INTERVIEW: Levi Benton – Miss May I

Formed in 2007, American metalcore band MISS MAY I are celebrating ten years together this year and have made quite a name for themselves in the metal community for their unrelenting passion and brutality. They are now back after taking some time off and are gearing up to release their sixth studio album Shadows Inside next month. We chatted with frontman Levi Benton to lift the lid on their upcoming record alongside discussing the challenges they faced and their change of record label.

How are you?

Levi: Good, good!

What were your inspirations for Shadows Inside?

Levi: Oh man, I think the biggest goal was to do something bigger, and better for MISS MAY I and go beyond and our biggest inspiration were bands that really just take it to the next level, like IN FLAMES and PARKWAY DRIVE, even bands like METALLICA. We are really into a lot of stuff that is bigger than what we were doing and that’s just what we sorta wanted to do with this record. Lyrically, the biggest inspiration came by accident, it all ended up being about change, which we didn’t really mean for it to be, but after writing the record, we sat and looked at it and were like “wow, the biggest common theme for all these songs is talking about the changes we’ve been through,” so we just kept rolling with that, so that was the inspiration lyrically.

Are you going through any major changes in your personal lives at the moment? Could that have influenced it?

Levi: Oh yeah! We are going through stuff personally, and stuff within the band and it wasn’t negative or positive, it was just, I dunno, we were doing this since we were kids, since we were fifteen, and so much has changed in our lives since we’ve been on the road every single day and we just wanted to document it because things are changing for the greater and it was pretty cool.

How do you feel about Shadows Inside? Are you happy?

Levi: I love it, this is the most time we’ve ever spent on a record. It’s a hard question to ask someone in the band because you can work on the song infinitely and always be editing and then drive yourself crazy, but I think it’s great. It’s the first record we’ve had where there’s not really any fillers or any down time, it really just flows and I think the reason it does that is because we wrote all the lyrics and all the track listing without any vocals, we just sat and listened to the vibe of the record and did it all naturally on what the vibe was really giving out on the record.

How did you go about writing and recording the album?

Levi: Well, we’re always writing so this record, I think we had thirty plus songs coming into it because we’re always on the road just writing, or writing at home, so the writing was non-stop and, like I said, we had the mind set of bigger than MISS MAY I and bigger than what we’ve done and make sure we stepped out of our comfort zone to do that and that was our idea for writing. The recording process was a really big headache and a really big weird idea that we had, we were introduced to our vocal producer Drew Fulk, and we’ve never really used a vocal producer in the past, so I never really knew that was a thing. So I met him and loved him, and was like head over heels, I really wanted to work with him and but he’s a vocal producer and we’re a very riffy, technical band, so the guys wanted to go to the original engineer that we had from the last record who they were already friends with and they loved working with him. So that the really weird thing was I was recording in Los Angeles with Drew and the other members were recording with Nick Sampson in Michigan so the whole thing was satellite and done over email. Everyone thought it wasn’t going to work at the beginning, thought it was going to be a really big headache but everyone who was working on the project wanted to win, and make a great record and we ended up pulling together so it ended up great and I don’t think I’d ever do a record differently again.

Will you have that separation on future records? Or will you try and have it all in one city?

Levi: I think it had to be separated because I really loved working with Drew and they really loved working with Nick, they’re both great at different things, and that’s the hardest thing. It’s something we never knew, there are people that are better at vocals, or guitars or drums, and we went out of our way to find the best people for each instrument and then pull it all together to make a great record.

How come you had a vocal producer this time?

Levi: The label recommended it, we just signed with SharpTone and they set up the brunch, the original brunch where we met with Drew. I felt like an idiot, I’ve been in a band for so long and I didn’t know that was even a thing, so they were like “Drew is a vocal producer” and I was like “that exists? That’s so awesome!” So we met with him and, oh my god, he was just melting my brain about all these ideas, just ways he thinks about music over brunch. I decided this was the guy I wanted to spend all my time with doing this and the cool thing about having a vocal producer is when I’m at the studio I don’t have to wait for the guitars to be tracked, or the drums to be tracked, there’s no off days because every single day you’re working on vocals. But, at the other end of the country, every single day they’re working on guitars and drums and bass, making sure the songs are perfect while I’m working on the vocals so it’s actually the best because you maximise the amount of focus on the songs.

Not sure how rock ‘n’ roll brunch is…

Levi: It’s actually not as cool as it sounds, it’s actually mimosas and omelettes, it’s funny too when we all show up it’s all boots, leather jackets, the whole shebang, and then you’re like “oh, these are just normal dudes at a normal place.” We all look the look, it’s funny.

Lost In The Grey – were any rodents harmed in the making of that video?

Levi: I don’t think so, we actually gave them multiple baths before putting them in our mouths so I think they were a little bit pampered.

How did that video come about? What made you decide to shoot in the forest?

Levi: So this record we really wanted to bring the lion back, we knew that was going to be a thing, but we didn’t know how we were going to do it because we’ve done it so many different times and so many different ways and we wanted this to be different and special. We wanted to make the lion a physical object so we came up with the idea of a mask, because you can touch it and the album’s called Shadows Inside, so it’s talking about the stuff inside of you and covering things up and the darkness inside of you and it just worked out great in the creation of this record to make it a mask, an object that people can touch. And it’s never been 3D before, so when we were sculpting it with a sculptor we didn’t know where to start, we didn’t even know what it was supposed to look like. So that was very interesting. When we went to do the video, we knew this was the first impression of Shadows Inside, because MISS MAY I took nine months off so we really needed to make this first impression something big, if we’re going to do this we really need to debut the mask, and show the mask means hope and something that can protect you and it sorta stands for MISS MAY I. When we wrote the treatment for the video, we knew the song was about getting out of this content life and moving further so we wrote the video with the child and his mom, the abstract stuff with the rat and stuff was based off lyrics and part of the song, we incorporated the mask, and showed the kid discovering the mask it was a way of depicting fans discovering MISS MAY I and take it with them, it’s theirs after they find us.

How was writing this record been different to MISS MAY I’s previous work?

Levi: The biggest difference with writing this one was that, at least vocal wise, instrumental wise I wasn’t there, but vocal wise the biggest thing was Drew really wanted me to step out of my box and make me feel uncomfortable and every time we’d go do something, and he’d see it was easy or comfortable, he’d change it and keep changing it until I’d say ‘I don’t know if we should do’, and he’d say ‘that’s what we’re putting on the record’. He wanted every single thing to be uncomfortable to push me and I didn’t understand it at first, or what the heck was going on and now that’s over and done, I’ve heard the record and I understand what he was going for and why, why he made those decisions.

Have you become more comfortable with those things he made you do?

Levi: Oh yeah! It’s great because we’re playing a few songs off the new record now and I feel like a whole new person, not only is it refreshing because we have a whole new team, a whole new label, new management and all that, but also because I feel like a new performer and I’ve learnt so much in the last nine months doing this record and I can really implement it in our shows.

Were there any challenges you faced with it?

Levi: I think the biggest challenge we faced was really making songs that would turn heads because, we’re a metal band, we’re MISS MAY I and we’ve done records, everyone knows who we are so what can we do that’ll really turn heads? Because we feel on Deathless we really found our sound, so to extend that we were like ‘what can we do now?’ And I think that was the biggest challenge because we started with thirty something songs and we had to go through and delete them, we only had about eight songs left which is less than a record. There were only eight from the thirty that would really turn people’s heads. That was really cool because we never thought of a record that way. The last two we all wrote together and I think it came out great. The response has been insane, I can’t even process how amazing it’s been.

How have the fans reacted to the new songs?

Levi: It’s crazy, it’s always scary as a band, especially when we were doing the single for this record, there’s a million people fighting for their favourite song, and the labels telling us this, and each member is telling us this is the song they want and so we picked Lost In The Grey. We love the record, and we feel there’s a more than usual MISS MAY I singles on this record and going with a chanty inspirational over the top song, what are people gonna say? But the response has been great, nothing but positive and to us that was lower on the totem pole of great songs on the record so it’s just gonna get better from here. I think we did it in a really cool way and, I was really scared, but everyone’s loved it. I didn’t even think about how the recordings sounded and I didn’t even think about the recording quality, I’m not the techy guy in the band so I don’t really care what it sounds like, I just care about the song. So it was really cool to get those kinds of complements on the record.

MISS MAY I moved from Rise Records to SharpTone Records for this album, what prompted that decision?

Levi: The big difference was we just wanted something new, nothing wrong with Rise, we love those guys, and we built MISS MAY I together with them. We were just a garage band before they found us and we’re still really close with them. The biggest reason was just we wanted to see what else we could do, and we knew we really needed to focus on international presence as a band, because as a metal band that’s where you can really shine. On top of that, we wanted to really do something refreshing. So we parted ways and, actually met with every dream label we’ve ever thought of and SharpTone we just clicked with, they are a young label off Nuclear Blast and are very ambitious and have some crazy ideas and we always feel like we’re the weirdos with too ambitious ideas and it was nice to meet people who were as crazy as we were. It’s been great. We were so used to doing the same thing every time, releasing the same platform and the same plan every time, talking to the same person on the phone every day. It was so cool to have new people, and hear their ideas and catch them up on the band, and them catch us up on things that they’re doing, it’s really fun.

What have you been listening to recently?

Levi: Oh man, that’s a good question! I love the new WHILE SHE SLEEPS record, it’s insane. I love the new MASTADON, and, one more, even though it’s an oldie, came out last year, I love the new ARCHITECTS record.

Are there any bands you want to tour with but have never been able to?

Levi: Yeah, I think one of the main bands we want to tour with is IN FLAMES, I think we’d be a really great tour. I’d love to do an AS LAY DYING tour but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I think IN FLAMES/AS LAY DYING would be very, very cool tours for us. We’re super fans so I think we’d all be losing our minds every night, I’d be side stage rocking out.

Thank you very much!

Shadows Inside is set for release on June 2 via SharpTone Records.

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