Inspired by New Wave of American Heavy Metal bands such as As I Lay Dying, Bleeding Through and Unearth, and initially launched under the wing of Midwestern scene kingpins The Devil Wears Prada, Miss May I have been on their grind since 2007. Six albums, huge tours (including this year’s Vans Warped Tour) and a legion of fans nearly obscured an equally important fact of being a band: the business. MMI singer Levi Benton learned the importance of finding the devil in the details the hard way. In this Q&A, Benton explains why Miss May I nearly ended, why he’s moving across the country and how Deathless represents a band now more resilient than ever.
In the seven years since Metallica made their most recent studio album, Miss May I put outsix of them. Why crank 'em out like that?
LEVI BENTON: I feel like kids are so A.D.D. nowadays that you have to constantly give them material. When Metallica made their stamp, there weren't bands getting record deals left and right like there are now. It seems like it's so much easier for bands to get started and get out there, so it’s a lot more competitive. We're just trying to keep people happy. We stay proactive and work hard to keep everyone interested by making sure they always have new material from us. In hip-hop, there are single tracks, EPs and mixtapes like crazy. That's a big part of why they get so much more attention.
You and your wife purchased a home with rental units and a space for your clothing company attached. But in the past year it went upside down. Why?
I was the first person in my family to really buy a house. I was really excited. Miss May I's former business manager made some paperwork mistakes, so the bank sold the house out from under us. It was a nightmare. I lost everything, including three years of savings. I bought the house in 2012 and it turned out the bank was missing a form from 2010. On paper, it looked like Miss May I didn’t exist. We were in the studio making Rise Of The Lion and I was calling lawyers trying to fix it. I tried to at least get my money back and that fell through. All of my money was gone. It was like being in high school again.
How did that affect Vursa Clothing?
The property was bringing in income [from the rental units] so we were able to set up a storefront with that revenue. And then we lost the house a month before the store opened. We suddenly had to work twice as hard because we had the store. That's why we didn't hire anybody to work there. It was just [my wife and I]. It was stressful. We had to move everything into the store so the backroom was just full of crap. We were working 12 to 14 hour days just trying to get everything done and run the store.
Calling a song “I.H.E.”—as in “I Hate Everyone”—seems like a pretty blatant reaction to that.
[Laughs.] Yeah. I was just mad because no one could help me. I couldn't point any fingers or make anybody feel badly, because nobody cares in the music industry. If somebody messes up, they’re like, "Who cares? It's on you. It's not on me, really." I was calling everyone. Not that I wanted help, I just needed some guidance. It was a nightmare. It’s still a nightmare. I still get bummed about it.
How did you adjust the business of Miss May I to protect yourself in the future?
We have new business managers. And I'm just trying to hustle harder. I'm trying to work twice as hard. But I get so stressed out easily now because it's all just reset.
At Heart was a transitional record for Miss May I and Rise Of The Lion took a turn toward hard rock. I remember it was important to you to sort of “graduate” from metalcore and be accepted as a metal band. Where are you at with that now?
Those records sort of put us on the line between two different types of crowds. We can be that band who can do Mayhem and do Warped Tour without backlash on either of them. Making those changes on those records really set us up to be that metalcore band that can do that. We didn't really add any gimmicks. No orchestras or synths.
You told me you hoped you’d be singing vs. screaming a lot more by now.
[Laughs.] Yeah! I took lessons to learn how to sing, too. I went in the studio and wussed out. But I'm happy I did that. I'm really happy with how Deathless came out. Having just finished Warped Tour and watching the younger bands coming up, there isn't really that aggressive, heavy, mean metal band right now. So I'm actually really happy I didn't start singing or going lighter even though I wanted to. Everything else is posi right now, which is awesome, but we're that band that is heavy and pissed off.
Dave Davidson tweeted he's going to call the next Revocation album Miss May I. Of course, that neglects the fact that Throwdown called an album Deathless a few years before he did. Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta gave you some good-natured grief about the other Deathlessalbums when you were on his podcast.
We had 10 to 20 names in the running for the title. When we came up with Deathless, we knew there was the Revocation record. But we thought we were so different from Revocation, in a whole different scene, that it wouldn't be a thing. I never knew about the Throwdown record! Now there have been all of these reviews [pointing it out]. I don't know why we're getting so much crap. There's so much more shit out there that's way worse than ours, in terms of titles and things getting repeated.
Revocation even worked with the same producer as Throwdown.
[Laughs.] That's like us calling our album With Roots Above And Branches Below since we did our album with Joey [Sturgis, who produced the Devil Wears Prada album].
You guys were presenters at the APMAs, which of course took place in your home state of Ohio. You and your wife are about to move from Cincinnati to California...
Now that I don't have a house and the band is so busy that we don't really rehearse, I have no strings attached to home. Having the house was my thing to show for doing all of these huge tours and festivals. My whole mentality after losing everything was to come back and do it bigger and better. Moving to California is all about the hustle. I'll be helping Affliction when I'm there. I'm working on an app. My wife has always wanted to live there. There are a lot more opportunities for me in California than sitting in Ohio playing video games when we're not on tour. We're going out there for a few years to hustle and then we'll come back and start a family–in a bigger and better house.