An interview with Johnny Gioeli of Crush 40

Johnny Gioeli is the lead vocalist in the band Crush 40, known for many famous Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks.

You recently returned to the Sonic franchise with Crush 40 for the song “Green Light Ride” (for Team Sonic Racing). How does it feel to be back doing music for Sonic after such a long hiatus?

It feels great! I must say, I have no complaints as I have contributed for over 25 years to Sonic related games! Where did the time go? But it was so cool and so fun to get creative in the music gaming world again and put the Crush 40 signature sound in the game once again!

Is there any particular reason why Crush 40 wasn’t involved with Sonic games since 2011?

Well, the industry changed unfortunately. Budget cuts, slow sales, etc. This made the industry turn to more “canned music!” But, its what had to be done to keep the budgets in order. I’m very expensive!

Johnny Gioeli holds Crush 40’s “Driving Through Forever” album CD. (Facebook)

In the past, Crush 40 did their own versions of songs from various Sonic games, usually in the soundtrack albums (i.e. “His World”, “Free”, “All Hail Shadow”, etc.). How did these versions come to be? Did SEGA want these specific songs on their soundtrack albums or was this something that you and Mr. Senoue decided on?

Yes, this was usually an idea from Jun. He would call me or write me and say “I would love to re-make the song “X”. And I would say…… let’s go! It was as simple as that.

There’s a demo of “Open Your Heart” floating around the internet featuring Ezio Sakamoto as the original vocalist. How did you come about being involved with the song and, as a result, the rest of the Sonic franchise?

I am truly not familiar with that demo although it rings a bell. You are testing my old memory! I do remember having to mimic the basic melody and then made my signature sound for this song. This was a big one for Crush 40 and even lives strongly today on so many playlists. I love it.

On a similar subject, are there existing demos for Crush 40 songs that we may not have heard yet (as of now, the community has heard demos for “Sonic Heroes”, “Live & Learn”, and “Open Your Heart”)? If so, is there any chance the community would be able to hear them? There is quite an interest in the community for such rarities.

Actually we don’t have an archives of completed songs that never got released. We do have tons of music ideas that just never made it to the world. With Crush 40 we always look for a platform such as a game to tie in our music. That’s who we are. We can certainly make a new album and I’m sure it would be well received, but for us, we love when it works with a game.

Shadow The Hedgehog was a drastic tonal shift for the Sonic franchise. How different of an experience was recording the heavier music for this game compared to other Sonic titles?

I was nervous about this actually. I didn’t quite understand what Sega was doing with this “experiment”. BUT, who the heck am I? It worked so well and I loved adding the heaviness and a more serious approach to SHAAAAADOW……

Johnny Gioeli with Crush 40 guitarist Jun Senoue. (Instagram)

When making songs for the Sonic franchise, is it usually an exclusive effort by Crush 40 or is there input from other composers (i.e. Tomoya Ohtani, Kenichi Tokoi, Fumie Kumatani, etc.)?

Usually, it’s Jun writing me and saying “We have a new game to work on”. It’s called “……….” and this is the overall feel for the game. Then, he sends me his musical scene ideas and I sit in the studio after reading and viewing storyboards (because the game isn’t finished!) and I get busy….. Usually, the words and melody pours out of me. I love creating like this because the “feel” and the “outcome” is basically in front of you, you just have to finish it. It’s like scoring a motion picture. Same thing in my eyes.

Does Crush 40 have any plans to make more music outside of the Sonic franchise? I very much enjoyed “Rise Again” and “2 Nights 2 Remember”.

Ya know, I would love this. It’s just really hard to make it happen with both Jun and my busy ass schedules. We did this way back when to prove that we can be a “band” as well. And we’re just not gaming music makers. Hahaha.

It was so cool and so fun to get creative in the music gaming world again and put the Crush 40 signature sound in the game once again!

Johnny Gioeli

Crush 40 has been very good about performing for their fans. Would another live album be in your radar?

I don’t think so. I think there are so many new gamers that have no clue how cool this old school sound and band is. I think we’ll focus on the “best of” and with this album add a twist to a few classic songs. I love doing this. So, take a song like “live and learn” and modernize it or strip it down to an acoustic feel….something like that. This is all in the works.

Being in different bands, is it difficult to balance your music output with so many different projects?

It’s not difficult to manage mentally. It is difficult to manage from a time perspective. I’m touring a lot these days having some Billboard Top 100 charting albums with Hardline and Axel Rudi Pell. When you have a successful album, you must tour to round out the success.

An 11-year-old Johnny Gioeli on the drums for his brother’s band, Phaze. (Twitter)

Your solo album “One Voice” was recently released. It seems like the sound of the album is an amalgamation of all your previous work. At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue a solo project? What were your inspirations for such an endeavor?

It was all inspired by Joe Barber, a family friend who was in a diving accident and became paralyzed. It was such a shock. I had to do something…and I did. “One Voice” is a dedication and benefit album made primarily for the Barber family. It was spawned on Frontiers Records and I added “pledge Music” to bring the world together for this cause. It was an amazing outpouring of love and generosity. An amazing time period for me. And…… I love this album. Certainly has a little Crush 40 feel……

Last question, Mr. Gioeli. Out of all the songs you’ve performed for the Sonic franchise, which would you say was the most memorable to record?

Live and Learn….. for sure! I had no idea if my work was good on this song! I would ask Jun… “Jun, is this good”? Who knew it would catapult our career and literally change the lives of so many. We all grew up with this song and the memories that surround it. Just a mind blowing experience for me. And it still lives today.

Thanks so much for your support….your questions…and your love for Crush 40. Thank you so much!

This interview was originally published by EmerlForgotten on 23 February 2019.

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