Gym Class Heroes Discuss Adam Levine Collaboration, Sequel Album ‘The Papercut Chronicles II’
Gym Class Heroes have taken an unlikely path to mainstream stardom, by fusing hip-hop with pop and rock, signing with an emo label, and building up a fan base with grass roots touring for more than a decade. In 2005, the group released ‘The Papercut Chronicles,’ a deeply personal album that included ‘Cupid’s Chokehold,’ a Patrick Stump-assisted track that took a while to catch on but ultimately became the group’s biggest hit.
Drummer Matt McGinley, who formed the group in high school with singer Travie McCoy, gave PopCrush a call to discuss their new sequel album ‘The Papercut Chronicles II,’ which arrives on Nov. 15. Matt told us about working with Maroon 5 hitmaker Adam Levine on ‘Stereo Hearts,’ what it was like to open for Run DMC years ago, and whether the rest of the band felt threatened by McCoy’s solo album.
How did you guys bring Adam Levine onboard for ‘Stereo Hearts?’
We found him at a driving range and we were like, ‘Dude, what are you doing today? You should be on our album!’ So, we gave him the gig. Nah, we’ve really wanted to work with him for years. I can remember when we went in to cut our first album, we actually brought in the Maroon 5 album ‘Songs About Jane’ as a reference, like, ‘Here’s what we want the drums to sound like.’
We’ve always looked up to Adam and his band. So it’s crazy that we could get to a point in our career where we could collaborate with him. We look at it as a really big opportunity for us.
Is it fair to say that ‘Stereo Hearts’ isn’t representative of the overall sound of the new album?
I guess on a whole that would be correct. Musically, we’ve always been such an ambiguous band. We have many different flavors across the album. ‘Stereo Hearts’ certainly is one of those flavors, but there’s a whole palette of other songs to be enjoyed. That’s the reason that we’ve been leaking bits and pieces of the album, because we wanted people to understand that there are a variety of colors on this album, and ‘Stereo Hearts’ is just one of them. It is the bright pink color.
Watch the Gym Class Heroes ‘Stereo Hearts’ Video Feat. Adam Levine
The song ‘Martyrial Girl$’ is more musically intense and seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum.
That’s one of my favorites. We wrote that in Miami probably a year and a half ago. We kinda just sat there and jammed for like eight and a half minutes. We were listening back to what we had recorded, and there were maybe five seconds that we really enjoyed. So we took that five seconds, and that’s where we got the verse for that song from. It’s a cool song. It’s definitely got a rabid energy. For a while, we were calling it ‘Scene From a Car Chase,’ which is sort of what came to mind when I was listening to the song.
Do you have any other featured artists on the album?
We have a few, yeah. I think we’re keeping most of them under wraps for now. But we did just drop a new song called ‘Life Goes On,’ and it features Oh Land, who is an amazing artist from Copenhagen, I believe. She is of Danish origin.
We have a couple other features, but it was all stuff that was really done tastefully. We’ve never been in the business of reaching out to other artists based on status or pop appeal or anything like that. When we do a collaboration, it’s because we feel it could be an interesting thing, something that hasn’t been done. Like on the last album, we did a song with Daryl Hall, who was a big inspiration for us. We just try to make sure when we’re doing a collaboration, it’s because that person can really elevate the song.
(Note: The tracklist, released after our interview, reveals additional collaborations with Ryan Tedder and Neon Hitch.)
Listen to ‘Life Goes On’ Feat. Oh Land
What sorts of themes does the new record deal with? Does it pick up where the first ‘Papercut Chronicles’ record left off?
We sort of revisit some of the concepts, but it’s almost like an expansion. It’s not just a rehash of what we started with that album. There are a couple points where there’s some throwback to the first album, musically or lyrically, and fans of that first ‘Papercut Chronicles’ album are really gonna get it. Other fans, it might just fly by them. Lyrically, ‘Papercut Chronicles’ was definitely a heavy album, and I think that’s why a lot of kids connected with it — because it wasn’t just an album full of palatable, digestible lyrics. A lot of it was about really heavy, weighted concepts like death and drug addiction. With this album [‘The Papercut Chronicles II’], we’re not necessarily drudging those themes up, but in that vein, we’re attacking some more weighted concepts.
There’s a song about religion on the album, which is just crazy. It’s nothing that we’ve ever addressed in our music before, so that’s one good example of how we’re sort of going for a little more serious of a tone with some stuff. The great thing about the way Travis writes lyrics is that it can be serious as hell, but there’s these little quirks of humor scattered throughout the album. That’s one thing I’ve always appreciated about the way he writes lyrics — it’s always got a tongue-in-cheek approach.
What is the song about religion called?
You know what, I don’t even remember. We’ve been calling it ‘Rain Rain’ for the last year since we wrote it, but it has a new title. We just had to put in our track listing the other day, so I myself am trying to grasp some of the official titles … Oh, it’s called ‘Holy Horses—-, Batman,’ I just remembered.
How different is touring, versus when you started?
It’s much different in that we’re doing it in a bus instead of a 15-passenger van. Not having to drive ourselves to every gig and not having to sleep five to a room at Motel 6s is an awfully nice luxury. But we’re all the same group of dudes. I think if we hadn’t gone through a few years of grinding it out in the van, we might not have the same appreciation for where we’re at now. It’s nice to board the bus and lay down in my bunk to go to sleep after the show, get in my pajamas and really feel like we’ve climbed the ladder to get to this point.
By no means do I think this is the endpoint. I would like to keep progressing, and I think with ‘The Papercut Chronicles II,’ we’re doing that musically. We’re still hoping to continue to push things as a band.
When Travie recorded his solo album, did you guys have any concerns he would decide not to return to the band?
Never. I’ve known Travis and we’ve been working as a band since I was 14. I guess that’s half my life, so I always knew what the plan was. Gym Class Heroes is the priority for us. It’s always homebase. It’s great that we’ve gotten to a point where Gym Class Heroes has allowed us to explore other opportunities as well. I couldn’t be happier for him to focus on his solo album and have success. Having Travis out in the spotlight and having a lot of success at radio only bolsters the Gym Class Heroes brand. I look at it as a mutually beneficial thing.
It’s crazy, the idea that we were going on hiatus or we were taking this break. I guess it was a misconception that people had. For us, we never even felt like we needed to address it, because it was not a concern. I guess the fact that some people may have been confused about our status … We only have ourselves to blame, because we never dispelled anything. But I think it would intentionally throw up flags if we were to be like, ‘We’re not breaking up!’ For someone reason, that totally seems like the type of thing a band would say if they were breaking up, you know?
I read that you opened for Run DMC a long time ago. What was that like?
That was amazing. It was definitely a big moment in our careers. We were just kids going to high school and somehow, I think through winning a battle of the bands, we managed to get an opening spot on one of their shows in New York. It was a big moment for our band, and a lot of those moments would follow for the next few years after that, that would prep us to get ready to do Gym Class Heroes professionally, which was always something we wanted. We never really knew if what we were doing would be received on a massive level. We just knew that making music was something we enjoyed doing, something that our friends liked, and that was enough for us. It was probably seven or eight years of making music and playing shows before, commercially, anyone was paying attention. I think when you’re doing something unique or different, maybe it just takes everyone a little bit longer to catch up sometimes.
Watch the ‘A— Back Home’ Lyric Video