Miss May I: "We've Always Done What We Wanted."
Interview by Nina Schirmer
After seeing Miss May I twice before they announced that they would be on the Bands Vs. Food tour with Memphis May Fire and We Came As Romans, I was more than excited to find out that they would be coming back to one my favorite venues in Philadelphia, the Theatre of Living Arts (TLA). The band has been constantly touring since the release of their fifth album, Deathless, which was released during the summer of 2015, where everyday Miss May I rocked the main stage of the Vans Warped Tour. The band revisited producer Joey Sturgis who had helped shape them more into their fast-paced and aggressive sound. Through their quick guitar riffs, intense vocals, and energetic stage presence, Miss May I continuously gets their crowds going as they shout back lyrics, form circle pits, and crowd surf to the front.
Even though I’ve seen many shows at the TLA I have never been backstage at the venue so I was curious to check it out. Before the show started, I was lead by Miss May I’s tour manager through a curtain, and up the stairs to a small dimly lit room where I met with Ryan Neff, Miss May I’s bassist and clean vocalist. We talked about everything from vegan Philly cheesesteaks to interesting sightings in mosh pits and the band's new album.
The Prelude Press: Since the tour you are currently on is called The Bands vs. Food Tour where have you eaten some of the best food and what did you eat?
Ryan Neff: We unfortunately aren’t involved in their Band Vs. Food portion. The cool thing though, is that even though we aren’t doing that part of it, I’ve been doing vegan food this tour with Levi [Benton, vocals]. I had a vegan Philly cheesesteak today. For someone who wasn’t even doing anything vegetarian about five weeks ago - I ate two regular Philly cheesesteaks when we last played here - I had very low expectations that it was going to be as good as when I had the real deal, but it was pretty good! I think today was the coolest vegan thing that I’ve eaten so far and it surprised me that it was that good considering that it had none of the two ingredients that are in the original version.
Before hitting the road for a tour, are there any goals that you keep in mind that you try to accomplish?
Depending on how long the break is I try to break my cycle of sitting on the couch a lot and watching Netflix, and just being generally not lively like I have to be on tour, so I try to get a bunch of cardio in. It’s really boring [laughs]. I wish it was cooler on how I prep but I just try to get my diet back in order and start running. Then the band of course will schedule rehearsal and everything.
Between this tour and the last tour with Blessthefall, have you started working on new material?
Yeah we always are kind of working on stuff. Technology now allows the guys to write pretty much everywhere we go. We haven’t really started doing any real recording or anything like that where we’re preparing a new record but we’ve been working here and there. It’s easier for us to continuously work throughout the year than it is to stress out two weeks before we’re about to go in to record so we try to get a little bit done throughout the year.
Ever since Miss May I started as a band, you have been constantly writing and you now have 5 albums out. Between each album release how would you say you have grown and how do you keep your music fresh? How do you maintain that balance by keeping your fans happy and yourselves happy?
We have done a lot of records really fast. A few of those times we thought we missed it on the overall record and thought that maybe we released a record with three or four great songs and then four or five songs that weren’t so great. We just feel like fans get bored really easily now with the amount of stuff that’s coming out all the time and instant access to everything. I think the cool thing about touring all the time is that we’re always playing in front of new people and I think that in the heavy metal world, especially in the side of it that we’re in with the Warped Tour stuff, you have a really high turnover of fans. You have a lot of people who decide they don’t like metal anymore, and there’s a lot of people who might be listening to us for the first time in high school, so there’s always new people we’re playing for so each record gives us a chance to win a few more people over. To those people it’s always fresh.
I honestly don’t think that you can keep everyone happy. We did the first two records with Joey Sturgis [producer, Asking Alexandria, Of Mice and Men, The Devil Wears Prada] and then we took four or five years off of working with Joey and did other records, and then we did Deathless with Joey as kind of a throwback to something the original fans would want and it still didn’t make everyone happy. Sometimes you fall in love with a record at a certain point in time in your life and to me you’re just not going to outdo that record. Sometimes you make them and people aren’t going to like them and it sucks, but at the same time sometimes you make them and they think they’re cool, so I guess that’s the bane of having more than one record. That’s the funny thing when we tour with young bands that are on their first record - if you only have ten songs it’s really easy to choose your setlist. Now we have five records and thirty minutes to get it in! So it’s hard to keep everybody happy.
That’s really awesome how you do keep yourselves happy with the music you write and maintain that balance. You’re right you can never make everyone happy.
Yeah, I think it changes with the tours with the tours, too. When we were at the TLA three tours ago, I think we were with August Burns Red which is one type of fanbase and then when we were at the TLA last time, we were with Blessthefall and that’s a totally different fanbase compared to when we played back at The Fillmore when we were with Parkway Drive. So it’s kind of like different songs from different records will do well with certain crowds. It’s not as easy as, “Choose from the five music videos and go!” We can’t even do that anymore we’ve got too many of those as well [laughs].
You’ve had a lot of exposure to these different fanbases especially through touring with bands such as Killswitch Engage, Trivium, and Whitechapel who have a very different style compared to Blessthefall and Memphis May Fire. What has the experience been like for you to be able to reach out to fans of a different style in the genre?
I’d say hit or miss. Sometimes things work out really well and sometimes you are on stage and you’re like, “I don’t think they like us….” I remember when we did a Bullet For My Valentine tour in the UK - and we’re big Bullet For My Valentine fans coming from that time period where metalcore really blew up, we were all in high school - and they’re one of the leaders of the genre, but you don’t think about the fact that when you tour with a band like that, that it’s their tour. If there are three thousand people there, two-thousand nine-hundred and ninety-five of them are there to see that headlining band. You’re having a great time from one aspect because you’re in love with the band that you’re touring with because you love their music, but you have to win those fans over and sometimes that’s really hard. Trivium was a difficult one. Our Trivium tour was all of Europe which is notoriously heavy metal and they’ve been touring there for a long time.
This tour with We Came As Romans and Memphis May Fire, we are with guys that we’ve been touring with for years and years and it’s cool because to come into a tour like this one, we’re just in a great mood. We know that we kind of have the same fanbase, we all did Warped Tour together, and there’s a 95% chance that most of the people in the crowd are going to dig it. Just like when you choose the songs you kind of have to go into the show with a different mindset. Are you winning over a vast amount of people that have no idea who you are? Or are you playing for a whole bunch of people that are really stoked that you’re there because they’ve seen you a bunch of times? Or sometimes no one shows up and then it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to worry about it! You just have to try and figure out how to have a good time since nobody showed up! [laughs] Which is part of the equation a lot of people don’t talk about. Every band goes through that too!
How have your fans inspired you when writing music and performing?
We did a whole record where we did specifically just fan oriented subject matter, like things fans talk to us about, and I actually found that to be a really difficult experience for me. I thought that putting myself in somebody else’s shoes was really difficult, so our approach normally is we’ll write about whatever is going on with us and whatever is stressing us out which I’m sure is what 99% of singers and songwriters are doing anyway.
But the cool part is when you finish the song and you get to speak to somebody who enjoys the song. What you wrote it about most of the time is not going to be what they envisioned the meaning being anyway, and that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, it’s just cool that somebody even connected with the song enough to even have a thought process on why that song affected them. So I think that’s the coolest interaction with the fans. If they love a song and they can tell you why they enjoyed that song, whether it is the same reason you wrote that song or not, I think is the coolest and the most common interaction. That’s what most fans want to talk to you about is how cool the songs are. That’s the cool part of what we do everyday. Go to merch, talk to people about whether they like the songs or not. Sometimes they tell you they don’t, sometimes they tell you they do!
I’ve noticed that when I go to shows I see a lot of the same people and we all seem to have a similar story. We all relate to the music in certain ways and it’s just really awesome to see that.
Yeah! I was definitely like that with my friends in high school and I’d go to school and be like, “This Nine Inch Nails song is definitely about this!” Then they’re like, “No, I’ve read this interview man it’s not what it’s about at all!” It’s the exact same thing with our songs, and it’s the cool thing about music, it can be molded into however it helps you and however it makes you feel. If the music does it’s thing and it’s helping you along, however you interpret the subject matter to be, we’re stoked to hear about it.
Sometimes they’re really interesting too! Sometimes they think you’re talking about something and you’re like, “I was not talking about that, but now that you told me that’s what you think, I’m going to think that all the time!” I like when people don’t look up the lyrics too, and they tell you what they thought the lyric was and they say, “I was so surprised to find out that is the lyric!” And then I realize that wow, I never thought that lyric rhymed with that word and now when I’m at the mic I have to say to myself, “Don’t sing what that guy told you.” [laughs]
"...it’s the cool thing about music, it can be molded into however it helps you and however it makes you feel."
While on tour and performing is there a difference in crowd energy between states? I notice that when I go to a show in a different state there’s usually a different vibe. So do you notice that maybe one crowd is more mosh heavy where another crowd might be more into singing along?
I think it can honestly go all the way down from show to show in the same venue. The Blessthefall show that we did here at the TLA was a little lack luster. It wasn’t as good of a crowd for us. They were wild for Blessthefall. They were obviously very excited for the headliner that night, whereas the Parkway Drive tour at The Fillmore and the A Day to Remember tour here were the craziest, mosh heavy shows that we probably ever have played in Philadelphia. State to state it’s the same way.
I think a lot of bands always talk about how they blew up in Texas and they did really well there when they started touring, or they did really well in California. We were the weirdos where people said, “Man, you like Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio?” Anywhere that was in that general Midwest area that we grew up in, we were always doing really great and then other bands would say how they don’t really do so well out there. “Don’t want to stick us there to do a show there on a Tuesday!” Meanwhile we’re like, “Oh we’ll be fine!” I think it comes down to whether you’ve had good exposure in that state and got to play some cool shows where you had the chance to win people over. I think for everyone there’s going to be those cities you show up to and you just haven’t done a good enough job yet, you haven’t won over enough fans in that city so a show there is just not going to work for you. It depends. Country to country is sometimes really obvious. The European festival crowd reacts very differently from an American festival crowd. European moshers are crazy and have a lot of really weird things they do in the pit that we wait for and when we see them we’re like, “Yes! That means things are going well because you’re doing that!”
So what have been some of the craziest or weirdest things you have seen in the pit?
I know that it’s not really that crazy but I just love to see it! I like when people will do the Rowboat in the middle of the mosh pit. Have you seen the Rowboat?
I’ve never seen it.
I don’t know if it’s a European thing, I’ve seen it a few times here in the states. It’s where people will literally just sit down in the pit with one person in the front, maybe one person behind them and they are just rowing a boat or canoe and they’re doing it in unison! Like I said it doesn’t happen very often but it does happen and it’s hilarious! I love when it happens. It’s not a very common thing but when it does happen I’m always very stoked.
Yeah, I’ve never heard of it before!
I swear it’s a real thing! I don’t know if they want to call it the Rowboat or the Canoe? I want to pay proper respects to the mosh community’s phrasing of what it actually is, but whatever you guys call it, we love it! It’s awesome.
What advice would you give to newer bands who are told that they should change their sound to please others?
We have never really felt that way. We have done records that sound completely different from the one before, where everybody expected us to do the same thing and we’ve done the same thing when everybody said that we should’ve done something different. I think that either way, it all comes down to whether or not the people you are showing the songs to are going to like them or not whether you try to make them sound like somebody else. Whatever you tried to do, I think it all just comes down to quality songs, and if you want to change how your band sounds and you can do it and your songs are still great, then your songs are still great. There are lots of bands who do a great job writing records that are different every time and every time they do it you’re like, “Damn, they did it again! I can’t believe it.”
Sometimes you write a record and it just doesn’t equate to your fanbase. I think everybody should just do what they want. That is probably not the most politically correct advice for a lot of bands, because I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that are worried about what the labels say, but for us we’ve always done what we wanted. That’s why we’re about to write our sixth metalcore album, because I’m sure if somebody wanted us to change, they would’ve told us to be a pop band by now but I don’t really think it’s going to swing that way.
Yeah… I don’t think so either [laughs].
We’re a little too far down the path for that to happen.
You released your most recent album, Deathless back in 2015. Regarding the writing and recording process of the album, is there anything specific that really helped you to grow as a band?
We had a really terrible time the year before which was for the whole record cycle. We released a record, the record did okay. Actually it slammed for us the first week and our record sales were great. We did Mayhem Festival and then we all just kind of had stuff going on behind the scenes, outside of the band. The band is always tied in with it because it’s the primary thing that everyone is doing, but things just weren’t that great for some people in the band and it just made for a really long, negative record cycle and had everybody in a bad mood.
We went in and we went back to Joey Sturgis to record which was cool and it meant that we could record from home. Last time we did it in Seattle, really far from home and really expensive which was difficult for us. This time we did it in Michigan. We had a lot of time which was different, almost three weeks of just recording the record with Joey and then we re-recorded it for the finals for him to mix and master after we finished the pre-production. We spent almost six or seven weeks alone just recording the record which was totally different. It was nice working with Joey again and we had a good time. It’s cool going back to him. The first time everybody recorded with him they were eighteen and when we went back everyone was about twenty-four or twenty-five so everybody was a lot different and Joey was a lot different. It was fun and I think the way that we wrote the record that time made for better live songs. Rise of the Lion songs are harder for us to get over live, and we noticed that so we focused really hard on making heavier songs for the Deathless record, and when we did that last tour we played half of the Deathless record and people knew every song. It was cool how that record actually had songs on it that everyone was singing.
We like playing those songs too. We feel like those songs are much more challenging. We felt that the Rise of the Lion songs are a little boring sometimes when we transfer them to a live environment, since the pace was a little slower, and we felt like some of the fans felt that too. We made a lot of new fans that year especially by doing Mayhem Fest, but a lot of the old school fans wanted that modern, quick Joey Sturgis style sound out of the band again. We basically just wrote songs in the same way that we had on the record before but then we went to Joey and it really gave us that aggressive sound that we have on the new record. It’s a tiring one, like they’re exhausting songs to play live, but they’re really fun.
"...we’ve always done what we wanted. That’s why we’re about to write our sixth metalcore album, because I’m sure if somebody wanted us to change, they would’ve told us to be a pop band by now but I don’t really think it’s going to swing that way."
What have been some great life lessons that you have learned from the music industry?
I’m going to sound like such a jaded jerk on this one. I think learning business and how business actually works has probably been the most eye opening piece of the music industry. We’re still the same five people making songs that we were when we did the first record. The only thing that’s changed is the behind the scenes and how the music industry is working and working with managers and labels. Being a touring business that has to keep itself afloat all year and touring all these different countries is probably where I’ve learned the most. I’ve learned everything on tour. I had to learn how to travel, how to pay for traveling, learn how to interact with the really annoying side of the industry which is sometimes the business side and it can be overwhelming. Sometimes I just want to play my guitar and carry on but you can’t do that sort of thing.
At this point during the interview, Joshua Moore from We Came As Romans opened the door and peeked in.
Ryan: Come on in! What are you doing?
Josh: Trying to use this room but you’re ruining it.
Ryan: They’re asking me very important questions and they asked me what the biggest lesson I’ve learned is and I told them that Josh from We Came As Romans is the coolest guy that I’ve ever toured with.
Josh: That’s decently true. I would say at least 90%.
Ryan: I would say that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned is that had I not gone on tour I would’ve just thought you sucked but we went on tour together and now I’m like, what a cool guy!
Josh: I’m pretty cool.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks everybody and for the people in Philadelphia, thank you for coming to see us four times in the last nine months. We appreciate it and we really enjoy playing here and I promise that this will be the last one for at least like four months [laughs]. We’re taking a couple months off, but thanks again everyone for coming and hanging out with us here! Of course we’ll be back. Hopefully we’ll make some new songs and next time be back with them.