With a brand new record At Heart, Miss May I is certainly making the most of their inclusion on one of this year's main stages on the Vans Warped Tour. I caught up with frontman Levi Benton to talk a little bit about At Heart, his hip-hop state of mind when it comes to writing lyrics and what the band took away from recording with Machine.
Photos by Brittani Ericksen
You guys released At Heart last month and you’ve gotten some time to see some reaction to it, do feel people are taking away from it what you hoped they would?
It’s cool because to me it kind of filtered out our fans, like the fans that are into the hype stuff and the metal fans. That’s what we wanted. We just wanted to write a metal record. We were always all borderline on everything and this was our big swing to fit in with some more metal bands, and it was cool to do that. You can tell the fans that stayed, some fans we gained and some fans we lost, but it definitely worked out for what we love.
How much are you guys relying on this record at this point in terms of making a setlist for Warped?
We know we have to play some of it, but it was cool because we finally have our first set where it’s all big bangers. So, it helped a lot to make a good setlist. We filtered out all of the songs that kids fell asleep to [laughs].
You went with Machine for this record, what kind of made the decision for going with him this time around?
We always went to Joey [Sturgis] and we felt a lot of the bands have that Joey sound I guess and that was what we weren’t wanting to go for. It was cool how we found Machine actually, we sat and listened to all our favorite metal records and then we’d look up who did it, and some of them were so old that they didn’t even record anymore. Then Machine is like an older metal guy and he just did our friends in The Amity Affliction and they were telling us how awesome he was. He’s done Lamb of God too. We chose him, but then he actually has to pick us because he only does a few records a year. So we had to go eat dinner with him, and we’re like shaking, like ‘I hope he likes us.’ But he ended up picking us and it’s cool, he’s coming out on tour with us for a couple weeks. He’s great.
How would you say Machine doing this album manifested itself in the final product?
He sort of taught us that first of all we don’t have to follow any structures, which on the second record, it didn’t hurt us but we tried to be so structured and be like, ‘This is how real bands do it,’ but you don’t really have to follow a music structure if you’re in a band. You’ve got the sound and all that so you can do whatever you want as long as your fans like it. He broke those walls down and taught us that when we’re recording it’s not just like putting data in a mic. You gotta make the kids feel what’s happening. So, he like kicked my ass man. I would do a line and it would sound perfect and he’d be like, ‘I don’t even know if you meant it man, do it again,’ like in my face. [laughs] It was crazy.
What would you say is the big different between working with him and working with Joey?
It was just more structured. He has a schedule, and I think that’s just another thing because he’s older and he has a family and stuff. We would record and at 8 o’clock we’d go eat and he’d go with his family and go eat and come back at 10 o’clock. When you grow up watching music DVDs and bands recording, it was like that. We felt like a real band. We sat in a room and jammed with headphones for two weeks before we even started. We’ve never done that before. It was real old-school in how it was structured.
If a friend’s band were asking for a recommendation as far as producer to go with, would you have some way of determining which producer would better fit them?
I would say if it’s a younger band to go with Joey. Joey helps you with learning how to write and being better with your instrument and really pushes you. If you’re an established band and you’ve grown as much as you could, it’s cool to go with Machine because he has a much deeper way of finding yourself. You can be as good as you are with your music, but he breaks down these walls that you didn’t even know were there to expand on things that you didn’t know you could do where if you said that to a younger band kids ‘Would be like what are these people doing?’ Once you have an establishment to where you’re allowed to play crazy stuff, then it’s cool to go with Machine.
What are some things lyrically that you felt to talk about on this record that maybe you have or haven’t written about before?
I don’t listen to a lot of metal stuff, I feel that a lot of metal stuff is overwritten. Like, ‘I hate this’ and then there’s a breakdown. So it was cool going into this record. I wanted to write a lot about everyday stuff. I listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop, mainly for the lyrics. I thought it would be cool to have metal songs that are about everyday stuff. I touched upon on how I grew up and money and things a lot of metal bands don’t write about. It’s all real stuff, I didn’t fake it to sound like a metal album or all scary. It was really easy, like some of the songs I wrote in five or ten minutes, like boom boom. It was easy because I didn’t have to fake it, and that was the first time I’ve been able to do that. Last time, it took me like a week because I was like, ‘Oh, this is heavy, that’s a cool lyric and it sounds real scary.’ [laughs]
Like, we could make a t-shirt out of this...
Yeah, but this is like real stuff and it was fun.
What are some of your favorite rap or hip-hop lyricists?
I’m lame, I don’t have a lot of super underground ones. I’m a big Drake fan. I like Machine Gun Kelly, and he’s cool and from Ohio. Like from the projects. I like the storyteller hip-hop people. Not the ones that brag. Like Waka Flokka Flame. I don’t like that.
What are your thoughts on Childish Gambino?
I’ve heard that, it’s awesome. He’s super intelligent like some of the stuff he says. It’s cool seeing videos because he’s kind of like a nerd and ripping it up. It’s awesome.
As a band, what is a particular progression you feel you’ve made with At Heart?
I think the biggest progression is just how the songs are written. It was the first time we got to do pre-production. It was always write ten songs, put them on a CD. We didn’t get to really hear them. This CD we recorded the songs for two weeks and we were able to say, ‘This sucks, let’s change this.’ Just how the songs came out and how they were written, that was the biggest progression because we never got to do pre-production. It blew our minds because when we got there, he was like, ‘Let’s just record some songs you guys have,’ and we’re doing ‘em and it sounds like crap and he says, ‘No this is pre-pro, we’re gonna change it.’ We’re just like, we’ve never even done this before. It’s our third record and we’ve never even done legit stuff.
You just did some touring with Whitechapel, another band that’s starting to build up just like you guys are. What are your expectations for the rest of Warped considering the momentum you built up being on tour with them?
This is like our game changer tour I guess. We have some cool stuff lined up after this, but we’re like in our mentality, not out of the scene, but branching into the metal scene. It’s like one of the hardest scenes to get in, at least the old-school fans. If we get in with All That Remains and As I Lay Dying, that’s where we want to be, but that’s so hard to get in there. We’re on our way there and we’re doing the main stage so we have to take a year off, we can’t come back for another year. So we’re on our way out and we’re going to get all the Warped Tour fans but it’s cool because it’s perfect timing to say we’re a metal band and on our way to the metal place. We get to play to all these kids on our way out. Some can come, some can not, but after Warped Tour if they come see Miss May I they’ll say, ‘Whoa, this is a metal show not Warped Tour’ They’ll come to a show and see walls of cabs and skulls and not keyboards and lasers, it’ll be cool.
Do you think doing Warped Tour right out of the gate on a new record might burn you guys out in the coming months with the touring schedule you guys are known for having?
We’re actually excited. We’ve always been about touring and it was cool to come out on this tour with this record and play some songs that aren’t singles off the new record. Kids won’t know it, but afterwards it’s insane how many CDs we sell because kids just heard it. It helps with the CD sales for the cycle and because we’re not scare to tour a lot, whether it’s Warped Tour or a basement tour. We’ll tour year round. We’ve already done it for two years.
So we can expect you guys to lean a bit harder on this record in the coming tours then?
This is our first record that we’ve gotten the most positive feedback instead of having songs that are filler. It will be nice to play like five songs off of At Heart and two or three off of the older records. This is the record that’s selling the best, and it’s cool for us because it’s fresh. It’s not like ‘We’ve been playing this for three years,’ so it’s nice.