Gym Class Heroes are going back to their musical beginnings for their fourth studio LP, due in September. "We have high standards that we have to live up to," frontman Travie McCoy tells SPIN, "especially because we're naming it The Papercut Chronicles II."
The new album is the sequel to The Papercut Chronicles, the band's 2005 debut, which produced the hit song "Cupid's Chokehold" (featuring vocals from Patrick Stump), led to a high profile Warped Tour slot, and became a touchstone in the budding indie hip-hop and emo-pop scene.
The band drifted into mainstream pop territory with their two following records, 2006's As Cruel as School Children and 2008's The Quilt. But with Papercut II they're returning to the original freeform hip-hop sound favored by longtime fans.
"We didn't want to worry about the formula that has been implanted into our brains -- this verse/pre-chorus/chorus format," says McCoy. "When we were writing The Papercut Chronicles, we had no idea about any of that. We didn't know how to count bars or how to write what's considered a well-formatted pop song. I just rapped or sang until I felt like I got my point across. And there's something really special about that."
Papercut II will chronicle the dramatic shifts in the lives of McCoy and his bandmates -- guitarist Disashi LumumbaKasongo, bassist Eric Roberts, drummer Matt McGinley -- during the six years since their debut.
"The first Papercut was a coming-of-age album with us trying to find a sound," says McCoy. "There's lots of soul-searching on there. And the new one is all about what we've experienced over the years, you know, growing up and getting signed and traveling the world. And fatherhood -- Disashi and Matt both just had children." During those six years McCoy also went through a highly publicized relationship and breakup with singer Katy Perry and an addiction to prescription painkillers. In 2010 he released his debut solo LP, Lazarus; its single "Billionaire" sold 2.7 million digital copies in the U.S. alone.
"When we were writing The Papercut Chronicles we never thought we'd ever experience any of that shit," McCoy says.
Gym Class have already recorded some 25 songs, 12 of which will make the final album.
"Spanish Fly" is about leaving the band's small hometown of Geneva, NY, settling first in New York City and now Miami. "When the fishbowl gets too small, it's time to pack up and leave and jump into the lake or ocean," says McCoy. "['Spanish Fly'] chronicles that whole situation."
"Say Goodbye" is a heart-squeezer "about wanting something you know is terribly unhealthy for you relationship-wise," he explains. "It's kind of tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time it's dead serious. Any dude can relate to what I'm talking about. You go away for a while and then come back to a significant other who's having trust issues. The time away is eating away at them."
"Dancing By Myself" is "one of my favorite songs," McCoy says. "There's a really big hook that's a lot like Muse.... It's about my inspiration, which comes and goes."
In fact, McCoy says his inspiration recently left him when the band gathered in Miami to start recording. The pressure of finishing lyrics for the sequel's final few songs caused "the most severe case of writer's block ever. I needed to find inspiration again."
So he and drummer Matt McGinley jumped in the car and took a road trip through Vermont, where they camped and hiked. On the road they played "a lot of old stuff that we used to listen to in the van when we first started touring," like Blood Brothers, El-P, Cannibal Ox, Postal Service, Wrath the Math by Jeru the Damager, and Happy Fuck You Songs by Extended F@mm*.
The getaway helped McCoy reconnect with his roots and inspired him to finish the LP. "Albums take a lot out of you," he says. "But now I've just got to bang out these last few songs. It's go time."