Gym Class Heroes
In 2005, Gym Class Heroes released their Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen debut The Papercut Chronicles, a classic coming-of-age album that spawned the platinum, record-setting Top 40 No. 1 single "Cupid's Chokehold/Breakfast in America" and led to the first of the band’s multiple outings on The Warped Tour. Papercut served up a fresh, new palette for hip-hop: live instruments, slyly humorous lyrics, and eerie melodies that illuminated rapper Travie McCoy’s dark, personal subject matter. Since then, Gym Class Heroes has established themselves as one of the most exciting bands in pop music, topping the radio charts with hit singles, touring the world, making countless national television appearances, and winning multiple music awards, including the MTV VMA for Best New Artist in 2007 (beating out the likes of Amy Winehouse and Carrie Underwood).
Titling their fifth release The Papercut Chronicles II was a deliberate move by a band determined to keep evolving but still remain mindful of their roots. In that way, McCoy and the band’s other founding member, drummer Matt McGinley, see the new album as an extension, rather than a duplication, of its predecessor. “It fills in the gaps, both lyrically and sonically, between that period and now,” McCoy says. “We were fresh out of high-school when we wrote the first Papercut Chronicles. Since then, we’ve grown a lot. Some of us are married now. Some of us are fathers. I’ve been through a lot personally, and you can hear me processing it on the new songs.”
“The first Papercut Chronicles is such an important record to us and to our fans; we all have a unique attachment to it,” McGinley says. “We recorded it on a shoestring budget in a matter of days and without any expectations about who would hear it other than just our friends. In approaching Papercut Chronicles II, we wanted to return to that naiveté, writing and recording songs with a raw innocence that just felt good to us and that we knew would feel good to our fans.”
The result is at once both vintage Gym Class Heroes - reveling in the gleeful genre-hopping that has become its signature - and a giant leap forward for the band, which also includes guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo and bassist Eric Roberts. After opening with the mechanized voice that fans will remember from Papercut I’s intro, The Papercut Chronicles II delivers raw, metallic rock (“Martyrial Girl$,” “Kid Nothing And the Never-Ending Naked Nightmare”), skittering funk grooves (“Lazarus, Ze Gitan”), epic, atmospheric anthems (“The Fighter,” featuring Ryan Tedder), and unabashed summery pop (“Ass Back Home,” featuring Neon Hitch, “Life Goes On,” featuring Oh Land, and the band’s second chart-topping hit “Stereo Hearts,” featuring Maroon 5’s blue-eyed-soul smoothie Adam Levine).
Working with a variety of songwriting and production collaborators, including Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic, Beyoncé), Benny Blanco (Wiz Khalifa, Santigold), and Emile Haynie (Kid Cudi, Kanye West), the blend of styles is anchored by the band’s fiery performances and the engaging flow of McCoy. After scoring solo success with his 2010 album Lazarus - which spawned one of the year’s biggest songs in the 2x-platinum “Billionaire (featuring Bruno Mars)” – the Gym Class Heroes frontman has found himself stronger and more emotionally reflective. “These songs are more personal than the ones on Lazarus,” McCoy says. “Not that there aren’t fun moments but I felt like it was time to tap into the things that I’ve gone through since the last Gym Class record as fuel for writing lyrics for this album. I didn’t want to dwell on the negative, but I did want to write about it with some perspective after coming out the other side.”
On “The Fighter,” McCoy, “hailing from rock-bottom Loserville, Nothingtown, a textbook version of a kid going nowhere fast” steps into a metaphorical boxing ring and squares off against a more empowered version of himself. “Something that really resonates with me is the phrase ‘Give ’em hell,’” he says. “Whenever I hear that I feel inspired. The song is kind of a reminder to constantly kick myself in the ass and fight.” “Ass Back Home” explores what a healthy relationship might feel like despite his being away for long stretches of time and came from a somewhat unexpected place. “That song was inspired by Matt’s relationship with his girlfriend and realizing why he is so Zen on the road,” McCoy says. Then there’s “Life Goes On,” which McCoy says speaks to his having the ability to learn from his experiences and not make the some mistakes repeatedly. “It’s like things my dad warned me about a million times are finally starting to make sense,” he says with a laugh.
Overall, The Papercut Chronicles II is a welcome return for Gym Class Heroes who have been encouraged by the messages they’ve received from their fans so far. One iTunes commenter wrote: “The original PCC changed my life, it was an inspiration. With PCC2 my expectations were met and exceeded. They will always be my heroes!” It is exactly the kind of reaction the band were hoping to get. As McCoy raps in “The Fighter”: “Some of us do it for the females / And others do it for the retail / But I do it for the kids.”
“Our fans are our biggest inspiration,” McCoy says. “I remember going to my first Fall Out Boy show and seeing every kid in the crowd singing the lyrics back to the band. That was the first time I’d experienced band-fan interaction that intense. So to actually have that now is the best thing in the world. When we’re in the studio, we have them in mind. When I’m writing, I'm thinking about how cool the song is going to sound when thousands of kids are screaming it. Our fans definitely push us to be better every day.” Adds McGinley: “It helps us put into perspective why we make music. It's not always to have enormous success. A lot of times it's just for people who come up and tell you that they really dig your music.”