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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Q & A With Travie McCoy

Emily Wilson |
March 29, 2011 | 1:49 a.m. PDT

Contributor

Travie McCoy (courtesy of Creative Commons)
Travie McCoy (courtesy of Creative Commons)
Best known for his role as front man and vocalist of the alternative rock/hip-hop band Gym Class Heroes, singer, songwriter and rapper Travie McCoy will perform at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night in support of his first solo album, Lazarus. McCoy chatted with Neon Tommy about what it’s like to tour solo, what to expect at his live show and how writing and recording Lazarus was a rewarding, therapeutic process.

 

NT: After years of touring with your band, you’re now touring behind your first solo album, Lazarus. How does it compare: touring solo versus touring with the band?

TM: There’s definitely an adjustment period to get comfortable being onstage without the four guys that I’ve been onstage with for the past 12 years, but I think being a front man gave me a lot of preparation. I think it’s still the same principle as far as being a front man goes. You’re still making sure the crowd has a good time and feels like they’re a part of something, as opposed to just going to a show and watching a band perform. I’ve always felt that making the live show something personal is very, very important.

NT: So how do you make it personal? What does that mean fans can expect at a Travie McCoy show?

TM: It’s all about energy. I feed off of my band and my band’s energy and that transcends into the crowd. And then the crowd pushes energy back onto the stage and we feed off of that. It’s a really awesome exchange. Honestly, I get lost in it. The moment the first chord is strummed or the first snare is hit, I kind of lose myself. I look back on videos (of my performances) and I sometimes go, what the hell?

 

NT: You have quite a background in visual art (painting, tattooing). Does that ever make its way into your live shows? And do you still practice your art on the side?

TM: Yeah, definitely. I actually just purchased a studio in the design district in Miami, where I live, and when I’m home, I’m painting all the time. I’m trying to stay productive and creative as much as possible. It just feels good to have a space to go to, to get away from everything; to play my music as loud as I want and just get lost in that whole creative process and not worry about getting paint on my rug, you know what I mean? (Art) is just a great outlet that I’ve been blessed to have.

As far as that coming into play with the musical side of things, I’m always very hands-on with the visuals for the album, the artwork, the CD inserts and all of that. Also, the backdrops for the shows, I’m very hands-on. I feel like that’s important, you know? I feel like, I’ve created the music, so I guess I’d be the perfect person to create a visual for it.

 

NT: You’ve had a lot of success on the U.S. and U.K. singles charts. When that first chord is played or that first snare is hit on one of those hit singles, how does it feel to hear the crowd’s reaction?

TM: Actually, what amazes me the most is when the crowds react to songs that aren’t really that popular off the album; songs that haven’t been singles or songs that we haven’t made videos for, or ones that we haven’t really pushed out there for public consumption. Some of those songs mean the most to me. When crowds react to those songs, it’s amazing. Songs like “Dr. Feel Good” or “Superbad,” when I hear kids scream out for those songs and then we play them and everyone just goes crazy, that’s the highlight of a show for me.

NT: There are quite a few collaborations on your album (McCoy worked with Cee-Lo Green, Bruno Mars, T-Pain and others on Lazarus). How important is it for you to be collaborating with other artists?

TM: I’ve never been one to collaborate with an artist for name’s sake or for the fact that an artist is big at that time. It’s usually a family affair for me. I tend to work with artists that I’m either friends with, or artists who I enjoy and I’m a huge fan of their music.

When I was working with Bruno (Mars), he was still just a singer/songwriter/producer, and now he’s a worldwide mega star. When we wrote ‘Billionaire’ and a couple other songs for the album, no one really knew who he was. But he was a really good friend of mine and I knew that once people heard this guy’s voice, it was going to take off.

NT: That must be a great additional perk in your career: to be able to choose who you work with and collaborate with friends.

TM: Definitely. Being able to introduce the world to friends of mine who are extremely talented and who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to be heard, it’s awesome.

NT: It’s well known that when you started to record Lazarus, you were going through a hard time in your life (a difficult break-up was a major issue at the time). But instead of putting songs on the album that expressed that anguish, you set out to make the album more positive. Why was that?

TM: All those songs that I wrote before, at the beginning of the writing process for Lazarus--the ones that were really introspective and dealing with angst and heartache and whatever--they’re all in a folder and they’re on my computer. I think I needed to get those songs out in order to be able to get into the headspace that I needed to write the songs that actually ended up on Lazarus. I’ve played (the early songs) for friends and they’re like, “they don’t seem too dark,” but to me, they kind of shoot me back to a place that I don’t ever want to go back to. It definitely seemed therapeutic getting those songs out. And once I got to writing songs like “Dr. Feel Good” and “We’ll Be Alright,” it was like, ok, this is definitely the lane I want to stay in for the rest of the album.

NT: Last question, is it true that you guys are working on another Gym Class Heroes album?

TM: Yeah, we are out of the pre-production process as far as recording demos and all of that. Now its just a matter of taking all of those diamonds in the rough and refining them, re-recording them and picking the cream of the crop to put the album together. The puzzle pieces are there, kind of scattered about. Once this tour’s over, we’re all going to sit down and put the puzzle together. I look forward to it.



 

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