Interview- Time Out magazine (2008)
Gym Class Heroes are arguably the first band to pull off a rap/rock fusion successfully in the last ten years. Since their formation in 1997, they have gone on to achieve mainstream superstardom with their signature mix of hip hop and live instrumentation.
The pinnacle of their achievement was marked in 2006 by the gold selling album ‘As Cruel As School Children’, which spawned the massive hit ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100, and ‘Clothes Off!!’ peaking at number five on the UK singles chart.
They’ve continued to enjoy success with their forth studio album, ‘The Quilt’, which features production from Cool & Dre and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy. Also present are impressive collaborations with the likes of Estelle and Busta Rhymes, making this album even better than their last.
We speak to lead vocalist Travis McCoy just before he took to the stage for a sell out London gig recently. He appears confident and doesn’t feel the pressure for this album to match the huge success of the last one.
“I believe in my self and my band mates a lot more than I believe in God”, he declares. “I definitely believe I’m blessed, if not I don’t think I’d be here, especially considering how crazy my life has been over the past few years, I went through a lot of s***”.
Known for his charismatic stage performances, McCoy however admits he takes pills for anxiety. An animated yet laid back figure, Travis is candid and engaging in conversation. He lets on that he doesn’t remember his last encounter with Time Out, as “I must have been on drugs then”, adding that he only smokes weed occasionally in the evenings now as “it makes me paranoid otherwise”.
The star, who is currently dating girl of the moment Katy Perry and is planning to meet her in Paris after he leaves London, admits to not having used public transport in over three years. “I’m pretty reclusive”, he discloses. “When I’m at home in New York I don’t leave my apartment much. I have a fear of people, just big groups”.
Travis, who would like to work with Amy Winehouse, is a big fan of British music, especially Klaxons, Arctic Monkeys and Professor Green. “London’s been awesome”, says McCoy of his time in the Capital. “When I was here last I didn’t really have a good time. It’s hard adapting to no sun, gloominess and rain. It made me so depressed and I’d just sit in my hotel room listening to the saddest music ever” he reveals. “This time we came I was a really optimistic, I thought, ‘I’m going to have fun’. I guess if you set your mid to having a good time, you can have a good time”.
This is what gets me about Travis McCoy. He appears to have this unabashed confidence, yet speaking with the singer, who is also a professional tattoo artist, a quiet, fragile side also emerges. “My childhood was unconventional”, he reflects, “there was a lot of s*** that you’d find in horror movies”.
Just as with a Gym Class record, which is synonymous with fun as well having serious undertones, Travis is a multi-facetted, deep individual. “It’s made me who I am”, McCoy says of his troubled past. “It’s taken a lot of therapy to get over it. I think everybody has their skeletons in the closet”.
Interview- Music-Rooms.net (2007)
New York rap/rock outfit Gym Class Heroes have been genre blending for over ten years now. With the recent release of their latest album ‘As Cruel As School Children’, they made a visit to the UK to put on a sell out show at London’s Carling Academy. Anna Nathanson caught up with front man Travie to find out more about their distinct sound, the struggle to promote their music over the years and why housewives are their biggest fans…
You’ve been described as ‘genre busting hip hop rockers’. How do you see your music and how would you like people to respond to it?
I’d like for them to be very confused and draw no conclusion. That leaves the pallet open for us to do whatever we want. If labels are necessary than so be it but at the end of the day, if you asked me what it was I wouldn’t be able to tell you. What we do is definitely based in hip hop but musically it’s a mixture of genres.
Have you found that that fact has made it harder to market your sound?
It’s definitely been very hard. Even now we still don’t know what to do with it. We’re just going with the flow.
But at the same time, it opens you up to different audiences…
Definitely. I mean it’s cool, it’s really hard to pinpoint our audience, they’re from all walks of life; adults, thugs, housewives…when we perform it’s everybody. It’s funny ‘cos we just did this thing for MTV called Hard Rock Live and it was weird- so many different people; on one side all these hard gangsta dudes, then all the little girls sprinkled at the front…there’s something really special about looking out into a crowd and seeing so many different kinds of people.
Who have you found to be most supportive and loyal?
Housewives. With housewives, once they’re into you they’re into you. They’re not as fickle as the kids are. Housewives are there for you ‘til the bitter end, and I respect that. ‘Cos I’m there with them ‘til the bitter end.
How do you attract the housewives?
I think initially they’re there to drop off their kids and then they notice how drop dead sexy we are!
Do you think audiences are getting tired of the same old formulaic stuff that’s being pumped out there?
Of course. It helps us out a lot as we’re definitely something refreshing. There are times when something works and everybody hops onto that side of the fence, but we’ve always gone against the grain. It’s frustrating sometimes and it’s like ‘man, what if we just did some watered down bullshit?’ We’d sell a million records and live the life, but then it’s like ‘fuck that, we want longevity’.
How do you feel about hip hop acts that sample to death?
If it’s done in good taste then I back it. I mean hip hop was built on samples. But if you’re just sampling for the hell of it, then come on!
Was it a conscious decision to keep it mostly live or did it just turn out that way?
That’s just how we’ve always been. It started off a lot more segregated, like ‘this is our rock song, this is our hip hop song, this is our funk reggae song’…but as the years passed they all just started to merge.
How would you describe your own musical tastes, and who are some of your influences?
I grew up listening to a lot of Prince. I’m really really into Amy Winehouse right now, I love her, I think she’s amazing. I heard her voice and thought it was a sample, you know, some old Billy Holiday type stuff, and then I heard she was this young woman and was like wow. There’s a lot of stuff over here in the UK that I’m into, like the Artic Monkeys. I feel like what they do, The Strokes try really hard to do, and they do it really easily. That’s really funny to me. I’m also into Kano, I think he’s amazing. I’m not so into The Streets. I’ve been listening to a bit of Plan B, that tune ‘that’s the mentality of kids today’…I heard that a long time ago. I also found out about this kid today, Ghost Poet, and I’m interested in hearing more shit from him.
Would you say you’re more involved with the rock or hip hop scene?
We definitely tour with a lot of rock bands and we’ve gained a lot of fans in that genre, but now that we’re more in the public eye it’s everybody.
What do you see as some of the parallels and differences between the two industries?
I think right now they’re both equally garbage. It’s that whole thing about formulas that work, and it goes on in both worlds, you know? I think creativity just gets sucked out of people ‘cos they start mimicking what they see. And then they sell records and they’re not really concerned about making quality music and I think that’s bullshit. But there’s also bands out there that are boiling something fucking awesome and pretty soon it’s gonna bubble over and wipe that shit out, so I’m waiting for that to happen. Hopefully we’ll set the revolution.
You once said that you feel you sucked 10 years ago. How do you feel your sound has developed since then?
I don’t think any band comes right out the gates strong. Even though we did suck, in our heads we were rock gods! And after a while you convince yourself and the music starts to follow (laughs). We just convinced ourselves!
How do you see your musical journey over the years?
It’s been a long hard road, it definitely has. I can say that with conviction, it hasn’t been easy at all. People throwing shit at us…we didn’t care, we never gave up. I think then people who weren’t into us respected the fact that we had balls.
What responses do you tend to get from your music?
People say it’s different. A lot of people would take that as an insult but I love it.
Do you ever get any negative responses?
Oh yeah all the time. Whether it be on the internet or whatever, people say ‘oh, you guys are soft, you write songs about love’. I’m like, here’s the thing; I’ve never shot anyone, I don’t know about stabbing anybody or taking their money, so why should I write a song about that shit? I know about video games and eating food and making out, so I write songs about that.
Do you feel that you haven’t gotten as much commercial success as you deserve?
I think we’d all have houses in the hills right now, but they wouldn’t be well earned and we wouldn’t appreciate it as much. Now if we got a house it would be like, ok, we’ve busted our arses for this shit.
By Anna Nathanson