Interview: Journey's Deen Castronovo
Nuvo: Indy's Alternative Voice
Posted by Katherine Coplen @tremendouskat
Wed, Aug 1, 2012
The original members of Journey came together when current drummer Deen Castronovo was just 8 years old. Consequently, he grew up worshiping the songs of the band he’s currently toured with for over 15 years. After the departure of founding members Steve Smith and Steve Perry and a 10-year hiatus, Castronovo got the call from remaining original member and guitarist Neal Schon to come and take hard rock arena classics like “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin,” “Any Way You Want It” and, yes, ubiquitous bar singalong “Don’t Stop Believin’” back to the masses. Indy residents can see them Wednesday, Aug. 8, at Bankers Life.
NUVO: Where are you right now? Let’s start with that.
Deen Castronovo: I’m in Riverside, Calif. We’re going to be starting out rehearsals today in San Bernardino.
NUVO: How exciting. Tell me about your rehearsal routine. How do you prepare for a tour like this? It’s different for a drummer because you have to keep your chops up in a different way.
Castronovo: The first thing I do around 10 a.m. is go and work out. Two months ago today, I had back surgery. I’ve got to do stretching exercises and get on a treadmill and do that. Then, about 30 minutes prior to rehearsal, I get on a treadmill. And that’s stretching. And then at rehearsal, we just go through the set list. We take it easy; we don’t kill it. When I come home, it’s time for family. I don’t bring my work home with me. After a tour, especially last year’s tour which was like 101 shows, I didn’t want to look at a drum set. I just spent time with my kids and my fiance and just hang.
So we work on the set, work on each song. Everybody forgets something but me, which is awesome. (Laughs) I’m like the Journey Encyclopedia, because I know all. I have a memory like a steel trap; if somebody forgets, they look at me.
NUVO: Give me a brief sketch of your time with Journey. Memorable moments?
Castronovo: The first thing is the call I got from Neal in 1998, saying “We’re doing Journey again; would you like to play?” It took me a nanosecond to say yes. That was a huge thing. The second thing I remember is flying down to San Francisco to start rehearsals and meeting our new singer and talking to him. We proceeded to go over to Steve Smith’s house and make sure I knew every nuance of each song before I went out there and murdered what he had. Then, the first tour, the very first we went on. If we were lucky, there was 1,000 people a night, if we were lucky. People didn’t think Journey would be anything, without Steve Perry. We had to reeducate everybody. It wasn’t disappointing, but like Jonathan (Cain, the group’s keyboardist) called it, a re-education. Then, when we went to South American with Arnel (Pineda vocalist), when we first got Arnel and we brought him in. It was his first show with us and there were 20,000 people in the audience. It was a place called Xena del Mar. Arnel just killed it. He was amazing, it was incredible. He was bouncing all over the place, and I remember watching him and saying, “Look, there he goes across the audience. Look, there he goes up the stage.”
NUVO: Since you brought up Arnel, I wanted to ask you about the serendipity that technology creates. You found him on YouTube. In another time of Journey’s career, you just would have existed separately forever, you in Journey, and Arnel in a Journey cover band. Do you believe you came across him at the right time for a reason?
Castronovo: I try and be as spiritual as possible. I believe God has his hand in everything. It was like [it was] meant to be. When he came in, it was like, how could you deny this was a gift from above? And to have him be such a humble, sweet man and just own those songs. I definitely believe that it was, whatever you want to call it, fate, a hand of [God] in this.
NUVO: I believe that I counted over 19 past touring or present members of the band. Do you believe your average audience goer has an idea of the changes in lineup over the years?
Castronovo: I don’t think people really realize. I’ve been in Journey for 15 years, which is longer than Steve Perry and Steve Smith. I have been in this band for 15 years now, and to see us going from where we started, without those two original band members, to where we are today, it’s mind-boggling. I am so blessed. I don’t take it for granted. I count my blessings daily.
NUVO: You’ve come to the top of many of the lists of best rock bands. Who else do you consider best arena rock bands?
Castronovo: KISS was my Beatles. They were the reason I became a musician. I saw them at 7 years old and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s my top one. At 12-13 years old, they were huge. I was also a big metal head. I grew up listening to thrash and speed metal, so, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica. That’s the thing around 17-18 that I loved. That’s the soundtrack to my teen years. But so many bands come to mind.
NUVO: Since that time, musical genres have become so fractured. There’s not the unifying factor that existed when Journey began. Do you think that slows down a band’s rising like your band has and did, to an arena rock
Castronovo: Journey was built upon radio play and touring. That’s how we built a fan base. When MTV stepped up, it was like, here today, gone today, here today, gone today. There was so much info that nothing could really catch on. You get something that would catch on and it would be there for three seconds and be gone. That’s why I think we’re still here, playing bigger and better shows every year; because we were not built on the here today, gone today MTV format. When that came out, you would think, “Aw, that is cool!” But you wouldn’t see a video because fans didn’t vote it on or something. But in the ’70s and early ’80s, Journey toured their tails off. A lot of these bands are one-hit wonders. They have one good song, and that’s it, and then they’re gone.
NUVO: It’s a hard question to answer — how to maintain consistency.
Castronovo: Exactly. How do you? For us, [our] music is timeless. Our stuff is timeless. The stuff that Jonathan and Neal and Steve wrote is the soundtrack to our lives. It’s definitely the soundtrack to mine. A lot of these other bands, how can you have the soundtrack to your life if it’s one song and then they’re gone? It’s the soundtrack to maybe three or four days of your life, not something you listen to all summer and hear and say, “Man, I remember where I was [when I heard that]. I remember where I was when I heard 'Anyway You Want It.’” And that’s the fun thing. I actually do remember where I was when I heard each one of those Journey songs. It’s the weirdest thing ever. There were not many bands at the time that I really caught on like that.
NUVO: I always ask my friends about the better Journey song, “Separate Ways” or “Wheel in The Sky.” I think it says something about a person if they’re a “Separate Ways” guy or a “Wheel in The Sky” guy. I’m a “Separate Ways” girl.
Castronovo: I’m a “Separate Ways” guy too. Back then, when I was 16 and that came out, I had just broken up with a girlfriend of mine. The song just spoke to my soul. It’s funny because, my gosh, that song pretty much defined a summer for me.
NUVO: All right, I’ve got one more question for you. Do you love or hate Glee?
Castronovo: You know, I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve only ever watched it when Journey was on it. I think the Season One finale when they were doing a competition and they did “Anyway You Want It” and “Faithfully.” And that was the only one I watched because the fans were blowing up. I really wasn’t paying attention to the show, [really], I was just waiting for the songs to come on. It was very cool, I felt very blessed.
NUVO: And you don’t feel like synthesizing it to a school choir takes away the rock edge?
Castronovo: How do I put this and be diplomatic? At least the songs are getting out to a different demographic. To have the songs live on to another generation is incredible. Our demographic has grown so much because of those shows. It just shows those songs go beyond the boundaries of demographic. Bottom line, those songs are beautifully written songs.