Warrel Dane and Lenny Rutledge are going back to their sanctuary

Sanctuary’s history came to a brutal and premature end in 1992, after only two albums and seven active years. It was told they fell victim to the grunge wave that destroyed everything in its wake. Like Queensrÿche, they came from the birthplace of the genre – Seattle, Washington –, but unlike Queensrÿche, they decided to take their leave there and then instead of jumping on the bandwagon. But it’s easy to blame it on grunge when personalities were already clashing within the band… When three of Sanctuary’s former members (vocalist Warrel Dane, bassist Jim Shepard and latest guitarist Jeff Loomis, who belatedly replaced Sean Blosl) founded Nevermore, everybody wanted to believe the band was somehow still alive. But although Nevermore met with success, they too came to a sudden end. Sanctuary are truly coming back to life nowadays, after a few years spent putting out feelers on stage and building up a strong line-up.

If there is indeed a life after death, there’s no doubt the death of the sun heralds the birth of an even brighter star. At least that’s what Sanctuary’s new album, The Year The Sun Died, the very first since Into The Mirror Black in 1989, is leading us to believe. To celebrate their return, we called founded members Warrel Dane and guitarist Lenny Rutledge to talk about the past, the present, and the future.

« We’re more mature, we don’t get into as many fist fights as we did back in the day [laughs] »

Radio Metal: It is generally said that Sanctuary broke up in 1992 because of pressure from Epic Records who wanted the band to fit in the grunge scene. So was Sanctuary actually a victim of the 90s grunge wave?

Warrel Dane (vocals): Well, that whole story has been a little bit exaggerated. There were a lot of comments from the record company that was trying to push us in a direction but we never wanted to do that. And like I said, that whole story had been a little bit exaggerated.

Lenny Rutledge (guitar): : Yeah, I think that at that time, at least in this area metal wasn’t very popular and I know that the record company surely would have loved us to go in that direction. But I mean, can you imagine Sanctuary suddenly going grunge? I’m pretty sure that all of our fans would have turned their backs on us. So that was never going to happen, no matter what. The real reason why we all broke up is that we just weren’t getting along, were we fighting a lot and drinking a lot, we all had big egos and it was just kind of a mess. So we decided to call it a day.

What was your relationship with that scene and those grunge musicians?

Warrel: We didn’t know a lot of those musicians, but we were really good friends with the guys in Alice In Chains. I think they were the most metal band from that whole era and they still are basically. But yeah, we used to hang out with them all the time. I got to tell you a funny story dude: Jim Shepard, the bass player, and I went to see Alice In Chains rehearse and Layne Staley sang “Battle Angels”, and he sang it perfectly! [Laughs] That was a really surreal moment for me.

Sanctuary broke up in 92 after having released two albums and here you are back 22 years later. What trigger or motivated after so much time this reformation?

Lenny: We’d always see each other in places, maybe a show or whatever, sometimes at parties. We were all still casual friends as time went on and everything. We talked a little bit about it here and there and it seemed mostly like a joking thing. Back in 2009 we got an offer to put one of our songs on a video game. The video game is called Brutal Legend and “Battle Angels” was actually the song. Then we started talking a little bit more and thought about getting together for a few rehearsals and possibly a reunion show. And we had so much fun doing it and the chemistry was so great, it was like back when the band started. So one thing led to another and we started writing songs, and we were just having a blast. So here we are!

Were you dreading the reactions to your come back or if the fans would actually remember the band after so much time?

Warrel: [Laughs] I’m not sure if we were dreading it but we were a little bit apprehensive maybe at first. But the reactions so far has been so strong that we’ve lost all apprehension [laughs], and we’re just having a good time!

You actually began working on the new album in 2011, and Warrel, you had already revealed the name of the album at that time. So how comes three years have passed by before the album was completed?

Being that we’re all perfectionists, we wanted this to be perfect. I realize that it can never be perfect, but I’m very, very pleased with the end result. But yeah, we just wanted to take our time and make sure that it as good as it could possibly be.

Brad Hull is filling in for Sean Blosl. But have you actually asked Sean to be part of this?

We did! We asked him if he wanted to be part of the reunion, or reinvention as I like to call it, and he’s just into a different headspace and he’s doing a different kind of music. He gave us his blessing to do it without him. But we did reach out to him just to see if he wanted to do it.

And Brad already played with you at some point. Was it important to get somebody who was somehow already part of the Sanctuary history?

Well, yeah, Brad filled in for Sean when Sean first quit, so we were comfortable with him filling in.

Lenny: Yeah, back in the day, Brad did a tour with us – I think it was in 1991 – and it worked out really well, although, obviously, the band broke up after that and also Brad had his own band 4th Century. But, you know, Loomis was in the band again when we had the reinvention and when Jeff quit Nevermore, he also quit Sanctuary again. Then we just decided to give Brad a call, because he seemed like a great fit and he seemed interested.

How would you compare the band now and the band back in the late 80s?

I think we’ve grown as musicians and probably our egos aren’t quite as big. We’re more mature, we don’t get into as many fist fights as we did back in the day [laughs]. We try to control ourselves a little bit more. I think we’re probably a little bit more perfectionists now.

« I consciously had to make an effort to put some high pitched vocals on this, because I know that people were expecting that. »

What did you think when you kind of rediscovered yourselves as musicians after 20 years, touring and making this new album?

Warrel: We approached it with a little bit a trepidation but not too much and we just thought: “Ok, let’s just not thing about the past. Let’s just think about the future and make the best music that we can make in this time period in our lives.”

And do you think this album is what the band would have done if it hadn’t stopped for 22 years?

Lenny: Yeah, we feel it’s a natural progression for the most part. There’s a little bit of something for everybody on it. It’s fairly diverse and I think that the one glaring thing that would be different is the production that sounds very modern, and we think that’s a plus. So we’re happy about that, we’re happy about the way it turned out with Zeuss at the control for this one, and he did a great job.

As you just said, you chose to work with producer Chris “Zeuss” Harris. What pushed you guys towards him specifically, as Warrel you have work with many other producers in your career?

Warrel: It was suggested that we use him and he really actively pursued this project, because he’s an old school fan. He saw Megadeth, Sanctuary and Warlock together when he was maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. He’s always been a fan and he really did pursue it. We were a little bit apprehensive because he’s associated with metalcore, but, really, I think that he brought a new sound to the band. I’m pretty sure we’ll use him again in the future.

Were you specifically looking for an up to date sound?

Obviously, if you listen to the Refuge Denied record, it sound like it was recorded in 1988 [laughs] and this record sounds like it was recorded in 2014. It sounds updated and modernized, but I think the guitar sound is much better on this record than on the previous two.

Lenny, we haven’t heard much from you in the mean time, so are there music on this new album that you actually composed during these 22 years of absence?

Lenny: Yeah, there are some ideas, a couple of things that I was kind of working on. Most of it was created after we all got back together. But there was some stuff: a portion of “One Final Day” was written back in 1996 or something like that, and “The Year The Sun Died” was an idea that I’ve been kicking around, probably starting from 2005 or something. So, yeah, there are pieces.

And what is actually the input of Brad in the music?

Brad wasn’t really present for the writing. He’s basically our secret weapon for solos. We played about fifty/fifty on the record, but we wanted simply somebody who had a different style than me. That was my goal anyway: I wanted to make sure that we complemented each other but at the same time we both have different elements in the playing, and you can definitely tell that when you listen to it. But he’s definitely an asset; he brings in a new element to the project.

Warrel, how have you voice and approach to singing changed in 22 years? There are not as much high pitched vocals as there used to…

Warrel: I consciously had to make an effort to put some high pitched vocals on this, because I know that people were expecting that, and there are on the first couple of songs definitely a lot of high pitched vocals. And I kind of had to go back and relearn that, because Nevermore was a different animal and it didn’t really call for that kind of singing, except maybe on the first Nevermore record because we were transitioning at that point. But my approach is pretty much the same: I always let the music speak to me and tell me what to do. That’s how I’ve always approached songwriting from day one.

Has your time with Nevermore actually impacted this new Sanctuary album in one way or another?

I’m not sure if it really impacted in any way but I’ve realized that we were going to get, hopefully, the Nevermore audience, just like when Sanctuary broke up and Nevermore started we definitely got the Sanctuary audience. So there’s a whole generation of kids now that maybe didn’t know Sanctuary and maybe they will because of this [new album].

 » I always said that I’d never do another concept record after Dreaming Neon Black, but it just became apparent to me that this music was fitting what I had in my head »

You guys have recorded a cover of The Doors “Waiting For The Sun”. Can you tell me more about this choice?

Oh boy! That was way, way, way back, Lenny initially had the idea to do that song because we’re both big fans of the Doors. So when we were talking about doing a bonus track for the record that was just kind of a no brainer, it was the first thing that came to both of our heads.

Lenny: Yeah, back in the day when we were starting to write for the third record, we actually talked about doing it already back then. It’s something that’s always been in the back our minds.

Warrel: And I’m channeling Jim Morrison on this song for sure! [Laughs]

The album is called The Year The Sun Died and it’s a concept album. So what is it about?

It’s about a prophet of doom named Manor who predicts the death of the sun, and she gain a cult following. When you read the CD booklet, the story’s kind of outlined in between the songs. But I’m kind of letting the story out slowly [chuckles] because it doesn’t come out before a couple of months but it’s basically it. I’ve had this story in my head for years. I always said that I’d never do another concept record after Dreaming Neon Black, but it just became apparent to me that this music was fitting what I had in my head [chuckles].

Since Sanctuary was actually the origins of Nevermore, does it make any sense to continue on with Nevermore now that Sanctuary is fully back on track?

I don’t know. I’m never gonna close the door an anything. We’ll see what happens.

What is your relationship with Jeff Loomis, now that a bit of time have passed since his departure?

Oh, I just saw him at an Yngwie Malmsteen show here in Seattle and we talked for like a minute, and he said: “Oh I’ve heard the new record, I think it’s great!” But I haven’t talk to him in a long time since then.

But do you actually have plans with Nevermore, will try to find replacements for Jeff and Van Williams, or will you just wait and hope for them to get back in the band some day?

That would be a tricky thing, so I haven’t really thought about that.

Jim underwent brain surgery to remove a small brain tumor in 2011, and apparently had issues with Crohn’s disease that sometimes prevented him to tour. So, how is he now health wise?

He’s doing ok. The whole brain tumor thing was really scary but it turned out that it was not malignant, so that was one good thing. But yeah, he also has Crohn’s disease and that’s still an issue, but he’s doing well.

Warrel, do you have any plans to do a second solo album?

Yes, of course. The inner guys from Century Media came up with this idea for me to do a record of all covers, because apparently I have a knack for doing cover songs [laughs]. So I’m choosing the songs right now. It’s all gonna be, maybe, nineties all alternative music [chuckles]. And the first songs… Well, no, I’m not gonna give away details yet! [Laughs]

Is Sanctuary back for good? I mean, do you intend to catch up the time and do more albums and tours regularly in the future?

It looks that way! We’ll see! We’re hoping to play Hellfest next year, because I had a great time when Nevermore played Hellfest, that was awesome and it’s a great festival. But yes, of course there gonna be touring plans. We’ll see what happens when the album drops.

Have you thought about recording a live album so we could hear the songs revamp and more like you play them now?

Lenny: Yeah, that’s definitely a possibility. We did some live recordings in the past too. I could see that happening. I think that people would be interested in that. Hopefully so, yeah.

Interview conducted by phone 23rd, august 2014 by Spaceman.
Retranscription, traduction and introduction: Spaceman.
Promo pics: Patrick Haeberli.

Sanctuary official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/sanctuaryfans.

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