For a young man, just years into his 20s, former Dayton native Levi Benton has a lot on his shoulders. Not only is he facing some of his most formative years as a human being, he’s also spending much of his time in a 24-hour a day job as a public figure, the frontman of internationally recognized metalcore act Miss May I. With the job comes pressures to balance delivering the right message to fans who expect a larger-than-life personality with the earth-shaking voice his puts to record.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Benton to discuss the band’s fourth record, and how he strikes the balance between being what people expect and being a regular dude.
Rise of the Lion came out in 2014 and you worked with Terry Date, who produced records by Slipknot and Pantera, on that. What did he bring to the process that really transformed the record?
I think the biggest thing he brought was the “live” sound aspect of it. We really wanted something raw and live sounding and that’s one of the reasons we chose to go to him. We wanted a record that was in your face, that was exactly what the band sounds like live. He also brought a lot of new instruments. There is a song where we were wanting piano, and he encouraged us to use a grand piano.
We didn’t use a lot of computers on the record. We used a lot of analog equipment, he had a lot of analog faders…we were really excited because we’d never been able to do a record like that.
You guys have changed engineers and producers with each record. Is it every unsettling to go to an unknown quantity for something new?
Sometimes it is a little nerve wracking. We usually spend some time with their portfolios. We give them a lot of trust though.
Is it hard to hand off your baby to someone you don’t know personally?
That is always the hardest part. But, we usually try to bro down a bit. Every producer that we’ve worked with we’ve become pretty close with. Even today, our former producers still come out to our shows. We become close friends during the recording process.
So it becomes a band of brothers type scenario?
For the cover art for the record you asked fans to get a tattoo of the lion design. How was the fan who was selected for the cover eventually rewarded?
We asked to see a selfie of the person. We ended up going with a guy who we felt represented the record and we flew him out to LA, and got the tattoo done. It was pretty awesome. We got to be a part of it the entire time.
You spent the better part of the last year touring in support of the record and one of your performances was at Slipknot’s music festival. How big was that for you as a fan of the band?
It was crazy. We never expected that. It was an honor to be able to play. They are legends in our minds. They actually curated the festival, so to know that, was an honor. It was like winning an award at a small function or something. It was crazy. That’s the only way I know how to put it. I was like, “There’s no way this is real life.” Especially getting to play the Knotfest in Japan. That was incredible.
Had you been to Japan before?
Yes, we did two weeks in Japan earlier in the year. Most U.S. bands get to play just a couple of shows in Tokyo, but we did the whole country from top to bottom and played pretty much every major city there.
One of your guy’s goals seems to be releasing inspirational music and “Refuse To Believe,” from the new record, is a testament to that approach. Where did this message of empowerment come from?
A lot of that one came from a lot of weight that is on our shoulders as a result of social networking. The kids on social networking want you to be a certain way because of the job you do. For us it gets real stressful, because if you just try to be a normal guy, people take issue with it. That’s when we started thing of that. That’s where the inspiration for that song came from.
It is probably challenging to be a young man with a job that is basically 24 hours a day…
It definitely is hard, especially with our genre, which is edgy and extreme. We aren’t always edgy or extreme. We have fans from 10 years old up to 50, and so sometimes it is too edgy. It is definitely a back and forth struggle trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. Sometimes I find myself getting ready to post something and then I delete it a minute later and tell myself, “No, you don’t need to be that guy.”
Where do you find that your morals come from? What keeps you in check?
I think I just try to be a better person today than I was yesterday, just try to be a positive person. And to treat where we are at with a positive outlook. I think about when I was on the other side of the fence as a fan of a band and I always admired bands who were willing to get one-on-one with fans. I try to keep that mindset, to put myself in their shoes.
The Bogart’s show is actually taking place in your hometown. Do those shows on the home turf feel different than the shows you play abroad?
Yes, completely different. When we first started out and came back to the area after tours there was sort of a crossed-arm, hater vibe because people thought we believed we were too good for them. It was the whole “sell-out” vibe. But we were just doing what we loved to do. I think it is cool now because there are so many new fans who don’t know us from the basement and garage era and hold that against us. Other than that, the hometown shows are amazing.
That’s kind of a “you hate it when your friends become successful” mindset…
Yeah, that’s how it feels. We’re out touring and it isn’t sustainable for us to be playing people’s houses every weekend like we once were.
Lately there has been some disheartening news about a musician from Ohio who may have been using his fame and influence to take advantage of young female fans. Do artists have a responsibility not to take advantage of their fans in that way, or is it par for course in the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle?
I think that is completely overstepping the boundaries. I’ve had this conversation with people for years, before this even came to light. If it happened, that is a terrible thing. We’ve toured with people who seek out a collection of photos from fans and are that way and there are also people who know that is disrespectful. There is definitely the right way to go about things. There isn’t really a gray area when it comes to this phenomenon.
Has attention from fans ever taken a negative toll of your family life?
Not really. We don’t have a large fan girl following in our genre where the relationship is more attached and those boundaries can be stepped over. The biggest thing we find are people talking crap on social networking and struggling not to give in to that by responding. They are waiting for a response and it is hard to let that go sometimes.
(Visit Miss May I at: http://www.mmiriseofthelion.com/.)