Johnny Gioeli Unplugged at TooManyGames

Johnny Gioeli Unplugged at TooManyGames

by June 26, 2018

With the future on the minds of many Sonic fans at this year’s TooManyGames expo in suburban Philadelphia, it’s of some surprise that the American half of Crush 40, Johnny Gioeli, brought a piece of the future–his future–with him.

His teenage son, Brandon, joined Gioeli front and center.

“Ask him what kind of dad I am,” the elder Gioeli joked. “This will determine Christmas.”

The laid back riffs were plentiful in front of a moderately-sized panel audience that had thinned out from sprawling lines around the perimeter of the Oaks Expo Center in the moments before the event opened. The karaoke-style concert that followed later in the afternoon would be better attended. They were moments for Gioeli and son to savor; after both, he would be on a flight to Europe to begin a short tour with Axel Rudi Pell, the rock band he also fronts.

But for fans eager to hear Green Light Ride, the theme to the upcoming Team Sonic Racing, live for the first time, that will have to come later in the future. It did not appear in the nine-song set Gioeli performed, with liberal assistance from an air band assembled from the audience and onlookers eager to jam with the man who may well have introduced many of them, through Sonic Adventure, to modern rock.

Those who attended the panel seeking information behind Green Light Ride’s production had better luck. There, Gioeli revealed the tune originally had different lyrics and a different name: Midnight Ride. Both, according to him, were rejected by Sega, having taken the name in particular too literally. No form of the song currently exists, citing a recent deletion of a recording on Gioeli’s phone.

“I have never had that happen in 20 plus years,” Gioeli said of the rejection. “I get this email from Jun, he said ‘Uh oh, the lyrics are rejected,’ and we have a recording session that day…engineers, studios in New York City, you know what that costs, and I’m like, ho-leee….”

It was a rush for Gioeli in more ways than one. Typically awake early to begin with, he and Jun would scramble to save the song.

“So, there I was at that point, with, like, multiple coffee, going, like, intravenously with the coffee bag hanging there, at six in the morning,” Gioeli explained. “I’m rewriting the entire song, sending it off to Burbank…they’re still sleeping, because I’m in New York, they’re in LA…and we’re waiting. And we’re waiting. And finally…’we love it!’ And I’m like, gotta go, family, see you! And I jump on a train and go to New York. We record the song in two and a half hours.”

Responding in part to a follow-up question from the audience, he noted that on matters like these, all decisions are made in a group dynamic. It’s part of the process of demoing a track for Sega, Gioeli explained.  Typically upon receiving an email from collaborator Jun Senoue, ideas begin being bounced around, down to the number of beats per minute. Gioeli will “scat,” and eventually a demo of about 30 seconds is produced and sent to the stakeholders. It’s an opportunity he compared to the Gong Show, but always looks forward to, citing a now yearly inquiry with Senoue about any upcoming projects, only to be told, in his words, “not this year”–until this year.

“The corporate process is very long,” Gioeli explained. “They don’t really know what they’re gonna put in the background musically until that game is finished. [….] they make a decision that they think is best, because they have the real ultimate vision. And I don’t mind when something has to be changed. I don’t mind, because it’s their vision, and I just need to fit into that vision and fulfill it.”

Gioeli conceded he has seen or played none of Team Sonic Racing, a production process that, for him, is normal. It may well be behind his almost blissful lack of awareness he admits to have had about the impact he’s had on the Sonic community. Only recently were his eyes opened to the success of the Crush 40 collaboration.

“He goes, dude, do you know how epic this Sonic / Crush 40 is?” Gioeli reminisces, referring to a past conversation he had with a Youtuber in the audience. “I said…no. But then, I was home recently for a few days, and I checked Spotify, which I never really looked at before, and saw millions and millions of streams, and I said, where the Hell’s my money?”

The largely audience-driven conversation touched on topics far and wide. When asked about the easiest and hardest Sonic song to produce, the former came to mind immediately: the titular track from Sonic Heroes. Asked what superpower he’d like to have, Gioeli quipped that after touring for the better part of 30 years, he’d like some of his hearing back.  And a question about any other game series he’d like to compose for immediately elicited the response, “It would be Fortnite.

There were moments of hope. Early in the panel, Gioeli revealed it’s a goal of his for the next TooManyGames to have Jun in tow for a proper Crush 40 concert. If it happens, it would be the first time the duo has ever played together in the northeastern United States.

There were moments of bewilderment. Speaking about the Los Angeles Crush 40 performance just a week and a half prior, Gioeli recalls it being a largely for a VIP clientel, not knowing who opening act Belly was, with many fans waiting outside the Nice Kicks venue, unable to make their way in. The memory ultimately prompted the above goal statement for next year.

And then, there was one distinct moment of shock when Gioeli began speaking about any potential involvement he may have in the upcoming Sonic movie from Paramount. Responding to an audience member’s question, Gioeli presented the idea that Sega’s only tie to it is through licensing. It was met with a mix of laughter and gasps from attendees. (We have since reported that Takashi Iizuka will serve as a supervisor on the project.) In Gioeli’s words:

You know what’s funny about that? Sega has nothing to do with that movie. I had the same question. When I saw that, I was, like, Jun, are we going to get in the movie, and he goes, ‘we do not have anything to do with the movie.’ Absolutely nothing. Not a Sega thing, it’s Sega characters, it’s all that kind of stuff, but it’s all licensed and stuff like that.

Ultimately, the moments that mattered were the collective shared experiences between Gioeli and the crowds for the concert which followed. A symphony of modern Sonic memories, he made good on a panel promise to perform What I’m Made Of, satisfied longtime Shadow fans with the trio of tunes from the game that bears his name, and effectively bookended the set with the two tracks that will forever define his ties to Sonic: Open Your Heart and Live and Learn. Gioeli’s energy noticeably evolved from last year, perhaps with the knowledge of how much he means to this community newly realized as fuel.

It was, in the big picture of Gioeli’s continued success, a quick hit. But if he makes good on his goal to bring a proper concert to long starved fans on the east coast next year, he may well top the charts of the hearts and minds of fans, still ever so eager twenty years after the debut of Open Your Heart to hear him sing his heart out.