Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Gym Class Heroes: WE CAN BE HEROES

Gym Class Heroes
Gym Class Heroes Gym Class Heroes Gym Class Heroes Gym Class Heroes

If you try to define the band the Gym Class Heroes it may take you a bit longer than you think. With a mix of Hip-Hop/rock and blended electronic/pop, this is a band that like to keep their audience guessing as to what direction they will gravitate next.

Whilst their (some say brave) style earns them fans across genres, they haven’t exactly taken the easy route to the top. 'Ahhh, but is this what gives the band their edge over their rivals?' Hmmm, Well I think it just might be... Having had a strangle-hold on the charts with their smash 'Cupid's Chokehold/Breakfast in America,' their 2006 gold album 'Cruel as School Children' looks to have been eclipsed by their diverse new album called 'The Quilt.' With lead singer Travis Barker in constant demand to appear on other projects whilst his love life comes under constant scrutiny - how are the GCH coping?

I meet up with two of the band members - lead singer Travis Barker and Guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo at record company Atlantic’s HQ in Kensington to spill the beans on their new project, the album The Quilt and of course anything else they’ve been up to of late.

Lee: The last album ‘As Cruel As School Children’ was critically acclaimed, how do you think this one will compare?

Trav: I mean as far as numbers go, first week tripled the last record. The last record when it first came out was a slow build you know and I think we sold about nine thousand copies first week, and to us we were like yeahhhh. Especially the ways that record sales are going at the moment. This record did about thirty seven thousand sales this week I think, so even though it has tripled in sales I’d rather have a decent 1st week and steady sales than a crazy phenomenal first week and sales plummet. That’s something we’ve always kind of prided ourselves on, is the fact that there’s a lot of work that comes with putting out a solid record as opposed to a record that has three huge singles and the rest of it’s just f**king filling. The emphasis on putting out good complete albums has kinda gone out the window, it’s due to a lot of people realizing that singles is the way to go - for some people. But we have always focused on making solid albums, you know?... They take a lot longer, to come in to flourishan.

Lee: Is this one more of a solid album, is this more complete in your eyes than the last one?

Trav: Every record we put out, we go for a decent album all the way through and contrary to a lot of artist we put a lot of emphasis on the last song on the record. We nurture every song the same way we nurture the songs that we know are gonna be singles. Even the songs that you’ll never see a video for or you’ll never hear on the radio, get as much attention in the studio as the singles do. The last song is very important, cos it’s the last impression when people initially listen to the record all the way through. it’s the last impression you leave, so we like always make sure the last song completes the album.

Lee: How do you feel that the band has evolved and how do you think personally you’ve evolved since the last album?

Trav: Every record we kinda evolve as song writers, I think from the first recordings that we put out till now we definitely take the craft more seriously. I never knew how to count bars or measurements before. I never knew what a good song structure was, I just felt like - alright I’m gonna rap till I can’t rap anymore and get MY f**king point across, then throw a hook in here, rap, maybe a bridge here, rap some more – no sense of structure what-so-ever . I think the more we study music, and listen to some of the greats – for me that’s Hall and Oats, you know, a lot 70’s Soul music - Gamble and Huff type stuff. It’s like timeless music. I study that s**t a lot, the way they put things together, I think it’s definitely helped us out a lot. With this record especially I think the band has all kinda stepped their game up lot, I think all of us. Disashi for the most part defiantly got to shine A LOT on this record, which I’m really excited about. With the last record I think he didn’t really get to use his talent to his full potential. This time around we got it lit.

Lee: Do you feel that? Do you feel this time...

Disashi: Yeah, definitely - I’m really excited that this time around I’m singing and writing songs as well. It’s Cool.

Lee: Good feeling being recognized... for what you do?

Trav: Yeah, It’s kinda like, you know being the font man - there’s a stigma attached to being a front man - there’s a lot of emphasis on the front man. A lot of people don’t realise that a lot of front men wouldn’t be there without the band. I always refer to the ‘Don’t Speak’ video by No Doubt where they address that. It’s like - Gwen doesn’t necessarily ask for the attention. I think my band, as opposed to them being f**ked by Travis, they understand it’s out of our hands. Other than that, our drummer summed it up best when someone asked him – What does it feel like when a lot people gravitate towards Travis and you guys are at the back and he said ‘I wouldn’t wish what Travis goes through on anybody!’ It’s like tough, but at the end of the day we know that none of this would work without all of us. Kinda like Voltron, you know?

Lee: You mentioned Gwen Stefani, you were out in Australia with her last year. Good gig?

Trav: Yeah, it was amazing. Her being a star of her calibre and magnitude, you’d think she’d be kind of stand-offish – I mean Kingston her son would walk in to our dressing room all the time and hang out with us all the time, he’s cute man. She wasn’t stand-offish at all, she was really nice. I was really sick for the first couple of weeks of the tour, the guys got to hang out with her a lot more than I did. Last days of the tour she came out and we took pictures and everything. She’s really awesome, and not to mention I have had the hugest crush on her since I was a little kid – so to be in the same building was like a dream come true.

Lee: I won’t tell her (yeah right, course I won't!?)... Cool and Dre are the in-vogue producers at the moment. What was it like working with them?

Trav: Initially you know, we had a meeting with them. It was after the BMA’s - we had like a quick dinner meeting. They expressed interest in working with us, they were really in to what we were doing. Dre was like ‘ You guys are the future man, YOU know there’s like no boundaries and that’s the way music should be’. The more and more we talked, the more and more we realised we had a lot of the same influences and a lot of things in common. I remember leaving the meeting going - to my manager ‘I really want to work with these guys, I think they have a good understanding of what it is we are trying to do’. Not only that but, they are in to a lot of the same stuff we’re in to. So, I took a trip down to Miami, just to kinda see how they work and get a feel for the studio and what not – we were in Circle House Studios in Miami. There was no pressure to write anything, just to hang out. We ended up writing ‘Peace Sign’ that day, so in about six hours we wrote one of our first singles.

Lee: They get in touch with Busta and it came straight back within six hours and the track was done?... That’s amazing.

Trav: I was doing what I was doing when Busta called Dre, Dre was like ‘You’re not gonna believe this s**t, I’m in the studio right now with Trav - Gym Class Heros bla, bla’ I wrote this song. He put it on speaker phone and Busta was like ‘OH SH**T! GET ME ON THIS RIDE - I need to be a part of this sh**t. This is a movement I gotta be a part of’. So we emailed to him and I’m sitting there like ‘Sh**t, that’s Busta Rhymes!’ - sent it back to us next day and the track was done – 6 hours. We had no intentions of recording at all that day, so it was just cool how things kinda worked out.

Lee: Video shoot with Busta went well?

Trav: F**king A-mazing! A lot of anticipation about his arrival - and we were all biting our nails! He’s the coolest guy in the world and he supports us so much. To have someone that I’ve looked up to and I’m sure Disashi has to, we’ve ALL looked up to- his creativity. Not only musically, his videos – aesthetically, he’s always been like, this all-round complete package. He takes his aesthetics in his videos very seriously, he takes his art seriously and so as I said there was anticipation. So we had to start. We thought Busta will get here when he gets here, and we thought we’d have to cut scenes and s**t and I don’t know where - he runs in right on time, from where we first start and kills it first take. He’s such a professional.

Lee: Estelle features on your new album and is supporting you on part of the US leg of your tour. How did that come about?

Trav: We’re excited. Me and Estelle made friends like that. I got invited to her showcase at Roseland Ballroom New York - her first showcase, right before her record came out. She had a song called '1980' that’s on her last record and she asked me to come out and you know, just spit a few bars and I said of course. So. Did that and it was awesome - and ended up hanging out. That night we went to a reggae concert afterwards and just hung out and s**t.... And came back and she’s like "Trav I’m back in town bla, bla" and we kept in touch through text messages and s**t. She’s a sweet genuine, genuine soul, you know what I mean? talent aside – we all know she’s super talented, but like, to be that talented and an artist of that calibre to still be that grounded and genuine, that’s one of the biggest turn-ons for me. NOT sexually you know? It’s like, of course she’s cute as hell, but I mean just to be the in the company of someone that genuine I was like "yeah, We need to be friends". So she invited me out to another showcase she had at a Puma store in New York, and I did the same thing - came up and did '1980,' surprised a lot of people and it was cool. And with the record, I was originally going to sing the hook on ‘Guilty As Charged’ and I was like you know what - let’s see what Estelle can do. She went above and beyond. I knew she would come through, but she f**king killed it. So we’re actually looking forward to the tour with her, really looking forward to performing that song with her. I think we’re doing that song with her tonight.

Lee: So she’s guesting at the gig tonight?

Trav: A-ha

Lee: You mentioned your heroes Gamble and Huff, Hall and Oats. Daryl’s singing on your record as well...

Trav: After that session I was like - I can die tomorrow and I feel like I’ve left my mark and done something.

As Travis reaches the end of that sentence and put’s his clenched fists together palms down to show me the backs of his hands. To my surprise he has a tattoo of each of his heroes, Daryl Hall and John Oats facing each other.

Trav: It’s from the ‘Private Eyes’ cover.

Lee: Wow!

As I stare at the most unlikely tattoo subjects that I expect to see filling the backs of Travis Barkers hands...

Lee: We’ve just spoken to Daryl Hall (Issue 1010). Daryl’s House obviously?

Trav: I was his first guest - now a lot of people have been on there. Chromeo’s been on there, Katie Tunstall’s been on there. I think Finger Eleven are like, the newest guests so it’s cool – I’m glad I was the first you know.

Lee: You’ve been to Manchester, Dublin and Leeds. How were you received?

Trav: Awesome! I think every time we come back it gets better. And these were kinda small intimate shows, you know what I’m saying. Like five hundred to a thousand capacity, so it wasn’t like super big. I think when you're playing arenas and stadiums and s**t, you’re so detached from the crowd it so hard to make a connection, at that point you’re merely entertaining you know? But when it’s small capacity clubs the intimacy it’s like, nothing like

Lee: (Interrupting) Is that important you?

Trav: It’s SO important. With the Gwen tour it was fun, at the same time it was so depressing because after every show I was like "Great Show" but like, we connected with the first two rows then (he makes a crowd sound in to his cupped hands). So it’s something that as performers we need to get back, you know - that exchange of energy that keeps us wanting to do it you know. And as the success of Gym Class Heroes kinda escalates and progresses, of course we have to accommodate the listeners and the fans. If I had my way we’d play House Of Blues’es and smaller venues all the time. Who’s to say we can’t still do that for like a few nights?

Disashi: It’s was really cool to. Cos it’s the first time we’ve been to Ireland and there’s fans out there that were like. "We’ve been waiting four years just to see you."

Lee: Really?

Trav: Four years - I was like wow!

Lee: Going back then?

Trav: Of course, of course we had a good time.

Both the single ‘Cookie Jar’ and the Album ‘The Quilt’ are out now on Atlantic records.

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