INTERVIEW A matchstick chat with Travie McCoy

The Tech talks to the musician about Lazarus and going solo

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Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes fame debuted his solo album, Lazarus, last year.
courtesy of Fueled by Ramen

Travie McCoy is perhaps best known for being the frontman of the alternative hip hop band Gym Class Heroes. More recently he’s recognized for the song “Billionaire” with Bruno Mars, and his debut solo album Lazarus. I spoke to Travie McCoy about Lazarus, and unfortunately, what I was hoping to be long, romantic fireside chat was cut to 15 minutes by his mean ol’ publicist — I could only squeeze in a matchstick worth of conversation.

The Tech: Hey Travie. My name is Jeff Chen, and I’m an arts writer for MIT’s newspaper, The Tech. First of all, thanks a lot for doing this interview with me. As a schizophrenic fan of both guitar driven alternative rock and hip hop, I’m a big GCH fan. Also, can I have your children?

Travie McCoy: Sure, no problem.

TT: What provoked the decision to do the solo album? Was there an aspect of your musicianship that you felt GCH wasn’t contributing strongly towards?

TM: Nah, it was definitely not a conscious decision. It wasn’t like, there was anything I was dissatisfied with Gym Class Heroes, or that there was any bad blood in the band. I’ve been doing GCH for 12 years now. Even before I was doing Lazarus we were already writing stuff for the new GCH album, Papercut Chronicles II. We’ve got a great new track with Adam Levine from Maroon 5, “Stereo Hearts”, and it was amazing.

TT: So Lazarus was more just for yourself than anything?

TM: Yeah, occasionally I record stuff outside, and it just had to come out. It was more out of necessity than anything. I just had some stuff that I wanted to release, and with Lazarus it was like, why not? It was a side project, just the biggest side project I’ve ever done.

TT: I read in an older interview that you actually had a lot of songs done out for Lazarus that had a much more emotional edge, and were a lot darker; about addiction and breakup and stuff.

TM: Yeah. I was in a really dark place. There was the addiction, I was going through the shitty breakup with Katy, and a death in the family. And with my mood at the time, you know, art imitates life, and my songs were reflecting where I was at.

TT: Whatever, you’re too money for Katy Perry, anyway. But you decided against putting those on the album, because you wanted your debut to be a more positive sound.

TM: Yeah. After a while, with friends pulling me out of it all, that’s where songs like “Dr. Feel Good” and “We’ll Be Alright” came out of, and I wanted that stuff on the album instead.

TT: Any plans to put the darker stuff into motion later on, or are they going in the attic for a while?

TM: Probably not. It wasn’t like I was embarrassed of the songs I did. Actually, I was really proud of them. But some of it is just too personal.

TT: It’s funny, because I compare that to somebody like Kid CuDi, whose debut album was largely themed around his mental and psychological pains and childhood, and it’s interesting that you’ve gone in completely the other direction.

TM: Yeah, definitely. I think artists have that luxury of getting to pick how much they wanna show to the public, and how much they want to keep private.

TT: Any interesting stories from the production of Lazarus? You collab’d with Cee-Lo, Travis Barker, Colin Munroe, Bruno Mars … who was the best?

TM: Everyone you just named in that list were amazing to work with, and we all become great friends in the process. I recently toured with Bruno, on a world tour, and it was absolutely fantastic.

TT: Any events that stand out?

TM: Yeah, I got arrested in Germany for tagging the Berlin Wall. I tweeted about it the night before too, it was probably the one thing I regret.

TT: Seriously? You regret graffiting the Berlin Wall? I thought small German infants would tag it as a ritual into puberty.

TM: I know, right?! The whole place was covered with graffiti, and my record exec was like, “Yeah it’s cool, you can do that.” And then I get arrested.

TT: Well, your satanic publicist is signaling that we’re running out of time, so I’ve got one last question. As a musician myself, I’m curious about your songwriting process. Do you come up with a melody, and add lyrics to it, or vice versa, or does the creative process differ from song to song?

TM: There really is no method to my madness. I’ve written entire songs from two lines on the back of a napkin. Other times I’ll get out a computer and stickies and write everything out. I’ll plan stuff melodically in a van or a plane ride. The last song on As Cruel as [School] Children, “On my own Time,” I threw out a demo which was basically me just humming a tune to the verse. My friend fell in love with it, and when I put words to it and released the actual song, he was like, “Yo, this sucks man, I liked the humming better!”

TT: All right, well thanks again for taking the time out to chat with me.

TM: Anytime man, hope I helped you out.

Travie McCoy performs at Paradise Rock Club on March 22.