When Miss May I first began to make plans for their seventh studio album, Curse Of Existence, in late 2019, they were admittedly in a bit of a lull. The Ohio-based metalcore group had seemingly reached every milestone imaginable within the genre and were at the point where they hit a ceiling. To make matters worse, the pandemic enfolded shortly after, causing a series of delays in the recording process and the total shutdown of the touring industry. Like so many others, Miss May I were filled with uncertainty, aggression and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, topics that began to bleed into the lyrical content of the new record. However, the band eventually experienced a breakthrough during the recording process when frontman Levi Benton and bassist/singer Ryan Neff decided to lean on what Miss May I does best: anthemic, uplifting lyrics of perseverance and optimism no matter what the circumstances are.
The shift in perspective paid off. With a fresh lyrical approach, coupled with the band’s signature thrash guitars and pummeling yet inventive breakdowns, Miss May I have penned one of their strongest records yet, with overwhelming support from fans both new and old. With Curse Of Existence being the band’s first album in five years, they have not only survived a series of setbacks but also thrived. With record attendance on their current headlining tour and new generations of fans coming on board for the first time, it’s clear that all Miss May I needed to do was take a step back and rediscover who they truly are.
You have been open about the downtime that you were allotted during the pandemic as being beneficial to the creation of Curse Of Existence. How did you grow as a band during this time?
LEVI BENTON: With everything being taken away [due to the pandemic], I discovered just how much Miss May I meant to me. I was always in a trance going on tour for a decade straight, and when that stopped, it helped everything soak in and give me an appreciative perspective on how much an album truly means. This was like doing our first album again, which felt really refreshing.
Would you say that being eager to play live again and connect with fans after such a devastating time resulted in the energy and urgency on this record?
BENTON: A lot of the energy and the angst on this album are so genuine. I think you can really hear the aggression that we are going through at the moment.
RYAN NEFF: I also don’t think we came off the best momentum to go into this record either. Pre-pandemic, we did the 10-year anniversary tour for Monument, and then Levi told us he was having his first kid. We immediately made plans to hit the studio in March 2020, and the studio time got moved back six months, and then the world was like, “Here are nine or 10 more months that you have to wait to even start.” It was just months of being frustrated, but when we finished the record, we knew we had something special.
NEFF: The process was not anything like what I thought it was going to be at the beginning, but it turned out to be great. The vocal end is where working with Will really shined. We actually sat on the record over the holiday and realized that we could do a little better, so Levi and I flew back out to New Jersey to do a second session with Will. When we went back to the studio the second time, we came up with the “Unconquered” chorus, and now it’s one of the coolest parts I’ve ever gotten to sing. Will worked so hard and made sure that the record was perfect for us.
Will’s house where the studio is based is like an oasis — it’s in the middle of the woods and super secluded. We recorded the vocals first during the 2020 presidential election, and you couldn’t focus on anything except for that, the pandemic and the fact that we were all essentially “jobless.” It was no wonder we came into the lyrics feeling so negative, but Will was like, “We’re in a recording studio with great people, and you’re going to be fine.” All of a sudden, the lyrical content shifted right back to classic Miss May I. We were on empty, but then before we knew it, we were back to the triumphant and overcoming nature of our music.
Speaking of the vocals, it feels like you pushed yourselves harder than ever with this record. With Levi specifically, there is a much more melodic approach, and with Ryan, the anthemic choruses are on a grander scale.
BENTON: For the more melodic vocals, it comes from a lot of our deep influences like In Flames and Darkest Hour, and it never shined in our previous albums because we either didn’t have room, or I wasn’t confident enough in them. Because we have had such a long career, I really didn’t want any stones unturned or wait to throw in [melodic vocals].
NEFF: I wanted my voice to be deeper on this record, and I knew that was a major goal of mine from the beginning. I’m older now and can’t be ripping at the top of my range all the time. I wanted a realistic, recreatable anthemic style of singing.
Miss May I started when you were all in high school, and now you’re on your seventh record. Did you ever think that this band would travel so far, sell so many records and allow you to headline shows across the world and sustain itself for so long?
BENTON: It worked a little backward for us. We were a local band that happened to get recognized. This ride has been so exciting because it was even further than a pipe dream for us. I think the biggest phenomenon for us is to not only survive the pandemic but come back in a better position than before and see these younger demographics come on board. Miss May I is out of our hands now. It’s not even ours — it’s everybody’s.
NEFF: This record just feels different. It’s the first time where we dropped an album and it’s just doing it on its own. We’re watching Spotify numbers go up and ticket counts go up — and that stuff is nice, but even more importantly, new people are coming out. A couple of years ago, we reached a lull, but now these wonderful new people are finding us. It’s been a fortunate and fun time to be in this band.
You can really hear Miss May I’s influence on the new generation of heavy bands.
NEFF: That’s such a weird thing for us. We were always the band that was absolutely punishing the generation of bands above us. It’s so sick to be experiencing that now.
BENTON: There have even been celebrities that have said they were impacted by Miss May I. I was fortunate enough to meet Post Malone a few years back, and he told me that he used to play “Forgive and Forget” from our first album back in the day and how excited he was for us. I was like, “What are you even talking about?” [Laughs.]