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After school

Gym Class Heroes getting a 'Chokehold' on new fans

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Gym Class Heroes may be a new band in your sonic vocabulary, but the musicians that are sparking a new music genre -- "emo-rap" -- are anything but fresh faces on the landscape.

The New York band hit it big with its song with the "Take a look at my girlfriend" chorus, but their success has been 10 years in the making.

The band's breakout hit, "Cupid's Chokehold/Breakfast in America," was partially fueled by a recognizable riff. The song uses the catchy melody of Supertramp's "Breakfast in America." While the song became the lead single off of its 2006 release, As Cruel As School Children, the band hopes it will lead listeners to notice the rest of the album.

"I don't want to ever let that song be bigger than the band," drummer Matt McGinley says by phone from San Diego. "I want to look back in 20 years at a thick catalog of dope songs. I think we're well on our way to having that."

While the band has been touring consistently since the album's release last year, the members are now working an inverted week -- weekdays off, weekend concerts -- thanks to a number of radio festival dates. This week is no exception as they'll perform at Dixie's Tavern along with Augustana, Brooke Hogan, Charity Case and Sunny Ledford for the Kiss 95.1 Uncle Sam Jam on June 23.

While the band was originally hoping "The Queen and I" would be the breakout hit as the first single, It was "Cupid's Chokehold" that caught the band by surprise. "I always felt like it was a great song and it had a lot of potential," McGinley says. The song originally appeared on their 2005 album, The Papercut Chronicles. When "Cupid" started taking off around the country, the band decided to put out a video and claim it as the single. "For us, at the end of the day, it's still a Gym Class Heroes song and one that we're really proud of,' he adds.

The band's next single, "Clothes Off!!" will have a few items in common with "Cupid's Chokehold." In addition to a recognizeable riff -- this time from Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" -- the song will once again feature vocals by Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump. It comes as no surprise given that the band is on FOB bassist Pete Wentz's label, Fueled by Ramen. Stump co-produced As Cruel As School Children and the band hopes to work with him again on the next one.

While it's hard to find a story on Gym Class Heroes without Fall Out Boy mentioned in the article, it's not a connection the band is worried about. McGinley hadn't even listened to the band until they took notice. "When they started shouting us out on their Web site, I picked up their album," he says. "One of our first meetings with them was at a show they played in Buffalo -- to meet them and watch them play live. We've been kind of like the little brother, so it's good to have an insight into the industry and learn from them." McGinley says the bands' styles are different enough that they aren't worried about any sound-alike comments.

The band's origins started in gym class, of course. That's where McGinley met the 6-foot-5 singer Travis McCoy. They started recording in the late 1990s. "I think it just takes the world a little bit longer to catch up sometimes," McGinley says of the band's long road to success. "I'm glad we came up the way we did and had the experience of booking our own tours and putting out records ourselves. I think it helps us appreciate everything that's happening now."

While there were times when the band questioned whether or not they should continue, the answer was always "yes." McGinley says the band always thought it offered something different.As Cruel As Schoolchildren offered the band its first opportunity to record on someone else's budget and work with producers. The end result is an album that sounds more polished than previous efforts.

With more than 11 million views and 500,000 friends, MySpace has also been a fuel to the fire of the band's popularity. They've even got a song about it, "New Friend Request," that McCoy wrote about online flirtations. "We still get on there and respond to kids," McGinley says. "It's still something that's important to us. It's kind of like the lottery if you get a response because we get so many questions, but it's all good."

While they're currently being tagged with an emo-rap label, McGinley feels the band will continue to change its style from album to album. He says if the band can't pinpoint its style, why should anyone else?

Regardless of any label that may stick, it's the diversity in their music that helps them attract an equally diverse fan base. From rap and rock to funk and jazz, the band shows a wide range of styles in what they create. "There's no prototypical Gym Class Heroes fan," McGinley says. "It's a big melting pot of diversity and that's something we're all really proud of. You can take a 26-year-old thug and have him standing next to a 15-year-old emo girl. It's all peaceful and positive."

They've got a busy year ahead of them, and hope to have their next release ready for 2008. After their second tour of Europe, the band will head to Australia to open for Gwen Stefani. After that, they'll do their own headlining tour before going out as the lead opener for Fall Out Boy.

The Uncle Sam Jam at Dixie's Tavern will be held on June 23. Doors open at 4 p.m. and tickets are $20.

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