These are not the Gym Class Heroes you’ve grown to love (or hate), that much is for certain. These are not the same unassuming guys from the middle of New York state, the ones who brought you slightly goofy hits like “Cupid’s Chokehold” or “Clothes Off!,” who genre-hopped with reckless abandon, and who were one of the scene’s best-kept secrets.
The Gym Class Heroes of 2008 are now a fairly big deal — the kind of act whose albums are events and who are expected to “shift units,” as they say. They have a famous frontman with an even more famous girlfriend, famous friends with famous wives and famous guest stars on their record. They are, for all intents and purposes, a completely different band … and they are aware of this.
“People’s first introduction to us was ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’ or ‘Clothes Off!’ … and a lot of people don’t go past what they’re offered on radio or on television, so they take it at face value and stamp you a certain way, and I feel like people didn’t care to take the time to dig deeper,” sighed MC Travis McCoy — he’s the one dating Katy Perry, btw. “And I wasn’t offended by it or anything, but it gets a little annoying when people walk up behind you and sing, ‘Ba-da-da-da!’ [the incessant hook from 'Cupid's Chokehold']. People go, ‘Oh, that’s the “Ba-da-da-da” guy!’ and I’m like, ‘Man, I put so much time into this record to be the “Ba-da-da-da” guy?’
“And so I think with this record, I made a conscious effort on my behalf to go at it extra hard, lyrically, to showcase that I am a wordsmith, and I’ve studied the masters,” he continued, laughing slightly. “And just the response we’ve gotten from some of the songs on the record, or just walking down the street, dudes are like, ‘Yo, dude can spit! I saw you in the booth on “Rap City.” ‘ And I’m like, ‘I’ve been doing it for a while now, man. It’s nothing new.’ ”
What is new about GCH — aside from their funky, shape-shifting album The Quilt, which hit stores Tuesday — is the amount of attention McCoy’s personal life has been getting lately and how that has affected people’s perception of the band. He makes no attempt to hide his relationship with pop princess Katy Perry and, frankly, doesn’t see any reason why he should. Whether that openness has been a good or bad thing remains to be seen.
“This is the first time I’ve been super head-over-heels about someone since the third grade and almost in the sense where there’s this urge in me to pull a Tom Cruise and jump on Oprah’s couch,” he laughed. “It’s something that I can’t escape. The questions always come up, and I’m never one to be a di– and be like, ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’ But it’s inevitable. People want to know everything and anything they can about you when you’re in the spotlight. And even with my music, I don’t hide too much. So in that, and in interviews, I try to stay honest. With any record — it’s the same with books: People are going to walk away from it with a different perspective than anyone else. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure thing.”
The trouble is, many reviewers have chosen to view the songs on The Quilt through the prism of his public persona. So with each mention of infidelity, each instance of self-doubt, each ode to illicit substances, they think they’re gaining intimate knowledge of McCoy and Perry’s relationship … and what they see isn’t pretty.
“I’ve gotten a lot of flak in interviews like, ‘You know, you’re talking about cheating, but you’re with Katy right now.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but the song was written before.’ And not only that, but like, if I can deal with her singing about kissing girls all day, she can deal with me singing about eating cookies for a little while,” he smiled. “At the end of the day, people are going to take what they want from the record. It’s like back when I was in art school, after we were done with our paintings, we’d have to put them up and critique ourselves, like, ‘Oh, this is what I was feeling when I did this, and this color represents this,’ and I was always like, ‘I’d much rather put this up here and have you tell me what you get from it, because I had a lot of fun doing it, and I’m not going to sit here and bullsh– you and tell you there’s all these hidden agendas behind it.’ And that’s the same way I approach records.”
And while McCoy doesn’t feel the need to explain GCH’s music, the fact that he’s the one doing most of the talking in the interview — guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, bassist Eric Roberts and drummer Matt McGinley are seated next to him — brings us to the other thing that’s different about Gym Class these days: the very common misconception that the band is just McCoy’s solo project. And while some of that seems to be true — after all, The Quilt contains the most overtly hip-hop stuff the band has ever done — McCoy just laughs it off. It’s up to the listener to decide, he said. And this time, his bandmates are there to agree with him.
“I think people outside of our circle are more concerned with this becoming ‘The Travis Show.’ Honestly, I would be nothing without these three guys. Nothing. And granted, we all have our side projects and whatnot, but Gym Class Heroes is and always will be the priority,” McCoy said. “People are always asking me: ‘When’s the solo album coming out?’ But we’re a unit. Always have been and always will be. I’ve read a lot about this record, and people keep going, ‘This is all Travis,’ but in the same sense that everyone thinks Fall Out Boy is all Pete — wrong. Those guys are a unit just as much as we are, you know?”
“I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it is [frustrating], but I think it’s natural for people to gravitate to one member of the band and single them out, but that’s on them, that’s on the media, that’s on other people,” McGinley added. “Within the internal workings of the group, everybody has their own important unique place, and without that we’d be selling drugs.”
“Thank you,” McCoy laughed. “I’m so glad you feel that way.”