Originally a tour that surely would have been celebrating the resurgence of Sanctuary, turned into a touching tribute with the untimely passing of one of metal music’s greatest vocalists; Warrel Dane. The band led by founding members Lenny Rutledge and Dave Budbill found vocalist Joseph Michael (Witherfall) to cover vocal duties which allowed the band to keep their commitment with the Iced Earth “Incorruptable” tour as well as pay homage to their fallen brother. After the Detroit show, Metal Wani’s Chuck Marshall had the opportunity to sit down with Lenny and Joseph to talk about the tour and the future of Sanctuary.
We started out by asking Lenny and Joseph how the tour has impacted them given Warrel’s passing. Lenny remarked that it has been “bittersweet”.
“People have been really positive and really responding well to Joseph. A lot of people were very excited to see that we still did the tour. I know I talked to a lot of fans that were like well we bought tickets cause we wanted to come see you guys as well as Iced Earth. And some of them were kind of disappointed when they heard the news about Warrel and that maybe we weren’t going to do the tour”.
Our conversation about the tour led to how Joseph came to be part of the Sanctuary tribute tour to Warrel. Joseph mentioned
“We (Jake Dreyer – guitarist in Iced Earth as well as Witherfall) were actually writing together when Warrel died at 7am our time in LA. I’ve always been a huge fan of Warrel and actually was going to go to a few shows on this tour and hang out with Jake. I’d met these guys (gestering to Lenny) once before. When it happened, we were like what the fuck are they going to do now. I didn’t hear a word until New Year’s eve when Schaffer (Jon Schaffer – Iced Earth) gave Lenny a reference saying hey Jake’s singer Joseph could probably do it”. Adding “Of course, I was fucking honored to do it”.
Lenny joined in saying that he had contacted Jon Schaffer on New Year’s eve to let him know that a couple weeks had passed since the band had decided to try to find a replacement for Warrel, but had no luck. Jon Schaffer told Lenny he should check out Joseph Michael. Lenny listened to Witherfall and “I was a fan instantly when I heard it, I was like wow this is shit I can get into…Joseph and I got to talking and we hit it off.”
Given that the loss of Warrel Dane led to contemplation of cancelling the tour and then a chance to pay tribute by keeping the tour alive, we asked what the catalyst was to turn the upcoming tour into a tribute to Warrel. Lenny said
“part of it was very sensitive for me. I didn’t know if I even wanted to go there.” He then added that once they determined to proceed “we wanted to find someone we could work with and do it with respect.” He continued adding “I can tell you from the crowd reaction, what people say to us when we are done, they really feel it is a good representation…we’ve done it with respect, I think we did it right. I think a lot of people agree.”
Next, we turned to Joseph asking how he prepared for taking on the challenge of filling in for Warrel. Joseph replied that he didn’t have much time, but was comfortable with the range. The challenge was “convincing Lenny really that, look I’m not going to be anywhere near where you are going to be comfortable until a week before”. He went on to say, “We really tested each other’s trust on this.” Regarding the tribute to Warrel, Joseph said
“As a tribute, its hit the mark. I’ve seen people crying in the audience and mouthing the words with their hands on their chests. I’ve had countless people come up to me and say man you have done Warrel justice, I’m so happy you guys decided to do this. That was the whole goal from the get go.”
Lenny had mentioned in a 2017 interview that Sanctuary had been working on new music for an upcoming album. We asked if they had been able to record with Warrel before his passing. The answer was unfortunately no. Sanctuary has a lot of new music and Warrel had some rough ideas. However, given the work Warrel was doing on his solo project, Lenny never got a chance to hear those ideas let alone try to record them.
Since the tribute tour is over and there is a lot of new Sanctuary material available to be completed, we asked Lenny if Sanctuary will work with Joseph to record a new album. Lenny said “Joseph and I are talking about it. Joseph has some of the songs we were working on and we are going to see where we go from there.” He added “I hate to say this as I absolutely adored Warrel more than anyone will ever know. He’s been my music partner for a very long time. I never really thought about writing with someone else. But now in this situation, Joseph has breathed new life into the band.” Joseph went on to say “I’m going to lay down demos for them based on what they have…we’ll see if it’s amazing. If it’s not, we’ll call it a day.