In a class all their own

Members of Gym Class Heroes defy labels and expectations as the quartet tours the country

October 11, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

After becoming MTV darlings and hitting gold with their breakthrough album, last year's As Cruel As School Children, the guys of Gym Class Heroes wonder what they're going to do next.

"We ask ourselves that all the time, `What will the next album be like?'" the pop band's lead guitarist, Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, says. "I'm actually wanting to see how it comes out myself."

The New York quartet - which also includes Travis McCoy on vocals, Matt McGinley on drums and Eric Roberts on bass - has been touring nonstop behind the latest album. Gym Class Heroes plays Towson Center Arena tonight.

The group, named best new artist at last month's MTV Video Music Awards, stormed the pop charts with the cheeky hits "Cupid's Chokehold/Breakfast in America" and "Clothes Off!!" The songs interpolated the title track of Supertramp's 1979 smash album and Jermaine Stewart's 1986 hit "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off," respectively. The cuts are also emblematic of GCH's approach. The group's irreverent, buoyant songs are anchored by live hip-hop textures, bolstered by McCoy's rapid, tongue-twisting rhymes.

But the music on As Cruel As School Children also folds in prominent elements of punk and '80s pop and R&B. None of that comes as a surprise, considering that the band members are between 22 and 26 years old.

"Travis is a huge '80s R&B fan, and there are a lot of influences there," the 24-year-old guitarist says of the band's oldest member. "With this record, we wanted to give a summery, breezy feel."

And that's exactly what the band achieved. For their debut on Pete Wentz's Decaydence label, the guys used a teen motif. The album flows like a day at a modern high school with lunch time, study hall and detention interludes. And the lyrics, witty and sometimes profane, are very contemporary. Songs such as "New Friend Request" explore the perils of MySpace relationships.

"High school is a metaphor for what we all have gone through," says Lumumba-Kasongo, who last week was at a tour stop in Virginia. "The whole world is like high school: You have the groups in control and the groups that feel left out."

Although the band is aware that such a theme and lyrics appeal to a certain crowd, Lumumba-Kasongo says the group doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a fleeting teen act.

"I really don't feel like there's pressure in any direction," he says. "We could go in any approach, cater more to hip-hop or rock. But we are our own little blend. If we try to cater now to any audience, we'd go against what got us here."

The band's origins go back 10 years, when McCoy met McGinley in high school gym class, hence the group's name. But the unit officially came together in 2001, when Roberts and Lumumba-Kasongo were recruited.

"Even then, we didn't want to be restricted," the guitarist says. "We were into everything: rap, heavy metal, jam bands. I think you hear a little of all of that in our music."

Independently, the band released two albums - 2002's For the Kids and 2005's The Papercut Chronicles - before signing onto Wentz's Atlantic-distributed label.

"He signed us because he was like, `Yo, you guys are doing something new and different. We want you to do that in the studio,'" Lumumba-Kasongo says. "On School Children, we worked with producers, and it was a learning experience working as a team in that way. It's one of those things that whatever makes the song good, we use it."

As for the still-untitled follow-up, which Gym Class Heroes plans to start recording early next year, the musician says the band will go wherever the music takes it.

"I don't know how different it will be," Lumumba-Kasongo says. "But it will open people's minds. Our music goes in a lot of directions. You'll hear more of that."

See Gym Class Heroes at the Towson Center Arena, 8000 York Road in Towson, tonight at 7. Tickets are $12 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-7328 or visiting ticketmaster.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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