Guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo talks about letting out the band’s individual personalities more on new album The Quilt, headlining Warped Tour for the first time, and seeing “Cupid’s Chokehold” break into the mainstream.
So have you had a good first day at Warped Tour so far?
Yeah, it was awesome. Saw a couple of bands, but basically just chilled out. It’s usually pretty slow getting into the swing of things, but this isn’t going to be.
You haven’t been on tour for a while, right?
We went on a college tour two months ago, but we haven’t been on a tour that’s accessible to everyone in a good four of five months.
Since the Fall Out Boy one?
Yeah, so it’s good to be getting back out there and seeing the kids.
You played a couple new songs today, I saw. I really loved the third one. What can you tell me about that one?
Which one was the third one?
The one with the sick guitar solo.
Oh, yeah! That’s called “Live a Little.” It’s actually a song that I wrote originally for my other project. I was playing it one time and Travis overheard it. I was doing an acoustic rendition of it and he was like, “Man, you got to pinkie promise me that we can use this for the next Gym Class Heroes.” So it ended up on there, which is really, really cool.
It doesn’t really have a typical rap/hip-hop sound.
It was actually intended as a straight rock song, you know? I was writing it for rock purposes, but then when Matt was writing the drum part for it, he turned it into a groove more during the verses, so it’s got a little bit more of a groove feel. The hook is rock ‘n roll, you know?
So the new album will be out in September, called The Quilt. What’s the meaning behind The Quilt?
It’s kind of what we’ve just been talking about. Everyone in Gym Class Heroes has very eclectic musical tastes. That’s one of the best parts about being in the band. On this album, we really let them out, more so than on any of our previous albums. All the songs are really all over the place, so it’s kind of like having different patches of a quilt.
They’re very different. You have a song like “Live a Little,” which is very rock based, and then you have the first song we played, “Peace Sign,” which is basically a hip-hop song. It’s really all over there. We even have some reggae influences on the album. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
What did you want to do differently with the writing this time?
Basically, we wanted to express our individual personalities as much as we could through the music. Last time was our first go-around at a major album, so we’re getting into the swing of things. I love that album. I think it’s a great album, but this time around we were like, all right. We know what we’re getting into. Let’s put ourselves into this as much as we can, individually and collectively. There were times where for a lot of the songs me, Matt and Eric were sitting together in a live room, basically at the same time recording as a band, which was very, very cool. It gives a very cohesive feel to the songs.
Do you usually write the music first and then Travis writes his stuff over that? How does that work?
It depends. I don’t know. There’s no really a most of the time, most of the time. Sometimes we’ll just be chilling out and he’ll be writing stuff at the same time. A lot of the time we’ll have a song, and then he’ll write lyrics after that. For the song “Live a Little,” like we were talking about earlier, I actually wrote the lyrics for that one. Me and Travis just go back and forth, but most of the time he will write the lyrics.
That song also has more singing on it. Is there more of that on the record as well?
There is more singing also. Travis has a really good singing voice, and it’s been really cool to be singing more as well. Like I said, since our influences are all over the place, a lot of the bands that we listen to do a lot of melodic stuff. We wanted to incorporate that as much as possible.
You even played a little heavy stuff today, too.
Yeah, we played a cover of “Laid to Rest,” which was really awesome. It was sweet to see a lot of headbanging. It was really cool to look out there and see a huge circle pit. I was headbanging, so I couldn’t see anything, and then there’s a part where we stop. I look out and there’s all this dust, kids with their shirts off looking all aggressive. It was sweet.
I also heard you have some new guests on The Quilt. Who do you have on there?
We have this amazing singer, Estelle. Patrick from Fall Out Boy has a little bit on there as well. Daryl Hall. I mean, that’s huge. We have Busta Rhymes. It’s going to be banging.
You did that Hall & Oates mash-up a couple months ago. Were you happy with how that turned out?
Yeah, I’m really stoked on how that turned out. Travis is a huge Hall & Oates fan, so that was a dream come true. Then the icing on the cake was working with Daryl Hall on the album. That’s just crazy.
Have you picked a single yet?
We’re shooting a video for “Peace Sign” right now. It’s going to be in a couple of days, so that’s probably going to be our first single. I don’t know if it’s official or not.
A few years ago the song “Cupid’s Chokehold” got you guys into the mainstream, which was actually from your previous album, so it was already a couple years old. How did you feel about that, about it getting rereleased and then doing so well?
I was actually pretty stoked on it, honestly. On the one hand, it’s weird when you put out a song again because you have new material and you want people to hear it. The exposure that this last album was intended to get… “Cupid’s Chokehold” is an amazing song, and the underground definitely responded great to it, but there’s so many people that could still hear it.
We didn’t intend on it getting as huge as it did, you know? That wasn’t even our single. Then all of a sudden a radio station in the Midwest, I think it was Minnesota, started playing it. Then the next thing we knew, we’re on Total Request Live. As far as working up and getting our fan base, that took a lot of time, but then once “Cupid” hit, that was extremely quick.
Do you think it was helpful that Patrick sang on that and “Clothes Off!,” which helped get you out there too?
It definitely was a gift, in terms of getting people to pay attention to it, because they already were paying attention to him. Then the tougher side of that is getting people to understand that we’re not just a gimmick band, like, oh, Patrick’s on it. We’re musicians. We have a lot of talent on our own, so I think this album is going to be a good opportunity for us to prove that to people.
You have one foot in both the hip-hop and rock worlds. What is that like? Do you prefer one over the other?
I love it. I listen to all sorts of music, so it’s amazing to be in a band where you’ll be playing with Lil Wayne and then you’ll be playing with Fall Out Boy. You know what I mean? It’s just crazy. I think it’s really good for music in general, too, because it breaks down all these boundaries that people set up. People will come to our concerts and be like, “I hate this shit.” Then they’ll listen to us and they’ll be like, “Well, this is cool. I didn’t know that I could like hip-hop.” Then they might start listening to other stuff that’s hip-hop related also. I think it helps to open people’s eyes to other new things.
Do you think it also helps that you have live instruments?
Definitely, because people can see, oh, these guys are musicians. There’s a lot that goes into making beats that people don’t realize. For people that aren’t familiar with hip-hop, they go to a rock show and they’re used to seeing people playing. When they go to hip-hop, they’re like, “What the hell is this? This is just beats and a guy singing.” When they come and see our shows and see that we are musicians too, I think it sets them up with a little more peace of mind, a little easier transition for them.
Travis is usually the spokesperson for the band, if you will. How do the rest of you feel about that? Are you cool with being more in the shadows?
I mean, it’s cool. It’s definitely cool. Travis is a great frontman. It’s really cool looking at the responses that kids have for some of the stories that he’ll be telling and the way that he can command the audience. That’s really great, too. We definitely all get our opportunities to shine as well.
On the last college tour, I think there were six guitar solos in the set. I was like, this is awesome. You know what I mean? That’s what we’re all about. With this new album, especially, there’s stuff where I’m singing too. Eric has some rad bass lines. We each get a chance to shine out in our own specific ways. Travis is just really good at talking.
Do you have a favorite song off the new record?
I would have to say, at this moment, my two favorite songs are “Live a Little” and “Home.” Those are my two favorite songs right now.
Over the course of Warped Tour will you be changing up the sets and playing more new stuff?
We might have to. Today we started off late because there was just a bunch of debauchery going on that we were not responsible for and mics were taking a long time. We don’t really have an adequate estimate of how that set fits. We probably have space for a little bit more than we did today, because it was running behind. We’re probably going to be switching in a couple songs because “Blinded By the Sun” is another one of my favorites off the new album. We aren’t going to be able to play that if we keep the set that we had today, so we’re thinking about switching that in every several days or something like that.
Is it hard to pare down all the songs you want to play into a 30-minute time slot?
Yeah, that’s really hard. We were just in New York four or five days ago rehearsing for Warped Tour. We were like, we’re headlining on this tour. I’m sure we get 40 minutes. We had this set list that was sick. We were stoked on it and practiced it two or three times. Then we came over and it’s like, “30 minutes guys!” We were like, are you serious?
Have you never played Warped Tour before?
We have. We’ve played it three or four years, but we’ve never headlined it. I guess we forgot that the headlining bands even get 30 minutes. That was hard to do, but we’ll work into it, I’m sure. You just got to bang out the ones you really want people to hear, I guess.
A couple months ago a really interesting thing happened where Travis had that blog and addressed his past about addictions and stuff. What was that like for you guys to go through?
Addictions are rough. I’ve never been personally addicted to anything, except for music. I can’t necessarily say I know what it feels like, but it’s awesome, especially for other people who have the same addictions with pills and such, to see someone that they look up to say, look, it’s cool to just not do this. It’s hard as hell, but if you put your mind to it, you can get through it. He hasn’t been on them for probably three or four months now, which is great. I’m stoked for him.
Yeah, it was nice to see it as a positive message, which usually isn’t that common in hip-hop.
Yeah. I don’t know if we’re necessarily going for a specific message, but definitely with that situation specifically, it’s definitely awesome to be able to say, hey, you can do this. I did it. I’m just a regular person like you guys and I’m not doing it anymore. It was hard as hell, but I got through it. It’s cool, too, because one of the things that I think people go through is, will I still be cool if I don’t do drugs? It’s like, dude, Travis is still one of the coolest dudes.
Going to back in the day, how did you first get signed and get that ball rolling?
Basically, Gym Class Heroes were looking for merch designs and they sent out a demo to this guy who was doing designs for Fall Out Boy. He listened to it and was like, “This is sweet,” and he passed it along to Fall Out Boy. Pete Wentz has an imprint label called Decaydance and he was like, “This is awesome.” That’s basically it. Soon after that we were in a van, touring with Less Than Jake. It was crazy.
So what’s next for you after Warped Tour?
Oh, man. As soon as this album drops, we are not going home for a long time. It’s going to be the grind, playing shows, promoting all over the place, all the time. We’re probably going to be back in Europe sometime soon after the summer, and then we have a headlining tour in the fall in the United States. You’ll be hearing a lot from us.
Do you like that constant touring?
I love touring. The hardest part of touring for me, I’d have to say, is the transition from being the van band to being the “Cupid’s Chokehold” mainstream band. The touring changes. Touring is rigorous when you’re in a van, don’t get me wrong, and people think that when you’re not in a van anymore it’s not as rigorous, and that’s not true at all. It’s just a different kind of rigor.
Last summer, there was a period of time in Europe where we played four shows in 48 hours, and that was all airplanes, you know? We just weren’t used to that yet, so it’s definitely been a crazy transition. I think now we’re all a little bit more seasoned and know what to expect. We’ve had a lot of months off this year. We’ve been working hard on the record, but we’ve had some time too to breathe and get our heads together, so I think we’re ready for it.