Miss May I's Levi Benton on Playing Empty Rooms: "I Think a Lot of Local Bands Give Up Too Fast"

Miss May I's Levi Benton on Playing Empty Rooms: "I Think a Lot of Local Bands Give Up Too Fast"

Metalcore band Miss May I, started -- like most bands -- in a basement, just a bunch of high school kids jamming out to cover songs. This fivesome from Troy, Ohio, never expected anything to come from it. But when they caught the attention of the Devil Wears Prada guitarist Chris Rubey, a fellow Ohio band hailing from nearby Dayton, that things really took off. 

A record deal, and a few tours later, brought success to a whole new level for the band, excited to be among the first underground metal acts to headline this year's AP Tour, which has typically chosen alt-rock bands to receive the coveted front cover of Alternative Press.

But it's OK, because Miss May isn't just another fad, and they don't want to be just another "scene" metalcore band. They want to endure, and are working hard to sculpt their unique sound to be even more metal than the rest. New Times caught up with Miss May I lead singer Levi Benton during the band's brief hiatus from the tail end of the 2012 Warped Tour, and before the October start of the AP Tour. 

New Times: So, you grew up in Dayton, Ohio, along with all the band members. Tell me about how you guys first started playing.

Levi Benton: I moved into Troy [Ohio] in 8th grade, and that's when I met all the guys. All of them have been playing for years, but we didn't officially start playing until our freshman year of high school. We never played shows, we just did covers stuff -- we'd play Hawthorne Heights and Underoath -- sitting in the basement for hours just jamming. We never recorded, we just did it for fun.

And fun turned into actual gigs?
We eventually got to the point where we were writing our own stuff. After years and years of jamming, we had our first official "show" our junior year of high school. It was horrible. There was no there -- it was like 30 people. The lighting sucked. The acoustics weren't that great. People hated us. It was horrible.

But that didn't stop you, obviously...
It got crazy, because we kept at it every weekend, and we started to get better and better, practicing more. And, a year later, in our senior year, we had become a local phenomenon. And that's when it all started to happen.

You mean getting signed to Rise Records?
That, and just making a name for ourselves. We never stopped playing, we kept at it, kept practicing, kept doing shows.

Do you think that's been the key to your success as a band so far?
I tell my friends now that are just starting bands, or in bands, just keep at it because you love it. We never, ever wanted to get signed. We never had a goal to go on tour, or put together an album. Even when we went out and played a show and there were only a few people there, we didn't care. That's not why we were there. We were having fun, and we never stopped enjoying what we do. And I think a lot of local bands give up too fast -- they get discouraged when a few show don't go too well, and then they start a new band, or change their music up.

But you didn't do that...
We never changed, no. We never did something new because we thought that would make other people happy. And this is still my first band -- this is all our first band. And I think that's what got us out there today, where we're playing songs now, in front of thousands of people, that I wrote when I was a freshman in high school in a basement, before anyone had ever heard us live.

Here it comes, the usual band interview question: Is there a story behind your name? I haven't read anything about that.
You haven't heard anything because there is no story! We named ourselves that around freshman year, right when grindcore was big. It was like a stupid name that made no sense, which was what all band names seemed to be around that time. We thought it was weird, and that it would stick out on a flyer. And we've stuck with it, and now we're stuck with a goofy name that has no story.

So you weren't looking to get signed. How did it happen, then?
We were in high school, and that was right when MySpace was at its peak, and the Devil Wears Prada was like the biggest thing in the world, and they were from Ohio too. We'd never met them in person, but they came to one of our shows. And they weren't there to see us, but the guitar player came up to us after the show and told us he wanted to start managing bands, and that he wanted to work with us, and manage us.

And you were stoked, right?
Yeah, we were totally flipping out. We recorded one song with him, but it was on the computer, all fake and cheesy like that, and then he put it up online on the Prada MySpace. And as soon as he posted it, we went from getting 200 plays a day, to 200,000 plays a day. That's when everything went crazy. We started getting booked for shows outside of Ohio, and magazine ads, our emails were exploding. And after [our plays] were in the millions, that's when they came knocking. We were a bunch of high school kids with four record deals on the table. We ended up getting the same team Prada had, since we were working with them at the time.

You were still in high school though? How'd that work?
We started touring five days after we graduated, and we never stopped. They actually wanted us to start right away, but we told them we wanted to graduate like regular kids. So we packed up our bags, had our graduation parties, and the next day we were in California on our first tour. It was a whole new world.

I have to ask, what would you have done if you weren't a rock star?
It's funny, cause the record deal didn't come until December, so we were just doing normal kid stuff. We all had applied to college, and I was lined up to go to Columbus Community College for advertising, and Justin [Aufdemkampe, lead guitarist] wanted to be a cop, and was signed up to go to the law enforcement academy. We were going to split ways after high school -- we weren't going to play anymore. It would have been pointless to try to keep the band going. You know all those washed-up guys that are like 40-years-old and play crummy bars on the weekends. We weren't going to do that.

Ha! I don't think you have to worry about that now...
It wasn't an easy decision, though. When the deal came, that was the scary thing. It was an indie label, and we knew so many guys that were signed and went broke. It was either go to college and be a normal adult, or try this band thing out and see how it goes. So it was a coin flip, but we went for it. And we were lucky, because right after our first tour people were freaking out.

Yeah, that's for sure. What do you think the craziness is all about? What makes your sound different from all the other new metal bands out there?
These days, a lot of the music you hear is so scene, and a lot of it can be so fake -- all these fads -- one day this band is huge, and the next day it's this band. And it's just not real. We grew up listening to all these hardcore metal bands like Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying, and that's where we want to get to one day. But don't get me wrong, it's not about money, and it's not about how big we get. We just want to be around for a long time, playing really good metal 10, 20 years from now. At the end of the day, we want to be a legendary metal band.

I heard you say in an interview you want to have a real metal sound. What did you mean by that?
That's the sound we want to have, but I don't think we're there yet. And the only reason we aren't is because you can't make a transition that fast. We started as more of a scene band. We played what was big, but more heavy stuff, of course. As the years have gone by, we've decided we really want to be a metal band. It's a slow transition, we don't want to lose our original fans, but we want to build a whole new base of fans. We want to get more into the metal world.

What makes it so hard?
It's not easy. You can't just go out there and tour with Lamb of God. You have to be accepted, and you have to work up to that -- slow and steady.

So you have to pay your dues kind-of-thing?
That, and the fans. If you come in there with stupid hair, or a look they don't like, they won't give you a chance. And they won't listen. So you have to get the look right, and you have to make sure there aren't any weird breakdowns or keyboards, because that's not what metal is all about.

Tell me about your creative process.
We do it old school. We actually sit in a room and jam. We'll do rough recordings and listen back to it.

Do you write all the lyrics yourself?
Yes. I don't even think about lyrics until the entire song is done. Then I'll listen to the song over and over again, front to back. I don't have a book of lyrics or anything. I don't want it to be artificial. Nothing is pre-written. So I wait for the feeling I get from the instrumentals, and the guitars and drums. The vibe I get, that will be the song, and I'll write it on the spot. It's like a hip-hop thing, when a rapper listens to the beat and starts to flow, only I'm listening to riffs and drums.

Tell me about your new album, At Heart.
We named the album At Heart because that's what it is -- from the heart. Like, how you asked, "what makes us different, what's our niche?" We wrote something that was just all real stuff. Not us being fake to be heavy.

Any favorite songs?
"Hey Mister," is about me growing up without a real father figure. I wanted to write about something that really meant something to me. Something other kids that could relate to. There's also "Day By Day," which is about taking care of family members and friends. But there isn't one song that isn't legit or real.

You've been on tour non-stop for the past few years. How has that been?
There's a lot more family that comes around now. It's weird. It feels artificial. Like, wow, we never hung out before. It's hard not to see my mom and brother, too. My little brother is growing four or five inches every time I come home, so I'm missing him grow up. And my mom's getting older, which stinks. But, at the end of the day, I'm independent, taking care of things, paying the bills, and having the time of my life. I guess if I had to choose, be home and sit in a cubicle or tour the world as part of band, I'd choose what I'm doing now.

You'll be here in Fort Lauderdale at Revolution Live Saturday, October 27, as part of the AP Tour. You're headlining, which I'm sure you're stoked about.
We're really, really, really flattered to be on this tour. As far as AP goes, it's like the biggest rock mag in the U.S., and they usually cover more mainstream of underground bands, but they gave us the opportunity to headline. And that comes with a cover. And for a metal band -- that never, never happens. So, when we got the email, that blew us away. It will be so cool to see a heavy band on the cover after these amazing bands like All Time Low, Four Year Strong. We're so appreciative for the opportunity.

Ready to come to Florida?
Kids are so crazy in Texas, and that's one of favorite places to play -- and that's how Florida is. We've never had a bad show in Florida, and the kids are just awesome. We'll be kicking it off pretty much with you guys. And you all party so hard. We can't wait.

Miss May I on the AP Tour with the Ghost Inside, Like Moths to a Flame, the Amity Affliction, and Glass Cloud, 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Visit jointherevolution.net


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