hate metalcore. Miss May I has managed to side step that backlash. How?
LEVI: It’s like a phenomenon to use and we don’t know. I think it might be because we’re not focused in on how we look or our merchandise. It’s more of a respect thing, our main focus is to be the best live band we can be. When we go to shows we don’t talk about how our merch looks good or our stage looks good or our hair looks cool or our clothes. We never tried to get signed or be in a big band it just fell into our hands so we try to be the best band we can.
CRAVEONLINE: You’re from Troy, Ohio. I actually live in Norwood, Ohio. People tend to look past Ohio musically even though Afghan Wigs came from here, Devo is from Akron, Black Keys, The Cramps, New Bomb Turks, Necros, Chrissie Hynde, Toxic Reasons are all from Ohio. Why do you think Ohio is glossed over?
LEVI: I don’t know, it’s pretty crazy though. It amazes me that there are so many musical artists from Ohio. I guess it’s because it’s so boring in Ohio there’s nothing to do but be in bands. I guess people know the bands but don’t think about them being from Ohio.
CRAVEONLINE: Does living in Ohio effect how you write?
LEVI: I’m always bored so I have lots of time to write. I like it though, I don’t think I’ll ever leave Ohio.
For more on Miss May I check out.
At Heart drops on June 12th.