It’s tempting to consider that Miss May I’s 1.5 million Facebook Likes, 188,000 Twitter followers, and multi-million YouTube views are the sole product of big record company dollars spent to promote the Ohio metalcore act. Well, that didn’t happen.
Instead, Miss May I developed its rabid following with the old-school, “bring it on the road” method. The band members—vocalist Levi Benton, bassist Ryan Neff, drummer Jerod Boyd, and guitarists Justin Aufdemkampe and B.J. Stead—have toiled like obsessed workaholic demons, and they have performed more than 900 shows since 2009. As the group continues to work its latest album, Rise of the Lion [Rise], through festivals, club gigs, arenas, and theaters, Aufdemkampe and Stead offered to detail some of the elements of their stagecraft.
How did you develop your live presentation?
Stead: It happened slowly over time. When we were in high school, our classmates would come to our shows on the weekends, and then talk about them during the week. That taught us something valuable about the power of word of mouth. So we put ourselves out there as much as we could—whether it was playing shows or promoting ourselves through social media—and we always listened to our fans and tried to give them the kind of concerts that would make them happy and spread the word about us. It was more or less controlled chaos, but we also had a calculated plan to get out there and build an audience.
Is there a format for crafting a Miss May I set list?
Stead: The set list we play depends mostly on the kind of people who are coming to the shows, and which bands we’re touring with. If we’re on, say, the Mayhem Festival with Five Finger Death Punch, we’re going to play some of our newer songs that are really drive-y and stomp-y—kind of more edgy radio-esque—because the fans are probably younger, and they may not be aware of our older material. However, if the audience is full of predominantly older fans of ours, we’ll do a fair amount of all the real fast songs with breakdowns that we played when we first started out.
Do you have to be careful about the kinds of things you play for your metalcore fans? Are there stylistic sacred cows that you don’t dare twist around backwards?
Aufdemkampe: It’s just having the riff—the melodic riff—and those heavy breakdown parts. Literally, I could sum it up by just saying, “As I Lay Dying”—even though their newest albums are more metal than metalcore.
Stead: You can’t change your style too drastically from your previous albums and expect everyone to stick around. But unless you want to put out the same album eight times in a row, you have to evolve, as well. We’re always going to play fast, heavy riffs, and we’re always going to have heavy breakdowns. These things are going to be incorporated into our music until the end of days. But that doesn’t mean we’re not ever going to experiment with slower, softer things. It just means we have to stick to our roots in some way.
Speaking of metalcore essentials, what’s your approach for getting those breakdown punches and stops so tight and precise?
Aufdemkampe: I try to find a real tight sound, and I use my ISP Decimator to gate some of that muddy, nasty low-end weirdness you can get from the strings. Like, when you pause or stop, you want it to be clean and tight with the band—no bass overruns or scratches or anything. I do palm mute, but we’re super loud onstage, so there are times when the sound is not going to be completed muted. Even with the Decimator, I have to be careful where I’m standing when we play stop and breakdowns. For example, I might be in front of the main house speakers, and I’ll get feedback that I don’t want. There’s a lot of stuff you have to be conscious of. This is why we use the Orange cabinets. They hold the low end better. It’s super tight and never fluttery.
How about solos?
Stead: My solo style is a weird combination of Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd. I like David Gilmour a lot, because he’s not all about speed. He’s always just about the feel of the note, the context of what’s around it, and the emotion you get from it.
What’s your main gear for the road?
Stead: I’ve been playing Fenders and Jacksons for the last five years or so, but I just switched over to Ibanez. I still love playing my old guitars, but I just wanted to try something new, and my friend Chris Rubey from The Devil Wears Prada introduced me to Ibanez. I use Prestige RGs for dropped-C tuning, and an ARZ for the songs in dropped- A#. I use GHS strings—.011-.052 gauges without the wound third for dropped-C, and .013-.056 for lower tunings. I’ve been using Peavey 6505+ amps pretty much since day one when we were a local band, and I run them through Orange cabinets that have been customized with grey-vinyl coverings—kind of like what’s in a truck bed. It’s cool. My effects are pretty straightforward—a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor, a Cry Baby wah, an Ibanez TS9, a TC Electronic Flashback X4, and an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano reverb—and I just use them to open things up or add punch.
Aufdemkampe: I play Charvel San Dimas guitars and EVH 5150 heads through the Orange cabinets. Strings are GHS, .012- .052 for dropped-C, and I go to .012-.056 for dropped-A#. My effects setup is pretty simple, as well. I use a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor or an ISP Decimator, a Boss delay, and a Maxon OD808 Overdrive. I’m a huge tone nerd, so I get pretty meticulous about sound—maybe too meticulous.
BLAST FROM GP’S PAST
Here’s an insight right from the pages of Jim and Dara Crockett’s new book, Guitar Player:The Inside Story of the First Two Decades of the Most Successful Guitar Magazine Ever [Backbeat/Hal Leonard]. Jim Crockett was publisher of GP from 1970-1989, and the book is a collection of oral histories from the editors, photographers, artists, and advertisers who were in the magazine’s orbit during that era.
“Fun Fact: To get started giving guitar lessons in Berkeley, California, I used to slip my own handwritten advertisements on 3x5 cards in Guitar Player magazines stacked at the local supermarket. I think it was Jas Obrecht who first contacted me about doing an interview. I was still giving guitar lessons at Second Hand Guitars in Berkeley, and recording solo-guitar music at night. The interview experience was so exciting, because the journalist asked all the cool questions. “When GP put me on the cover, and I had my new song, ‘The Crush of Love’ inside [the magazine] on the Soundpage, it had an enormously positive effect on my career. The song went on to become a radio hit for me, and GP can take the credit for ‘breaking it.’”