A Conversation With Deen Castronovo
Today, I interviewed one of my all-time favorite drummers, Deen Castronovo of Revolution Saints, Journey and formerly Bad English. Deen was a pleasure to speak with and we covered a lot of ground, everything from his drumming as a child to his current project with Revolution Saints. Speaking of which, make sure you pick up a copy of their debut album when it’s released on February 24. It’s the greatest melodic rock album I’ve heard in years – stay tuned for my review of it. Until then, enjoy my interview with Deen.
I’ve been listening to the new Revolution Saints album and it’s amazing. How did you guys come together?
Thank you for the kind words, bro. It was the brainchild of Serafino, the President of Frontiers. He’s been wanting to do a solo record with me for years and I kept saying, “I can’t.” I was busy with Journey, I didn’t have time for that. And honestly, I was scared to death. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a lead singer. Drumming is easy. I’ve been playing drums since I was six. I’ve got that pretty much down. I know what I’m doing. I know who I am as a player. To me, honestly, it was scary. Once they asked me, I committed to it and it just fell to the back of my mind. I wasn’t really thinking about it. And the songs starting coming in, they were written by Alessandro Del Vecchio. I listened to the songs and went, “OK. This is for real. These guys are serious. This is really gonna’ happen.” (laughs)
I was off the road from touring with Journey, and I ended up doing the drum tracks in about four or five days. I had to go out with Journey again, so the files were sent to Jack and he put his beautiful bass on there. And then Doug came in and put an amazing spin on the songs. That was complete and then it was vocal time. That was the scary part. I’ve gotta’ be honest. I’ve never been the lead singer, where I was singing the full record and having to try and bring those songs out…bring the character out of each song. So, it was very scary. I’ve gotta be honest.
Speaking of singing lead vocals, the highlight of a Journey concert nowadays is fans getting the chance to see you sing “Mother, Father.” What’s it like when you’re playing the drums on this song live while also having to sustain a strong vocal at the same time?
The funny thing is, it’s become extremely easy now. I started as a lead singer/drummer when I was 11 or 12. I was in cover bands and they’d have me sing the Journey stuff. So, I was playing drums and singing that stuff. It’s kind of like second nature to be able to do it. It’s almost like the drum parts are subconscious. I know where they are. So, the conscious mind has to focus on the vocals and that’s what it is. The drums almost go on autopilot. I can just go. I know exactly where those are going to be. It takes a backseat to the vocals, so I’m able to do the best I can on the songs. And they’re not easy, bro. My god, Steve Perry is not (laughs) who you want to try and sing to. No one can sing like him. He’s who he is. You can’t touch him. But I do my best to try and sing the best I can so I can represent the band on those songs.
Do you, Jack and Doug plan on doing some live dates to support the new album?
Yeah, we’re talking about it. Journey gets off the road August 2, so we’ve got a little time there to possibly do a fall tour, schedules permitting. As long as Jack and Doug aren’t committed to stuff, and of course, as long as Journey isn’t doing anything. Journey is my priority. That’s my baby. Obviously, that takes precedence over everything. If the schedules permit, you’re darn right, I want to go out and play these songs. I want to do it.
Growing up, who were your biggest vocal and drumming influences?
Singing is a no-brainer. Obviously, Rob Halford, Paul Stanley and Steve Perry. Those were the guys I listened to. I grew up with metal. Rob Halford is an amazing vocal talent, and of course, Steve Perry was a huge influence because I’m a big Journey fan. He’s a big influence on me. Even though people go on YouTube and say, “Oh, he’s not as good as Steve Perry.” Well, damn right I’m not as good. He’s Steve Perry! Who’s gonna’ be as good? (laughs) I’m trying to do the best I can to make the songs great for the fans. He was a huge influence. He had Sam Cooke and many others as his influence, and I can’t help it. He was an influence for me and I’m nowhere close to him. Nobody is. I do my best to make the songs come alive, live.
When it comes to drumming, Peter Criss. If it weren’t for Peter Criss, I wouldn’t have picked up drum sticks. KISS were my Beatles. When I saw KISS at seven years old I said, “OK, I want to do that.” I want to put on the makeup, I want to put on the shiny, huge boots, and I want to play rock and roll. So, they were my Beatles and then I got into Rush. Neil Peart, one of the most innovative and iconic drummers of my generation. Then I got into Phil Collins with Brand X and Terry Bozzio with UK. And then, of course, I heard Captured and I heard Steve Smith and that just put me over the edge. I said, “I want to play that kind of music.” I had two choices when I was a kid, in my teens. I either wanted to play for KISS or I wanted to play for Journey. This is no lie. It was either KISS or Journey. Those are the bands I wanted to be in, and I was very fortunate to get into an amazing band. (laughs) My dream came true. I still want to play with KISS one day, but I don’t look good in spandex. (laughs)
I love that you love KISS because guess what? Other than Journey, KISS is my favorite rock band. I love both of those bands. I met Peter Criss a few months ago and he was terrific, the nicest guy ever. What do you think of Eric Singer? I think he’s terrific.
I’ll tell you a story, this is great. I was playing for Tony MacAlpine and Eric Singer had heard me play in Wild Dogs, my metal band from years ago, and he got in touch with the guys from Pearl. He brought his Wild Dogs record, put it in and said to them, “You guys need to sign this guy. You need to give him a friggin’ drum deal.” If it wasn’t for Eric…I owe him a lot. He’s an amazing drummer, like stupid amazing. The man can play anything. He’s one of the best rock drummers I’ve ever heard. For him to stick his neck out and get me a drum deal was huge. And I was unknown, dude. I was a nobody. He was already in Badlands and had done all that stuff. He was a major guy. I owe him a lot. He’s an amazing drummer.
But no dude, I have never met Peter Criss. I’m bummed. I’d love to meet him and tell him, “If it wasn’t for you, I would have never played drums.” That’s what lit the fire under my butt. I wanted to wear makeup and have fire and bombs. I still want to have fire and bombs in Journey but I keep getting vetoed. (laughs) They keep saying, “We’re not that kind of band.” I say, “We could be!” (laughs)
When you were in Bad English, what was it like working with such a talented group of guys?
For me, Michael, that was my first big band. I was coming out of working in a nursing home. When Bad English came a callin’…Neal’s the one that found me. He said, “You need to audition for this band.” So, I went down and auditioned and it took them about a week to make the decision to hire me. They were willing to stick their necks out and give me a shot, and I’m forever indebted to John Waite, and Ricky, and Jonathan, and Neal. They were the catalyst.
And being in that band, dude, are you kidding? I joined (laughs), you’re gonna’ love this. I joined in February of 1988 and we recorded the record in the summer of ’88, it came out in ’89. We had a number one single. I remember getting my first gold record, calling my parents in tears, saying, “Mom and Dad, it happened. I’ve got a gold record in my hands. I am freaking out.” It was huge, and then a platinum record, and then touring. It was a dream come true, honestly. It’s still very dear to my heart. I miss John Waite. I would love to work with him again. I would love the whole band to tour together again. But I don’t think that’s in the cards right now. Someday. I’m hoping! (laughs)
What was it like getting that call to join Journey? I imagine it was a surreal experience.
I had just gotten booted from Ozzy and I had gone to play with an artist in Italy. Then I went home and I remember getting a call from Neal saying, “Hey, how are you doing? How are you doing physically? Are you feeling good?” I said, “Everything’s good.” And he went, “Would you like to join Journey?” It took me a nanosecond to say, “Of course!” Neal said, “Well, we’re doing it without Steve Perry.” I said, “Well, OK. That’s fine. I still want to do it.” Neal knew that I knew all of the Journey songs because I was a huge Journey fan. So, to be able to join the band and be a part of this is another dream come true. Actually, this is the biggest dream come true because this is who I wanted to play with. And the musicianship. This is just me speaking, but those three gentlemen – Perry, Neal and Jonathan – are the three greatest songwriters of my generation, in my humble opinion. They are the greatest, and not many people can touch those guys. So, to be part of this is an honor. It’s really an honor.