Gioeli-Castronovo: Setting The World On Fire with Johnny Gioeli
The meeting of the rock and roll minds and massive talents of Johnny Gioeli and Deen Castronovo has been a long time in the making. They were both founding members of the vastly underrated Hardline, starting the band in 1992 along with Neal Schon of Journey. Castronovo would soon join Schon on the Journey adventure of a lifetime, while Gioeli would team up with the legendary Axel Rudi Pell as well as unleashed further Hardline endeavors.
A chance encounter would bring the former Hardline co-conspirators together 25 years later – and the project Gioeli-Castronovo would be unveiled upon the world at large. Their debut recording is entitled Set The World On Fire, available July 13th via Frontiers Music Srl. Highwire Daze Online recently caught up with the one and only Johnny Gioeli to discuss the upcoming Set The World On Fire album, the overall Gioeli-Castronovo project, his upcoming solo album and resulting charitable endeavors, and a whole lot more! Read on…
First of all, how did this new partnership with Deen Castronovo come about? You were in Hardline with him 25 years ago…
Oh my God, you had to remind me of my age, Ken. That’s cool. So Deen was the drummer of Hardline way back in 1992 when we released Double Eclipse. And then, after the grunge scene kind of put a damper on things, we all went our separate ways. Deen, of course, did the Journey gig with Neal (Schon – also in the original Hardline). Then Deen had some life troubles – and it wasn’t until I was doing an interview with a journalist who said some off-color stuff – and I didn’t take well to it. I was going to end the interview – and I said, “You know what? I know who Deen is and we’re not going to talk about Deen. Because Deen is a great human. Deen will come out of the other side of this clean and great. And I know his heart, and he’s like a brother. And we’re like a brotherhood. So this interview is over.”
And Deen heard that – and he and his son got in contact with me. His son Kyle was about 2 years old when we did Double Eclipse and now he’s a grown man. They both thanked me and he said “Thank you for supporting me.” And I said, “Deen, I never stopped loving you bro. I know what’s in your heart. We all have our problems in our lives. We all have our peaks and valleys. I would never judge you. I know who you are. I know you didn’t want to do those things. I know you didn’t want to be that way. Look, you came out on top. You came out on top!” So it was a great reunion right there verbally.
And a week later, Deen calls and says, “Dude! You wanna do a record together?” I was like, “You mean like a duet thing?” “Yeah, let’s just like sing together.” “Fricking done! Let’s do it!” So there wasn’t any big strategy to sit down and plan “let’s do this.” It was two guys, reuniting, who know how to sing – I think fairly well – and got together – and knocked out a cool AOR record Set The World On Fire. That’s it bro. I wish I had something really fancy schmancy to tell you about it Ken – but that’s the way it happened.
That was a pretty fancy schmancy story in itself. (Johnny laughs). Set The World On Fire. Is there any overall story or concept behind that title?
It’s our reuniting for sure. The title is just sort of our “Here we are” title. We survived! We’re back!” Like the song Through – we’ve gone through the tunnel – we saw the light – and sometimes the light was a train coming at us – sometimes it was just light for us to escape. But we made it through – so the title concept is just one of those “here we are! We want to perform for you. We want to sing for you. We don’t literally want to set the world on fire – that would not be a nice thing to do.” (Laughs) So that’s all that really is.
Select any two songs from Set The World On Fire and what inspired the lyrics.
I’ll tell you a little bit about the back story of the lyrical content and the writing. We decided on this record to use the creativity and talents of other songwriters. We didn’t write these songs ourselves, but of course we set the tone for the songs – we melodically changed what we wanted to change. We had to make them ours – but we worked closely with the writers for them to understand what we wanted to be with this record. As an artist – before it even gets to the public, you have to live it – it has to be you. But we wanted to use outside songwriters because it’s cool man – it’s really interesting to have someone else’s perspective to what your voice would sound like on their song. And to explain to them your life, what you’ve been Through – of course we could use that song as an example – and have them creatively envision and write the song for you. I think it’s friking the coolest thing ever.
So lyrically speaking – I didn’t sit down like I did for my solo album for example – which we could talk about later. I didn’t physically sit down and write them – I only made the story boards for them. I mean, this is our life, this is where we’re at, this is what we’ve been through. Go ahead – go paint on top of that blank canvas and get back to me and let me see if I like it. It was like that, which was a cool process. It was totally cool! And then Deen and I kind of picked and chose what we wanted to sing. And people who go, “Oh, that must have been hard to decide.” But no, not at all. I would go “Hey Deen, would you mind if I take the song Mother because I relate to it with my own mom?” And he’s like, “No bro, go ahead.” “And how about that one – bro you take that one!” It was the easiest process ever and so fun and rewarding.
And the outcome is – I think – a great AOR record. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel with this new style of anything. We don’t think about the Billboard charts or albums sales or how to promote – we just thought “Let’s sing together on an album.” And that’s as far as we went together with this thought process. So a cool experience – a great reuniting – and I can’t wait to do more with Deen. We’re talking about some live shows for 2019 – because the album is taking off and it’s not even released yet! It comes out July 13th and it’s already gaining such amazing traction. So just let it happen and I’ll perform for everyone.
What do you think of Deen’s current work with The Dead Daisies and Revolution Saints?
Revolution Saints is so cool – I love that project – it’s awesome. Dead Daisies – I love all those guys. I’ve known Doug Aldrich for example since 1988. We used to perform and write together – and he would do live shows with Brunette – my baby band that I was in. Having Deen hook up with Doug on both those projects I think was a cool thing. I think Deen is doing a great job in the Dead Daisies – I think he brings it to a different level – not that their last drummer was bad – it’s just different. I know they love him and he’s kicking ass and they’re doing a lot of touring. I’m happy for them man. He’s staying busy.
You know, when we get older – we’re not in our young 20’s anymore – we just want to make music bro! People go “Oh, he’s does so many projects!” Yeah!? And I’m going to take on 10 more if I can because I love to make fricking music! Newsflash! I’m an artist! I want to make music! Whether it’s with your grandma or with Deen, I wanna make music! And that’s Deen too! We’re of the same ilk – of the same work ethic. We just want to work and enjoy!
Speaking of the Dead Daisies, I found an old recording of you working with Doug Aldrich on a song called Face Down on a Metal Edge compilation.
Yeah baby! I remember it!
What’s the story behind that collaboration?
It was Doug doing a solo album – I think primarily for the Japanese market. And he called me and said, “Would you sing on and write a song with me? Here’s the music and see what you come up with.” And I wrote Face Down. And then it was produced by Andy Johns who’s a famous producer. We recorded it in Doug’s studio. So that song was written specifically for Doug’s solo album – and I LOVE that tune! (Sings) “Face Down! Yeah! Face Down! Yeah!” I love it! We still talk about that song. I remember Andy Johns – great human – great producer – great talented guy – he was drunk as a skunk when we were recording! And he’s so brilliant! He was reciting Shakespeare, but he was doing it like two inches from my nose. It was kind of awkward – like spitting all over me! We laugh about it now – it’s funny as shit. But that’s how that happened.
What was it like working with Bonnie Tyler on the song Love’s Holding On with for the Axel Rudi Pell Ballads V album?
Bonnie’s a great lady. Bonnie’s got a killer voice. A super, super cool person and an amazing, great talented lady. A great person. It was – how can I describe it – easy. Just easy! She sang her parts – I sang my parts – we did the video and it’s done. Easy! Great lady, extremely talented – loves to drink wine. What else could I tell you? It was cool man. It was really neat. It was a duet that I thought would never happen. When Axel talked about it, I thought “He’s never gonna get Bonnie. There’s no way!” Axel is a very persistent guy and he got her and she loved the song and we knocked it out fast! We knocked it out in a matter of days – not like weeks or months – days! We just knocked it out!
What do you think makes you and Axel Rudi Pell work so well together after all of these years?
Well you know, with everything in life, you have to have a synergy – you have to have a friendship. To work with someone for that many years – I’m 21 years now with Axel. You gotta like people that you’re working with – and I love the people I’m working with. I love Axel – he’s a great human – we have a lot of fun together. Like that whole band – we know other’s habits.
For example – Volker the bass player – I don’t talk to him in the morning until he has his cup of coffee. I just don’t talk to him. So after those so many years, you know someone really intimately and you know what the boundaries are. That’s why it works – we respect each other immensely. They know what pisses me off and I know what pisses them off. Like don’t light a cigarette in front of me – I hate cigarettes – like shit like that. And so that’s what sustained us.
And that is band growing! The crowds are getting bigger and bigger! Sales are getting bigger. It’s just mind-blowing after 21 years it still continues! The relationship that we have – it’s a brotherhood and the fan base is so loyal. It’s just a great band to be in. It really is and I’m grateful.
You mentioned at the beginning of the interview something about a solo album. Tell me more about that…
Two years ago there was a young man, 18-19 years old who had quite a catastrophic accident. He dove into the Long Island Sound – I live here in Connecticut as you know. He dove into the Sound and he hit a rock – he’s now paralyzed from the neck down. And it was so devastating to me – paralysis and spinal cord injuries – they’re like every 30 seconds in this country and worldwide. But it was my home – this happened in my neighborhood near my home – and I said I gotta do something! So I woke up – and a lot of people came to his financial rescue and emotional rescue – I wanted to do that too but I wanted to do more. And I decided to – in combination with Frontiers Records – I wanted to do a solo record and dedicate it to Joe. His name is Joe Barber – he’s the greatest kid – he lives in my hometown.
And every day that I jump out of bed, take a piss, wiggle my toes, grab an egg, go to the gym, whatever – I think about him because he can’t do those things anymore. It just kicked my ass and I had to help. So in combination with Frontiers, I developed a pledge music portal – pledgemusic.com/johnnygioeli – and now fans all around the world so graciously and heartfelt have donated to a kid that they don’t even know. And they donated for the love of music – for the love of humanity – for the love of helping people and for the love of my music – and honestly me – which I’m so honored that they did. And we raised a shit ton of cash toward 220 percent of our goal and climbing. And it was a cool way to involve my fans and help Joe at the same time. I can’t express more what a feeling that is for everyone to come together.
The album is called One Voice, because together we’re just that – we’re One Voice. The title track is One Voice and some of the lyrical content is “I need your air to sing.” And I do! Without the fan’s air I can’t sing – I’m nothing – I’m no voice! So this whole thing has just morphed into this powerful come together, good feeling, killer album which comes out in December on Frontiers. And of course, the pledgers get their exclusives – I’ve given away every bit of memorabilia I have in my career for Joe’s cause and to bring awareness to spinal cord injuries. We could probably name 700 amazing charities in 30 seconds – but again bro, this one happened in my hometown and it kicked my ass – so I had to do something – so that’s what I did – I created this album.
And I could tell you – it is probably the most happy I’ve been since 1992. Not that I don’t love all the Hardline records, the Axel records, the Crush 40 records. This is just different man. I wrote every word, every melody on this thing with a great guitar player named Eric Gadrix, who was in a 90’s band called Raquel. He’s a talented guitar player – and I think we knocked this thing completely out of the ballpark. I mean really – my New York Mets could use us to make some hits because their sucking right now! Anyway, it’s just an amazing experience, and I can’t wait for this record to be released. I can’t wait!
And last question – do you have any messages for your fans who are reading this right now?
My message is that I am a grateful man – and I’m so grateful that every day of my life that I can continue to make music, to create, and to give back because of all the incredible fans. For all of the listeners and readers of Highwire Daze, thank you everyone for your continued support – and for allowing me to be able to continue to create. I’m an old guy of 50 – and I’m 39 years – since I was 11 years old – in this music business. And it’s because of the fans and the fans support that I can continue. So thank you to everyone – I really appreciate you immensely to the core of my soul.
(Interview by Ken Morton)