Former Journey Drummer Deen Castronovo Gets Back to Music: Exclusive Interview
After more than two years off of the road, former Journey drummer Deen Castronovo is looking forward to a busy schedule in 2018.
He was recently tapped to join the Dead Daisies -- the all-star collective featuring former Motley Crue singer John Corabi, guitarist Doug Aldrich, bassist Marco Mendoza and rhythm guitarist David Lowy -- replacing outgoing drummer Brian Tichy, just as the band was getting set to go into the studio to record its fourth album.
“I had just come home from Italy, after working on a collaboration with [Hardline singer] Johnny Gioeli when I got a call from Doug asking if I was available to play with them,” Castronovo tells Ultimate Classic Rock. He flew to New York City to meet Lowy and Corabi, and a couple of days later was packing to record with the group in Nashville.
“I’m still in shock over it after being at home for two and a half years, and then this happens? It’s definitely the best band I could ask for,” he says. “Stellar players and great people to be in a band with. I’m humbled and grateful.”
While Castronovo was in Nashville recording, he got another phone call, this one from his former Journey bandmate Neal Schon, looking to enlist his services for an upcoming benefit show in San Francisco billed as Neal Schon’s Journey Through Time. The special performance will feature the guitarist reunited with his former Journey and Santana bandmate Gregg Rolie, plus Castronovo, Mendoza on bass, and keyboardist John Varn. “He asked me if I was available in February. I jumped at the chance to play with Neal as well as Gregg and Marco,” he says. “It’s gonna be a blast from Journey’s past, when Gregg sang and Neal shredded.”
For now, Castronovo is celebrating the release of Light in the Dark, the second album from Revolution Saints, his ongoing collaboration with Aldrich and Night Ranger bassist and singer Jack Blades. The arrival of the record in October was a surprise for fans and Castronovo, who told us last year that another band album was unlikely.
“I had been talking to Serafino [Perugino, president of Frontiers Records] and there was a time there where I just had to lay it down and just not touch it for a while and just focus on recovery,” says Castronovo, who was sentenced to four years probation in 2015 in a domestic assault case. “So that’s what I did. I started talking to Serafino again, saying ‘You know what? Maybe we can try and do this.’ We were obviously thinking about bass players, because we didn’t know if Jack would do it or not, and then Jack chimed in and said he’d be willing to play, which was fantastic. Because he’s part of the chemistry and we need him. He came in and it all just kind of fell together.”
The band members flew to Italy in April and played their first concert together at the Frontiers Rock Festival. The timing was good -- it gave them the chance to work in the same studio on the new album, something which wasn't possible with the first record.
“The last one, most of the songs were already written," Castronovo explains. "We just went in and I did the vocals, Jack played bass and we just fixed what was there. This time, Doug had a lot more input into this. [Album producer and songwriter] Alessandro [Del Vecchio] had basic ideas, and Doug would fix them and change stuff around -- put his stamp on the stuff. Lyrically, Alessandro had most of the lyrics done as well, and I just went in and kind of tweaked things here and there to help them [be] a little bit [closer] to what I would say -- with the exception of 'Freedom,' which is something Doug and I completely wrote with Alessandro. We all three collaborated on that one. And that was the first one that I had ever done. Still, a lot of it is Alessandro and Serafino’s brainchild, but this time we had a lot more input and that was huge for us.”
Listen to Revolution Saints' 'Don't Surrender'
Del Vecchio’s keyboard work on songs like “Don’t Surrender” add a Deep Purple vibe to the new material at times, which is a welcome enhancement -- even if it came as a surprise to Castronovo and his bandmates.
“I didn’t think that Alessandro was going to put any of that in there,” he laughs. “So when we got the mixes back, and I heard ‘Freedom’ and the solo [in that song] and ‘Ride On’ and stuff, it’s very Jon Lord! I never really thought about it until I heard it! It was like, ‘Man, that sounds like early Purple. How cool is that?’ So, you’ve got to give kudos to Alessandro, because I had no clue that was even going to be in there. Everybody put their thing in, and then we had to leave, so Alessandro was the last one to put his mark on it. And it sounds killer.”
Many of the songs on Light in the Dark found the band turning things up even louder than they were on the first record. “I like the fact that it’s harder edged -- there’s a little bit more heavy,” he says. “It’s definitely more guitar driven. Doug has really done a masterpiece. He’s really come up with something amazing.”
Costronovo admits there was some personal pressure working on the album. “I just wanted everything to be the best it could be,” he says. “Because this is an important thing for me to do. After two years, it was important for me to come back and just do something that I’m proud of -- and you know, I’m pretty proud of this thing.”
There were a couple of important factors involved in how things turned out. For one, Castronovo realized he just needed to focus on his performance. “I played more for the songs. I’m just really proud of how effortless it was for me as a player. Where before, I would force it, I really would,” he says. “I wanted it to be big and loud, and I would bash. My approach now is to just play. I think that probably stands out the most for me. For me as a drummer, it just felt good, because everything felt really good and really flowed and wasn’t pushed or forced. For me, that’s huge.”
Now sober for more than two years, Castronovo says coming clean was also a crucial piece of the puzzle. “I remember that somebody said, “In order to see clearer, you need to be clear.” As a player, it’s a very spiritual thing,” he says. “I think anybody will tell you that. It’s not paint-by-numbers, that type of thing. It’s a very spiritual thing and it flows, and when your spirit’s clogged up and there’s no flow? It was like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to make this great, I’ve got to kill this vocal.” For 17 years, I did that. Now, it’s like, just play. And it’s been awesome. That, I think has probably been, not just changing me as a man, but changing me as a player -- it’s huge. Every area of your life clears up, once you get your crap together. I’m living proof. It just takes a little time. You’ve got to make the effort, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Watch the Video for Revolution Saints' 'Freedom'
That “just play” philosophy sounds an awful lot like what Schon believes. “That’s his whole thing,” Castronovo says, pointing to Schon's time in Santana. “They could just go and go and go. So that’s kind of what he grew up with. For him, to play the hits and stuff like that with Journey, I think he needs something more. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s a workaholic and he loves to play and he loves to experiment and he loves to grow. That’s just who he is. So you know, you’ve just got to let him roll with it. Don’t get in his way. [Laughs] I’ve been lucky to be able to talk to him again and do some things with him and just talk about doing some stuff together, so it’s been really great.”
With a second Revolution Saints album now out, Castronovo says the band would like to put together some shows in between Dead Daisies tour dates -- especially following their Frontiers Rock Festival gig. "It was huge for me to be able to do that,” he says. “I’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go to do this, but screw it, you give it a shot and see if it pans out.”