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Gym Class Heroes Bring High Energy to Legends

Ellie Hall | Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gym Class Heroes played to a crowded and very enthusiastic house on Thursday night at Legends Nightclub. Two hours before the concert began, the line of Notre Dame, Holy Cross, and St. Mary’s students waiting to get in wrapped around the front of the building and down the side street. By the time opening band Chester French began their set, the venue was packed with students pushing towards the barricade in the hopes of being closest to the front when Gym Class Heroes took the stage.

Sadly, I didn’t get to hear Chester French play, because as soon as they began their first song, Gym Class Heroes’ tour manager found me and took me outside the club to talk with some of the members of the band. The manager left me outside the tour bus for a minute, as he entered and then reemerged with drummer Matt McGinley, guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasonga and bassist Eric Roberts. I introduced myself, we shook hands and I began to talk with them.

The band just finished a four month tour opening for rapper Lil’ Wayne, and I started by asking them what the difference was between opening for rappers and hip-hop groups and opening for a rock band (they’ve opened for hip-hop icons The Roots and alternative rock acts like the All-American Rejects and Fall Out Boy on other tours). “It can be a challenge,” McGinley remarked, “based on who we’re touring with.” He spoke of opening for rock shows where he and his band mates were booed during their set. “But at the same time, we get to introduce our music to new people, which is fun,” added McGinley. Guitarist Lumumba-Kasonga added that the support of alternative stars like Fall Out Boy, whose bassist, Pete Wentz, signed Gym Class Heroes to his Decaydance label in 2004, has helped the band attract an audience that normally might not be interested in hip-hop or rap music.

Gym Class Heroes will spend April and May touring colleges, tours they claim to enjoy more than those played in huge venues (at one Lil’ Wayne show in the southwest, they played to a crowd of 15,000). McGinley explained, “It’s harder on arena tours, you know, to connect with the audience.” “I love playing colleges,” Bassist Roberts agreed, “it’s more intimate. Smaller.” Lumumba-Kasonga highlighted the importance of being able to interact with the people watching the show, adding, “This last tour was the first time I’ve been able to connect with people in [such a large] crowd. It really helps.”

Drummer McGinley and MC Travis McCoy met in PE class (hence the band’s name) in high school in 1997 and formed Gym Class Heroes the same year, but the group remained a mostly underground band with a strong following in upstate New York until the Lumumba-Kasonga replaced the band’s guitarist in 2004 and the new group recorded The Papercut EP. This led to a record deal and the album The Papercut Chronicles in 2005. Soon after that, Roberts replaced the band’s bassist and the group was complete.

We talked about colleges and higher education as the band explained Gym Class Heroes’s gradual formation. I learned that McCoy attended community college during the band’s early years and Roberts graduated from a culinary school in Schenectady before he joined the group. McGinley is currently taking online courses at BU and has yet to declare a major. Lumumba-Kasonga’s story is particularly fascinating- he dropped out of Cornell University as a senior to join Gym Class Heroes, despite the fact that his parents are both professors at the school. When I asked him how his parents felt about his decision, he admitted that at first they were disappointed, but “in the end, it’s about making yourself happy.”

After completing their college tour, the members of Gym Class Heroes plan on renting a house near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York and spend a summer together writing a new album. The band seemed eager to recreate the success of their second album, As Cruel as Schoolchildren, but McGinley acknowledged, “The Quilt (their latest album) gave us the opportunity to make the kind of record we want to make now.”

I finished the interview with a question that I – as a longtime Gym Class Heroes fan- have always wanted to resolve. Specifically, I wanted to know why MC McCoy brushes his teeth in almost every one of the band’s music videos. Laughing, Roberts said, “Well he’s just a really hygienic guy.” McGinley added, “I think he did it in the first video and decided to make a thing out of it.”

About an hour after I finished talking to them, Gym Class Heroes took the stage and delivered one of the most high-energy and exciting shows I have ever seen at Legends. Performing songs from all three of their albums, the band made the people in the club scream, dance, and demand an encore when the group tried to leave the stage. Legends Nightclub could not have chosen a better group to end this school year on a high note.