Every hard rock rock lover has sure heard about Hardline, maybe not because of their extense career, but sure heard of their mythical album Double Eclipse, an essential album of the music genre. Even though they split up right after that first album, and just with some of their original members, the band released a second album 10 years later and since then they’ve published two more studio albums and one live album. The only original member left, Johnny Gioeli, kindly spent almost an hour talking to us about their first visit ever to Spain (May 28th, Sala Caracol, Madrid), and also about the new Hardline album about to be released this year and about his personal projects.
Yadira: Hey Johnny! Such a pleasure to have the chance to interview you. I’m such a big fan of everything you’ve done, and it’s been really hard for me to choose what to ask you!
– Thank you so much it’s such an honour as well.It’s okay fire away, no problem, anything you want.
Are you at home now? Do you have any plans before the spanish date with Hardline?
– I am home and it’s so funny because the last interview that I just did it was with Italy and I had to pospone it a few minutes because I had to drive my son to a baseball game. So I’m literally watching him playing baseball and I’m sitting in the car so I’m home this week until next Tuesday when I head out to Italy.
I wanted to go to Madrid but I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it. Hardline has always been a very special band for me, I think Double Eclipse is one of the albums that I’ve heard the most in my life… haha What’s your favourite memory about that time when you recorded the album?
– I started performing as a professional musician when I was 11 years old and so everything I worked forward and worked towards was to do that record «Double Eclipse». All the songs that I wrote: Change of Heart, Can’t Find My Way… everything was built in my young years for that record. For me Hardline and «Double Eclipse» was my baby, it’s like having a little new born and so it was so much what happened in that time: I got one of the biggest record deals, 8-9 million dollars record deal, I was with Neal Schon from Journey, Deen Castronovo, these are serious musicians… And all the suddent it seemed like, even though I worked so hard all my life from the young age in music, it seemed like overnight «here I am, now the work really begins».
I remember recording in wonderful studios like A&M recording studios, our tours, the fans, our buses… I’ve been speaking with Dean Castronovo back and forth and we were reminiscing all about the fans that we had back in that time period. There are so many stories, so many things that happened as you can imagine when a bunch of guys are on a tour bus for a long time, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t have any bad memories, the only bad memory I have is the day that the record company said «we’re not going to do another record, because the grunge stuff is taking over and we don’t think we can sell enough records». At that time I remember, okay are you ready for this?, I threw my telephone, not my cell phone, my telephone across the room, I smashed it across the room, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wasn’t worried about the money, it was not about the money, it was about: am I not going to hear the roar of a crowd? There’s something so powerful that I can’t explain, when the lights go off at a venue…
My first show was with Van Halen, at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, so those lights go off and you hear that sound of the crowd roaring…I was worried about losing that. So I’m really grateful and blessed that I could continue with my career and still hear the people.
What do you think it would have happened if Double Eclipse was released today?
– That’s a very very excellent question and I don’t think I have a very good answer for you. I really don’t know, in America we are very confused. Let me tell you something, we are so confused that we would even consider a guy like Trump running for president, so could you imagine? Could you imagine what music is like here? People don’t know, kids jump from thing to thing, it’s not like Europe, it’s very confusing here…
I just don’t know what would have happened, I think it would have been very underground.
How did you feel when the band split up right after the first album, which actually was pretty successful?
– It’s difficult to fully explain, but music it’s also a business and that’s the part of it that I didn’t like. Each week I found myself charting, where we are with sales in each city, in state, each country and to add more promotion, and this, and that… it was big business.
The part of getting on stage and playing that was the reward, that was easy. People would go like «oh my god you work so hard on stage» and you would go like «no», that’s the part where we could relax. Honestly, there were times when I would cry literally on an airplane because I didn’t know if I was coming or going, I wondered «am I going home?» and they would tell me «no, you’re going to this country, then we’re flying here, then we’re gonna go to an MTV baseball game…». When I go on stage no one can bother me for an hour and a half. It’s an interesting life, music, I don’t know how to fully explain it to you.
When and why did you decide to bring Hardline back?
– I never really wanted it to die, so that’s part of your last question because it was horrific to walk away. But I understood that we all had to make a living and back then the mentality was that you had to be with a record company. Neal, when all that ended, he didn’t really even see another path, we could have gone to an independent record company, the internet was starting to happen, we could have done so many things, but everyone got scared and thought that they needed to find work, they had to pay their Ferrari. That’s what happened.
But I wanted to keep it alive as much as I possibly could because I knew the people loved that record and wondered what else would have come out of Hardline even though it’s a different line up, I wrote the 98% of those songs and it was my baby and my brother worked alongside with me and I wanted to keep it going as much as I could.
I have to give credit to Serafino from Frontiers Records, because it was really him who pushed me, he was a huge fan, he is a huge fan and he said «you’ve got to, you’ve got to» and I was like «no, I’m not ready». It’s like a needed therapy from all that I went throught, I wanted to but you’re still kind of mourning the loss. But time goes by so quickly, I can’t believe how much time was in between those records, I can’t believe how much time was in between Danger Zone and the new record that is coming out.
It will be your first time EVER in Spain with this band, after 5 albums behind you, 4 of them in studio and one of them live. Why did it take you so long to come and why are you just doing one date?
– Very good question. I didn’t know I was wanted that much! Honestly, first of all back in the early years of Hardline our management and the record company focused on what we call «breaking America», just becoming very big in America and then the rest of the world picks it up. It was a big mistake, I think we have more fans outside of the US, and I kept saying «why are we touring the US 3 times?», because we sold like 100.000 records in Japan and never went there. We made a lot of stupid mistakes and Harline became sort of a hobby, because I’m very busy, I own businesses, and music is now my escape, still my life and I take it very seriously but I didn’t really know that there would be an audience for me in Spain. I was approached and I said «you know what? Let’s take a shot, let’s see what happens» and now I’m learning that there’s a lot of people going to the show and it’s going to be so cool.
I’m sorry that we didn’t come earlier. At the end of this year we are planing a tour, around September/October there will be a new Hardline record which is already recorded except vocals which I’m working on right now and we will tour in this. I’m not quite sure about how many dates we’ll do, if 10, 20, 30, but I promise you I’ll make my best attempt. In Europe is where audience really is, because everyone here is still trying to vote for Trump so I need to escape from here quickly.
Actually with Axel Rudi Pell you’ve just been here just a couple of times I think… I had the chance to see you not that long ago opening for Whitesnake in Holland in 2011. How does it feel to be back with your own band?
– I take my music and my band very seriously, I never jump up on stage like «whatever». For me, when people come to the show and they pay to come to the show, they want to see a great show, and it’s important to me so I’m nervous. I want to set a very high expectation for myself and I want to do a great job.
With Axel, it’s Axel’s band and of course I want to sing great and do great but I don’t have to feel all the pressure, but this is on me and I want to do a great job for everyone, I promise you I’ll do the best I can.
One of those hats you wear must also be Crush 40, the voice of the mytical videogame Sonic. How did you end up in a project like that? How Jun knew Doug Aldrich?
– With Doug Aldrich we were great friends, still are, and he was working with Jun from Sega, and Jun was a big Hardline fan. He wanted to start to write some songs with me for games, and he called Doug and he contacted me, started talking and now Jun and I have been working for 18 years together, it’s crazy! We started working together and I told Jun that just like a movie has a soundtrack, we should create a band and start creating soundtracks for games so kids could buy the videogame and the music from Crush 40 if they liked it. So that’s how the whole thing happened and I love it, it’s fun because I get my kids involved in some of the writing. I’m actually doing a Crush 40 show in San Diego in July for the Comic Con show, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
You’re working on your first solo album now! Any hints about the release? About how is it going to sound like?
– I don’t know if you’re familiar on how we’re making it, we’re going through Pledge Music to make this record with the fans and I’m donating a large portion to a young man here in my hometown who’s became paralyzed in an accident swimming, so I’m putting this record together involving everyone. I never wanted to do a solo record and everyone kept pushing me so finally I thought that it could be a great opportunity to work it my pace and be fully creative and not have to worry about a timeline and deadlines from record companies and things like that so that’s the main reason I’m doing it.
I love the fact that Pledge Music has this form for us to communicate with the fans and get involved, music used to be so secretive and I remember as I kid, you never knew what Kiss was recording, you didn’t know when Van Halen was recording… now it’s so cool because I literally show the fans the microphone that I record with, but sometimes we still got so much pressure from record companies to hide all that.
I think that’s also a way to promote yourself before releasing the album because the people follow you and they like to know what’s going on…
– I’m a real person, I think you know me. I’m sitting watching my son play baseball while I do this interview. I love life and I’m real, so I like uncovering all these things and say «hey look, this is my swimming pool». There shouldn’t be any secrets in music, music should be shared.
You’re now the only original member of Hardline, why did you decide to go solo this time if you’re also working on the new Hardline album?
– Hardline has a consistent melodic, big ballad, commercial radio sound which I love. With the solo album I’m not too far from that but I really have the opportunity to be a little bit more creative. I can kind of go outside of the box a little bit and be a little more who I am today.
With Hardline I still try to write what the fans love, is not that they’re not going to like the solo album, but I try to write specifically with Hardline in mind. With this album I’m gonna write specifically with what’s in Johnny’s mind, it’s a little bit hard to explain but that will be the difference.
This first solo album will be done through Pledge Music (http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/johnnygioeli). For the people who don’t know what that is, it’s a direct-to-fan music platform. You’ve not only reached the goal you needed, but you’re also donating a part of the cash to a charity event. Also if people participate on it they’ll be able to watch an acoustic performance from your house! Are you liking this new kind of way to release music? Do you miss anything from those days when you just signed with a label and get it in the studio?
– I am and here’s why. Back in the early days we didn’t interact with the fans, you saw them at the shows, they tried to get to you for an autograph but you had no way of knowing how you affected them. With Pledge Music and involving the fans I’ve learnt so much about how my music has affected people’s lives that I didn’t know before, some of this music has saved people from killing themselves, has been therapeutic when someone has died in their family, has lifted them, has relaxed them… I never knew this.
I’ll never forget…I went to this gym, because I’m into working out, and a girl came up to me and said «excuse me, you’re Johnny from Hardline, I want to tell you that In The Hands Of Time from Double Eclipse changed my life» and I said «what do you mean?» and she goes «well, I don’t need to tell the specifics but I want to tell you that it has inspired me and changed my life» and I gave her a hug, thank her and went to lift some weights. But then I carried that for many many years and now re-engaging with the fans for the solo record through Pledge Music I’m hearing even more of these stories.
That’s why I love it, that’s why I wanted to do it, that’s the only way I would do it. I think every record should be done this way, your fans are your life blood, so why not talk to them? Communicate with them the best you can? I can’t answer every single thing, but I sure try.
You started playing drums, your brother was a singer, but then you also became a singer. Do you still playing?
– Yes, I do. I play drums and now my son Brandon is also a drummer now, he’s 12 years old. I also have a daughter about to become 20 years old now, her name is Catelyn and she plays a little bit of guitar. I also play guitar, I play piano, I play bass… I was going to play every single instrument on this solo album but I’m an okay musician and I know there’s much better than me and I want to make a great record, I don’t want to make a good record, so I’m humble enough to say that I’m not good enough at some of these instruments.
As a vocalist, which are you biggest influences?
– I love certain singers that they may not be great rock singers. Guys like Frank Sinatra, the way he puts the words when he sings within a measure, within a time signature, he’s amazing and people don’t understand that when you sing every word has a place and the way he places those words is amazing.
I also love Freddy Mercury, Klaus, all the old school singers…
What are your next plans right after the gig in Madrid?
– We’re gonna cut 2 videos for the new Hardline record, we’re also gonna do some work in the studio to touch up some things for the Hardline record, we also have a photoshoot and then the two shows… I have a very very busy week!
After the release of the new Hardline album in September, I’ll also release my solo album and I’ll be doing a Hardline tour, we’re definitely planning it in November/December and then we will do dates in some festivals, nothing concrete yet but it will definitley happen. So with the Hardline tour I’ll probably play some of the solo music, but definitely we’re going to tour.
Interview by Yadira Zamora