Deen Castronovo of Journey (INTERVIEW)

If you only know Deen Castronovo as the drummer of Journey, then you’re about to be awakened to what this man can really do behind a drum set. Known as being the live backbeat behind such iconic ballads as “Faithfully,” “Open Arms” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” for the last seventeen years, Castronovo actually had his sticks firmly implanted in the harder, faster rhythms of rock and metal before Journey ever came calling. One listen to his work on solo albums by such Shrapnel artists as Marty Friedman and Tony MacAlpine will certainly open your eyes to what this man has the ability to do. “Oh my God, before he joined Journey, not a whole lot of people know this, but he was probably the pioneer of that kind of just uber-exciting drumming,” Friedman told me in an interview last year. “There wasn’t a whole lot of drumming like that before Deen came around and he influenced a whole generation of drummers even before he joined Journey.”

For his most recent adventure, a project pulled together by Frontiers Records president Serafino Perugino and featuring Night Ranger’s Jack Blades and former Whitesnake guitar player Doug Aldrich, Castronovo not only played drums but sang lead vocals as well. Calling themselves the Revolution Saints, their self-titled debut record drops officially on Tuesday, February 24th, and the reception to the first single and video, “Turn Back Time,” has been much better than anyone had imagined. Chock full of rockers that bring out the best of the trio’s individual strong points, this may not be the last you will hear from them.

Last month while Castronovo was enjoying a beautiful afternoon amongst several rainy days in Oregon where he makes his home, he called in to talk with Glide about his career and what it felt like being thrown in front of the main microphone. You’d be surprised that this self-confessed “Tasmanian Devil from another planet,” a jokester with the energy of ten men, was actually a bundle of nerves being the center of attention.

How in the world did you get suckered into being the lead singer for Revolution Saints?

(laughs) Suckered in, that’s a great, that is exactly what it was (laughs). I was with Journey and we were in New Hampshire and John Baruck, our manager, came to me and said, “I got an offer from Serafino for you to do a record, to play drums and do some vocals.” And I said, “Oh, let me hear the music and I’ll make a decision.” And I heard this stuff and I was like, yeah, that would be fun. This is all Serafino’s brainchild. I mean, this is his baby. So he was throwing names for musicians to be involved in it and he mentioned Jack. I’ve known Jack since I was seventeen and he’s an amazing songwriter, amazing singer; so that was a no brainer. Yes, Jack would be perfect. Then they were throwing guitar names around and he mentioned Doug and I’ve known of his playing since Lion but I knew him playing with Whitesnake and it’s just amazing to watch him play. He’s incredible and an amazing talent. So that was a no brainer too. We just knew that was the combo and we just rolled with it.

So why are you singing?

You know, that’s a good question, Leslie. I don’t know why and it’s scary as hell. I’m not going to lie (laughs). I’m a drummer that sings background. That’s what I’ve done and to put me in a lead vocal position was scary. Thank God for Alessandro [Del Vecchio, Frontiers in-house producer] cause he flew in from Italy when we were doing vocals and he walked me through it cause I really didn’t know what to do. I heard the demos and he was like, “Just sing what you would sing.” So I did my best. It’s my first time, so everybody please be easy on me (laughs). I’m not a lead singer. It was a lot of fun but yeah, it was very daunting, I have to admit. Being a drummer is easy. I knew I could just go in there and just nail this stuff, and I nailed it in like four days. I got all the songs done in four or five days. But the lead singing part? It was something I really had to dig deep and try and find.

So how do you think the album came out?

It’s good but as a musician you look back and go, man, I could’ve sung that better or I could have done this part or that sounds kind of cheesy, why did I do that? (laughs) I remember talking to Jack about it and he said, “You know, bro, at some point you just got to stick a fork in it. It’s done, it’s done, it’s over, enjoy what you got.” And that’s what we’re doing now.

As long as you don’t get the front singer ego, you’ll be okay.

(laughs) You know what, I’ve got a beautiful wife that would NOT allow that. And I’ve never had an ego in the first place. I’m a drummer! Drummers don’t have egos. We’re in the back and we do what we’re told and we shut up and that’s it (laughs). So yeah, there’s no lead singer ego here. I’m just not that kind of a guy.

How did you meet Jack? You said you were seventeen at the time.

Yeah, I was in a band called Wild Dogs and it was a metal band, a melodic metal band, along the lines of Judas Priest, that type of thing, and the lighting director for Night Ranger and Journey was Kenny Mednick and he was the Wild Dogs manager. Basically we were doing recording in Sebastopol and he had Jack and Jeff Watson [Night Ranger guitar player] come down to listen. And I was in awe, of course. I was freaking out, “Jack Blades, this great star, and he’s listening to this stuff!” (laughs) And they really liked it. It’s heavy metal but it was very melodic, so they liked it a lot. And that’s how we kind of got to know each other. I would see them rehearsing in the same places I was rehearsing in San Francisco and we’d say hi and visit and talk and stuff and we just got to know each other. Then Night Ranger toured with Journey on a couple of tours and we got really tight, got to be buddies, and it was great.

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How many songs did you guys go in with?

I think we had fourteen and there were some that were very similar to others and we were like, “That one is not working, I like this one better.” So once they got the final set list together, the songs they wanted us to do, they sent us the files and I just attacked the drums like I did. I remember Jack saying before I did the drum tracks, “Don’t play like the demo. I want you to play like you play. Just do your thing.” And holy crap, I think I just went a little overboard (laughs). I tore it up. It was a lot of fun. So that was it. Alessandro had the songs and presented them to us and I did the drum tracks and sent the files to Jack and he finished the bass tracks up in Seattle. Then we sent them to Doug and he put his awesome spin on it and then it was vocal time. So I had about ten days in between Journey legs to sing vocals. So what I did was, I flew in from Toronto on the second, had a day off the third and then the fourth I was singing until the fourteenth. Then the fifteenth I flew off to resume the Journey tour. It was tight, very tight, but it was fun.

When I talked to Doug last year in Vegas, he was really excited about what Revolution Saints was going to do.

I tell you, he’s a monster. He’s had his thing with Whitesnake and he’s done his projects but to me he’s very undiscovered almost. I mean, he’s just like this amazing player. And I played with all those shredder guys back in the Shrapnel days, with Tony MacAlpine and Marty Friedman and Jason Becker and Joey Tafolla. That’s what I did and he’s just amazing. But I think the most important thing, Leslie, is that he is an amazing person. And that’s what really solidified this thing with us. Cause us three, we all get along and have so much fun and I think it shows on the record.

I didn’t expect it to do anything, honestly. I did not expect it to get the response that we’re getting. I figured people would destroy me as a singer: “Oh this is terrible.” I expected that so I didn’t have any expectations for this and people love it. I’m like, really? Okay, this is kind of cool (laughs). People like it and I’m happy about that and I think us three as people, the chemistry was so perfect and we get along great, like brothers. And I believe that shows in what we did on the record.

Do you think this can be a project that can have a future?

You know, that’s the plan. This has been pretty well received so I believe we’re going to get together in June. Journey has a little bit of time off and we’re going to come into Portland in June and just play together, cause we haven’t played together in a room as a three-piece. We just did the files and did what we did. So we’re going to get together and hopefully if schedules permit, we’ll do some touring. That’s what we’re hoping.

You’ve been with Journey now for almost twenty years.

Seventeen years as of February.

What is the secret to playing with a band that has been around basically forever? How do you keep it fresh without losing the familiarity of the songs?

I think the most important thing for us is to have fun. I’ve known Neal Schon since I was twenty-three. I’ve known Jonathan Cain since I was twenty-three, from Bad English. So it’s a family and that’s the cool thing. We are a family, we are brothers, we would take bullets for one another a million times. Like I was saying earlier with Jack and Doug, Journey is a chemistry, we have a chemistry between all of us, and everybody’s got their own personalities and we go up there and we just have fun. It’s not work. This is a blast. I love playing these songs. Every time I just have a smile on my face the whole show. It’s a blast and we have fun and we feed off each other.

I’ll tell you, when Neal has a rough night, he’s not feeling well or not feeling it, I can sense it with him cause I’ve known him for twenty-five years. And we’re like Eddie and Alex Van Halen, honestly. We really connect. So if he is having a bad night, my brain starts going, okay, what can I do to make it easier for him? Is he not hearing well? And usually that’s what it is. He’s having a hard time hearing something. So I can adjust just by the way he looks at me. I can adjust my playing accordingly. If he’s having a great night, he’ll come over and you just look in his eyes and he’s like, “Go, bro” and we just go, we tear it up (laughs). It’s a beautiful relationship. I’m the little brother he never wanted (laughs). I’m the crazy one in the band. You’ve always got to have one and, well, I’m the clown (laughs)

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Now if you can get Ross Valory to smile

Oh he’s another clown but he’s a different kind of clown. He’s almost like slapstick funny. I’m like this big Tasmanian Devil whirlwind and they just look at me and giggle. Like, damn this guy is from another planet. But it’s great and that’s what makes it great. You’ve always got to have one crazy, hyper guy that is running around and being silly, Leslie. That’s what makes it fun.

When you came into Journey, you came in behind two very big, strong drummers with Aynsley Dunbar and Steve Smith. And I have to say that Aynsley is one of my all-time favorite drummers.

I get it, Leslie. He was another big influence on me. Journey was our guilty pleasure. When I was playing metal and playing all this thrash stuff, I would always go back to Journey because of the musicianship and the songwriting. The songs were beautiful. Those songs would touch me, even though I was a freaking metal guy, they touched me. And of course Aynsley’s playing, I mean, come on, he’s a legend, an icon. And Steve Smith as well. And of course Steve Perry. He had his influences like Sam Cooke and guys like that but he is my biggest influence as a vocalist. He really is untouchable. Nobody can beat him. But he’s a big influence and Steve Smith is a major drumming influence on me. And I mean MAJOR. Nobody can touch him. He can play anything.

Were you at all intimidated when you came in cause you had to fill those big shoes.

Oh yeah but the neat thing was that Steve knew me back when I was seventeen and eighteen. He knew of me through Mike Varney, he had done records for Mike Varney, and when I joined the band I actually talked to Steve and said, “Man, can I come over to your house and can you show me some of these parts so I don’t screw them up? I want to make sure I got them as close to your playing as possible because the fans want what they want.” You can’t fill those shoes really, so I don’t believe I filled those shoes so much as I did my best to try and highlight those shoes, you know what I mean. Those songs and those drum parts are perfect so you don’t mess with them. To me, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Smith is a god.

So I went to his house and he showed me “Don’t Stop Believin’” cause I didn’t know what he was doing there. “What the heck are you doing? Oh it’s open-handed, okay, I get that now.” We did that for about a half hour, forty-five minutes, just getting parts, and then he sat down on the drum kit and said, “Let me show you some stuff,” and oh my God, it was like a lesson in humility for the next two hours (laughs). I can’t do that; no, I can’t do that either (laughs) Slow it really, really down cause I’m not getting that (laughs). And he’s so patient. Obviously, we’re very close now and he knows I ripped him off blind (laughs). He’s got a great groove and a great feel. I’m more of a rock drummer and he’s more of a swingy Jazz rock drummer. He’s just got that thing and I think I’ve grown into a better player just being in Journey and really analyzing Smith’s parts. He’s just got a thing, just like Perry. They’ve got a thing all their own and they are who they are and I try my best just to play the songs like they were recorded and written.

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You said you were like a Tasmanian Devil. Were you like that as a kid too?

Yes, ma’am. When I was six and seven, I was so hyper that doctors in the seventies they gave Ritalin to kids to calm them down. And I was on that for maybe two weeks and I was an emotional nightmare. I was just crying, so emotional. So my mom was like, “Screw this, I’m taking him off this crap.” So she took me off of it and then I went through withdrawals like a drug addict, like shaking and puking and the whole thing. It was really rough on a six year old kid so she got me a drum set (laughs). And the rest is history, man. I mean, seriously, I latched onto KISS. I saw them and I said, that’s what I want to do. I want to be in that band. I want to put make-up on and I want fire and bombs (laughs). KISS was my Beatles. I proceeded on from there, from KISS to Rush and then Rush to Brand X and UK and all those bands that had really progressive drummers. Then of course I heard Journey’s Captured and that was it for me. I was like, what in the hell is this? I love this.

Did you ever get to tell Peter Criss how much of an influence he’s been on you?

You know, I’ve tried a lot of times to reach out to him through my drum company and he’s never responded. But it’s like those guys watched The Beatles and that’s what they wanted to do. I watched KISS and that’s what I wanted to do. Paul Stanley knows. I’ve told him many times that, “If it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be a musician. I wouldn’t have even started.” So Paul knows. I don’t think Gene knows. I know Ace doesn’t know. I’m sure Peter gets that a bagillion times a day and is like, “Whatever, another guy, who cares” (laughs). I don’t know but I love him to death. I invited him to a show in New Jersey and we never heard back. I was really bummed. Like, I always wanted to tell him what he did for me but now you can tell him, Leslie, that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be a drummer. Period. Mr Criss, you are a god, you are an icon, I love you (laughs)

Brian Tichy says the same thing.

You know, Brian is an amazing player. Holy crap, that man is ridiculous. He’s an amazing talent. I’m not in the same league. I’m just working to be the best I can be.

I talked to Marty Friedman last year and he talked about how amazing and innovative you were.

You know, those were amazing days. I know a bagillion guys and everybody’s got their own thing and I’m just grateful that I’ve got kind of my own voice. It’s a hybrid of a lot of players but that’s my voice. They have their influences, I have mine: Smith, Peart, Bozzio and Peter Criss. Those were my guys. That’s what I learned from, that’s what I weaned myself on. It’s a very silver humility, it’s a very silver judgment. I know that I’m good at what I do and I know I could always be better and there’s always another guy right behind me that’s ten years younger that kicks my butt. My son, my little boy, my twenty-four year old, kills me. He smokes me. You ought to hear him play. He’s amazing. My son Kyle plays drums. He’s a metal drummer like in the vein of Slipknot and those kind of things and he does stuff I can’t do. But not only that, he’s a great songwriter, he’s a singer, he plays guitar and bass and keyboards. What the heck did I just make? (laughs) The cat’s in the cradle now. He’s on the road and I try to call and he never answers (laughs). Why do they do that? I keep telling him, yep, the cat’s in the cradle. He’s grown up just like me. Just like me.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

Gosh, the first real rock star I think I ever met was, I think it was the guys in Journey, honestly. I was backstage with Kenny, the manager of Wild Dogs, and we went back in the back area and there was Steve Smith and I met Steve and I met Ross. I didn’t meet Neal, Jon or Steve Perry, but I did get to shake hands with those two guys. Then the guys in Night Ranger. I got to meet those guys and those guys were like the first major guys in the Bay Area that I got to meet.

Out of all the songs you’ve ever heard, which one boggles your mind the most in terms of the drums?

I have heard “The Black Page” drum solo with Terry Bozzio and Frank Zappa and I don’t get it. I get it but I think, what in the world. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard in my life. So kudos to Terry Bozzio. He’s another one from another planet. You listen to him and go, man, he’s taken it to the next level and beyond. So “The Black Page” solo. I will never be able to do that. I will appreciate it from a distance.

Have you noticed that the way you play drums today has changed much over the years?

Oh yeah, I was a thrash drummer, a metal drummer, so joining Bad English totally changed my perspective on how to be a colorful player and to play for the song. Then of course joining Journey, oh my God, I’ve grown leaps and bounds. I can’t play that fast anymore. It’s gone, I’m fifty (laughs). It’s just really difficult to do that really fast stuff anymore but I’ve grown into playing more for the song and that I attribute to Steve Smith. Analyzing his parts and being in Journey, you’ve got to play for the song. It’s not all about you so you just play and do the best you can and groove. So yeah, I’ve grown more as a musical drummer for the band instead of like a show monster, like, look how fast I can go. I used to do that a lot. So now I play for the song.

Since I am down here by New Orleans and we’re in the middle of Mardi Gras, I saw you guys riding in the Endymion parade back in 2007. What was that like for you?

You know what, it was surreal. It was very cold and I believe it was just after the hurricane came in and I remember they were still rebuilding. But it was incredible, just being in that place and just being with everybody. I remember playing at like two in the morning, which is difficult for me (laughs). It’s past my bedtime, how am I going to stay awake (laughs). Drink as much coffee as I could. But we had a blast. I remember being bundled up and freezing. It was really cold but a lot of fun throwing the beads out.

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What has been your most nerve-wracking experience onstage?

Usually it’s when something is going on technically. We’ve got the in-ears and if the in-ears go out, I’m lost. It’s like, okay, I can’t hear the band because we’re using in-ears, and I have to pull the in-ears out and play off of the band, which when you’ve got the in-ears in, you’ve got the whole band there and when it’s gone you’ve got nothing, cause we don’t have amps on stage, we don’t really do that. That’s nerve-wracking. Trying to switch out a headset while you’re playing, my drum tech gets frazzled but he’s the most amazing drum tech on the planet. He’s boom-boom-boom done, that quick. He’s just on his game. So that would probably be the most nerve-wracking. I’ve had it happen a couple times. There was one time when I was playing and I whipped my arm around my head and I whacked one of my in-ears and shattered it. I literally shattered it in my ear. Those are the nerve-wracking times. The rest of it is just a blast.

What still excites you about playing music?

You know what it is, it’s the spirit of the music, how it touches people, and you can see Journey’s music touches people. You can see people in the crowd singing to “Faithfully” or “Open Arms” and hugging their wives or their girlfriends or significant others and it’s pretty heavy. So being in Journey is a very spiritual thing. I believe it’s spiritual and comes from above and it’s a beautiful thing. Journey’s music lives on because of that, cause it touches people’s spirits, touches their souls and their hearts and that’s huge. So that’s what keeps me going. I love it. It’s a beautiful thing to play in front of twenty-five thousand people and see everybody singing to “Don’t Stop Believin’” or everybody holding their significant other during “Faithfully.” It’s huge. It’s bigger than we are, let’s put it that way. It’s bigger than the collective five of us.

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And you’re about to go on the road with Journey again.

I’m ready. We’ve been off since September 18th of last year. I bought a new home and me and my wife and kids were all moving into that thing. But I’m ready to go on the road, go back to work (laughs).

Are you excited that Steve Miller is opening up for you guys?

I love Steve. I actually played, opening up for Steve Miller back in 1993. I was in Paul Rodgers’ band with Neal and Todd Jensen and we opened for Steve on an entire tour. It was incredible.

Paul Rodgers is one of the best.

Leslie, he is one of the most amazing singers I’ve ever worked with, I’ve got to admit. I’m not lying, every night he was perfect. Even if he had a cold, wasn’t feeling good, he was perfect. It was frightening (laughs). I’ve never seen somebody go out there and sing with such soul and passion and got a 101 temperature. He’s amazing. That was a huge, huge experience for me working with him.

You know, I am who I am and thank God my wife loves me. I’m grateful that she puts up with this. She’s the yin to my yang, definitely. That woman is so relaxed and centered and grounded. And I’m like ARRRR (laughs).

How long have you been married?

We got engaged in Australia, in Sydney, in 2012. We got married a little while after that and it’s been great. But she was my first girlfriend when I was, well, let’s put it this way: I met her when I was nineteen and she was fourteen. I looked at her and was like, oh my God, she didn’t look fourteen, she looked eighteen. But I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Who the heck is that? I asked my brother and he said, “She’s fourteen.” And it was like the big X from Family Feud. No, you’re not doing that, not getting near that (laughs). So I waited till she was like seventeen and I asked her parents if I could date her and we dated for about six months and then we ended up splitting off and she did her thing and I did my thing.

But we got back together in 2008. I was going through a rough divorce. I had just gone through it, actually. I wasn’t going to go to the Christmas Eve party that my family has. I wanted to stay home and I didn’t want to be around family. So my sister-in-law says, “What if I invite Deidra? Would you come then?” And I was like, “Oh my God, I hadn’t seen her in twenty years. I would love it.” And Deidra wasn’t going to go. “I loved him back then, he’s going to break my heart, nope, nope, nope.” But she went and she got out of the car and I saw her and I started jumping around; not jumping, but oh my God. And my sister-in-law said, “Get in the back, you look giddy.” (laughs) She came in and it was love at first sight again and we’ve been together ever since.

We’ve had some highs and lows but I owe her my life, I really do, because she’s my life. It’s God, family and my job, and that’s the way it’s always been. It’s got to be. I’ve got my priorities in order and it’s really important and she’s helped me to keep those priorities in order, which is a huge thing cause I was a mess for a long time. I’ve had issues with alcohol and stuff and it’s been rough but if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.

And look at Journey. We’re all family now. We’ve got kids and there’s no partying anymore, we’re all grown up and it’s like, I’m fifty, I can’t do that stuff anymore. I’ll die. So for me, I’m in the right band with the right people that really care about me and love me for who I am.

 

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2 thoughts on “Deen Castronovo of Journey (INTERVIEW)

  1. Kim Reply

    You DO have the priorities straight. 😀 PERFECT order!

  2. Kel Reply

    Well… I guess those priorities were forgotten? Hopefully temporarily. Such an amazing talent. Such an amazing fall. PLEASE pick yourself up Deen!

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