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September 2022
Feature

Travie McCoy: "After all this shit, I can do what the fuck I want"

Travie McCoy has been through the music industry wringer, but with his new solo album, he’s finding a route to happiness.
Published: 12:30 pm, July 25, 2022Words: Jack Press.
Travie McCoy: "After all this shit, I can do what the fuck I want"

"Honestly, I feel like a bag of dog shit on fire!" chuckles Travie McCoy from his home. "I'm getting over COVID for the first time, and it sucks; I thought I was invincible. I got my two shots and a booster, but I'm sitting in my house feeling like a fucking wet bag of dirty gym shorts."

Six years ago, Travie McCoy dropped off the face of the earth. Jaded by music industry execs sucking his blood – "that fucking machine is something my cogs don't fit into" – he took time out of being a global pop star to work on himself. Having cleared his head, he's back with new album 'Never Slept Better'. So, how ironic is it that his first single in six years, 'A Spoonful of Cinnamon,' is about Covid – and now he's caught it?

"When the pandemic started getting crazy in New York, I think I'd been to 15 funerals, or lost at least 15 close friends and family. It was a lot to swallow, but I felt that it needed to be spoken on because I'd be naïve to think that there wasn't a million other people out there who weren't going through the same thing as me."

While his comeback conquered the last two years, 'Never Slept Better' is six years' worth of diary entries. It's the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens of a boy from Geneva, New York, and the life he's led. From his battles with addiction to his struggles with depression, it always comes back to the music industry machine. So, why tell his story now?

"I never stopped making music, but I did take a sabbatical to reassess the people around me and their intentions and why I felt like I was putting more into my career than the people I was paying to help me.

"Honestly, I was being bought down and censored, like you can't say this on this song because somebody will feel this way. Listen, I'm a 40-year-old man; you can't tell me what the fuck I can and can't say. I've always been a free bird, I'll always be a free bird, and the minute somebody tries to put a fucking leash on me is when I lose my shit and fight back."

'Never Slept Better' is the soundtrack to that fight. Over half a decade's worth of frustrations and regrets can be heard. At times it's incendiary, at others, reflective. While he's happy "raging against the machine on this album," it's the lessons he's learnt as both a musician and a human being that really matters.

"I realised that I've spent most of my life as a people pleaser, someone that didn't ever want to upset anyone. But then again, all these motherfuckers are living off of my blood and my sacrifices," Travie spits with venom.

"Once I realised the way to approach it in a humane way, I decided to part ways with my management and my label; there were times where Gym Class Heroes were the cash cow, but when other artists started to get back into their groove, they put us on the backburner like we didn't hold everything down while everything else fell apart. That didn't sit well with me, so it was this moment of self-importance when I finally knew my worth when they obviously don't."

"The minute somebody tries to put a fucking leash on me is when I lose my shit and fight back"
Travie McCoy

Like Scott Pilgrim vs. the world, it's Travie McCoy vs. the music industry. He likens his wake-up call as "taking the blue pill" and "seeing things the way they're supposed to be seen." 'Never Slept Better' takes its title from Richard Connell's 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game. If you need a quick primer, it's about a big-game hunter from New York who falls from a yacht, swims to an abandoned island, and is hunted by a Russian aristocrat. So, what's that got to do with Travie McCoy?

"The last line of the story is, 'I've never had a better night's sleep in my life'. To me, that's synonymous with everything I went through in those six years trying to figure out how to stay away from that fucking Russian, which is the music industry," he laughs. "I mean it, though. I've never slept better. After all this shit, I can do what the fuck I want, like after getting out of my deal and leaving my management, I literally never had slept better my whole career."

You can hear it, too. From the Frank Carter-featuring spoken-word title-track to the energetic empowerment of opener proper 'Stop It', Travie sounds more fired up than ever before. It's all part of a master plan because they "can't just fucking throw the songs together." Every track tells a story, and every track has its place. Take the fade from 'Stop It' to 'Deja Fait' – the duality of light and dark is its own duel of fates.

"'Stop It' was me saying listen, I've been through the fucking wringer, and I came out a better man. I refuse to let anyone fucking tell me otherwise, so 'Stop It' is me saying get the fuck out of my face.

"Following it up with 'Deja Fait' is my way of saying I've been doing this shit for ages, and I've walked through the fire so you can run through it. I didn't want to come across like I'm the demigod that gave you guys the power to do what you do or gave people of colour the comfortability of being different; I just want younger kids to know they don't have to fucking bow down to these labels."

Travie has always been at the forefront of representing the underdogs in alternative culture. When Gym Class Heroes blew up in the mid-noughties, it gave marginalised kids the opportunity to dream. Even if his label tried keeping him under lock and key.

"I had label heads in my ear saying 'if you say this, we're not gonna get this radio show' or 'this demographic's not gonna fuck with you' – I don't give a fuck about demographics, I don't give a fuck about radio shows.

"I give a fuck about my mental health, my fans' mental health, the state of what we're going through as a society, so I decided fuck it, I'm going to speak on it, and you've got to hear it. If you fuck with it, you fuck with it, and if you don't, you don't, but I'm not going to fucking change my stance after going through the wringer."

Going through the wringer is a common theme throughout 'Never Slept Better.' While 'Stop It' welcomes you into Travie's newfound freedom, closer 'I'll Never Be Loved' – featuring Hamzaa – dives into the mess of a mental health provision the music industry provides, time travelling back 13 years to when he was in rehab.

"I wrote the verses when I was in rehab 13 years ago, and Sia sent me a hook. The second day I was out of rehab, I went straight to the studio and recorded those verses. I didn't rerecord them for this record; they're the same verses to keep the urgency of how I was feeling. You can feel the tension in my voice.

"This is the perfect exclamation point for the end of the album, with the Bessie Smith sample at the end, like nobody knows, like when you're down and out, nobody knows unless I told them, and that was me telling you I was down and out."

On it, he sings of being sold the 'sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll' dream, and the grim realisation it's like stealing candy from a baby. It's the lynchpin for a lot of the album and for his views on everything.

"That was every boy's dream; we wanted all of that, so we got it and realised that it doesn't fill that god-size hole that we have in our stomachs; nothing will, except self-healing and self-love. There's no label that can write a cheque to fill that hole. There's no label that can set up a Zoom call and make you feel better when you're not feeling good. They can try; I'm sure there's a fucking textbook they use to deal with artists."

'Never Slept Better' isn't all doom and gloom. It's a tale of triumphing over the trials and tribulations life chucks at you along the way. It's about the boy from Geneva becoming the man of New York, but it's also a guide to life according to Travie McCoy, and you're welcome to try it.

"When my dad used to tell me to go with your gut, I never understood it. But it's literally a brain in your stomach - so we have our brain, our head and our stomach, and it tells us when things aren't right. If there's anything I want anyone to take away from this album, it's to listen to all three of them, cause they will not lie to you." 

Taken from the August issue of Upset. Travie McCoy's album 'Never Slept Better' is out 15th July.

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