Drummer Deen Castronovo Talks About His New Band and Journey’s Upcoming Vegas Residency
Even though it wasn’t his first time singing lead, Journey drummer Deen Castronovo admits that the idea of doing a whole album where he would be the featured vocalist was daunting. “You know, I’m a drummer -- I can do drums. But to lead sing on an entire record was scary -- I’ve never done that,” Castronovo tells Ultimate Classic Rock.
Serafino Perugino, the president of Frontiers Records, had spent years pursuing the idea of a Castronovo solo album, and with Revolution Saints -- a new melodic hard-rock band featuring Castronovo, Night Ranger bassist Jack Blades and guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio, Burning Rain) -- the label head would finally get his wish, even though Castronovo himself didn’t initially realize what he was getting into.
“He’s been asking me to do a solo record since 2006, and I kept going, ‘I’m busy with Journey.’ You know, I never really had any time or the confidence to pull it off,” he says. “So when I got the call from my manager saying, ‘Hey, do you want to do this? They want you to play drums,’ at first I just thought I was playing drums. Then I found out, 'Oh, no -- you’re lead singing!' It was almost like a bait and switch. But it came out really cool, and I’m grateful to Serafino for giving me the chance to do this.”
For 17 years, Castronovo has been the man behind the drum kit for Journey, but his love for the group’s music goes far beyond that. It began with a copy of the 1981 live Journey album ‘Captured,’ which he says changed his life from the moment that he heard the drum solo by their drummer, Steve Smith, who laid out a percussive work of art that opened a new door to fusion music. It was a revelatory discovery for the young musician who had already made up his mind a long time ago that he wanted to pursue music.
As he began to listen to more music from the fusion genre, he admits that he “couldn’t understand what they were doing,” but he was able to pick up “snippets of things” from Smith’s pop-based approach. Even now, he calls the former Journey skinsman “the best drummer on the planet, in my opinion.”
He also has been an unashamed disciple of the other Steve who was in the group back in those days: Steve Perry. It's pretty clear if you’ve had the opportunity to hear Castronovo reverently singing select Journey classics with the current version of the group, like the ‘Escape’-era cuts ‘Mother, Father’ and ‘Still They Ride’ or ‘After the Fall’ from their classic 1983 ‘Frontiers’ album. So it’s no surprise that there’s a Perry-like feeling to Castronovo’s vocals on the self-titled debut from Revolution Saints.
“Steve Perry was my favorite singer of all time ... and he still is, by far. I mean, I grew up listening to Journey, and since I was 11, I was playing those songs with guys that were older than me and singing that stuff,” he explains. “So, for me to go in [and do these songs], it definitely sounds like Perry and I’ve got my own thing [too], but it’s just inevitable. You know, Steve Perry was a big fan of Sam Cooke -- it’s inevitable that you’re going to have an influence and you’re going to do your thing, but you’re going to put your own spin on it. So that was how I approached it. It was like, 'OK, this is how I sing -- I’m just going to have to pull this off.'”
Listening to cuts like the album-opening ‘Back on My Trail’ and ‘Turn Back Time,’ the lead single from the album, which also features vocals by Blades, there’s no question that Castronovo pulled it off. The majority of the songs on the Revolution Saints album leans in a heavier direction, and though the material at times sounds like it may have been plucked from a time capsule of unused riffs from the ‘Escape’ and ‘Frontiers’ era, that’s hardly a bad thing. Castronovo’s vocals certainly have that Perry feel, but they also carry an extra layer of grit that adds intensity to the material.
Watch the Video for 'Turn Back Time'
Castronovo’s Journey bandmate Neal Schon contributes a soaring solo to ‘Way to the Sun,’ and he recalls that, in typical fashion, Schon just grabbed his guitar and played a solo that took the song to the next level.
“I asked Neal, and he listened to the stuff and he said, 'Well, let me think about it,' and then he came back and he just nailed it,” Castronovo says. Current Journey singer Arnel Pineda also makes an appearance on the album, sharing the vocals with Castronovo on ‘You’re Not Alone.’ He has high praise for Pineda’s work on the track. “If you listen to that song, I mean, to me? That’s a real vocalist,” he says. “You hear him on that track, and you hear the passion and the soul in his voice. He’s so inspiring to me.”
The experience of recording the Saints album with Blades and Aldrich ended up being a whirlwind experience that found Castronovo working with limited pockets of time to complete his work on the record after the initial music had been recorded.
“I had 10 days in between Journey tour legs, and I flew from Canada and sang [the vocals for all of the songs] and then went right back out on the road with Journey," he continues. "So, I had 10 days to do the whole record vocally. It was awesome, but it was daunting ... very daunting -- I didn’t know what to do.”
Castronovo is quick to credit Blades and album producer Alessandro Del Vecchio (who also wrote the majority of the material and provided additional keyboards and vocals), for helping him find the confidence that he needed to nail the vocals on this album.
“I was at the mercy of Alessandro, basically," Castronovo says. "Thank God he’s a great producer, because I was like, ‘OK, I don’t really know what to do here! I’m not a lead singer -- I don’t know what the heck to do here.’ So he guided me through it. So did Jack. Jack helped me a lot. I’m just grateful it came out good.”
The Revolution Saints album will be in stores on Feb. 24, and according to Castronovo, they’re already starting to map out future plans.
“After Journey’s done [with upcoming tour dates], we’re looking at touring in Asia and possibly the U.K. If everybody’s schedules work out, after that tour, we’re going to sit down in a room and write as a band -- me, Jack and Doug. That’s a huge thing. I know Doug is an amazing songwriter and of course, Jack’s legendary, and I’m just going to ride on their coattails,” Castronovo says. “I just think we should all get together. And we all agree, let’s get together and be a band and write the way that we write.”
First, he’s got touring commitments with Journey, including an upcoming residency in Las Vegas, which he says might give them the opportunity to pull out some deeper cuts.
“You know, Journey’s got over 100 tunes to choose from. Neal is always going, ‘Man, we’ve got to keep it fresh -- it’s getting boring.’ So [when that happens], we’ll throw in some of the B-sides and the deep cuts, like ‘Troubled Child.’ I’d love to do that song.”
While they keep a focus on making sure that the crowd-pleasing tracks are in the setlist, they also maintain a firm connection with their classic catalog beyond the hits, and Castronovo says that’s an important thing.
“I think that Neal has that vision that if you can burn onstage, they’re going to feel it,” he says. “If you’re not into it, if you’re not living it and if you’re not breathing it, why the hell do it? So that’s why Neal is always thinking about keeping the set fresh. You know, we’ve still got to do the ‘Dirty Dozen,’ we’ve got to do the hits, but the great thing about Neal is that he’s like, 'I want to do "Edge of the Blade" or "Chain Reaction."”
“He throws this stuff in. If he’s not bored, none of us are bored. I’ve got to be honest, Neal and I, he and I are like Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Honestly. I’ve been with him since I was 23, and if he’s having a crappy night, I don’t have a great night, because I’m watching him and going, ‘OK, what can I do as a drummer to help him out?’ If he’s having a whaling night, he and I are on fire. He’s like my big brother. He’s an only child, so he’s taken me under his wing -- I’m like the little brother he never wanted.”
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