"Solo Discotheque" By Gym Class Heroes

Sometimes the pressures of success take you full circle. For proof, look to rock/hip-hop hybrid Gym Class Heroes. Things just haven’t been the same for the band since they scored their first #1 in 2007 with the song “Cupid’s Chokehold/Breakfast In America.” Expectations have been high ever since — and they’ve delivered, with 2 million-plus albums and more than 8 million digital single sales worldwide in the years that followed.

Their new album title, The Papercut Chronicles II, reflects a return to the roots set down by the album that put them on the map (2005’s The Papercut Chronicles). “When we were younger we’d do things based on feel,” says GCH’s affable drummer, Matt McGinley. “On this album, we tried to come back to that. We’ve come a long way as adults and songwriters since then, but it was important to us to write music that had a high level of naïveté and disregard for how things are commonly done in terms of songwriting structure.”

Matt McGinley

McGinley’s Setup

Drums SJC (Black Oyster wrap)
1 20" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Ludwig Black Beauty 100th Anniversary Snare Drum
3 12" x 9" Tom
4 16" x 16" Floor Tom

Cymbals Zildjian
A 14" K Mastersound Hi-Hat
B 18" A Custom EFX Crash
C 19" A Custom ReZo Crash
D 20" K Custom Hybrid Ride
E 16" FX Oriental China “Trash”
F 20" A Custom ReZo Crash

Matt McGinley also uses DW 9000 series hardware and pedals, Evans heads, Vic Firth Extreme 5A sticks, Butt Kicker throne amp, Tight Screw tension rods (on snare top only), and Puresound snare wires.

Sure enough, McGinley takes all sorts of liberties with his rhythmic rock drumming throughout the single “Solo Discotheque (Whiskey Bitness)” recorded in the creative cocoon known as Pilot Studios in bucolic Boonton, New Jersey. “Our good friend, DJ Abilities, provided scratches/turntablism to this song,” McGinley notes, “which I think adds some really interesting texture and percussive patterns throughout the song.” McGinley’s drums, though, do most of the heavy lifting.

“Discotheque” opens with a sinister and spare guitar line, followed by McGinley playing a simple snare/kick beat with hi-hat flourishes that move in subtle patterns, accentuated by open hi-hat notes that provide an extra level of tension.

“The opening pattern that I’m playing on the drums kind of wrote itself,” McGinley says. “Sometimes I’ll have to work with a couple of different patterns, and really give it thought, but sometimes it just feels natural and right, immediately — this was one of those parts for me. When I hear the drums there, I see skeletons breakdancing: That’s something that would pop into my head when I was recording those parts.”

A fun little fill at 0:15 provides a segue into the first verse. “To me, that just felt like a phrase, like it was saying something. Fills can be trial and error. That’s one of the great aspects of modern production: If I’m playing a pattern or fill it sounds perfect, but when I listen to playback it might sound like it’s not resonating in the song. When I do a demo, I’ll hone in on what’s working and what’s not. That was one of those fills that I became attached to, and I use it to set up Travie [McCoy, vocals]’s entrance to the song.”

In the verse beat that follows, McGinley maintains the tension with the same pattern from the intro, then kicks up the level of activity for the chorus at the 0:32 mark. “I’m doing a double-handed pattern there on the hi-hat,” he explains. “The tone that Disashi [Lumumba-Kasongo, guitar] switched over to is a lot more driving: It reminds me of being on the back roads, at the dead of night, just driving with the headlights on. ‘Discotheque’ has this Kanye West vibe going through the verse, but my band is never so oriented in one genre — we can go from Kanye to Arcade Fire in one song.”

At 0:48, the band goes into a post-chorus where McGinley changes things up again. “The beat is a little different there,” he notes. “I was going into a Thriller-era, Michael Jackson kind of funked-out beat. I remember doing the accents in really specific places, playing sixteenth-notes between the right and left on the hat, but doing a lot of graceful accents à la Stewart Copeland. You’ve also got these sporadically placed tambourine accents that pop out — people are so accustomed to hearing a groove between the hi-hats, snare, and kick, so it was cool to incorporate a fourth component of sound.”

At 1:36, chorus number two kicks in, and the beat starts to grow busier. “The second chorus goes twice the length of the first. If you’re going to extend things, you should build it. For the second half I step up what the snare drum is doing, so you’ve got these little doubles attached to it. It’s subtle and it’s minor, but in terms of the feel, when people listen to it they feel the beat evolves.”

After another post-chorus, McGinley daringly inserts a seldom-heard element in modern rock recording: a press roll. “The bridge goes into this sparse, minimal place,” he says. “The song didn’t need to shut off, it needed to creep down. So the little press roll ducking the dynamics down felt right — and still feels right to me when I hear it.”

As verse three kicks in, listen for McGinley to smash a “1-2-3” count-in on big, open hi-hats. “It’s just very rock-inspired. I imagine something Foo Fighters–ish — as big and dirty as you can possibly go on that fill. Being an alternative hip-hop band, we don’t get a lot of chances to throw those big guitar chugs into the songs, so that was fun. As we play the songs live, they’re constantly developing and the fills may change, but that’s something that always gets played identically.”

Elongated even further than the second chorus, the third chorus allows McGinley to move through four slightly different beat progressions. The band is actually jamming, right there on record, as they steam headlong into a sudden hi-hat/tambourine outro at 3:44 that quickly turns out the lights on “Discotheque.”

“Initially, we must have decided we wanted to end suddenly and just hang over the cliff,” McGinley muses. “When we first did it, the first few sixteenth-notes would be on the hat, and the last four would be on the bell of the hi-hat — this contrasting movement there. But then eventually that became the hi-hat going to the tambourine. You hear the last movement of Eric Roberts’ bass progression goes ‘1-2-3-4,’ and that was something I felt should be accented. It was one of those moments that just felt right to us.”

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