Drop the Needle

In music and tattooing, Gym Class Heroes' Travis McCoy gets to the point.

Even before Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy joined a band, women were lining up to show him body parts they usually keep under cover. McCoy served as a tattoo artist in upstate New York for several years, and during that time, he inked designs and illustrations on or near so many intimate spots that the sight of them became common. "You definitely get numb to anatomy working at a tattoo shop," notes McCoy, who still tattoos for friends on occasion. "There's all shapes and sizes and all different skin types, as far as texture goes. But it just becomes another canvas."

Of course, some areas are more sensitive than others and require special handling — or a hands-off policy. Take the genital region. "You don't want to play around too much down there," McCoy maintains. "I've been working down there and had women get off — and that's really creepy."

Dangerous too. If a client orgasms at an inopportune moment and his tattoo machine slips, McCoy says, "It's over with. It's a wrap."

As for rap, it's a big part of his current job. McCoy is the Heroes' principal lyricist and lead MC, and on As Cruel as School Children, issued on the Fueled by Ramen imprint, he flows through hip-hop-influenced ditties such as "New Friend Request," a come-on song for the MySpace generation, and "It's OK, But Just This Once!," which exemplifies the group's relaxed yet funky vibe. Not that Cruel is simple to categorize. The disc may feature a cameo by Arrested Development's Speech, but it also includes a guest vocal courtesy of Patrick Stump, whose band, Fall Out Boy, brought the Heroes to Fueled by Ramen's attention.

Although the Fall Out Boy connection has been good for business, it's also led to hating from hip-hoppers and modern rockers alike. McCoy deals with such criticism by offering some of his own. He feels that a lot of mainstream hip-hop has gotten "too slick and so formulaic, so monotonous" and argues that the emo scene suffers from the same malady. The Heroes, in contrast, pride themselves on doing things their way. Rather than relying on the backing-track routine, they play their music live and enjoy sharing stages with acts of every description. "We've played with everyone from death-metal bands and hippie jam bands to reggae bands to hip-hop bands," McCoy says.

There are harder ways to make a living, as McCoy well knows. "I tattooed this one lady's throat — well, not the throat, but the little dip in her clavicle," he remembers. (It's called the jugular notch, dude.) "She got a rose there, and it was the most tedious and tormenting process, because you've really got to be careful there. Everything was OK, but I was sweating bullets.

"Compared to that," he adds, "music is easy."

 
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