Everybody knows the Biblical story of Lazarus. And Travie McCoy knows it better than most; he has known it, practically since birth. It is, after all, the authentic middle name of the Gym Class Heroes frontman. But while Lazarus, raised from the dead by Jesus, has become synonymous with rebirth, we often forget that he first had to die to make his resurrection possible. So what had to perish for McCoy to create Lazarus, his solo debut? Almost an entire album's worth of material that would never see the light of day.
To appreciate the finished version of Lazarus, bubbling over with optimism and stay-outall-night spirit, it's almost as important to understand the record it could have been, and almost was--a dark and cynical album that seems a million miles away now.
"When we were like, 80 percent done with the record -- at least, I thought we were 80 percent done," he says with a laugh, "I just said, 'I can't put this out.'
"Basically, I didn't wanna make another 808s and Heartbreaks," McCoy explains, referencing Kanye West's lovelorn 2008 release, before adding with a chuckle, "I wanted something upbeat and fun; more like a 909s and I'm Fine."
Listening to songs like the first single, "Billionaire," a rum-soaked Carribbean fantasy about rubbing shoulders with "Oprah and the Queen" that features young upstart Bruno Mars, or the synth-rocker "We'll Be Alright" which trembles with the nervous energy of a
young clubber about to go out on a Friday and declares, "We got our friends/got the night/We'll be alright," it's clear that McCoy sounds better than fine.
Standing 6 foot 5, with equally towering charisma and an enviable collection of tattoos, "Travie" - as friends and family have always affectionately called him - has been one of music's most instantly-identifiable figures since Gym Class Heroes burst into the mainstream in 2007 with their #1 hit, "Cupids Chokehold" off their Gold-certified breakthrough album, As Cruel As School Children. Given his high visibility, and equally high quotability, it might seem strange to imagine that the rebirth of Lazarus actually involved doing the things we imagine your average rock star does instinctively: going out clubbing, for example. But fans of McCoy know that the soul-baring youll find in many of his lyrics is anything but stereotypical.
"I'm a pretty reclusive person," McCoy admits. "And I realized that I was spending a lot of time in my house, just dwelling on s---. And sitting in my apartment and thinking about all these things and writing songs, there was a point where my friends just said, 'You need to get the f--- out of the house.' And not that I became this party monster or anything, but I was getting out of the house and surrounding myself with friends, he laughs. "And the more I got out, the more I started having fun.
That's when a lot of these records started coming out of me."
Blending elements of hip-hop, indie rock and soul that reflect his own eclectic musical tastes, McCoy enlisted the services of an equally diverse range of producers he'd admired from afar a list that included Los Angeles-based trio the Stereotypes (Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige); Detail (Lady GaGa, Akon); the Smeezingtons (B.O.B., Cobra Starship, Flo Rida); Evan "Kidd" Bogart (Adam Lambert, Beyonce); Lucas Secon (Sean Kingston, Pussycat Dolls); and rock veteran Josh Abraham (Velvet Revolver, 30 Seconds to Mars).
Recording for Lazarus took place in Los Angeles and McCoy's new hometown of Miami. After years living in New York City, he found the latter locale particularly inspiring. "Its more laid back down there, but I get a lot more done," he offers. "And theres a lot of creative people. When youre around that type of crowd, it really pushes you."
One of those creative Floridians and a proven hit maker, the top-hatted T-Pain, provided McCoy with some invaluable feedback to the new songs, and even appears on one of the tracks, "Manual." "We got to know each other when my band toured with him last year. Hes got a spot in Miami too, so I got in the habit of showing him the stuff I was working on. Because if he starts dancing, Im onto something," McCoy says with a laugh.
The more time McCoy spent enjoying Florida, friends and after-hours fun, the more he realized that his dark-hued draft of Lazarus would require a near-complete rebirth of its own. The turning point came after recording the aforementioned "Billionaire" and "Dr. Feel Good," a funky showcase for Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo Green, and a tune that might just be the most uplifting track McCoy has yet written.
"It's just a totally feelgood song," says McCoy, still sounding stoked. "Working with CeeLo was amazing. The second he comes in, your neck just starts jerkin'. And I'm not even saying that because its my song!"
With those tracks in the can, "I finally realized, 'This is the lane I wanna be in'," says McCoy.
The positive vibe continues on numbers like "After Midnight," a classic kissoff to a 9-to-5 gig with a big, handclap-assisted beat and references to a Rocky Horror Freakshow on the dancefloor. "I guess I have my friends to thank for that," McCoy says. "At the end of the day, we have a record that's fun and uplifting."
"I think a lot of these new songs show I'm just a lot happier with myself."
With his new album and an equally new outlook, McCoy is ready to bring the story of his personal resurrection to the world.
"Even the whole cave analogy - when Lazarus came out of the cave on the fourth day - it holds up," he says. "Because about three-quarters of the way through this record, I came out of the cave too. With a big-ass smile on my face!"