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Q+A: Levi Benton, Miss May I

Polly Glass
Polly Glass 22 April 2011 at 12.48

“There are so many other metal bands who never get noticed that are way better than us,” says the vocalist.

When we reviewed Miss May I's sophomore LP ‘Monument’ back in November 2010, our conclusion was resoundingly positive: Tight and technical, thrashing and exhilarating, this tour de force of quality metalcore built upon the impressive groundwork laid down by debut ‘Apologies Are For The Weak’. And considering they're about to land in the UK and [we're predicting] tear everyone's faces off while on tour with We Came As Romans, we figured it was time to catch up with vocalist Levi Benton to talk tourism, dubstep and the importance of stretching before a show...

You’ll be doing some live dates in the UK in late April. Can you tell us what can we expect from your shows here? Any surprises planned?
“Yeah, we have a few surprises… We’re definitely going to be playing a lot more of ‘Monument’ than we usually do. A little bit from ‘Apologies Are For The Weak’ but ‘Monument’s going to be the main focus. And I think actually we’re playing a couple of new songs that we haven’t played here yet, so [pause] so we’re gonna test them out on you guys, see if you approve of them!”

Sounds good to us. What are you expecting from UK and European audiences compared to your home crowds in the US?
“Well, the first time we went over there [to the UK] it was actually pretty crazy. It felt like a home crowd show really, the kids were just insane. We’ve had better reactions from here than home often and we’re hoping Europe will go the same way.”

Do you reckon you’ll get time to do some touristy stuff? A bit of sightseeing maybe?
“Yeah actually we’re in Europe for about a month and I know there’s a lot of days off and we’re on a tour bus, so we’ll have time to do more than just sit around. I’m really excited, I’ve never been to Europe, I’ve always wanted to see it really so I’m gonna freak out, y’know [laughs].”

Do you have any pre-gig rituals or warm-ups? Or do you just go for it?
"Me and Ryan do vocal warm-ups, and usually when the band before are playing we all do the same stretches we do every day - we do it in a big circle and we just hang out and talk. But we do that every day. If you’re not stretching you’re gonna get hurt after the show, coz we move around more than most bands. Everyone’s just watching out for each other really, so if someone’s trying to be lazy and sit around before the show we’re like, ‘If you don’t warm up you’re gonna be screwed!’"

Thinking about the metalcore scene as a whole, there are a lot of acts breaking through at the moment (of varying degrees of notoriety) - do you guys feel part of this scene?
“We just feel really happy with where we are. I always feel real blessed with what we’ve been doing because to be where we’re at and the status that we’re at. It's either here a metal band has keyboards and techno breakdowns or a gimmick – there’s no real metalcore bands. So when there’s younger kids who are just, like, scene kids and us being the hot topic and in all these modern magazines we’re like, ‘We’re just a metal band and it's crazy that people actually notice us.’ And there are so many other metal bands that never get noticed that are way better than us.”

Given that many of these acts out there, with similar elements to Miss May I, are becoming more widely known and liked, would you say that the overall face of mainstream music is becoming heavier? And is this a good thing?
“Yeah, I recently feel like there’s a lot more radio stations playing heavier artists - there’s definitely way more heavier music coming in. And its nice to have bands like Asking [Alexandria] doing so well, and to hear radios playing bands like A Day To Remember. It’s crazy to hear, like, screaming and breakdown stuff, all from the radio! And then its on TV and online as well. It just happened in the past couple of years so we’re happy that we’re up and rising in the middle of this whole thing. Hopefully it works out for the best for us.”

Who do you particularly admire in the current metalcore world?
“We really look up to August Burns Red, because they’re so tight and they’re still technical – they’re the perfect metalcore band. And they’ve set such a high bar, and they’re such talented musicians and we’re just like ‘We have to get to that'.. We just give them so much credit coz they’re, like, way up there and they’re just doing what we’re doing. So we really look up to them.”

Thinking about older metal and other bands, who did you grow up listening to and who influences you the most?
“I was really huge into As I Lay Dying, and you can definitely tell when you listen to us or see our live shows that As Lay Dying is on the top of our list. And it's just crazy now, we go to shows and they know who our band is and they’re always hanging out with us and want to take us on tour and stuff. Its just really [pause] weird, to hang out with them. But yeah, growing up listening to them definitely made me want to be in a band like that. Now when we get reviews saying we sound like them and that we’re like the next As I Lay Dying we’re like, ‘Holy crap!’”

What do you all tend to listen to when you’re on tour, either for inspiration or to unwind or whatever?
“Ah man, see, I’m the weird person in that way because I’m the only one who really doesn’t listen to metal at all! I’m really big into R&B and stuff. And I know it's way bigger in the UK than it is here but I listen to a lot of dubstep stuff - I’d never ever listened to it before but I like it a lot. I tried to listen last night but it got me too excited to go to sleep so I had to turn it off. It’s pretty cool. But yeah I don’t really listen to a lot of metal coz I listen to it every day – I’d go crazy if I just listened to it everywhere [laughs].”

To anyone new to Miss May I, what would you say makes you stand out from other bands pushing a similar style of music?
“Erm, I want to say it in a good way, I don’t wanna sound like a douche or anything! I always like to think we’re, y’know, a real band – all the stuff you hear on the CD is us actually playing. I know that lately there’s so much production and stuff happening with bands, which is cool – I know it's 2011, the future an’ all that – but when you listen to us, every little thing you hear on the album is really us playing. And when you see us live it's exactly the same thing you’ll hear, and that’s why it's crazy that we get so much recognition. There’s so many bands that do what we do but don’t get recognised.”

So, you aim for your recording and performing process to be a very organic one?
“Yeah, we tend to be better live than we are on the album and we’ve always strived to do that. It’s cool to have a good CD but we’d rather you could come and see us live [and] think ‘This is way better than the album’. We just see so many bands that push ‘play’ on an iPod onstage and we’re like, ‘You’re not even really playing the song!’ We’re just trying to be real – a real band.”

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