(This interview was originally published June 23, 2012 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Gioia Bruno. She is best known as one of the members of the group Expose’. Along with Ann Curless and Jeanette Jurado, the beautiful all-girl group had seven Top 10 hits in a row during the late '80s and were the first group ever to have four singles from their debut album reach the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Those hits include “Point of No Return”, “Come Go With Me”, “Let Me Be the One” and “Seasons Change”. They really set the standard and precedent for all-girl groups to come. Bruno would have to leave Expose’ in 1991 for health reasons, but has been able to reunite with them again now. Find out more about Gioia, her group and their hit songs, her inspirational story and much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Gioia Bruno…
Q: How did someone born in Italy end up growing up in New Jersey?
Gioia: Good Question. I was born on vacation! No Joke! Back then, in Ancient Times, when people traveled by boat to Europe they had to purchase tickets WAY in advance, so after my Mom had an “oops” evening with my Dad and I was conceived there was no turning back on the tickets. Mom and my two brothers and sister were off to Italy and I was on my way.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? When and how did you get your own start in the music industry?
Gioia: I was 5 years old… my big debut was in 1st grade… “Me and My Teddy Bear”. Much later, I had a close friend who was going off to college, he was singing and playing guitar with some friends in a garage band and I went to a rehearsal to meet the guys. We hit it off immediately. I sat in for a song or two and ta-da! I became the front person for Kickback and we performed all over the tri-state area (after my mom got me a fake ID of course!)
Q: Who were some of your personal musical influences and who molded and inspired the artist you were back in the '80s and have since become?
Gioia: I was a huge Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar fan; I also loved everyone from Earth, Wind & Fire to Led Zeppelin. I enjoy music from every genre and it shows in my writing. I can’t commit to one type of music; it depends on my mood on any given day.
Q: Please tell us a little about what you did prior to Expose’ and how you came to join the group. What is your understanding of why you, Jeanette Jurado and Ann Curless were brought in to replace the original members?
Gioia: I sang in a number of cover bands before meeting the girls. I was singing in Miami with a show band when I was approached by one of the partners at Pantera Records [Frank Diaz in 1986] who was looking for the third member of Expose’. I really don’t know exactly why the change was made. I was always under the impression that they were the demo singers and that they just sort of fell into it but weren’t really interested in it as a career choice.
Expose’ was really originally formed back in 1984 with three other girls. That trio released “Point of No Return” in 1985 and it became a hit reaching the top of the dance charts in April of that year. The success of this single led to recording a studio album, but during that process the original girls were replaced by Bruno, Jurado and Curless. There are varying accounts regarding whose decision it was to make the transition, but the new trio took over and did not look back.
Q: Expose’ is often classified as “freestyle” dance music. Was freestyle music always an influence or something you grew into?
Gioia: I hadn’t ever heard of it, in fact we never really heard the term Freestyle until years after we recorded the Expose’ records. Our music crossed over into so many genres that it was never a label we used. We considered ourselves Dance/Pop/R&B and AC, but again, we didn’t really think about it much, we just watched it happen and felt great about it every second!
Q: What were your expectations when you joined the group? Had you wanted to be part of an all-girl group? At the beginning, was there any pressure to become great?
Gioia: I really didn’t have any expectations, I was hopeful and excited about the newness of it all. I honestly hadn’t ever thought about being in an all-girl group, but after meeting the girls felt confident that it was the right decision. No pressure, like Mom always told me, “Just do your best.” I’d have to say it goes triple for all of us.
I would say that doing their best worked out pretty nice. They released the album Exposurein February of 1987 and it remains one of the most successful dance albums of all time including those four Top 10 hits and reaching triple platinum status. The first single released was “Come Go with Me” which went to #1 on the Dance chart for two weeks at the end of January and then later peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot in April. It features Jeanette Jurado on lead vocals. Here is the video for “Come Go with Me” by Expose’…
Q: Exposure has to certainly be considered one of the most successful debut albums of the '80s for sure. What memories do you have about recording that album back in 1986? Did you have any feeling that the album was going to receive the response it did?
Gioia: I remember it was a fast process! I think I sang “Let Me Be the One” in three takes and one was a mic check! We just hoped for the best and worked as hard as we possibly could. Strength in numbers I guess.
Q: What can you tell us about the role Lewis Martinee played in the band’s success? Do you know any of the inspiration behind the hit songs he wrote?
Gioia: He was our producer and a co-writer on many of our songs. I can’t tell you what his inspiration was, I’m just grateful that he had it and that we’re still going strong because of it.
Martinee is credited with writing and producing most of the album including all four of the big hit songs. He wrote and produced the original version of “Point of No Return” back in 1985 which was re-recorded for this album with Jeanette Jurado on lead vocals and released as the second single during the summer of 1987. This time the single had success on the pop charts, not just the dance charts, when it reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here is the video for “Point of No Return” by Expose’…
Q: Was it decided right from the start that lead vocals would alternate from song to song? How was it decided who would get to sing lead vocals on each song? Did this ever create any disputes?
Gioia: We all sang many of the songs, it seemed a natural progression. Certain songs just seemed to work for each of us. Arista and Pantera made those decisions [who sang lead] back then. Surprisingly enough it didn’t cause disputes, it has always been about the music first. Being part of a group means leaving your ego behind.
Q: You sang lead on “Let Me Be the One”. What can you tell us about creating that hit song and your performance on it?
Gioia: I just did what came naturally to me. There’s a perfect example of a song fitting the singer. To this day I still love to sing “Let Me Be the One”. I don’t think I’ve ever sung it the same way twice; it’s a song that allows me to be creative.
“Let Me Be the One” became the album’s third successful single when it reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 1987 and #2 on the Dance chart. As mentioned, it features Gioia Bruno on lead vocals. Here is the video for “Let Me Be the One” by Expose’…
Q: Any comments about the other hits from that album? “Seasons Change” was quite a departure from your other dance hits that had to feel good to have success with a ballad too. What are your feelings regarding your first #1 hit?
Gioia: With every song came a new challenge and a new reward. “Seasons Change” was the ultimate gift and when it went to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart we knew that we had really achieved something wonderful. It was an honor we’ll never forget or take lightly.
“Seasons Change” was released as the album’s fourth single in November of 1987. It was not the typical dance-pop song which had been the case with the first three hits. It was a ballad and became the group’s biggest hit when it reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the Adult Contemporary chart in February of 1988. It once again features Jurado on lead vocals. Here is the video for “Seasons Change” by Expose’…
Q: What changed for you personally and for the band after this album’s success? Were you prepared for attention and all of the other things that come with a pop stardom?
Gioia: I believe we really grew as people after that first record. We kept things in check. Of course there were some difficult times and challenges but we learned so much from each and every one, which is the reason we’re still together today and going strong. We’re committed to each other and supportive of each other in every way a group of friends can be. Funny thing, back then that attention wasn’t what it is today. Paparazzi and the media overall were not nearly as aggressive. We were working so much that we rarely thought about it.
Q: What are some of your best memories and coolest things you were able to do at the height of popularity for Expose’?
Gioia: No waiting in lines! Haha! The Expose’ word (or E word as I commonly refer to it) got us into the best clubs everywhere. But seriously, we were always excited about every opportunity that came our way; singing with other artists, television shows, and I remember when we were told we’d be filming our first video we practically fell over!
Q: Expose’ videos received lots of exposure on MTV back then. What are your thoughts on the impact that MTV had on music in the 80s, especially in America?
Gioia: I wish MTV would come back as more of a music channel and less of a reality TV channel. I think MTV gave music a face and allowed artists to be seen and express themselves in a new and unique way.
Q: When you have mega hit songs like those, do you (or did you) ever get sick of performing them?
Gioia: Like I mentioned before, I never sing a song the same way twice so it’s always fun. Besides, the audience responds as if the songs are still top 10 hits so they constantly keep us pumped up! Their energy is infectious.
Q: What are your feelings regarding those four hit songs from Exposure today 25 years later?
Gioia: We just rerecorded them again so that we can use the new versions in our show and it was so much more interesting and rewarding to be in the studio with the girls this time because we’ve become such great friends.
Q: It sounds like you, Jeanette and Ann became close friends during your late-80s success as Expose’? Despite all of the exhausting touring and pressure, did you three always get along well? I know you have reunited as Expose’ again now, has that friendship continued to grow over the years?
Gioia: I think that I’ve probably already answered this, but what the hell, I’m happy to answer this over and over because I’m constantly inspired and surprised by these two women. Our friendship has grown immensely and we’ve grown as people through it all. We’re all extremely different and have so much to offer each other because of those differences.
Q: Though the group’s second album did not have quite the same success, it still yielded three more top 10 singles. What feelings do you have about What You Don’t Know and the songs on that album?
Gioia: That was a tough album for us. We weren’t being properly compensated for the amount of work that we were doing and it was time to stand up for what was right. At the same time, I had just become a mom and my priorities shifted. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue, but in the end I took my daughter with me and I don’t regret that decision one bit.
The follow-up to Exposure was titled What You Don’t Know and was released in June of 1989. This album would only be certified gold which was slightly disappointing after the sales achieved with their debut album. It did include three more singles which reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 which made Expose’ the first girl group to have seven back-to-back Top 10 hits on that prestigious chart. This success allowed them to headline their own tour and they wrapped up the decade performing on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve closing out 1989 and ringing in 1990.
Q: How did you girls feel about all of the copycat girl groups that started coming on the scene after your huge success?
Gioia: We considered it a compliment and embraced each and every one of them. We still work with many of them to this day and support them in every way possible.
Q: I was not previously aware of the tragic story of you losing your voice for a period of time and having to leave music until your miraculous recovery. Please tell us a little about what happened, why you had to leave Expose’ and the story of your inspirational recovery.
Gioia: In the summer of 1991, I began having trouble and felt pain in my throat so I went to a few Ear-Nose-Throat doctors. After seeing the Professor of Otolaryngology at Miami Jackson Hospital, I was deemed disabled as a singer; I never knew such a thing could happen and I was devastated. I had a small tumor inside of my left vocal cord, which thankfully wasn’t cancerous, but I was told that I wouldn’t ever sing again. I try not to dwell on it and stay as positive as possible. I have completely recovered (I guess medical science isn’t 100%) and thank God every day for my good fortune. Miracles happen!
Bruno was forced to leave the group after she lost her voice. She was replaced by Kelly Moneymaker for the group’s third and final (up to this point) studio album in 1992. This album only enjoyed moderate success. Expose’ would be dropped by Arista in 1995 and subsequently disbanded in 1996 to pursue other projects. Bruno fully recovered from her throat tumor and began singing again in 1997. Then in 2006, 15 years since Bruno left due to illness, the Expose’ members of Jurado, Curless and Bruno reunited and have been performing together again ever since.
Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since that time. How have your priorities or goals changed over the years? What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Gioia: I sing for the sheer joy of singing and I write from the same place. I don’t care what the result is; I’m happy and grateful for every note! Proudest professional accomplishments? Expose’ of course! But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to come! We’re on it, in it, and all over it! Every day that I wake up is a great day! Trust me, there have been some moments for me that have almost shut me down but the love and support of my two adopted sisters, my family and all of the fans and friends who’ve been so wonderful through the years has kept me smiling, fulfilled and completely happy.
Q: Please tell us about what you and the girls are doing now again as Expose’. What are your goals and expectations now? Are you having fun with it? Sounds like there is the possibility of new Expose’ music in the future?
Gioia: We have no expectations, we just do! We’re writing, recording and planning for our future together as a group and as solo artists. We support each other on every level. We’re having a BLAST! And absolutely, YES! There is new music to come!
Q: What else is Gioia Bruno up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? Hobbies?
Gioia: I walk my dog Clementine 3 to 4 times a day. She’s my buddy. I try to work out regularly, although I’d rather just think about it. Just finished recording a pop/rock/AC record with my dear friend Sue Sirianni and we’re presently having it mixed and mastered for an independent release. I love spending time with my friends and being stupid…. Is that a hobby? It should be!
Q: What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Gioia: I want to inspire people… No time for regrets!
Awesome and inspiring! I am very happy that Gioia was able to take some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Special thanks to Rich Suweidan for helping coordinate the effort. You can find out more and keep up with all the girls from Expose’ at their official website and at their official Facebook page. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Gioia Bruno for her contributions to '80s pop culture with Expose’ and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.