Deen Castronovo might just be the complete embodiment of the American dream. His résumé is enviable, and with four decades holding down the skins for some of rock's biggest names, he hasn't been above some surprises. Although he might be predominantly known as Journey's longest-running drummer since joining its ranks in 1998, his CV includes stints with Ozzy Osbourne, Wild Dogs, Steve Vai, and Social Distortion.
But like all good supermen, Deen's a humble man who continually feels blessed to be involved with one of rock's biggest acts, and hearing him talk about the overall experience, you'll have to pinch yourself a few times over to realize that you are not talking to a kid fresh out of the conservatory. A powerhouse drummer and clearly a versatile one at that, Deen is also known for his vocals and instruction methodology.
With Journey poised to kick off the second leg of its three-year Eclipse Tour with a two-night stay at Hard Rock Live, Deen is a joyous man full of bonhomie who took the time to speak with us while working with his fiancée to "furniture up" and decorate their new home. We can only hope we helped stave off some of his home chores.
New Times: OK, first off the bat, I have to ask about your background playing drums, because you've played with some bands that you'd never associate in the same room let alone the same record collection.
Deen Castronovo: Oh yeah.
Ozzy Osbourne? Social Distortion?
Social D! I love that band!
Bad English, Journey... That's very eclectic, man.
Oh man, I've been on so much stuff, even some albums I'm not even allowed to tell you about because of confidentiality agreements... There's some stuff that will really blow your mind. [laughs]
Well, let's not incriminate anyone in this, then.
"City of Hope"
I like Social Distortion, but I've always thought that Mike Ness has been living on borrowed time given his excessive behavior in his youth; what was it like playing with those guys?
Oh dude, Mike was the sweetest freaking guy and Dennis as well -- may he rest in peace. They were so sweet. I came in to do it as a favor to Michael Beinhorn, since I had done the Ozzy record with him, and he goes look, I need you to do me a favor, if you can do this record, you know, it's not big money, but they have no drummer... And I was, of course! I love Social D!
We did 14 songs in four days and seriously nailed them! We had such a blast, and they were so sweet, because for me, I was so intimidated because, number one, it's Mike Ness and Social Distortion, and these guys have more tattoos than I've ever seen on anybody in my life! It was fantastic, such an amazing and humble guy Mike is. Just freaking humble.
Well, when I saw Social Distortion on your rap sheet, it didn't make any sense, but now I guess it does.
Now I gotta ask you some Arnel Pineda stuff.
Sure man, I'm available for that.
Now, my lady friend is a Journey freak, she's seen the band play pretty much every time you've played in South Florida since 1986...
Honestly, Abel, what girl is not a Journey freak?
Well yeah, but...
That's gotta be the coolest thing; what woman doesn't?
It's true, I get it, I get it, but I've endured so many conversations about the band that turn into arguments that aren't really arguments since she's arguing with herself for whatever reason and just projects it at me.
Oh! I know that feeling! [laughs]
"Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" (drum solo)
Yeah, you know what I'm talking about, but she was all, if you have any Arnel questions just ask him, but in reality, all I really want to know since I'm a huge Filipino food fan was if he had any weird food demands while on the road.
You know, it's not that it's weird so much as what he is comfortable eating and what his body is used to eating... You can't take a guy who's been living in the Philippines his whole life and just feed him cheeseburgers and fries. That's just not what he does; he has a strict diet and eats very healthy, he's only forty-five but he's very health-conscious. He knows that whatever he puts in his body is going to mess with his voice.
So he's really on top of what he eats, and has an amazing assistant that cooks for him and that he has the food that he needs... The weirdest thing I've ever seen him eat was balut. You know what balut is?
Oh, yeah dude! I was like, what, what? You're going to eat that? Are you serious? I'd never seen anything like it! But that's about the weirdest thing I've ever seen. If that's your culture, God bless you! Whatever he needs so we can keep him sane all year? We'll feed him anything! [laughs]
That's cool. I was just wondering if he was forcing you guys to eat dinuguan?
Oh, what? No, [laughs] we still go for the cheeseburgers!
When I was first given this assignment, James Gandolfini was alive, and it's unfortunate that he has passed, but now I gotta ask you because there are huge Sopranos fans out there that will always remember the end of the show with the Journey song. You already have a pretty big umbrella over popular culture, but I think that fortified it even more.
What was your opinion on the ending of the show?
Let me tell you, I wasn't involved in any of the, uhm, picking of that or any of that; that was Steve Perry and Neal Schon. I did not even know that it was going to be on the show until after the fact, and while I didn't really watch The Sopranos that much, but after watching it, it was just the coolest thing ever. And you're right, it opened the doors to such a broad spectrum of fans that it was just ridiculous.
I was a big fan of the show, and a lot of people were talking about oh, what did the ending mean? And I think that any other song played at the end there would've leant a completely different impact on the open interpretation of the show's ending.
I agree. I remember Steve talking about it and being worried about his song being in the last scene where Tony gets whacked, but the producers assured him, no, no, no, that's not going to happen; we can't tell you the ending, obviously, but it's not going to be a bunch of bloodshed, so Steve signed off on it.
I didn't really see the impact of it until a couple of days later when it all came out.
The Sopranos final scene
That scene is seared into my memory, edited with the song, so it's pretty powerful.
When James passed away, they were showing that last scene, and I was like man, what? What a huge door that was for us to open. Just huge, huge. That show was groundbreaking, pretty much the first time anything on TV pushed the limits on language and violence like that; it was a really groundbreaking show.
So to have that, it was amazing.
Two heavy hitters of popular culture all at once.
Yeah, no kidding, bro, you've hit that right on the head! Exactly.
You've been with the guys since '98, right?
The band started in '73, when Greg [Rollie] and Neal left Santana, right?
I'm a big Santana fan, so even before I knew of Journey, I knew Greg and Neal from those lineups, but the band doesn't take off commercially until Greg's departure...
Exactly. Jonathan Cain came in when Greg departed.
For me, just as a music fan, starting off with that kind of musical association, you know, is a big deal. The band already started with a good résumé, whether it's commercially successful or not. I don't look at those numbers...
The pedigree was ridiculous -- what a monster!
And then you start your association with them through Bad English or was there something prior?
No, it was through Bad English. Neal knew that I was the biggest Journey fan on the planet and that I am a Journey encyclopedia. I know every damn song and all the writings...
I know somebody who'll contest that claim!
[laughs] Let me put it this way: When we do soundchecks and anybody forgets what the next part is, they all look at me!
"After All These Years"
You've been a fan for a long time, and you're the go-to guy! That's been a longtime commitment for you.
I've been working with Neal, with the exception of touring with Ozzy those two or three years, I've been with Neal since I was 23, and I'm 48 now, coming up on49. I've worked with him on so many different projects, and when Journey came back, they just knew I was going to be the guy, so I've been very fortunate.
I guess most people mostly remember the stuff from the '80s, but you guys have been pretty active with new material since it all came back. The last album was Eclipse?
Yup, the last one was Eclipse. It did good, not great, but the one before it, Revelation, was huge; we almost sold 2 million records. It was incredible.
So you guys are still a creative force!
That's right, we're a band that has never rested on its laurels, and now without a record label telling us what to do, what single, whatever, we actually do what we love, which is create.
Whether it's Journey or not, all of you guys are always playing music... I mean, are you even sick of these guys at all?
No! That's the funny thing: We've been together for so long, and it is a total cliché, but we're like a family; that's what this thing really is. These guys are brothers; they are more brothers to me than my own brothers, put it that way. They are a family for life, and we all care for each other.
The opposite would be to treat it like a business and everyone just shows up to the office.
Even though we might not keep in touch all of the time after we finish up a tour. I mean, we keep in contact, but the second we get together, just the chemistry and the vibe, there's a love there between all of us and a respect. It's pretty amazing.
It sounds like it, and the proof is in seeing you guys live or listening to a recording, it's evident.
C'mon, man, we all have perpetual smiles on our faces! We get to do what we love, and I happen to get paid doing what I love, what God has blessed me with. And how cool is this? I even still pinch myself sometimes because I don't believe it!
That's the American dream, man.
Totally! We were doing a show at Budokan, and I'm walking in there thinking, how cool is this? I'm in Journey and I'm playing in Budokan; how freaking awesome is this? I cannot believe it; it's just incredible.
I grew up as a metal kid, but the two bands that I wanted to be in were Kiss or Journey, and thank God, I got Journey!
Anyway You Want It
So you're kicking this second leg of the tour out of the Hard Rock, where else will you be going?
Yes, we are doing the two dates in Fort Lauderdale, and then we'll be off for a week and we'll pick up in Cheyenne and take it from there in the U.S. and Canada through September first. Then we'll be off until next May, this has been going on for three years, so we'll need a little bit of a rest after this. It's been pretty nonstop touring.
And you also have your house to get all furniture-d up like you said!
Oh, man, right now, my fiancée is downstairs picking out paint for the exterior of the house!
I can keep you away from your chores for a few minutes
Ask away man! I can talk for hours!
You might get a look later...
C'mon, man! I get looks all the time! But it's OK, she knows this pays the bills! [laughs]
Any recording plans coming up after the tour and the time off?
I've got a project that I'm working on with a band that I joined while on the road with my assistant Eric [Bradley], this band called the Young Royals and you can look it up, it's really cool. It's a cross between Alice in Chains meets Zeppelin meets the Beatles; really cool stuff. We've been recording that sporadically while Journey's off, but we'll be out on the road this October and November; that's what we're planning on doing.
So Journey will be taking a rest, but you apparently never rest.
No, I can't, dude. If I sit at home... I live in Oregon, so if I sit at home too long, I get in trouble. You know what I mean? I've got to keep moving, keep busy. There's not much to do up here unless you're a hiker, a hunter, a fisherman, or a gambler, and I am none of the above! I'm a drummer! That's what I do!
Journey at 8 p.m. Friday, June 28, and Saturday, June 29, at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $104 to $204. Visit hardrocklivehollywoodfl.com.
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