SANCTUARY Guitarist Says Vocalist JOSEPH MICHAEL Has 'Breathed New Life Into The Band'

April 11, 2018

After their recent performance alongside ICED EARTH in Detroit, Michigan, SANCTUARY guitarist Lenny Rutledge and touring vocalist Joseph Michael (WITHERFALL) spoke with Chuck Marshall of Metal Wani. The full conversation can be viewed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET):

On the decision to honor their touring commitments as a tribute to late vocalist Warrel Dane:

Lenny: "It's been kind of a bittersweet thing, but at the same time, I think we've all had a really good time. People have really been positive. They're really responding well to Joseph, and I think a lot of people were very excited to see that we still did the tour. I talked to a lot of fans that were, like, 'Well, we bought tickets because we wanted to see you guys,' and some of them were kind of disappointed when they heard, you know, obviously the news about Warrel, and then maybe we weren't going to do the tour and everything. But it seems like everybody we talked to was really excited that we were actually doing the tour even though Warrel passed away. Joseph, in my opinion, has been nailing it every night, which for me, was kind of a concern, and for him as well, I'm sure. I had a really great time, and I feel like we're really kind of getting into our groove. We're coming into our stride. Not that the whole thing wasn't great, but this last ten days or so, I feel like we've just been knocking it out of the park. It's been a cool tour. ICED EARTH has been so supportive, and Jon Schaffer especially. We're close now, and we're great friends. He's been great to all of us. All of ICED EARTH as well... Part of it was very sensitive for me, and I kind of didn't even really want to — at first, I just didn't even know if I wanted to go there. But the businessman side of me, and the fact that we already kind of had the ball rolling was, like, 'Well, maybe we should entertain at least checking it out.' I didn't want to do anything where we just said, 'Hey, put the word out — we want to just find somebody.' We wanted to find someone that we could work with and do it with respect, and not do some kind of like, 'Hey, we're doing some massive search for the right singer.' I just didn't think that would be appropriate. We were very careful. Still, there's part of me that... I feel like we did the right thing, but you don't really know. You don't really know at first, and Joseph and I talked about it on the phone too. We agreed that we weren't going to go any farther unless we can do it with respect. We talked to the ICED EARTH camp and management and everything, and we talked about how we wanted to do this, and we wanted to make it feel right. If we couldn't, we weren't going to go any further. Once I started working with Joseph, I felt confident that we could do it justice, and I think he did as well. I think we are doing it justice. You never really know until you're out there, and from the crowd reaction and what people to say to us when we're done, they really feel like it's a good representation and we've done Warrel respect. I think we did it right. I think a lot of people agree."

On how Joseph came to be asked to join the tour:

Joseph: "Jake [Dreyer, ICED EARTH and WITHERFALL guitarist] has been doing ICED EARTH for about a year now. He's got a few tours, a bunch of festivals, a record under his belt. We were actually writing together when Warrel died. I've always been a huge fan of Warrel, and I actually was going to go to a few shows on this tour and hang out with Jake, meet these [SANCTUARY] guys. When it happened, we were just like, 'Well, what the fuck are they going to do now?' I didn't hear a word until New Year's Eve. Schaffer gave Lenny a little reference and said, 'Jake's singer Joseph from WITHERFALL could probably do it if he was into it, and if you guys still want to do it.' Of course I was honored to do it."

Lenny: "We really weren't sure what was going to happen. I was basically calling Jon on New Year's Eve to say, 'Look, man. A couple of weeks has passed, and we thought about finding somebody and we've talked to a couple people that we thought maybe could step in, but it didn't really work out.' I just said, 'Hey, do you have any ideas before I call it a day?' He's like, 'I do. You've got to talk to Joseph Michael of WITHERFALL. He's in a band with our other guitar player, Jake.' Honestly, I said, 'I've never heard of him, but I'll check it out and listen to it.' I was a fan instantly when I heard it. I was like, 'Wow, this is shit I can really get into — crazy progressive shit,' but I remember thinking to myself, 'I wish Joseph would sing more.' Some of those songs are like seven minutes long, and there's like two minutes of singing. I was like, 'God, this guy's a great singer.' I thought it was cool stuff, and I was really impressed. Joseph and I got to talking, and we hit it off. That's rare, I think, sometimes. The rest is history at this point."

On how Joseph prepared for the tour:

Joseph: "I didn't have much time, so I had to really trust my process. I was not worried about the range or getting a lot of the tones, because I'm a bit of a chameleon if you listen to all my past work. It was convincing Lenny, really, that, 'Listen, I'm not going to be anywhere near where you're going to be comfortable with this until, like, a week before.' We really tested each other's trust on this, and I'm glad it worked out, because I think the result really speaks for itself. We're a really tight live band, and the tribute... forget about how great the band sounds, or whatever you think of me and my performance. As a tribute, it's hit the mark, I think. I've seen people crying in the audience. I've seen people mouthing the words with their hands on their chest. I've had countless people come up to me and say, 'Man, you did Warrel justice. I'm so happy you guys decided to do this.' That was the whole goal from the get-go. I knew as soon as Jon Schaffer sent me a text message that I can do this, I got this, and I would not have taken the job if I didn't think I could. I would have said no right off the bat."

Lenny: "There was a little bit of faith involved. I'm not really that guy sometimes — I kind of have to see the tangible parts, so it's hard for me to listen to somebody say, 'Don't worry about it. It's going to all be fine.'"

Joseph: "I was sending him demos before I even knew the lyrics. That's how fucking tenuous the whole thing was at the beginning."

Lenny: "That's the one thing — I can tell when someone gives me something and I tell them to change this or do that, that's the kind of people I like to work with. Joseph is that guy. When we talked about, 'Hey, just try this. Let's change this. Let's do this.' He's a team player in that sense, in that he can mold it. He make it work. There was a point where I was like, 'Okay, I can jump into the rest of it with faith, and I know I've got somebody that I can work with here. I told him right from the beginning, 'You're the guy they're coming after. If you don't do it right, they're not looking at me — they're looking at you. You're the one that's going to get the criticism.'"

Joseph: "I knew I had the abilities going in, but the main thing is, I really fucking cared. I gave a shit. I told Lenny in our first conversation, 'Listen, man. There are guys maybe that can do this. I know I can do this, and I fucking care. I really do.'"

On whether SANCTUARY recorded any of their works-in-progress before Dane died:

Lenny: "No. The way him and I would work was, a lot of times I would come up with a lot of the ideas in a basic sense, and then [the rest of SANCTUARY, without Dane] would get together, and then we would record kind of a really good version of it live. Once we got to that point, we would hand off the stuff to Warrel. Warrel was working on it, and I know how Warrel works — usually we wouldn't hear it until nearly the end. He did have a lot of stuff done, but we never really heard it. That's kind of the way it was with 'The Year The Sun Died' — a lot of stuff we didn't hear until almost the end. We weren't really there, and part of that was because he was working with this other band from Brazil, and he was working on stuff kind of simultaneously. We agreed that he would just kind of halt all the stuff for SANCTUARY, because he would have his head in two different spaces, and it's kind of confusing. He didn't want to cross-contaminate anything. I don't know if that's the right way to say that. He had a lot of ideas and a lot of things going on, but he wanted to finish that, so I never heard anything, unfortunately."

On what's next for SANCTUARY:

Lenny: "We have a lot of music. Joseph and I are talking about it, and Joseph has some of the songs that we were working on, and we're going to see where we go from there. This isn't a secret, but live is different from the studio. We'll see. We're having a great time live, I can tell you that. Him and I are hitting it off; we have a good time up there every night; he nails it; and I think there's been a new — and I hate to say this, because I absolutely adored Warrel more than anyone will ever know. He's been my music partner for a very long time, and I never really thought about writing with someone else, but now, in this situation, Joseph has kind of breathed new life into the band. We've been able to play some songs that we don't normally play with Warrel. In Warrel's later years, he had some things going on with his voice and his health. Although he was still an amazing vocalist and writer and everything, there was just some things that we shied away from doing, and now that Joseph's in the band, he has kind of a different range that's available to him, so we've been trying some other stuff. It's kind of breathed a new energy into the band, so that's been really cool for us. We're moving forward."

Joseph: "We're having an amazing time live. It's honestly my favorite tour so far in my multi-decade span as a musician. With writing, it happens or it doesn't. I'm not the kind of guy who's just going to throw some shit on top of it, and be like, 'Well, I want to be on a SANCTUARY record.' I want to be inspired. I've been listening to the [demos] for a week or so now, and I have a few ideas. It's a different way of working for me — usually, I'm right there when it happens, and you just build it all there; these guys like to demo ideas and toss stuff, throw stuff out, bring in new stuff — so my job in the next few weeks when I get back home is, I'm going to lay demos down for them based on what they have, and then we'll probably swap some things back and forth and see if it's amazing. If it's not, then we'll call it a day and maybe do another tour, or some festivals, keep the tribute going. If it's amazing, I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't put out some music. If the songs are great, they should live."

Lenny: "The way I wrote stuff for Warrel, I tailored it to the way he sang and thought about things. I'm so used to doing that, maybe we can also modify the way we do things for [Joseph] as well. We have time. Originally, we were going to try and put this out in 2018, but considering what's happened, I think that's all off the table. I'm not really worried when it comes out. I would like it to come out, and if it can come out with this group of people, it will. I'm not going to say when. I'm fine with taking a couple of years. Sometimes you have to build your way of writing with a new person. I've written with some other people besides Warrel, and I kind of know what to do once I find that person's... where they lock in, I know what to do."

SANCTUARY's North American tour with ICED EARTH was billed as a tribute to the musical legacy of Dane, who tragically passed away on December 13, 2017 due to a heart attack while recording his second solo album in São Paulo, Brazil.

Formed in 1985, SANCTUARY was signed to Epic Records with the help of MEGADETH guitarist Dave Mustaine and released two records, "Refuge Denied" (1988) and "Into The Mirror Black" (1989),which saw them perform with the likes of MEGADETH, FATES WARNING, WARLOCK and DEATH ANGEL. The group disbanded in 1992 as members Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard went on to form the highly successful metal act NEVERMORE with acclaimed guitarist Jeff Loomis. SANCTUARY reunited nearly 25 years later in 2010 and appeared at several festivals worldwide before returning to the studio to record their acclaimed full-length comeback album, "The Year The Sun Died", for Century Media Records in 2014.

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