Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy has seen his name dragged through the headlines more than once in his 28 years. He famously dated (and broke up with) pop star Katy Perry, was arrested for popping a fan who pelted him with a racial slur, and has battled a brutal dependence on prescription painkillers. But instead of wallowing in self-pity or worse, cutting an album of introspective folk music, McCoy has overcome his demons by recording a solo album crammed with bumping pop tunes. The new disc, titled Lazarus, and released under the name Travie McCoy, hits stores June 8th. “I didn’t want to come out of the gate with another 808s & Heartbreak,” says McCoy, referring to Kanye West’s dour electronic album.
On Lazarus, McCoy delivers some of the most likable, radio-ready pop songs you’ll hear all year, backed by a roster of guests including Cee-Lo, T-Pain and Bruno Mars. “Dr. Feelgood” is a top-down summer anthem powered by an old-school hip-hop beat and slinky funk guitar riffs, while lead single “Billionaire” is a goofy, reggae-tinged tune with lyrics about getting as rich as Oprah and scoring the cover of Forbes magazine. McCoy’s new songs are catching on with fans: in five weeks, “Billionaire” has slowly climbed the Hot 100 — it currently sits at Number 28 — while major-market radio stations like New York’s Z100 are starting to give the song bigger airplay. (Get a listen to “Billionaire” above.)
McCoy almost didn’t deliver such an upbeat pop record, though. He originally prepped a set of down-tempo acoustic tunes to reflect his depressed state of mind. “They were sad and somber songs,” he says. “But I didn’t want that to be my first look as a solo artist.” To get out of his rut, McCoy relocated to Miami, where he decided to kick his addiction after seeing a spike in drug-related celebrity deaths. “A lot of my friends were dying when I decided to get my shit together,” he admits. “People like Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson — I was like, ‘Fuck! What makes me so invincible? I could die at any moment!’ ” McCoy’s newfound sobriety has sparked a creative streak in the studio. “I’m an insomniac and why would I want to sit around and be numb? I want to do something positive, whether it’s music or painting or just being coherent.”
After releasing and touring behind Lazarus, McCoy has plenty of other musical endeavors on tap, including a side project with a high school pal titled Bernie Allen (after the major league baseball player) and another group dubbed Blood Pony with rapper El-P. “We’re just starting to get that one off the ground,” he says. McCoy also insists that his new solo career won’t mean the end of Gym Class Heroes. “There’s no bad blood at all,” he says of his relationships with the band. “When the solo project came out, people thought it would be the end of Gym Class. It’s not the end at all.”