It would be a serious understatement to say that the security was tight on March 24 at the House of Blues in Anaheim, where up-and-coming hip-hop/indie band Gym Class Heroes opened strong for a sold-out show featuring headliners Fall Out Boy and Midtown.
For anyone who has visited Downtown Disney, it is easy to understand the venue’s heightened security and why an average-looking student from a college newspaper would have to go through every echelon of security to get into a small changing room by the bar to interview the opening band.
It’s a result of being stuck in a crowd populated by 10 different versions of the red-state family vacation, where every kid is crying or being chased after to a soundtrack of every one-hit-wonder of the late 1990s sung by the three chipmunks, which can cause a generally mild-mannered and rational person to turn into someone who wants to blow stuff up.
Luckily, music soothes the savage beast, and as soon as four-piece Gym Class Heroes from upstate New York hit the stage my thoughts of destruction began to fade. The band is on a nationwide tour with Fall Out Boy promoting its first full-length album entitled ‘The Papercut Chronicles’ on the Florida-based indie label Fueled by Ramen.
Besides being four of the coolest, most down-to-earth guys you will meet in a band these days, there are several aspects about Gym Class Heroes that are truly impressive. As a hip-hop act, it stands out by actually putting on a legitimate live show with energy and musicianship that is impressive for any genre. This may have to do with the fact that none of the instrumental music is sampled but rather written and played live by talented musicians. Each song is interesting and well-crafted, a departure from the monotonous, unoriginal drone of mainstream hip-hop.
As an indie-rock band, Gym Class Heroes is of a different breed because the band is not melodically driven, but led by vocalist and emcee Travis McCoy, who shines as an intelligent and witty lyricist. Their last two tours have showcased its versatility by touring with mostly pop-punk and indie-rock bands.
‘What’s cool about Gym Class Heroes is from the jump, there was never a scene for us that we fit into,’ McCoy said. ‘We shared the stage with metal bands, reggae bands, hip-hop acts. It’s usually the complacent, quiet crowd who’s never heard of us. By the second song they’re shaking their asses. So, that’s the pay off.’
While most young bands these days are trying to sound like their influences and build from the hype of those bands’ successes, the members of Gym Class Heroes have started their career in music by taking advantage of not being able to be placed in any particular scene.
‘A lot of bands, some sort of scene band, they can’t do that much outside of that scene,’ said drummer Matt Wong. ‘They could go to a hardcore show and get laughed at or mocked. But we’ve played with hardcore acts recently and it goes over just as good as it would anywhere else.’
Gym Class Heroes’ versatility as a live act can be attributed to the talents of drummer Wong, bassist Ryan Geise and guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, each of whom gives any music lover a reason to appreciate the band even if hip-hop would not be found on any of that listener’s playlists. But because of the talents of McCoy and his influence on the songs, Gym Class Heroes is, at heart, a hip-hop group with talented musicians. This is why despite being able to tour with any type of band because of its expansion at the genre, Gym Class Heroes has experienced popular responses in cities where hip-hop is prominent.
‘I like Detroit,’ Wong said, describing his favorite place to play. ‘I find that when you play shows like this in a lot of towns that already have some sort of big cult, for hip-hop it’s like Eminem in Detroit, we do well. In Chicago, in Philadelphia, in a lot of the places where hip-hop is exposed to already, it’s lot easier for us to kick up than Oklahoma City.’
The origins of Gym Class Heroes can be found in Geneva, N.Y., where Wong and McCoy met in high school.
‘We were polar opposites, but then we realized that we had so much in common,’ Wong said. ‘We just kind of got together and talked about music.’
The two were in different bands that played together throughout high school. At one party where Wong’s band featuring current bassist Geise was playing mostly instrumental music, Travis grabbed the microphone and Gym Class Heroes was born. The final lineup was solidified when old guitarist Milo left the band to pursue college.
‘We grabbed [Lumumba-Kasongo] who is pretty much like the Eddie Van Halen of his generation,’ Wong said. ‘He’s actually Alex Van Halen cause he’s super sick at drums. And he wears the headband a lot.’
Lumumba-Kasongo, a talented guitarist and vocalist who sings most of the bands’ melodic lines, named the band before he even joined. The name was inspired, however, by the experiences of McCoy and Wong in high school.
‘We used to pick on the kids who go all out for dirty, sweaty gym class,’ McCoy said. ‘Like, what are you trying to prove in a half hour? You know damn well you got global studies next and you are going to be all musty. We called them gym class heroes.’
After recording its debut EP, the band went in to the studio in Lockport, N.Y. to record its first full-length album with producer Doug White. Before the album was even finished, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz heard the band’s work and passed it on to record labels. After several meetings with different labels, the band signed to Florida-based Fueled by Ramen, which distributed ‘The Paper Cut Chronicles’ nationwide in January.
Gym Class Heroes will tour for the next few months with Fall Out Boy in support of the album, which can be found in stores now.
Information on the CD, the band and the tour can be found at their Web site www.gymclassheroes.com.