Story Bryan Rolli
Photos by Bryan Rolli and Travis Shinn
The kids are growing up.
The “kids” are Troy, Ohio’s metalcore quintet Miss May I, and their version of “growing up” involves support slots on high-profile European metal tours, massive festival gigs in both America and Japan and an album that was just one spot shy of cracking the Billboard Top 20 last year. Not bad for a band whose oldest member, bassist Ryan Neff, is only 26.
It’s fitting, then, that Miss May I would name their fourth and most recent album “Rise of the Lion.” Since their 2009 debut, “Apologies Are for the Weak” — released before most of the band even graduated high school — they have climbed the evolutionary ladder and shed the clichés that so often plague their “Hot Topic metal” contemporaries. Absent are the token one-note breakdowns, synth interludes and Auto-Tuned choruses on this album. In their place are meaty riffs the way of Metallica, pummeling drums and a twin vocal attack courtesy of lead screamer Levi Benton and the aforementioned Neff — who, yes, can actually sing. Think less Attack Attack!, more Avenged Sevenfold.
The rest of the metal community took note of Miss May I’s newfound muscular tone as well. The band joined Five Finger Death Punch for a stateside tour of small arenas in the fall of 2013, and they supported veteran metal acts Killswitch Engage and Trivium on their U.K. tour in early 2014. Last summer, Miss May I graduated from Warped Tour to Mayhem Festival, and was invited to play Slipknot’s aptly titled Knotfest in both America and Japan. Not only were they rapidly gaining a global fan base, they were leaving their “hardcore kid” roots behind and maturing into a full-blown “man’s” metal band.
And yet, for all the band’s newfound success, they seem to be forgetting something. Save for a short run of intimate club gigs last May, the band has yet to do a formal U.S. headlining tour in support of an album that is nearly a year old. “We keep ending up on other people’s tours, which is not a complaint,” Neff says. Even now, they’re wrapping up the Frozen Flame Tour, a six-week run on which they were direct support for August Burns Red, another band that has consistently broken boundaries and escaped the trappings of the metalcore genre.
Neff adds that while the overseas exposure from the past two years has given them more tour opportunities, it’s also made planning more complicated. “Now, it’s just figuring out how to get to every place that we feel like we could or should play in a year, and then making it all fit together,” he says. “It’s like a puzzle, getting the schedule to work.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, either. With last summer’s Mayhem Festival lineup ranging from modern metal giants Avenged Sevenfold to death metal kings Cannibal Corpse, everyone in Miss May I knew they were about to face the toughest kind of crowd yet: elitist, hyper-selective metal heads. “It’s like, there will be 3,000 people in front of you every day, and it’s your job to make sure that they don’t hate your band,” Neff says. “So for us, going into it, we were like, ‘Man, this is a challenge. It’s new. It’s scary.’ But it went over well, and all the bands on the tour were awesome.”
If “Rise of the Lion” helped the band break through to a wider audience and garner acceptance throughout the metal sphere, then they owe much of its success to producer Terry Date. An old-school, no-frills producer who has operated the board for legendary acts such as Pantera, White Zombie, Overkill, Deftones and Slayer, Date forced Miss May I to proceed with the utmost confidence during recording, not letting anyone lay down a part until they were fully satisfied with it.
Of course, working with the man who produced many of the band’s favorite records didn’t hurt matters either. “When you record with someone like that, who is responsible for so many records that you fell in love with, just having the opportunity to record a track with him and have him be like, ‘That was great, that was the one’ — that instilled such a giant sense of confidence in us going forward,” Neff says. “And I don’t know if we would’ve had the confidence to step up with our chests out and meet other bands and be confident about our band if we wouldn’t have had Terry behind us making a record like that.”
Like other landmark records, “Rise of the Lion” left many diehard Miss May I fans divided. Some encouraged the raw, heavier direction, while others craved the metalcore classics of yesteryear. But rather than alienate their old fans entirely, the band tailors their set lists to appeal to both groups. “We tour so much that if a fan doesn’t like a record, they know that there’s still gonna be all the old songs in the set,” Neff says. “We’ve pumped out four [albums] already. I don’t see why there won’t be a whole bunch more coming out after.”
This effort to retain their old fan base means the band would happily return to the Warped Tour scene as well. “Any of these outdoor metal festivals are where our band shines. We have so much experience with sweating our balls off outside,” Neff says. “We’re very open to a whole different type of touring than a lot of other bands, so we’re open for a lot of different festivals.”
After nearly two years of touring with the elder statesmen of modern metal, the Frozen Flame Tour has shown Miss May I is still more than welcome in the metalcore realm. “This is our first venue tour where we’ve really come back to this world in a couple years, I think since the [Alternative Press] Tour that we headlined in 2012,” Neff says. “We want to make sure we keep stepping back into each world as much as possible, try to make everybody happy. You can’t make everybody happy all the time, but we’ll try.”
In the midst of their hectic tour schedule, the band is still finding time to record demos for a new album on the road. “Nothing’s set in stone to announce yet or anything like that, but we’re trying to work on things a lot earlier than we did last time,” Neff says. “There’s always more material to come.” Beyond new album plans, Neff says the band will finally devote more time to their own soil after touring overseas for the majority of the last two years. “Getting back to a lot of our American fans is a big goal for us,” he says.
The kids are growing up, but they still know their way home.