Interview with Matt McGinley of Gym Class Heroes: Exposing Papercuts

“And at night, I roam these streets with absolutely no purpose/Feeling like I’m worthless/But, contrary to my last statement, I feel fine/Content with the fact that I know this city’s mine.”

This lyric is one of the many beloved and frequently quoted from Gym Class Heroes’ debut album, The Papercut Chronicles. Released in 2005, the album effortlessly blurs the line between alternative and hip-hop, meshing eerie indie guitars, contagious beats and witty rhymes sung with a confident flow—a concoction that seemingly created the standard of the band’s sound.

Citing an array of acts across a number of genres as influences, including The Roots, Maroon 5 and even Hall & Oates, vocalist Travie McCoy, guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, bassist Eric Roberts and drummer Matt McGinley perked the ears of listeners with their eclectic style, while simultaneously hitting their hearts by touching on hard-hitting yet relatable topics like drug abuse, bullying, heartbreak and poverty. The band got its first taste of mainstream success with the release of their major single, “Cupid’s Chokehold,” featuring Fall Out Boy crooner Patrick Stump, and quickly became an integral part of the alternative tour circuit, joining bills for festivals like Warped Tour, Bamboozle and SXSW.

Although life shifted into the celebrity-infused fast lane with more upbeat, dance albums like As Cruel As School Children (2006) and The Quilt (2008), the Upstate New York crew maintained a strong attachment to their debut work, the pure, dark, emotion it evoked, and the memories it sparked. As a result, Gym Class Heroes is venturing back in time to create The Papercut Chronicles II, including the new single “Stereo Hearts” featuring Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.

McGinley took time out of his schedule to give details on the new album, what it was like working with Levine, the band’s appearance on NBC TV show The Voice, and their journey to regenerate the debut work that so many fans have grown attached to.

Have you guys been busy promoting the new single, “Stereo Hearts?”

We actually haven’t been busy at all trying to promote the single—it comes pretty far ahead of the album. We’re just busy trying to finish the album, so that’s the main priority before we start going all out touring.

“Stereo Hearts” features Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. You actually appeared on The Voice the other night, what was that experience like?

That was awesome. It’s funny, because I tend to think everything on television is so phony, pre-planned and scripted. I think our appearance on The Voice kind of comes across that way but honestly it was 100 percent spontaneous.

We were in Los Angeles, rehearsing for a show. We haven’t really played a show for Gym Class Heroes in about year. Adam Levine, I guess, was in the same lot as we were, and we were just playing “Stereo Hearts” as he was walking by. It was weird—I actually did a double take. So we just jammed on the song maybe one and a half times and then that was that! Then his assistant came back about five minutes later and said, “Hey, we’re actually filming for The Voice, would you guys like to be a part of it?” So obviously we were more than down to do it. It was definitely a huge opportunity for us to be a part of it, so we were pretty excited to do it.

How does it feel to look back and see how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time and that you’ve had the chance to work with someone like Adam Levine, whom you’ve enjoyed listening to and admired for so long?

It’s obviously amazing to not only be accepted by an artist you admire and look up to, but to be able to work and collaborate with them. I think for fans of both Gym Class Heroes and Maroon 5, “Stereo Hearts” offers a really unique hybrid of both of our bands, and showcases the unique elements of each. Plus, I think Adam is a terribly gifted singer. Really, anyone sounds good on a record. That’s just the curse of modern technology. But to hear somebody with true talent that just blows you away live, several feet away from your face, that’s just awesome.

When we went in to record Papercut Chronicles, I actually brought in a copy of [Maroon Five’s debut album] Songs About Jane, and I said, “I want my drums to sound like this.” I sort of blended the styles of Maroon 5 and Questlove, and that’s what I came up with. Overall, it’s crazy to see something like that come full circle to the point where we’re actually working with Adam Levine directly.

You’ve brought up your first album, Papercut Chronicles, but now Gym Class Heroes is at work on Papercut Chronicles II. How’s the recording process going along so far? What have been the top musical and lyrical inspirations?

Things are going really well in terms of us creating and bringing the album into fruition. It’s interesting going into an album with a specific idea of where you want to go musically. For us, we don’t necessarily want to recreate our first album, but we want to revisit some of those dark themes and concepts lyrically and some of the dark sides we had musically.

In a way, it’s putting a ton of pressure on us—because, not only are we attached to that album and it’s the album that sort of jumpstarted our career, but there are so many of our fans that are really into it. You just can’t loosely slap a title on an album if it doesn’t make sense. I think it sets the bar pretty high going into this. We probably wrote about 25 or 30 strong song ideas for the album. Ultimately, it will probably get cut down to about 12. I think it’s a pretty good position to be in, to be able to pick and choose amongst your catalog with what you feel will best represent the band and the album, but it’s really stressful.

Although you guys gained more of a following through your follow-up album, As Cruel As School Children, I’ve noticed that for a lot of your hardcore fans, Papercut Chronicles is the album. I know a lot of people are really excited you guys are returning to that somewhat cryptic sound.

That’s awesome to hear! It’s crazy. I feel like success-wise, things didn’t really pick up for us until the albums after Papercut Chronicles, so when we played a live show within the last two years, we predominately played songs from As Cruel As School Children and The Quilt, just thinking that most kids weren’t familiar with that album. We thought they wouldn’t know what to do if we played “Taxi Driver,” “Papercuts” or “Kid Nothing.”

But the other night, at the show we were playing in L.A., we thought, “All right, since we’re going to put out The Papercut Chronicles II, it’s only right that we really bring back a lot of these songs live and breathe life into them.” So, we ended up playing about a chunk of songs from the album and kids were so into it. It was like, why weren’t we doing this for years? It was amazing. Kids had their eyes closed, or were looking up at the sky singing along to every lyric. It was super powerful and it’s another really fun part about doing a sequel album. We get the chance to revitalize these songs and inject them back into the setlist. It feels really good for us just switching some things up, and I feel it’s going to be refreshing for a lot of fans that have waited years to hear some new songs live.

Well it also gives the band time to reminisce, right? Because not only are you reminiscing about making the album, you’re reminiscing about the music in general and the sound you created.

For sure—there’s even a lot of stuff in the new record where we’ve taken bits and pieces from the original album and found creative ways to insert them into the new material. For instance, one song that doesn’t even have a title yet is basically the sequel to “Kid Nothing,” which is the last track on The Papercut Chronicles. The very ending theme we play—we’re basically starting the sequel version out with that theme. So you’re hearing the end of “Kid Nothing” but only for a few seconds, and then into the new, updated version. There are all kinds of stuff in the album where if you’re a new Gym Class Heroes fan, it will go right by you, but it’s cool because it’s still relevant and it makes sense. For the kids that are super into Papercut Chronicles, they’re definitely going to perk an ear up when they hear the guitar riff from “Makeout Club” briefly in part of a song, or the drum fill from “Simple Living.” There are a lot of cool things like that.

Are you guys still looking at a 2011 release date for Papercut Chronicles II, or has it been pushed back?

Oh, definitely in 2011. We’re hoping to have it out by the early fall. Musically, it’s probably about 90 percent finished, but Travis definitely has his work cut out for him in terms of vocals. Papercut Chronicles was a very wordy album; there were a lot of lyrics. This is another album where he’s definitely got a lot to put in for the lyrics. But that’s where we’re at right now. It’s definitely going to come together. I think it makes us all a little uncomfortable to just stamp a release date on it, because ultimately it will get released when it’s finished.

Come July 21, Gym Class Heroes is going to be heading out on the Vans Warped Tour until the tour’s completion on August 14 in Hillsboro, Oregon. Being alumni of Bamboozle and Warped Tour, what do you all enjoy most about doing the festival circuit?

It’s always cool to have two or three different bands on the tour that you just check out every single day, and it’s always awesome meeting other musicians. Not to mention, we always end up seeing familiar faces back on these tours. It’s like a reunion of sorts. Festivals have always been really cool, especially a festival like Warped Tour that typically has become known as being a rock festival. It has also always been an interesting challenge for us as a hip-hop band to bring something different to the table. That’s another awesome thing about Warped Tour—that’s the festival where they embrace something different and new.

Like I know this year they have groups like Bad Rabbits playing alongside harder rock bands. Plus, I know growing up as kids, it was like we were super into Atmosphere and the Roots, but we were also into [rock] bands… so it’s cool to be a part of a festival that sums up all of those different genres and throws them into one big parking lot for the day.

It also shows that kids aren’t listening to one genre of music anymore. People are exploring more, which is sort of encouraging.

Yeah, exactly!

So once the album is out and you’re done with Warped Tour, what does the future hold for Gym Class Heroes?

A lot of touring is in our future, as it always is. That’s where I think we get our kicks, just from going out and playing live. I’m exceptionally excited for the Warped Tour stop in Ocean, NJ, because that’s probably about five minutes from my house. My girl and my daughter are going to come out and watch us play so that will be exciting. It’s kind of the hometown show for me. Even though I’m from Upstate, New York, I’m sort of a central New Jersey transplant.

Gym Class Heroes will play the 2011 Warped Tour on July 21 in Camden, NJ, July 23 in Uniondale, NY, and July 24 in Oceanport, NJ. For more information, go to