Ruff Majik. Picture: Supplied

For lovers of rock and metalcore, the annual Krank’d Up Music Festival is one of the more important calendar dates of the year. Entering its seventh year, the festival is set to take place on September 29 at the Sundowners venue in Alberton, south of Johannesburg.

Leading the charge of rockstars this year as the festival’s headline acts will be American thrash metalcore titans Miss May I and and UK tech-metal pioneers Sikth. The festival will also, as per usual, feature over 10 local bands, such as Southern Wild, Ruff Majik and Facing the Gallows, to name a few.

Catching up with Miss May I’s bass guitarist Ryan Neff, one thing that’s clear about their outfit is that the band is in a really good space. Their story starts about 10 years ago, when the group of high school friends start recording the music that would become their first album, Apologies Are For the Weak.

Miss May I is currently made up of Levi Benton, BJ Stead, Justin Aufdemkampe, Jerod Boyd and Ryan Neff.

Speaking about the band’s evolution thus far, Neff said most things have changed -except why the band makes the music that it does.

“Oh my goodness, it’s almost a totally different thing. The industry has changed, the world has changed, the way we tour has changed, the amount of competition in great bands out there has changed. So much is different, but the one thing that has stayed the same, fortunately, is that it’s still a great time for us. It’s why you still see us, 11 years later. It’s why we work so hard and put on all the shows we do,” he added.

What is the secret behind their staying power? Neff said it is being flexible enough to change frequently and experiment with new sounds, without losing the band’s core identity.

“We have always tried to ensure that we change the records up. They stay within the metalcore landscape, but each record is a little different.

“Although it may upset fans, I think it makes more fans want to come back for each record. Especially if they enjoyed your last. They want to see the other records in your catalogue and it makes it a bit more exciting to see what you come up with,” he said.

This is a pattern that began as early on as with their first album, which they recorded in between going to class.

This was the piece of music that introduced them to the world, as passionate, driven and all about the music. Neff, at the time, was with another band.

“It was three guys who were about to graduate from high school, with another who’d recently graduated (he was about one year removed). I remember being on the road, with another band at the time, and calling home to them ... listening to how stressed out they were. They would go to school, then go to our buddy, Joey, who recorded our first two records.

“Joey’s house at that time was about two hours away. They would go to school, drive to his house afterwards, record all night, till like two or three in the morning, have a nap, wake up and drive to school. It is really crazy what they went through to make that album,” he added.

Comparing that first project to their sixth album, Shadows Inside, Neff said the evolution of the band was clear.

“I think, naturally, if you have done anything as long as we have done this, you will grow and get new inspirations. We don’t write the way we used to; we’ve lived through serious technological changes which have changed the way we record. In that regard, the changes are a big reason for the change in sound,” he said.

Their latest album, a 10-track offering, comes at a time when Miss May I knows exactly who they are. Neff also said it comes off of the back of a period where their previous albums hadn’t been as successful as they’d hoped. While filled with some nervousness about it, they’re excited that they have this chance to fight another day. 

Neff likens this experience to that of a season in professional sport, where things haven’t been great and an opportunity to turn it all around presents itself.

“We just kind of have this determination, going into this album, to create a new beginning for ourselves. A little bit of a rebirth for the band. We even had new management.

“Everything around us felt new - even the way we’ve traditionally approached making music. It was also the longest we’d taken to record,” he said.

His favourite songs are Shadows Inside and Under Fire from this latest album.

It’s this album that tells of where they are right now, that they will be performing at the Krank’d Up festival next month, along with some crowd favourites from their previous albums. The festival will mark their first visit to the country after they could not make it to the 2017 edition of the festival.

Neff added that they were unaware of how big their audience was in the country, but that they were also looking forward to meeting their friends here and on the continent - which the band was very excited about: “People coming to see us can expect that we are a very high-energy band, very into crowd participation, but also we’ve planned a set that will get into our entire discography.

“We don’t know what albums specifically people are excited to hear but we’ll try to put together an eclectic set that touches a bit of every record we’ve recorded,” he added.

* The Krank’d Up Music Festival takes place on September 29 at Sundowners in Alberton. Tickets are available from Computicket, starting at R600.