For then 15-year-old Travis McCoy, high school gym class was nothing more than an excuse to chat about music with buddy Matt McGinley. McCoy, who was an aspiring rapper, was the frontman for a local band, and
McGinley played drums for another in their native Geneva, N.Y.
The summer after sophomore year, McGinley’s band landed a party gig, and McCoy, who happened to be at the same gathering, stepped to the mic and began to rhyme along with it.
Thus Gym Class Heroes was born and went on to release three independent albums before signing to Fall Out Boy principal
Pete Wentz’s Decaydence label via Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic in the spring of 2004.
The group is now tasting its first mainstream success with the single “Cupid’s Chokehold,” featuring FOB’s Patrick Stump, which peaked at No. 5 on the Pop 100 and Billboard Hot 100 charts. The album from which it is drawn, “As Cruel As School
Children,” has shifted 246,000 units. Band and label credit a robust online following for the breakout. In the past month,
Gym Class Heroes have frequently sold more than 100,000 digital downloads and 55,000 ring tones each week, according to Nielsen
SoundScan. Their MySpace page boasts more than 7 million profile views and 400,000 friends.
But the question remains: how to further break a rock group that has a rapper as a lead singer?
According to Fueled by Ramen president/co-founder John
Janick, the answer lies with further online saturation to prepare the group for mass exposure. To wit, a video for the track “New Friend Request” was recently made available only on the band’s MySpace and official Web sites, without any intention of it being picked up for broadcast.
“We want to make sure there’s a solid foundation,” he says.
“We want people to already know them so they aren’t taken blindly when we do go to radio and television.”
Still, Janick assures this formula wouldn’t have had much success if it weren’t for the band’s desire to get its music heard. “They were all about going on the road and developing,” he says. “So, we decided to work with them, even though was a little outside of what we’re used to working with.”
That skepticism may have initially slowed Gym Class Heroes’ mainstream breakthrough, but it ultimately wound up generating buzz. “No one really got (the music), and they wondered where it should be placed,” he says. “People were like, ‘What kids are going to buy it? The rock kids or the rap kids?’ And I was like, ‘Kids in general are going to buy it.”‘
Indeed, it took so long for the band to emerge from below the radar that “Cupid’s Chokehold” (which uses the hook from
Supertramp’s 1979 hit “Breakfast in America”) was actually featured on the 2003 album “The Paper Cut Chronicles.” It didn’t hit the charts until last December, when a DJ at
Milwaukee station WXSS began playing it regularly, McCoy says.
“It just caught fire after that, and stations started adding it and people started requesting it, so we did a video to give it momentum,” he adds. “We knew that it was a cool song, but it all came out of nowhere. It was like this crazy snowball effect.” Even though the first single, “The Queen and
I,” had already been released, the label shifted its efforts to
“Chokehold,” reissuing “School Children” (first released in
July) with the added track.
Gym Class Heroes will continue pounding the pavement on tour in an attempt to reach new audiences. The band is out with
RX Bandits, P.O.S. and k-os on the Daryl Hall for President tour and will then play dates on the Vans Warped trek this summer.
“It takes a while for the world to catch up sometimes,”
McCoy says. “But I think if people could just come out to a show and look at the line outside, they’ll see our fans come from all walks of life, and you can really put a face on what our fans look like. Once people take the time to actually really check us out, they’ll see there’s a lot under the surface as far as our music goes.”