INTERVJU: Levi Benton i Miss May I

För en tid sedan spelade Miss May I i Stockholm. Vi satte oss ner med sångaren Levi för att prata lite om headlineturnén, senaste albumet, första albuminfluenserna och det där med att ha en mamma som är ofantligt mer metal än du själv är:

Two years ago she called me from the hospital and I was on tour and I was like ”Oh my God, what happened?” and she went to see Meshuggah with a friend and my mom is like a linebacker, she´s just a bigger lady and she loves to go into the pit. She went to Meshuggah and she got elbowed in the face and it shattered her eye socket, so she had to get like a metal eye socket put in, but she was totally fine. 


How´s the tour been going? I heard it was a good show in Oslo.

Yeah, it´s been awesome. We haven´t done a proper headliner in years out here, so that´s why we wanted to do it on this record and we made it a point to headline everywhere.

Is there a difference between the US and Europe, audience wise?

Oh yeah! The crowd here is really cool because… I just love the European crowd because it´s based off the music and the vibe and the feeling and not really based off of all these extra curricular things like what magazine you´re in that monthor what store is selling your t-shirt. I feel that the US is very based on that and that comes with album cycles. When an album´s coming out you´re in all of the stores and magazines and it´s great, but after three months there´s another band on there, because their album´s coming out and it sucks because kids just read that stuff. In Europe, if you come out with a record everybody says ”I love the record!” and they´re gonna come to your show and that doesn´t happen anywhere else. You can release a good record and come to Europe and your ticket sales will spike, but you can release a good record in the US and unless you get any magazine covers or t-shirts in stores, it´s like ”Crap, we really missed it this time!” and your ticket sales don´t really spike as much. It´s really not based off the music as much, I feel at least. That´s what´s great here. Every time we would do something good… I mean, we know if a song´s an 8 and not a 10. If we release a song that has a Euro metal vibe we know it´s gonna help us a lot.

In Europe we´ve also had these really big festivals for a longer time than in the US.

I feel they were trying to copy that with Rock on the range and so on, but that´s new. You guys have been doing that for decades and we´ve just now figured it out. We´re very thankful because right when that started, like four or five years ago, we got right in on that, because we were already doing it in Europe, so we´re on that circuit at home, which is like the best time of the year. That definitely helps as well here because that´s another thing if the music´s great and you´re playing a festival for 20000 people, they´re gonna come again and the cool thing about those rock metal festivals in the US, is that they bring out this fanbase that´s like a real fanbase and not those fickle internet fans, which is great, but the only way to get to those fans is to have a festival. You can´t tweet or facebook message those fans. You have to have a festival and be like ”Hey, come check out our band and Metallica´s gonna play later. Metallica´s gonna be here tonight, but watch us first.” then those people come out. We´ve met so many fans on those tours that say ”Oh great, I saw you in Chicago. Was that your first time here?” and we go ”No, we´ve been coming here for years. We were here on the Warped tour.” and they go ”What´s that?” and you feel like ”You guys don´t know anything.”, but that´s 80% of those crowds and I feel that´s where it is in Europe too which is great because you guys have figured that out to where that´s where you spread music. That´s just how it´s different. . We´ve been pushing Europe forever and as a metal band that´s always a dream and it feels like now is the first time it´s really stuck and picked up. I think a big thing is because of our label change. It´s what we always wanted and now it´s like it´s finally sticking. We´re friends with Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine and all these people and they´re telling us about their tours and we´d be like ”That would never happen for us in Europe.” and now it´s finally happening. A big thing was just the label because people didn´t have access. We would do Download and do an autograph signing and kids would be like ”I can´t bring a record to the signing because it´ll cost a fortune to import it.” and we were like ”What? That doesn´t make sense. You should be able to buy it on the street.” The past five never got released here. On this tour we play 14 songs and I think seven are from the new record, but our old songs suck now and all the fans that are coming to the shows… when I go ”Who are old school Miss May I fans?” and it´s like no one.

Tell me about ”Shadows inside” and what are the shadows inside?

I feel like every record is sort of a time capsule. We never go into a record like ”This is what it´s gonna be about.” or ”This is the concept.”, we just write songs that we like the sound of. With ”Shadows inside” we were going through a lot of changes. The label was changing and a lot of things were changing and with that a lot of the past was coming up, old contracts, old conversations and all this history was coming out of us and we were just writing the songs whil we were in the studio. ”Shadows inside” was just the sum of what we all wanted to call the past. The past is like the shadows that are inside of you. ”Shadows inside” was already a song on the record and when we were setting up everything and listening to the record, that was really all the changes we went through. Ryan at the time was going through a big relationship thing and he helps with lyrics and it was a huge change for him and we were leaving people we´d worked with for 10 years and working with new people. All these things are happening and I just think it sort of reflected onto the record. It was cool because we´ve always been a band that sort of steps back and makes it a little bit more vague so everyone can relate. We wanted the record to just really be about our past that we went through. Now we´re in a whole other spot for the next record.

Are you writing for the new record?

We´re always writing. We have 10 plus songs already.

Do you have like creative waves or is it more of a constant thing?

I think that´s how we write records. You know, you´re in the shower and you think of that idea and go ”This could be a great song!”. We can all record and we all have the ability to do that. On this tour I´ve probably written like two riffs on my phone and then I´ll send them to BJ. We have a thing called the ”Riff bank” and on the last record we had like 34 songs that were just like little sections and that´s how we started the record. Right now we have 10 plus and I think this album cycle´s gonna be the longest, so we might have 60 ideas in the end. We might be at soundcheck and someone will be messing around and we´ll record it on our phones and save it and bring it back later on.

You better not lose your phones like Kirk Hammett.

It´s in the cloud. The worst is if you write a good riff and you listen to it later and go like ”This is trash.” At the time it was good, but then…

What´s Troy, Ohio like?

It´s 20000 people and it´s sort of like Pleasantville, perfect litte suburban white picket fence town. When we were growing up there was nothing. We did weekend shows and handed out flyers and everybody rode a bike to this shed and that´s the town we grew up in. It´s a very small close knit town. Our schools supported us. There´s not a lot of things that have come out of Troy. When that happened for us, the school backed us and the news and everyone was like ”This is crazy!” It was a really big deal for us.

What are your memories of your first show as a band?

I never wanted to play a show again. I remember it was the typical just family and friends there, maybe like 30 people. We played a real venue where they had like local nights. Obviously we had no lights, so the lights were just turned on. I had the same hair as I have now but I didn´t know what I was doing so I was headbanging with my whole body. I don´t know what was going on. The lights were in my eyes and my hair and I was just hating it. I was sweating and I couldn´t see anything. At the time, I remember walking off stage and I hated every second of it. I was like ”This was horrible.” Nobody cheered. It wasn´t like the dvds, because you watch these dvds and you think it´s gonna be like that and you go up there and you just have like the one clap and it´s hard. It´s hard for sure. We have video of it and it was definitely embarrassing. Even the video´s embarrassing because when we hit record the camera moved so we only got half of the band. It´s our first show ever and we only got stage right, two people. We even screwed that up. (laughs) It was very bad.

When you read about the classic bands they always say that the reason for putting the band together was to get girls and to party. What were the main reasons for putting your band together?

The reason we started the band was just to be able to hang out at night. We all skatebaorded together and we all hung out all day together and then when the sun goes down you have to go home, but if we had band practise and we could go to a friend´s house to practise in their basement till 10 o´clock and then just go to sleep and go to school the next day… we honestly just started the band so we could hang out later and then one thing just lead to another. When we started we never wrote songs, we just covered and showed off. It was so stereotypical, we´d order pizza and make lemonade and hang out until 10 pm. Then we started to write our own songs and then we played a show and one thing lead to another. We never did anything like an unsigned band. We literally stayed within a 50 mile radius and then we blew up on the internet. It was like over night. I never left Ohio until we got a record deal and it was crazy. At the time it was happening all over the place because myspace just came out and it was the first time you could be a local band and put your music up for free and the world could hear it. Nobody cared about money back then. It sucks now because thay took that away. When it was new it was like groundbreaking. We had one demo. We got like 200 plays a day, which was cool and then we put one song up and we got like two million plays a day. We were just kids. It´s one of the best times of my life.

Do you come from a musical home?

My mom is like the metalhead. She´s way more metal than I. Everyone has a musical background. My mom is a single mom and a hardass. She´s covered in tattoos and she has more tattoos than I have and she could beat the shit out of me anytime she wanted. She´s just a badass lady and she goes to metal shows and she´s been like that ever since I was growing up. When I was old enough she would take me to shows like Rob Zombie and Megadeth and all these crazy concerts. I didn´t know it was weird until… probably junior high when I would wear like a White Zombie shirt to school and kids were like ”That´s disgusting!” and I was like ”What are you talking about? That´s my mom´s favorite band.” Then I discovered that my mom is different, ”This is not supposed to be my mom´s favorite band. It´s supposed to be Barry Manilow.” But my mom´s a lot younger and she had me really young. I think that helped. Obviously being in the band in school we were supposed to do school work and we got really fortunate and I don´t know how, because some of the other guys in the band have way stricter parents than I do, but our parents were so cool and let us do all this through school. But yeah, my mom´s a big metal head. She has a Miss May I flag outside of her house and every time new merch comes out she has a box. She´s so metal and this is my favorite story, probably two years ago she called me from the hospital and I was on tour and I was like ”Oh my God, what happened?” and she went to see Meshuggah with a friend and my mom is like a linebacker, she´s just a bigger lady and she loves to go into the pit. She went to Meshuggah and she got elbowed in the face it shattered her eye socket, so she had to get like a metal eye socket put in, but she was totally fine. I said ”Are you ok?” and she went ”The show was so awesome!” and I said ”Mom, you can´t be jumping into the pit!”, but she did and got cracked right in the face. She´s got bright purple hair. She´s wild.

What was the first metal album that you remember got you into all this?

An ocean between us” (2007) from As I Lay Dying was the one. I´d heard of that band and I saw them at festivals and I knew they were a big deal, but before them I thought the heaviest thing was Underoath. At the time, Slipknot were heavy, but they were like radio heavy. I didn´t get into Slipknot when they were like ”Iowa” (2001) and playing local shows. I wish I did, because it´d be a lot cooler, but I got into them when they were on the radio when everyone did. To me Underoath was underground and heavy and then I heard As I Lay Dying´s record and at the time it was so cool because all the bands we loved were like Underoath, Devil Wears Prada and they had like a keyboard player and someone who sang and was a screamer, so that´s how our band was set up, but we didn´t have a keyboard player and then I heard As I Lay Dying and they had the same set up as we had, but they were playing crazier music and I was like ”He just played a guitar solo and he just sang a chorus! What´s happening?” That opened up a whole new world for us, because they took what we already liked but they put skulls and black and made it way cooler and added muscles and tattoos and I was like ”This is way cooler than what I was listening to.” and that sort of became what we got into. So yeah, ”An ocean between us”… I think you can tell on our second album that we tried to rip it so hard because it´s our favorite record.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Cian Marangos