Gym Class Heroes is a great band name, but unlike so many great band names, it actually has something to do with the live hip-hop quartet’s history.
Lead vocalist Travis McCoy met drummer Matt McGinley in gym class in high school. At the time, the two felt more like gym class zeroes than heroes, falling a little outside the “cool kids” clique. But several years later, and with their band’s latest single “Cupid’s Chokehold” debuting at No. 87 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 38 on the R&R Top 40 chart, the term “heroes” has definitely started to fit.
“When we finished our first record,” McCoy recalls, “we planned only to distribute it in upstate New York, which is where we’re from. That’s all we’d known and we were pretty content with just making inroads there. So I’m really excited. You set goals as a kid, not thinking you’ll ever really fulfill them, and now they’re happening.”
Gym Class Heroes’ entry on the charts is “one of those amazing stories you hear, but never believe really happen,” says John Janick, president and co-founder of Fueled By Ramen Records. The band, rounded out by guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo and bassist Eric Roberts, recorded its first album independently and also put its first tour together without any aid. As the foursome was preparing to set off on the trek, a friend of the band’s contacted McGinley to ask if GCH might be interested in having him work up some T-shirt designs. The band said sure and sent off a CD of three or four songs to help the designer generate ideas.
“This guy just happened to be friends with [Fall Out Boy’s] Pete Wentz, so he played it for Pete, and Pete just loved it,” explains McCoy. Before long, Wentz, who runs Fueled By Ramen imprint Decaydance, was in Buffalo with fellow Fall Out Boy Patrick Stump to talk to GCH. Not only did Wentz show serious interest in signing the band, McCoy and Stump instantly bonded.
McCoy says, “I remember it clearly because it was the day Ray Charles died, and Patrick was really bummed. As a big fan of Ray Charles, I was immediately interested by the fact that this dude was so sad. Turns out we’re both huge fans of the same type of music, so we hit it off really easily.”
It wasn’t long before Wentz was on the phone with Janick and GCH became the first project with which the two collaborated. “The Papercut Chronicles,” the band’s Decaydance/Fueled by Ramen debut, was released in 2005 but it was 2006’s “As Cruel As School Children” — co-produced by Stump and featuring some of his vocals — that put GCH on the industry map.
“We went with ‘The Queen and I’ as the first single, but over the summer a Milwaukee station [top 40 WXSS] picked up ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’ and had No. 1 phones and call out on it. Before long, other stations were picking it up and we realized we needed to go back and push ‘Cupid’s’ in a major way,” says Janick.
The effort has paid off, as the song earning the band its first Hot 100 and Top 40 chart ink. “Cupid’s Chokehold” is an instantly catchy mix of hip-hop-style word slinging and pop-style melody that features a perfect chorus hook sung by Stump, plus crisp guitars and edgy, adamant keyboard lines.
In fact, all of “As Cruel” meshes rock and pop elements with adroit rhymes and skillfully-played live beats, creating a genuine hybrid of today’s most popular genres. No wonder the band was the only hip-hop act invited to play the punk/ rock-dominated Warped tour in 2005 and again in 2006.
“The band’s success isn’t really sudden,” says Janick. “They toured for almost three years solid and have worked really hard all along. They’ve always been up for the challenge.”
Next on the agenda for GCH is a short stint in Europe in early February, to be followed by a full U.S. headlining tour.
“The U.S. tour is supposed to last for about two months, but I’m sure halfway through it they’ll have us booked for the rest of the year and probably half of next year,” McCoy reveals. “But I love it; I’d rather be busy than stay stagnant; I get stir-crazy really easily.”