I never thought I would feel old at 26, but catching up with Miss May I frontman Levi Benton at the 2014 Mayhem Festival was a wake-up call. As I listened to him tell me about all the groups he grew up admiring, I realized that every single one of them were prominent during my high school years.
As a writer who’s accustomed to artists scouring the past for names such as The Replacements, Budgie, and Felix Cavaliere, it was surreal for me to hear Benton elucidate his early affection for Hawthorne Heights and As Blood Runs Black with such youthful animation. He spoke fondly of his influences as if they were relics from a prehistoric time with little or no connection to where he and the band are at in 2014.
Who knew that a post-hardcore band whose debut album dropped in 2004 could be placed upon the shelf right next to dirt and Crystal Pepsi for safe keeping?
Hyperbole aside, that’s how I felt in the moment.
Bands I didn’t think had established enough longevity to start leaving their mark on the next generation are suddenly doing just that, which, in turn, means that my 10-year reunion is approaching much quicker than anticipated.
Benton turned 23 in February, so it's only a matter of time before he finds himself in similar situations.
Until then, he and the rest of Miss May I are busy fighting for their headlining lives on the side stage at Mayhem. Their new material ranks among the finest of their young career and, judging by the crowd’s response, a date with the main stage is just around the corner.
Question: How has Mayhem been treating you guys thus far?
Benton: It’s been awesome. I think it’s my favorite tour we’ve ever done. It’s insane, all the way around.
Question: I know you guys are usually part of the Vans Warped Tour. Do you feel as if Mayhem is a better fit?
Benton: This is easier, because it’s all metalheads from the front to the back. I’m not trying to win over power-pop kids or anything like that. This one could be a better fit, but I’m still excited to do Warped again in the future.
Question: The last time I saw you guys before today was in an opening slot for Five Finger Death Punch. Is there anything you learned from being out on tour with them?
Benton: Oh man, it was definitely inspiring. The coolest thing was we did main stage at Warped Tour and all this other touring, but still felt as if we were sort of peaking out. We saw Five Finger and realized there was so much more room to grow, because they’re just massive. It was totally inspiring to tour with them and really experience how far metal could go.
Question: Do you find that the material from “Rise of the Lion” is going over well with the crowds?
Benton: We’ve been playing a lot of the new stuff, because it’s more about crowd participation.
Question: What was your lyrical inspiration for the album?
Benton: I like to write about everything, but it’s always different. The last record was very fan-based from their point-of-view, which was the best part of the process.
Question: Who were some of your early inspirations?
Benton: It was actually a lot heavier when we first started out, because As Blood Runs Black, All Shall Perish, Dimmu and other crazy stuff was influencing us. Later, As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage were big for us. It changes all the time, though. It’s nice that our band isn’t just one thing, because now we listen to a lot of In Flames and other stuff from all over the map.
Question: What city has produced your favorite Mayhem crowd to date?
Benton: They’re all awesome, but some cities like circle pits more and some enjoy crowd surfing more. Each one likes different fads. We try to play all the big songs or those which have been made into music videos, so the crowds definitely get what they came for. My favorite city so far is St. Louis, because we actually had both an infinity pit and a figure-eight circle pit going at the same time. I don’t even know how it happened, but it was awesome.
Question: How far did you envision the band going when you first started out?
Benton: We exceeded expectations within the first month. I just wanted to tour the country one time and see if it worked out. That was five years ago, so it’s been insane. We’ve done almost the entire world and all the continents. My mom called me the first time we ever made it on the radio, which I never thought would happen. People hear our records and think one thing about the band, but, when they see us live, the crowd participation takes it to another level. Playing Soundwave with Metallica is easily the highlight for me, because the crowds were totally into us. After this tour wraps up, we’re planning some radio festivals in the United States and then we have yet another cross country tour lined up.
Be sure to catch Miss May I on the Coldcock American Herbal Whiskey Stage as part of the 2014 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival.
See http://www.rockstarmayhemfest.com for details.
“Rise of the Lion” is available now at your local record store.