How Go Go Gadjet went from local band to global stage

Go Go Gadjet performs during Penn State THON at the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.

At 22 years old, Jeff Tomrell sat in his meager apartment at 410 Penn Tower, studying for his marketing classes at Penn State. In his last semester at Penn State in April 2005, Tomrell thought he would end up in an office job after graduation.

Suddenly, he received an email that forever changed his life.

High school friends from Tomrell’s hometown in Reading, Pennsylvania wanted to know if he would be interested in putting together a cover band with them: a project that didn’t even have a name yet. Tomrell agreed, and from there, Go Go Gadjet emerged.

“We wanted to play music and have a good time,” Tomrell said. “It’s so, so long ago [now]… going to marketing classes in the Willard Building then driving home to rehearse and play some shows.”

Go Go Gadjet is a Pennsylvania-based cover band that blends rhythmic dance music with electronic synth sounds and traditional musical instruments, toeing the line between band and DJ, according to their website.

Go Go Gadjet has performed together for 16 years and counting. The band’s achievements are no accident — the Washington Post even named Go Go Gadjet one of the top cover bands on the East Coast.

State College helped the band initially gain success back in the 2000s, so Go Go Gadjet’s members feel connected to the college town and Penn State itself. The band even remains a staple at THON weekend every year during the Final Four hours.

Tomrell quickly devoted all his time for the rest of his senior year to helping Go Go Gadjet take off, hustling to Cafe 210 West after his classes to perform as the band’s lead singer, or to the Phyrst to play on a cramped, tiny stage to intoxicated students dancing inches away.

Tomrell’s work ethic had no limits. One weekend, he left Penn State on a Thursday to drive to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to perform with the band that night, then drove back to Penn State to go to class on Friday without sleeping, and then drove to Long Island to play a show until 4 a.m. After that, he drove to Reading, Pennsylvania, and said he started hallucinating on the road after being awake for about 50 hours.

Eventually, the band’s hard work paid off. Now, Go Go Gadjet has a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in its name, which is home to a recording studio, a performance area and even an arcade, Tomrell said.

The band has come a long way from rehearsing in its guitarist’s parents’ basement.

“To go from five of us huddled in a minivan with gear in the backseat to having a 26-foot box truck, all this equipment and a space that we can run virtual events from — I wouldn’t have been able to see this at that time,” Tomrell said.

Even though he still performs with the band on occasion, acting as its emcee, Tomrell has taken a step back from singing to help other musicians kick off their own careers.

Go Go Gadjet’s success allowed Tomrell to launch his own music management company, Three Hive Entertainment. He is the company’s president.

The company manages three bands: Go Go Gadjet, Go Go Retro and Magical Mystery Doors.

The band has paid its dues over the years, however. Drummer Mike Intelisano said he remembers playing in front of the Nittany Lion Shrine at a “Guard the Shrine” event in freezing six-degree weather.

One time, Go Go Gadjet even performed on top of a ski slope with only scrap pieces of cardboard to stand on, with people descending from the ski lift right in front of them.

According to the band’s guitarist and producer Nate Myotte, Go Go Gadjet’s resilience can be attributed to the band’s determination to stand out.

“I think one of our greatest achievements was the fact that we always wanted to try something different — and crush it,” Myotte said. “We came out swinging with a totally different avenue of music and style than what a lot of other bands were doing and also brought in shows that no other bands were doing.”

At the time Go Go Gadjet got together, rock music dominated the music scene. The band differentiated itself by creating electronic dance music with backing tracks that Myotte taught himself how to produce. Also, since Tomrell felt passionate about including light shows and heavy production in performances, the band would carry obnoxious light cases into every show while getting funny looks from passersby not used to seeing such a dramatic set-up.

However, as time passed, EDM-style beats blew up in the music world, and many bands began trying to incorporate that sound into their music — something Go Go Gadjet had already been doing for years.

Myotte also began noticing more and more bands bringing huge lights to their performances as well.

Even as Go Go Gadjet began to gain traction and develop a devoted fan base, the band still felt irrevocably connected to the Penn State community.

The band has performed at THON for years, and the event has become one of the band’s fondest memories together. The members said they feel honored to be part of it.

“We’ve done it 13 times now. [It’s] not just the event, but seeing family members each year… that are still there, still a part of it,” Tomrell said. “Giving this one-hour performance — in that hour, none of the sick kids that are there feel any pain at the time. They get to escape for that hour, and the fact that we have the opportunity to provide that is a wonderful experience and memory for all of us.”

Intelisano said as a father now, he can easily put himself in the position of the parents at THON, which makes the marathon all the more meaningful to him.

According to Intelisano, THON has never been about Go Go Gadjet — it’s a completely humbling experience devoted to prioritizing the THON families.

The band’s Penn State connections have helped it perform at places across the world, like Abu Dhabi. A former THON committee member reached out to Go Go Gadjet while he worked as the food and beverage director at the Yas Viceroy Hotel to invite the band to perform at its annual Formula 1 racing event.

Go Go Gadjet’s members have experienced many milestones together through the course of their musical careers. From getting featured in a three-page article in The Washington Post to playing on stage in front of a sold-out Electric Factory venue in Philadelphia filled with 2,500 people dressed as drunk Santa Clauses, Go Go Gadjet’s success has even allowed its members to meet some of their greatest heroes.

Two years ago, Go Go Gadjet had the opportunity to participate in High School Nation — a mini music festival for high school students — and performed alongside the Plain White T’s.

The band befriended Tom Higgenson, lead singer of the Plain White T’s, and listened to him recount the tale of how his guitar got stolen — the one he wrote the band’s hit song “Hey There Delilah” on. According to Tomrell, Higgenson said he felt “super bummed out” by the thievery.

Current Go Go Gadjet lead singer Rayvon Reed said meeting Higgenson was an amazing experience for him.

Since Higgenson’s song “1, 2, 3, 4” inspired Reed to summon the courage to attend his first band audition, Reed said he had the opportunity to tell Higgenson that story.

Reed said he still gets invited to have lunch with Higgenson and to come to the Plain White T’s shows when he’s in town.

However, even through all of the big moments together, the band members still love performing at weddings and contributing to meaningful memories for families.

Tomrell said he can confirm that any time the band has performed at a Penn State wedding, it’s always a lot of fun.

“You just think about [how] you made an impact. Somebody came out on a night with their friends, ended up meeting their future spouse, fell in love, and will continue to come out [to] support the band,” Intelisano said, “so much so that when they decide to get married, they want us to be there and to play their first dance. It’s awesome.”

Lately, Go Go Gadjet has not performed at any live events and the band has converted to livestreaming their shows due to the coronavirus. According to Tomrell, the band mastered virtual performances early on in the pandemic — on March 14, 2020 Go Go Gadjet broadcast its first livestream and over 6,000 people joined.

Since then, the band has successfully filmed many virtual events from its studio and has generated enough money to meet the band’s expenses.

Reed said he believes the virtual events will prepare the band to bring engaging performances to the stage when Go Go Gadjet is finally allowed to play together in-person again.

“We’re doing these shows for a phone or a camera, so I’ve learned how to pull energy out of thin air,” Reed said. “When we come back, capacities are limited, no one can get up out of their seats, and we have to play for people who are excited, but can’t really give us the energy that we’re used to. So, that’s definitely a huge help.”

Tomrell said he feels excited to keep making music with the band and for the opportunity to push each other to excel in the future.

In high school, he never knew he could make a living creating music — after taking a career aptitude test, the results told Tomrell he was supposed to become a mechanic.

To this day, Tomrell still does not know how to change the oil in his car, but he gets to do something he loves every day. He said he tells his kids they can achieve anything if they work hard — a lesson he learned himself from Go Go Gadjet.

Even through all of the grit, constant concerts, long travel times and rehearsals, Tomrell said Go Go Gadjet will keep on performing as long as it’s fun for all the band members. And right now, it doesn’t look like the entertainment will stop anytime soon.

“Sometimes, it’s just a small room with hundreds — sometimes it’s thousands — but when you’re able to connect with an audience, in the moment, emotionally, it’s just fun,” Tomrell said. “Then, we forget that we’re tired and our car broke down last night. It works for us that way, too. We forget sometimes because we’ve been in it so long, but we get to stand on a stage and people pay money to come sing songs with us, and that’s wonderful.”