Gym Class Heroes

by Dan MacIntosh

Gym Class Heroes is a band for the digital generation. Formed in 1997, they embraced the wireless world and became one of the first bands to explode though online interaction. Their funky fusion of pop, rock and hip-hop is definitively new school, but is grounded in musical history. Their most famous song, "Cupid's Chokehold," samples Supertramp, a band they knew all about long before their DJ buddy dropped "Breakfast In America" on them.

Drummer Matt McGinley and lead singer Travie McCoy formed the band in high school, where they met in gym class. McCoy had a big solo hit in 2010 with "Billionaire," which as Matt tells us, has been a blessing for Gym Class Heroes and for his family life. In this talk during a break on the 2011 Warped Tour, McGinley explains how their famous song came together and what has changed since those dial-up days when they started.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I want to talk about a couple of your big songs first. There's "Cupid's Chokehold," which is, I guess, probably the song you can't leave a stage without playing, right?

Matt McGinley: Yeah, that's what you could say. I would like to someday have a big enough catalog to where we can do that. That would be amazing. But until then…

Songfacts: You've gotta do it. It's always interesting to me when I see shows when a band plays their biggest song, how they react. Is it still a fun song to play?

McGinley: It is. There's others that I think are less successful songs, but more exciting for me, personally, to play. But it is still a fun song. And I think with any of our songs, they always are developing. They're always in evolution. Like, if you listen to "Cupid's Chokehold," the way we played it five years ago, I'm sure it's drastically different than the way we play it now. I think musicians are just sort of impatient people. You want to constantly be creating new challenges and new excitements for yourself. So that song has changed quite a bit.

And that song was kind of an accident that it even happened. We wrote it in our old bass player's bedroom one afternoon, and it was really unintentional. We were just going to rehearse for our show. We didn't sit down and say, "Okay, let's write a song." That song just sort of happened. Our friend Sie One had the Supertramp Breakfast in America record. And so he put that on and he would play that line, "Take a look at my girlfriend, she's the only one I got." Then drop it, and we would try to keep playing. So we sort of wrote our own verses and our own bridge and stuff, and every time the chorus would come around we would just drop that as the chorus. So that song happened really, really quickly. And then we went and recorded it for under $300 in probably 3 or 4 hours. And we've been writing our latest album for two years. (laughing)

Songfacts: You wish they were all that easy.

McGinley: That's the thing. It's the weirdest things, you can struggle for so long on a song, and it can turn out great, and it's like, Oh, cool, this is a great song. But you really worked for it. And then other times you can basically just fart out a hit single. It's like the weirdest thing how that happens sometimes. There are so many factors that come into play when you're writing a song. So all those things need to line up to drive a perfect song out; other times it's not like that.

Songfacts: Did you have any idea who Supertramp was before that?

McGinley: Yeah. We're pretty well influenced by a wide body of music and stuff like Hall & Oates; Paul Simon is a huge influence on me, especially Steve Gadd, who played on a lot of classics.

Songfacts: He's a great jazz drummer, too.

McGinley: Absolutely. He's actually from Rochester, New York. We're from Geneva, New York, and it's like right up the road, literally. So I've seen Steve Gadd play a couple of times doing some clinics and stuff. But Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, a lot of classic songwriters and arrangers are guys that we've always been influenced by. So Supertramp is up there, as well. We've always talked about how funny it would be if we did an interpolation of the "The Logical Song."

Songfacts: That's a great song. That takes me back to when I was in high school, and I can remember buying the album, the LP.

McGinley: The one with the woman on the front and the -

Songfacts: Yeah, it's like the Statue of Liberty waitress lady. So I want to give you a chance to talk about the new album. How is it going, what can you tell me about it?

McGinley: It's going good. We had the largest period of time we've really ever had, except for when we were unsigned. We had just a long time to write this album, because Travis was doing his solo project, and "Billionaire" had really taken off. So that took him out on the road for about a year. And so a lot of these songs we've been able to write and develop. Some of the ones on the new album we've recorded four or five times.

Songfacts: What a nice luxury, though.

McGinley: Incredible luxury, yeah. And it's never really happened that way for us. Usually we come off tour and then it's like, All right, immediately go and write and record. And a lot of time you're trying to write as you're recording, and to me that's not ideal, because it's like it doesn't allow songs to grow and develop. And I feel like you should be able to write something, record it, then listen back to it and come with new ideas. It's almost like writing a paper, where you do a rough draft and then a final draft.

Songfacts: If I had to send out the first draft of everything I've written, I'd never be where I am now.

McGinley: I'm sure, yeah. It's the same thing with music, and usually we don't have that luxury. Usually there's an added stress when it comes to that, because you're in there tracking, and you know, This is it. Like, this is the way the song's going out. But when you're doing demos and you're cutting pre-production and stuff, that makes it a lot easier, because you can really get creative and let yourself be a little more uninhibited with your playing.

Songfacts: When I saw Travie do a thing at the Sunset Strip Music Festival, you were with him.

McGinley: Yeah, I was. I played for quite a bit, I played for probably two-thirds of his album cycle, just backing. We've been playing together since I was 14. So I think he was maybe uncomfortable stepping out for the first time without me right behind him or something. (laughing) So yeah, he asked me to come out and play. I had a daughter in January, so I wanted to allow myself time to be at home and do that, so I kind of stepped off the road. With Gym Class Heroes, I wouldn't have the option to stay back and let somebody else fill in on drums. I think any of us in the band, it's a dynamic thing, it's not like being able to work with session players. When it's a band, it's all about dynamic and personal chemistry.

Songfacts: That kind of kiboshes the whole idea of Travie straining the band with his solo things. Because you were still pretty much together even after he had all this success.

McGinley: Yeah. I think a lot of people made assumptions, like, "Oh, the band's breaking up or it's on hiatus." I mean, none of that was at all true. I think people tend to just reach for really definitive conclusions for something that they see. But you can't always explain everything. Trav's album was really successful, so all of that stuff is relevant to our band. It's like anything he does that's successful by default makes our band more successful.

Songfacts: Right. There's going to be more interest in your band now, and maybe fans are going to come see your shows who wouldn't normally.

McGinley: Absolutely. And we've been playing "Billionaire" on this tour. And I think it's a lot of fun, because for our fans, they get to hear Gym Class Heroes play "Billionaire." It's something that creates interest and excitement and it's a little bit different. Yeah, it's just all relative success. I couldn't be happier for Travis. And there's a selfish benefit as well - I bought a house five years ago that I barely got to stay in. So during Trav's thing, I had a little bit more freedom to stay and hang around and be with my family.

August 11, 2011
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Comments: 1

  • Tokas Derula from South AfrikaGym Class Heroes is the best me and my friends like it july spiers and elais bopape
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