Deen Castronovo Explains How Journey Keeps It Together Onstage
Deen Castronovo says it should be no great mystery why Journey can function as a touring band even when its two principal members are at each other's throats.
"Well, you know, we're professionals," the drummer tells UCR. "The bottom line is the music is bigger than this BS. That’s the beauty of it. There can be all the squabbling and all the fighting and all the crud that goes along with it — and I know 90% of the bands out there have that. Probably all of them have that; they just don't make it public. But the music is bigger than all of that. People look up and go, 'I don't care if they hate each other.' The songs are iconic, and they love 'em.
"So," he adds, "I think all of us just realize, 'Look, we're professional. We're contracted to do this. We can rise above this crap and go have some fun.'"
The duality of Journey has been on full display as the band celebrates its 50th anniversary. On the one hand, they're highly functional Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees who played Lollapalooza in 2021, released a new album (Freedom) and mounted a successful arena tour last year, and are currently on the road again with dates booked through July.
Offstage, co-founding guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain are embroiled in a highly publicized legal battle regarding Journey's business operations, namely a shared American Express card. The discord has spread on social media even as the band plays its litany of hits night after night.
Watch Journey Play 'Only the Young' Live at Lollapalooza
"I can't lie — it's a bummer," says Castronovo, who rejoined Journey in 2021 after a six-year break. He considers Schon "a big brother" who "discovered me in a little rehearsal space in San Rafael" before inviting the drummer to join him and Cain in Bad English, their short-lived supergroup with Babys singer John Waite. Castronovo also worked with Schon in Hardline and Soul SirkUS before first joining Journey in 1998, becoming their longest-tenured drummer to date. He plays concurrently in Schon's Journey Through Time band, which is releasing a live album next month.
"I love both those guys," Castronovo says of Schon and Cain. "I've known them since I was 23, so it's hard for me to see the turmoil, 'cause they're like brothers to me. It breaks my heart to see this, but, you know, this is stuff they just have to work out, as much as I want to be a peacemaker. But I realize it's gonna take a miracle from God to fix this, so I'm just waiting for God to fix this. It's like, 'I just pray you work everything out, 'cause this thing is beautiful and I'd love to end my career with you guys.'"
In the meantime, Castronovo adds, "We have a job to do. We've got to go out there and play the best we can, and we do. We leave it at the door and we go up and play and it's a beautiful two-hour show, and then everybody just kind of goes their own way. And it's working. It really is. When it's time to go onstage and everybody's smiling, that's for real. We're having a blast. When everybody comes offstage, they all go to their separate corners and we travel to the next city."
While Schon, Cain and singer Arnel Pineda have separate dressing rooms, Castronovo, keyboardist Jason Derlatka and bassist Todd Jensen hunker down together in what they call "the fun room, 'cause we're actually in the room where they have all the catering and stuff. We're like, 'Yeah, you guys are gonna have to pay to come in and eat.'"
Castronovo — whose other band Revolution Saints (also featuring Joel Hoekstra and Jeff Pilson) just released their fourth album, Eagle Flight — remains hopeful for a friendly resolution between Schon and Cain, which might even put Journey back in the studio for a follow-up to Freedom.
Watch Neal Schon's Journey Through Time Play 'Lights'
"That's a Neal and Jonathan and Arnel call, 'cause I don't write, dude," Castronovo notes. "Neal's always writing, Jon's always writing. But nowadays the band doesn’t make a living with record sales. Fans want to hear the old stuff. It would be great to be able to do a bunch of new music and a new record every year, but it doesn't seem like the public really wants it. I'd buy the newer stuff 'cause I'm a Journey fan, but they want those great hits played to perfection, and I think that's always where we're gonna be."
Castronovo is looking forward to the May 19 release of Journey Through Time, which was recorded during a February 2018 benefit in San Francisco. The group features original Journey singer and keyboardist Gregg Rolie (who was also Schon's bandmate in Santana), along with ex-Journey bassist Marco Mendoza and keyboardist John Varn. The 31-song set features several Journey hits — "Wheel in the Sky," "Lights," "Separate Ways" — with Castronovo handling Steve Perry's vocals, but also digs deep into the band's early repertoire, with Rolie-sung fare that's long been absent from Journey concerts. Castronovo is happy to spotlight all of it.
"My preference, honestly, was when Perry joined the band because that's when it became accessible," he admits. "But I went back and bought the earlier records and it was so progressive. They were ahead of their time, really, very much like John McLaughlin, Mahavishnu [Orchestra]. They were trying to go in that direction, and it was so cool. And I loved Aynsley [Dunbar, drummer]'s playing. I thought he was brilliant. So I've got an appreciation for all of it, dude. There's so much great music to get into and play, and I'm glad [Journey Through Time] can play it and keep it out there."