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Gym Class Heroes hit the mainstream

Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy was half-flattered, half-annoyed when his band won the best new artist trophy at the MTV Video Music Awards last month.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy was half-flattered, half-annoyed when his band won the best new artist trophy at the MTV Video Music Awards last month.

“It was really cool,” he says of the Heroes’ victory over the likes of Amy Winehouse and Carrie Underwood. “(But) I mean, in a sense, it was kind of a little bit interesting, because of the fact that we’ve been a band for 10 years.”

“Part of me is like, ‘Yeah, awesome!’ and the rest is like, ‘We’re not really that new,”’ McCoy says of his mixed emotions.

After years under the radar, Gym Class Heroes has emerged as this year’s breakout band. And McCoy, 26, the charismatic rapper-singer and goofy star of the music video of the group’s huge single “Cupid’s Chokehold,” has gotten plenty of attention. He is the Pete Wentz of the quartet, more of a camera ham than guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, bassist Eric Roberts and drummer Matt McGinley.

The Heroes watched their profile rise after “Chokehold” hit the radio last year. The undeniably catchy song — which samples the hook of Supertramp’s oldie “Breakfast in America” — eventually reached No. 4 on Billboard’s “Hot 100.”

It first appeared on the band’s 2005 album, “The Papercut Chronicles,” and was featured again on the follow-up disc, “As Cruel as School Children,” first released in July 2006 and reissued several months later with “Chokehold” as an additional track.

When asked for his take on the song’s popularity, McCoy shrugs and says simply: “I don’t know. You have to ask the people that.”

“We try not to analyze our music too much,” he explains, munching on potato chips in the band’s trailer before a recent Manhattan concert. “Us not doing that kinda gives us the freedom to (make) the music we want as opposed to drawing ourselves in a certain category.”

Ties to Fall Out BoyThe group, which blends diverse musical styles including hip-hop and emo-rock, began in the ’90s after McCoy and McGinley bonded during gym class at their high school in Geneva, N.Y., near Rochester in upstate’s scenic Finger Lakes region. They added Lumumba-Kasongo and Roberts a few years ago, and ultimately signed to Fall Out Boy bassist Wentz’s Decaydance Records, an imprint of Fueled By Ramen, which has more than a dozen youth-friendly bands on its roster.

While Wentz remains Fall Out Boy’s most conspicuous member, the emo outfit’s lead singer, Patrick Stump, went behind the scenes with the Heroes to co-produce “As Cruel As School Children”; his power-pop vocals can also heard on “Chokehold” and the album’s other hit, “Clothes Off!”

The Heroes have further cemented their association with Fall Out Boy on the current “The Young Wild Things” tour, on which they serve as the opening act.

“There’s gonna be a lot of debauchery and a lot of crazy happenings,” he says.

Indeed, McCoy seems like the kind of guy who loves to whip up trouble — and haze friendly journalists. During the course of this interview, the 6-foot-5 McCoy — surprisingly soft-spoken — fake-wiped potato chip grease on this reporter’s jacket sleeve (Gross, but kind of funny).

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Another surprising thing about McCoy is his taste in music. He cites Hall and Oates as one of his favorites — which explains a lot about the eclectic Heroes songbook. For example, “Clothes Off!” uses the melody from the 1986 Jermaine Stewart abstinence song “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” McCoy, however, switched up the chaste message by omitting the “don’t” from the chorus.

McCoy gets a kick out of people who try to define the Heroes.

“They’ve called us emo hip-hop,” he says. “They’ve called us alternative hip-hop, they’ve called us hip-hop and rock. Whatever makes it easier for them to categorize us so be it. I just laugh at a lot of ‘em. I always thought we were a country-western band.”