When Gym Class Heroes vocalist Travis McCoy stepped outside of the band to do his 2010 solo CD, “Lazarus,” and had it take off behind the hit single “Billionaire” (a collaboration with Bruno Mars) and turn him into a far more famous name on the music scene, it created plenty of speculation that it could be the beginning of the end for Gym Class Heroes, as McCoy continued to pursue solo projects.
But drummer Matt McGinley says McCoy’s burgeoning solo career was never a threat to Gym Class Heroes. In fact it had an opposite effect.
“I think it’s a really, really positive thing because Gym Class Heroes helped put us into a position where we can go off and do other projects and have those projects be successful,” he said in a recent phone interview. “And Travis (he went by Travie on the solo CD) going off and doing the ‘Lazarus’ stuff has really boosted Gym Class. So it’s kind of just a mutually benefiting relationship.”
Moreover, having McCoy unable to work with the band for a longer-than-anticipated stretch (because the success of “Lazarus” resulted in more touring and other related activities) actually helped the Gym Class Heroes make its recently released CD, “The Papercut Chronicles II,” better than it might otherwise have been.
As it turned out, while McCoy was away, the rest of the band had more time to write and play.
“I would say in terms of the songwriting for this album, we were a little bit more thorough than we have been for the last few albums,” McGinley said. “With Travis promoting his solo album, that sort of gave Gym Class Heroes time to go spend a week and a half in upstate New York writing or fly down to Miami and write some songs there. And we did all of that. We would go to these different places just to hang out together and write more songs.
“That’s something in the past we really haven’t done because we’ve never had the time to do it,” he said. “It’s usually coming off of an album cycle, we’re pretty much thrown right into the studio to bang out more songs. But with this album I would say we were a lot more thoughtful in our songwriting because we had time to be. And I think that’s really great because it allowed songs to develop. Songs changed a lot from when they were just demos to how people will hear them on the final album.”
Longtime fans of Gym Class Heroes, which was formed by McGinley, McCoy and former bassist Ryan Geise in Geneva, N.Y., in 1997, will recognize the name “The Papercut Chronicles.” That was the title of the band’s 2003 debut CD.
“The Papercut Chronicles II” is very much meant as a sequel to that album. The two follow-up CDs, 2006’s “As Cruel as School Children” and 2008’s “The Quilt,” both represented departures from the mix of hard-hitting pop-rock and hip-hop that characterized the debut CD.
On “As Cruel as School Children,” the band made liberal use of synthetic rhythms and synthesizers, rather than the drums and guitars of the first CD. “The Quilt” saw the group shift its sound further toward hip-hop (and even had collaborations with the Dream and Busta Rhymes on the CD).
Going into album number four, McGinley said, the band decided it was time to go back to its roots – so much so that it wanted to blatantly reference the original “The Papercut Chronicles” both with the CD title and some musical elements.
“It’s an idea that we’ve had for quite awhile,” McGinley said. “So every song that we wrote for this album was really just completely intended for this album and really couldn’t have gone on any other album of ours. So it was a little bit different going into the writing sessions with the idea that these songs needed to be the sequel to ‘The Papercut Chronicles.’ So it kind of, it was really cool being able to focus our writing in a direction.”
One element that ties “The Papercut Chronicles II” to the first CD is the tone of the new CD.
“To me, that first album sort of has a lot of darker themes, musically and lyrically,” McGinley said. “So I think we immediately knew when we were writing stuff, we needed to go for a little bit moodier of a vibe. That was kind of different than (how) we’ve done things in the past, where usually we’re just writing and it’s loose and we’re sort of grabbing things out of the air, whereas this time it was all meant to go in a specific direction. It was cool.”
The band even built in a few moments that directly tie the new CD to the original “The Papercut Chronicles.”
“I think people who’ve never even heard the first album will appreciate this album for what it is,” McGinley said. “But I think people who maybe are familiar with the first album are going to perk up a little bit when they hear certain themes. “
The band also includes guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo and bassist Eric Roberts.
, is mixing new songs into a set that attempts to touch on all four albums and illustrate the musical journey that Gym Class Heroes has been on so far.
“We’re kind of working songs in one by one,” McGinley said. “A lot of these songs that are on the new album we’ve been writing and recording in different phases for the last two and a half, three years. So some of them, it’s just kind of like second nature to get on stage and play. Some of them we kind of have to spend more time rehearsing just because we gave them really heavy arrangements in the studio.”