Gym Class Heroes Interview

The most diverse act on fueledbyramen’s label is, without a doubt, indie hip-hop outfit Gym Class Heroes.

After releasing debut record ‘Papercut Chronicles‘ here last year, the funky quartet are already bursting to show us new material from their catchy-as-hell follow-up ‘As Cruel As School Children‘.

Crossfire writer Cathy Reay caught up with kooky frontman Travis McCoy and right-hand drummer Matt McGinley just before their Barfly show in the UK last month.

Alright, so let’s start with the basics – how’d you meet?

Travis: We met in gym class!

Matt: Yeah… 9th grade. Travis was playing drums in a band and I was in another band. We played at a friend’s party together. During one of our songs Travis came up and started rapping over it and we thought it sounded really cool. We’ve been under the moniker Gym Class Heroes ever since.

Travis – you played drums in high school. Had you rapped before?

Travis: I flirted with it. I had a little group with my brother and my dad back in the day… we were called True Life Playas!! It was so bad! The tapes exist somewhere but hopefully they’ll never be found.

In high school I took songwriting and poetry way more seriously; it was a good outlet for me. I used to get grounded a lot for goofing off so that gave me a lot of time to be artistic. I found my diploma the other day and it made me laugh! I went to an arts school so I majored in fine arts and illustration. I actually came up with the concept of As Cruel As School Children (ACASC) artwork.

Were you guys nervous to sign to FBR due to the fact that you’re unlike any of the other bands on their roster?

Matt: I think that just made us more excited. I feel like the music speaks for itself. Actually, we had less to prove than most bands coming out at the time because they were just watered down versions of other artists achieving success. We stood apart so much that we could just do whatever we want; and I still feel that way.

Travis: From the beginning we never fit in anywhere. We played shows with death metal, reggae, hip-hop artists and even feminist poets. We found a way of taking a crowd that wasn’t necessarily there to see us, demanding their attention and making them have a good time. We run the whole spectrum – everyone listens to us because we’re so amazing!

When you were here last supporting Fall Out Boy, who are obviously a rock band, how’d you find it?

Travis: It was cool. Manchester was the weirdest show, there were couple of hecklers. Usually I’m like ‘whatever’ but that night I had a short fuse. It was awesome though. We’ve toured with FOB a lot. We drank a bunch of cider…

Matt: Yeah we were introduced to cider that tour…where we come from it doesn’t get us drunk!

Would you ever support hip-hop artists?

Travis: Oh we have. It’s a misconception that we only tour with rock bands but we’ve done our fair share with hip-hop acts. We opened for Run DMC a long time ago; it was our first paid show!

Do you think your sound is really different from 10 years ago?

Travis: Completely – we sucked ten years ago!

Matt: Yes, I think it’s a natural progression for bands to evolve. People say we’re an amalgamation of all these genres but back in the day we used to play like a hip-hop song, a jazz song, a rock song: it was really extreme. I think we eventually found a style we were comfortable with and solidified.

How involved are all of you in the writing process?

Matt: It used to be us in my living room passing around ideas and seeing what we liked, what stuck. For ACASC it was a more of a test. We all moved into a house together and tried to write songs during rehearsals. We did half of it that way then we went to NY and wrote the other half with producers. We were constantly constructing the songs. This was one big winding road…

Do you think all four of you have very different influences and outlooks on music?

Matt: Yes and no. Being on tour together and being constantly with the same few people means we now think the same things are funny, we have inside jokes and stuff. Musically there are bands we all love to listen to: Bloc Party being one of them. There aren’t many we agree on. Greenday, 311, RHCP – rock/funk – got me wanting to be in a band in the first place. Disashi comes from a very rock background and he’s really into Jimi Hendrix which I think shines through on his guitar solos on ACASC. Our bass player is into a lot of reggae. Travis is all over the place with singing and rapping – this is the first album he sings complete songs rather than rapping a little in them. There were tracks where we were like, ‘where do we fit in the rap part?’ and it didn’t feel right to put one in. It wasn’t a conscious movement away from rap, we made that decision to suit the songs.

Papercut Chronicles vs. As Cruel As School Children: discuss. What was going through your heads at the time of writing them?

Travis: We did Papercut in three days on our own budget. The whole record is really, really personal, it has a lot of eerie dark overtones. On the new record we got to work with producers for the first time – Patrick Stumph from FOB produced a few tracks – we wanted to show we were out of that. We’re happier with where we are as humans and we wanted that to shine in the record: we wanted to make a summertime record. I feel like we accomplished that.

Generally which record is more personal to you and why?

Matt: Both for different reasons. Papercut was the record that started it all – we did that out of our own pockets and time, we weren’t even being looked at by labels. Then through doing that we got picked up and FBR put it out as it was. The new record though was a brand new experience – to have a budget and timescale.

It’s really unusual for bands not to step back and take a gap between delving into their follow-up, why did you decide to release ACASC so immediately after you stopped touring with Papercut?

Travis: A lot of the time bands make a record, tour a little bit then kinda fall back satisfied: “oh we’ll do a new record when it’s time…” – we want to stay consistent and on top of our game. We feel constantly musically creative. That doesn’t mean we’re gonna keep dishing out records for the sake of it, everything that we do is meaningful.

Matt: For us, the two records have a perfect interval. The tendency is to milk them dry but we’re not into that. As long as we have music to put out, we’ll put it out.

Personal favourite songs on the new record?
Matt: ‘On My Own Time‘ is mine. It was a really great song to watch evolve. We went shopping for loads of stuff and we got a call saying that a friend of ours won a million dollars – we stayed on his floor during the making of the record – and the memory of that happening surrounds the song.

Travis: ‘Shoot Down The Stars‘ and ‘Viva La White Girl‘. Musically and lyrically I feel like I nailed them.

Tell me about ‘New Friend Request‘ (ASASC) and why you decided to base one song on

Matt: We’re all really into it! It’s a true story too: Travis actually did woo and court a girl over Myspace. That song though is more an observation of the site. I think sites like that might replace actually having to go ask a girl out in real life!

The song ‘Taxi Driver‘ from Papercut references a lot of rock artists but not many hip-hop artists, would you say the latter are less of an influence on your music?

Travis: Not at all. It’s not a serious song, more of a thought. I have friends that listen to predominantly hip hop and the song is still cohesive to them even though they don’t know the bands.

Matt: It’s not necessarily an appraisal of all the bands listed. It’s just that, for the most part, they have funny names you can link stories to.

Travis: So many bands have long, outrageously narrative band names lately.

Most hip-hop artists use a lot of samples, why don’t you?

Travis: It’s more fun and organic in the live show. There’s definitely a lot of acts that can pull off a DJ/MC thing but then a lot that can’t. Also I guess it’s all we know.

Matt: We’ve always been a band and we never did sampling at all before but within the last couple of years we’ve embraced it more. In the songs we did with Patrick Stumph we used it.

Tell me about the cover songs you’ve done.

Matt: We covered ‘Under The Bridge‘ by RHCP on a compilation CD. We play it live sometimes. We used to cover ‘No Woman, No Cry‘ by Bob Marley – I love that song.

Something no-one knows about your band?

Matt: Hmmm… me and Travis are really good at ping-pong! I’m not really competitive, but that’s because I know I can beat him.

Travis – tell me about Cobrastarship.

Travis: Cobrastarship is Gabe Saporta’s (Midtown) new side project. The first time I met him I was really wasted in a place called Maxwells and we were trying to eat food off a bus boy’s tray. The manager comes out and asks us what the hell we’re doing and Gabe said: “shut up man you’re gonna throw it out anyways!” – I was just like, I love this dude already. Before Snakes On A Plane he asked me if I’d be on a song and I said yes. He was working with one of the producers we’d worked with on our record. I got the call they told us about this movie. I’d already heard about it from a friend of mine and I thought it was pretty damn unlikely they’d get away with something so stupid. But when they called me with the song I was just like sure I’ll do it! I wrote my verse in the shower, got out, went to Denver to record it and that’s it. The song is brilliant and I’m stoked to be a part of it.

As for side projects generally – yeah I dabble but Gym Class is my home front. It’s where I feel comfortable artistically. When we get on stage we’re a really solid unit.

Do you think people view you as a new band right now and does it annoy you?

Travis: When people are like oh yeah I just heard you guys, I’m like cool. It shows we’re still getting exposure. I love when people hear us and identify it.

How have the shows been so far over here?

Matt: Awesome. Crowds here are very open-minded in terms of music they listen to. In America you sometimes feel like they’re just there to say they went to that show, just because you fit the same scene as some other band.

Plans for the rest of this year… next year….

Matt: We’re about to go out with the All-American Rejects in the US until around Christmas. We already want to start writing new songs and stuff. We feel really creative lately – sometimes you gotta strike when the iron is hot!

Recorded live at Atlantic Records HQ in West London during September 2006. Thanks to Chloe Browne at Hyperlaunch.