Hard Times, Good Vibes: Miss May I discusses the struggle and success of ‘Deathless’

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Miss May I

Troy, Ohio five-piece metal band Miss May I has been busy bees this year with Warped Tour, releasing Deathless, finishing a tour with Parkway Drive and announcing they’ll be on the road with Blessthefall at the beginning of next year, it’s hard to imagine the struggles that led the band to where they’re at now. We talked with the band’s frontman Levi Benton and bassist/vocalist Ryan Neff about Miss May I’s new album and the writing process behind it.

What inspired Deathless?
LEVI BENTON: It’s sort of a collective of our last two years as a band. We went through a lot of rough stuff as a band—like, natural stuff that you’d go through, especially with us being a band for a long time. We had everything going [for us], like unicorns and butterflies the whole time, and we never had something rough. So when something rough did happen, it was really traumatic for us. Even getting to do the album, getting to the point of going into the studio was hard because we’re all calling each other like, “Man, I don’t know if I want to do this.” When we finally got there, we all helped each other through it. We actually didn’t mean to write the record about that. It sort of just happened. We were jamming and having the lyrics coming through and everybody was on the same page. When Ryan and I would give the song to everybody and [they] were like, “Yeah, we totally get what this song’s about.” We kept doing that a few times and we’re like, “Wow. We have a theme. All the songs we have written have a theme, let’s make the record about this.” We’ve never done that either. And it’s cool because it’s the first time we’ve actually been pissed off in a long time. We had a rough two years as a band, just behind-the-scenes and business-wise, but it’s cool, we made it through and everyone’s happy now.

Do you feel you had an easier time writing this record compared to previous ones?
BENTON: I did. I thought it was really easy.
RYAN NEFF: Definitely easier than the one before.
BENTON: Yeah. I feel like once me and Ryan felt a theme, it was easy. We knew exactly what this record’s going to be about. It’s funny, “I.H.E.” were the first lyrics written, it was the first song we had written. I demoed it in my room like, “This song is ‘I Hate Everyone.’ This is pretty different for Miss May I.” The first complete song in the studio was “Deathless” and that’s a huge summary of the record too. It was really easy for us.

Did this help make everyone a bigger part of the process?
NEFF: Everyone’s been a part of the process the whole time. We’ve always been pretty good about that. Working with Joey [Sturgis, who also produced Apologies Are For The Weak and Monument] again was just a smooth process for us. We get along with him, we have a nice working relationship with him where we were able to do “Deathless” on our first or second day of actual tracking.
BENTON: Yeah. Our bags were getting unpacked and “Deathless” was finished.
NEFF: We just work really well with him, and when things are smooth and you like your producer as much as we do on this record, everybody’s in a better mood and everything really quickly so everybody gets a chance to put pretty much anything they want on the table. This record before [Rise Of The Lion] was a little more distant. We were in a really big studio with a budget, just wasn’t the same vibe as we have with Joey.

Even though the record is about how tough the last two years were for Miss May I, was a good vibe in the studio?
BENTON: Yeah. I think the reason it was such a good vibe is Joey gets us as a band and he got what we were writing about, and that was nice because it wasn’t a data input. It wasn’t like, “Here’s the lyrics, put them in.” Joey was asking about the lyrics. “Why’d you do that? Why are you going through this?” When Ryan and I were coming to him with songs, even guitar parts, he’s like, “I totally get what you guys are going for.” That’s what made it a good vibe because we didn’t have to explain it to him. We went, “Here. Here’s our first song,” and he’s like, “Okay. I know what you guys are trying to do with it.”

Do you feel a lot better after writing the record and getting a lot of that anger off your chest?
BENTON: Oh yeah, I think that happened in the studio. There were so many times we were tracking in the studio we were like, “Yes. We finally have it out there.”
NEFF: I think it gave us a second wind. When business stuff goes wrong, that portion of the industry is not why you started playing, so when it’s that sort of stuff that’s going wrong but you’re putting in the same amount of effort touring, that’s what burns you out, when you feel like you’re working your butt off and it’s going in the other direction. I think Deathless was a nice reset for us and a nice swing in the other direction. After at least one record cycle of being stressed out all the time and not having as much fun as doing all this stuff, I think it gave us a nice appreciation for things again.

Do you have a lot of fun playing the new songs since you get to push all that anger out again?
BENTON: It’s so crazy, because not only is it nice to get that anger out, the crowd response to Deathless songs being the same as our big singles that have been out for years. It’s a different vibe because Rise Of The Lion was fan-based, which was awesome, but—
NEFF: —it’s harder to get in touch with what you’re writing when you are trying to write from someone else’s perspective. I think we did a better job of connecting the dots on these songs and making them translate into the ears of our listeners instead of them just being songs that they hear one time and they’re like, “Yeah, that was cool, but I didn’t really get attached to it.” I feel like this record gave us a lot more songs—it’s obvious, we have four of those songs on this tour that go over well. Whereas with the last record, we were pulling them out of the set to find songs that made that made the most sense. That’s the weird part about having five records, I guess.
BENTON: It’s a battle.
NEFF: Sometimes you put a song in and it’s six years old and you’re like, “Damn. Do people still like this song?” Then you go and play it and they do and you’re like, “Okay.” And sometimes you got a brand new song and you put it in and you’re like, “I’m not sure people are going to like it,” and it’s the other way. It’s a big trial and error for us.

Do you guys think Miss May I would still be a band if Deathless didn’t go over as well as it has?
BENTON: Yeah. We’re hardheaded. We love doing this.
NEFF: It’d definitely be more stressful and difficult.
BENTON: We’d be way grumpier.
NEFF: I think we would have.
BENTON: It’s what we’re good at.
NEFF: It’s really the only thing that any of us do.
BENTON: We’ve done it forever. We’ve literally done it since we were kids. It’s crazy.
NEFF: I don’t really know what else we would jump to. There’s not really anything for us to shuffle over into.

What was the inspiration behind the music video for “Turn Back The Time?”
BENTON: We actually sent the song over to [director Max Moore]—usually [directors] send us a crazy story, and this time around, it’s not as straightforward. Everything’s going backward, everything is horrible and it’s not going [the main character’s] way. I think the coolest abstract thing about this video for us as a band is it’s not dark and scary, and we’ve been a band for years and every video has been dark and scary. We showed up to this one and he’s like, “You’re in a white room. The video is going to be this guy in suburbs,” and we’re like, “You know we’re like a heavy metal band?” When it got together, it’s really fun for us to watch because it’s refreshing on the eyes. It’s not just fire and dark.
NEFF: It’s the shortest performance we’ve ever had to make for a music video.
BENTON: We jumped in [and] jammed.
NEFF: He doesn’t mess around.
BENTON: Yeah. Max is awesome.
NEFF: He’s a Midwest guy. We recorded it next to a pig slaughter plant so it smelled—
BENTON: —like rotting flesh.
NEFF: Yeah, that was pretty gross.

Do you relate to the character in the video as in him watching everything go wrong and not being able to do anything about it?
NEFF: I think everybody looks at certain situations and wished that they had changed that situation or played their part differently. I think that’s why it’s such a relatable song. I’d be surprised to find anybody that did everything perfectly the first time. I don’t think we’d have an exact, specific thing that we would say that song is about but I think we can all relate to it.

Since this was a lighter video and not as dark and scary as you guys said, are you more open to doing lighter videos now?
BENTON: I don’t want it to be a trend of the band. We have so much content that it’s sometimes hard to change it up.
NEFF: Whatever fits the tune.
BENTON: Whatever’s new to the fans. We always want to keep it fresh. Whenever we release records, we’re always like, “What can we do that’s really different this time?” It’d be cool to do a cartoon.
NEFF: Yeah! That’d be exciting. I’ll be a cartoon. I’d like that.