By Archna Sawjani
Melding elements of rap, rock, R&B, and funk into one cohesive and melodic sound, upstate New York's Gym Class Heroes had diverse appeal based on their impressive musical dexterity. Often touring with indie rock and pop-punk bands, they didn't fit comfortably into one specific genre; the quartet's music was rooted in traditional Hip-Hop, but featured live instruments instead of looped samples or beats. Lyrics were often socially conscious, but also incorporated humor and wry perceptiveness.
After years under the radar, Gym Class Heroes has emerged as this year’s breakout band. And Travis McCoy, 26, the charismatic rapper-singer and goofy star of the band and the music video of the group’s huge single “Cupid’s Chokehold,” has gotten plenty of attention.
The Heroes have watched their profile rise after “Chokehold” hit the radio last year; the undeniably catchy song — which samples the hook of Supertramp’s oldie “Breakfast in America” and they now have the 2007 MTV VMA Award for best newcomer. Travis breaks down the highs and lows of fame with AllHipHop Alternatives.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Hey Travis, how are you?
Travis: I’m good thanks. How are you?
AHHA: Great thanks. Congrats on a great year....
Travis: Thank you. It’s appreciated.
AHHA: Gym Class Heroes won best newcomer at the MTV VMA’s this year. Is that weird for you as you’ve been with the group for ten years?
Travis: It’s great being recognized and too win an award, it is a little weird but it’s better than getting an award for "Best old group who finally made it" I guess? Seriously though the award really means a lot to us.
AHHA: How would you describe your relationship with Fall Out Boy?
Travis: That’s family. We had to spend almost every waking minute together while we were touring. So we now know what ticks each other off, each other’s sense of humor, when someone needs space; so we’ve really become like this big dysfunctional family.
AHHA: Let’s talk about the Gym Class Heroes’ sound. Your music can’t really be defined...
Travis: People give themselves restrictions, people allow themselves to be defined or pigeonholed into a category and we’ve never done that, we’ve never said “we’re this type of band” and so on. I think when you start to let people put you in a box; you end up being forced to stay within it. I think musicians and artists get bored of doing the same kind of music for a long time but when you say your this kind of act and then you try doing something different; then the fans persecute you so that’s why we’ve never given ourselves any restrictions. We’re in a good position and its cool people consider us as a breath of fresh air and I think we are. People need to stop worrying about staying in their lane so much.
AHHA: Who would you say your inspirations are, as you incorporate everything from Hip-Hop, R&B, rock, and ‘80s samples into your sound?
Travis: I love ‘80s R&B music, old Soul music, Prince, ‘90s Hip-Hop, Brand Nubian, early Tribe Called Quest...My taste is a little bit all over the place. That’s why I think our music appeals to a wide variety of people, because we add a little bit of everything into our music.
AHHA: I loved the video for “Cupid’s Chokehold.”
Travis: Thank you. Whenever we do a video, it’s important for us to capture who we are – four f**king nerds, mixed in with a little humor. The video for “Cupid’s Chokehold” is definitely fun to watch, and you can get a little giggle from it. Everyone’s making these politically charged videos and trying to make some huge statement or they’re trying to make like a three minute commercial. I just look at videos as short films, you know?
AHHA: Yeah. I think the video for “Cupid’s Chokehold” is really cute with the little cupid...
Travis: Well we’re kind of cute too.
AHHA: I’m sure you are. You guys always look like you’re having the best time, and you never seem to take anything seriously. Is that part of your image or are you guys really just laid back and enjoying the ride?
Travis: Yeah, I think we don’t think about the politics too much. We just have fun. We’re living our dream right now and getting paid for it. [laughs] It almost seems like a crime not too be happy. Sometimes I think I’m getting something over somebody you know?
My job’s not really that hard, I don’t think I have anything to complain about. We love what we do, and we want to show our appreciation to the people who are supporting us and the people who come out and see us. People come to the shows to get away from the stress of their days and to let loose; if we’re all depressed and not putting our all into the shows, then we’re letting them down.
So we pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t take ourselves seriously, and we just try to make sure people have a good time. When I was young, I went to a lot of cool shows and sometimes people would look at me, this 6ft tall Black kid and be like, “What the hell are you doing here?” It was f**ked up, and so it’s important to me that everyone feels comfortable coming to a Gym Class Heroes show and that our music is for everyone.
AHHA: You’ve kind of become the front man and the main face of the group. Why do you think that is?
Travis: Man, it sucks!
AHHA: You don’t enjoy the extra attention?
Travis: No. I hate it.
AHHA: It must be a little flattering?
Travis: I prefer to keep to myself, and I have certain issues like being a private and proud person. Even when we were first starting off, and I was really excited about one of our songs or a project, I always worried that I would be coming across as an arrogant and sadistic bastard when talking about how great our song was or something. I’ve always worried how I come across and now I’m in this position where I’m in the rumor pages and I’m on TV and it’s just strange too me.
It’s definitely been a hard adjustment for me. Certain people can just deal with it or eat it up, but I’m realistic. I’m not going to allow this to give me a big head, as fame doesn’t last forever. Fame is just like a drug and if you got too caught up in it...once it’s gone and people don’t care about you anymore; that’s when you’ll end up on Celebrity Fit Club or some other f**king reality show. I don’t want that ever to happen to me. I’m a simple man.
AHHA: How does this affect the group dynamics? When one member is getting most of the attention?
Travis: I mean the guys are just as reclusive and weird about this sh*t as I am, so I think they’re happy that they don’t have to deal with the shit as much as I have to. [laughs] They’re like, ‘”F**k it dude, rock on. Less sh*t I have to deal with.” [laughs] Anyway I like interviews, I like talking. I don’t like face-to-face interviews as much so I wear a mask...
AHHA: You wear a mask during your interviews?
AHHA: Ok, well least we’re on the phone so you don’t need to worry about the mask today...
Travis: Oh I still have it by my side just in case...
AHHA: Wow I’m not sure if I can take you seriously right now. Let’s move on... How did your collaboration with Lil’ Wayne come about?
Travis: I’m a huge, huge Lil’ Wayne fan and I wanted to do a remix of one of our songs, so I thought let’s get Weezy on and we sent him a song on Friday evening and Wayne sent it back on a Saturday morning completely finished and I was like, “Holy sh*t, this dude’s crazy.”
We’ve spoken to each other a few times, and I met him last year at the MTV VMA’s and then we bumped into each other a few times after and he asked me to be on his new record and I said, “Fo sure.”
I think his record is more eagerly anticipated than both Kanye’s or ‘50s were.
AHHA: So have you heard Lil’ Wayne’s new material for his new album?
Travis: I’ve heard some of it. It’s f**king brilliant. Absolutely f**king brilliant.
AHHA: You and Lil’ Wayne are an interesting collaboration...
Travis: Yeah. I don’t like to do conventional collaborations or what people would expect. Just artists people wouldn’t expect, you know? Artists we’re into as opposed to an artist that would look cool featured on our record. Nowadays you buy a Hip-Hop record and every f**king song has a feature, it’s more like a mixtape than a record. So we do collaborations in good taste, not just to sell more records. For our next record, I’m thinking about a collab with Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, I’d like to do a song with him and we’ve written a song with Ne-Yo also.
AHHA: With you getting so much attention, you must have a lot of solo offers on the table? Is solo work something that interests you?
Travis: Oh definitely. I mean I’m too introverted to embark on my own solo record. I mean I’ve done it before, but it’s not something I see myself going back to – being solo and not being with a band and being by myself on stage – but I’m always recording, always trying to stay creative, and working with other people on there projects is something I am definitely doing. I’ve been doing a lot of guest appearances. I‘m actually recording a song with Kelly Rowland this week for some soundtrack for a French movie or some sh*t.
AHHA: So what do you think of music right now?
Travis: I’m not really interested in whose beefing with who, who said what, and the whole controversy side of things. The more and more we become a part of this, we kind of get away from the actual music. In terms of the actual music, I think people are finally starting to realize that things need to change, and so people are actually trying new shit and I’m really, really excited right now. When I heard Kanye West’s “Stronger” for the first time, I was like “Holy sh*t, that dude has balls.” People aren’t scared anymore to try new things. It’s not a case of if you’re a rapper; then you have to do this and nothing else.
I think you really have to do something clever, something different and special these days to stay relevant. All the fads don’t matter anymore, like in rock with all the guys wearing black eyeliner and looking like your creepy cousin who you don’t want to sit next to at the dinner table or with Hip-Hop and all the Bling-Bling, Oh my God, I hate saying Bling-Bling, I sound like such an a**hole, but my point is that’s all pretty irrelevant, it’s becoming all about the music again.
AHHA: Ok so I need to address some rumors. You were in London recently, and I hear you were telling press that you were dating Kelly Osbourne...
Travis: Yeah me and Kelly met a while a go at a party, she’s totally awesome. Anytime two people whose faces are recognizable are seen speaking to each other, then it’s automatically assumed they are dating. But it’s not the case with me and Kelly. No way.
AHHA: Ok, but you were reported to have told some journalists you and Kelly were married?
Travis: No. Oh actually you know what? I might have said that but I was really drunk and I just thought I’d screw with the press.
AHHA: So do you have any celeb crushes?
Travis: Lily Allen. I met her before very briefly. She’s cute. Yeah...
AHHA: Ok. So are you happy right now musically and personally?
Travis: Honestly. I’m absolutely miserable. [laughs] Nah, I’m happy with the way things are going. Like I said I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments, like not being able to go out and get a pizza, and in New York people just come up and grab you and I’m not really a people person, so when people are touching me I kind of spaz out. So in that sense I’m miserable but in every other sense; like my band being successful and me being f**king rich. [laughs] I’m happy. Hopefully I’ll have 17 kids by next year all with different women to top it off…
AHHA: Seventeen kids with different women in one year?
AHHA: On a serious note...do you want kids? Do you want to settle down? Is that something in your five-year plan?
Travis: I don’t want to settle down, I just want 17 kids. They can all be rappers when they grow up and I’ll name them the Jackson 17. [laughs]
AHHA: Ok good luck with that. So were you bothered about the gay rumors that plagued you for a while?
Travis: Initially it did. I think it would bother any straight guy. It hurts. I remember the first time I saw gay rumors about me on the internet and I was like “F**k! I’m never going to get p*ssy again.” But then the more I started to see it pop up on the net; the more I started to think it was hilarious. The internet is so f**kin’ hit or miss, you can’t take the rumors seriously. It can be great and build you up or it can try to destroy your whole mindset. So yeah at first it messed me up, but now I’m more secure with whom I am as an artist and as a person so that the rumors don’t bother me. But for the record – I am not gay or bisexual. Is it gay that I think I’m hot?
AHHA: You think you’re hot? I wouldn’t say that’s gay. No, I’d call that confidence…
Travis: I’d hang out with myself all day...