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The Mirror Is Still Black: An Exclusive Interview With LENNY RUTLEDGE Of SANCTUARY

By Ruben Mosqueda, Contibutor
Thursday, October 29, 2020 @ 9:04 AM


"One thing we do is we do the classic material with respect, which is one of the reasons we have been taking our time with the next studio album. We want to honor Warrel by making him proud of what we are doing."

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Photo Credit Karen Mason

As a metal fan growing up in the Pacific Northwest we had it pretty good we had a handful of great acts coming out of Seattle, WA, QUEENSRYCHE, METAL CHURCH and SANCTUARY just to name a few. SANCTUARY have a special place in my metal heart. I was blown away the first time I heard frontman, the late WARREL DANE who had this unique vocal style. He was like a cross between GEOFF TATE and ROB HALFORD, but he was more versatile as we would later find out when he moved on with NEVERMORE and then his solo material. Dane reunited with SANCTUARY and the band went on to release The Year The Sun Died in 2014 and then released Inception in 2017 which was the raw demoed tunes from 1986 that would go on to make up the 1988 Refuge Denied album. SANCTUARY and Century Media teamed up to reissue their 1990 sophomore release Into The Mirror Black, and they brought renowned producer ZEUSS to remaster the album which in this deluxe edition features a live performance from that era and itís to die for. KNAC.COM caught up with founding member/guitarist LENNY RUTLEDGE, who we went back to landing MEGADETHís DAVE MUSTAINE to produce the debut, then we moved moved right into talking all things Into The Mirror Black, which is due to be released on November 6th, 2020. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Rutledge which took place on October 19th, 2020.

KNAC.COM: How involved was DAVE MUSTAINE in the production of the debut album Refuge Denied? How did he get introduced to SANCTUARY?

RUTLEDGE: Thatís a sort of unbelievable story, I remember very well. We were rehearsing in our rehearsal space in Seattle. We were at a point where we were doing well in our hometown. We had developed a following, people knew who we were and we had a college radio DJ who was playing our music which helped get the word out about the band, JEFF GILBERT. Maybe youíve heard of him?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I know who he is. He had a running monthly feature in GUITAR WORLD for a number of years.

RUTLEDGE: Thatís the guy! Jeff helped us by playing us on his radio show. We were up and coming but we didnít know what to do and where to take it next. I had the demo tape that had the songs which wound up as the Inception album. I had the tape and said to the guys at a rehearsal, ďHey guys Iím taking this tape to the KING DIAMOND/MEGADETH show coming up in a few days. Iím going to figure out a way to meet Dave and Iím going to see if he can help us.Ē The guys laughed like I was fucking crazy! I mean how could that EVER happen?! I was determined to give it a shot. So I went to the show, I tried to get backstage and of course they didnít let me back there! As I was leaving, behind the Moore Theater, I heard the roadies talking and I overheard where the band was staying. It was at a hotel called the Tropicana in Seattle. I went down there with my buddies and a couple of girls. We walked around the hotel on various floors. I heard some music and the door was slightly opened, I pushed it open and there was DAVE MUSTAINE sitting on the bed! I was surprised he didnít throw us out of there! He did have that kind of reputation. He looked at me and said, ďHey you! Come here!Ē I was like ďOh shit, Iím in trouble now.Ē I had a few drinks with him. It took a while but eventually I convinced him to come out to my car to listen to the demo and the rest is history. I canít believe that worked! When I told the guys in the band, they couldnít believe it! I had his phone number!

KNAC.COM: You got to tour behind the debut with some well known metal acts. Is there a particular touring memory that stands out from that time?

RUTLEDGE: Man, I donít know...from the time that Dave decided to produce us, then him taking us on tour with them. Everyday was a good day for the band. It was like a dream! We were kids with a dream to make it and here we were on a potential Ďfast trackí to make something out of ourselves. It was such a blast!

KNAC.COM: The release of Inception predated WARREL DANEís passing. What inspired the band putting that album together?

RUTLEDGE: I always knew that there was a lot of good stuff on there and it had a lot of energy. It was a little different than Refuge Denied. We had a demo of it but it was a Ďrushedí recording of it. When I found the demo tapes they were in pretty bad shape. We had them restored and then we had [producer] ZEUSS go through and mix the songs. We didnít re-record anything or do any overdubs or anything like that. We had it remixed and remastered. I think it turned out amazing. We felt that people should hear that, especially the fans that were into Refuge Denied.

KNAC.COM: You worked with ZEUSS on Inception who had worked with you on The Year The Sun Died and also on the recently remastered Into The Mirror Black. What does ZEUSS bring to the table? You appear to have this great working relationship.

RUTLEDGE: I think so. When we met ZEUSS, he found out the band had gotten back together and he reached out to us. He was a huge SANCTUARY fan, which was an honor for us. Iíll be honest, I personally didnít know much about him but knew and heard about some of his work but there were people at the label who had recommended him. He ended up setting up a meeting with us and he and I hit it off right away. Like you said, right then and there it seemed like the beginning of a lifelong friendship. We were like kids when you got on the phone, then the next thing you know 3-4 hours have gone by. It was really exciting, I felt like he had the same vision that we had for the band. We have continued to work with him because of that, heís like family now.

KNAC.COM: How did you meet WARREL DANE?

RUTLEDGE: We had put together most of the band, but we needed a singer. Warrel was in a band called SERPENTíS NIGHT at the time and our drummer DAVE [BUDBILL] said, ďHey I know this guy Warrel, heís kind of a quirky guy.Ē I heard the demo and thought we should check him out. Dave contacted him and gave him a few of the songs that we had been demoing. Warrel liked them and he came down to the warehouse where we practiced at. We didnít have a singer but we had this huge elaborate stage set! It was impressive but it was impossible and impractical to move or do anything with! [laughs] It looked really impressive. I can still recall the look on Warrel's face when he saw it! He was like "Holy Fuck! What are you guys going to do with this?! This is just unbelievable!" We tried him out and he really liked us and we liked him. We gave him some recordings and a couple days later he came back with ďSoldiers Of SteelĒ completely finished and he completely nailed it. It was exactly what we wanted to hear in a singer and songwriter. He was the full package. He was a great singer and he had the hair that was like five feet long, he was incredible.

KNAC.COM: How important was it for you to press forward with SANCTUARY? Did you have to take time to think about it?

RUTLEDGE: After Warrel passed, as you can probably imagine it was a pretty rough time for us. After a while we thought that maybe we should continue with the tour that we had booked. It was a ways away. We werenít quite sure what we were going to do for a singer. It was JON SCHAFFER that suggested that I check out JOSEPH MICHAEL. I heard the guy and I felt that this guy could pull off the tour. I felt confident that we could do the shows and fulfill our obligations and see what happened after that. It went really well, people responded really well to Joseph and he did an excellent job. Toward the end Warrel's health was failing him a little bit but he was a real trooper, he went out there night after night and kicked ass. There were nights when he had a really difficult time singing some of the earlier stuff, he just set the bar really high. Nobody could sing like that and Iím sure it became very difficult for him to do that night after night. One thing that I noticed was that when we did the tour with Joseph, his range seemed to fit in pretty well with some of those earlier songs from Refuge Denied and Mirror. Their response was just great, so we decided weíd give it a try with Joseph and I think it was the right thing to do. One thing we do is we do the classic material with respect, which is one of the reasons we have been taking our time with the next studio album. We want to honor Warrel by making him proud of what we are doing.

KNAC.COM: Up until recently the band featured BRAD HULL who played with FORCED ENTRY. How did you get him on board?

RUTLEDGE: Brad was also in the band before at a different time, it must have been around 1990 but after Into The Mirror Black had been released. I canít recall exactly but it was on one of our last tours, of course at the time we didn't know it was one of our last tours. SEAN BLOSIL had left the band and we needed another guitarist because we had this tour coming up. We had tried out a few people and someone suggested that we try Brad out. We knew Brad because he hung out with the guy and partied with him many times in and around Seattle. He came down to check us out and said he would do the tour. He was doing pretty well in FORCED ENTRY, he was a fill-in at the time. He came out with us on the tour and it worked out really well. It was in Brad's wheelhouse. Then Brad left and JEFF LOOMIS [ARCH ENEMY, NEVERMORE] joined the band. Jeff was in the band for about 6 months before SANCTUARY broke-up. When it came time to record The Year The Sun Died we reached out to Brad again and he was really into it. He came out and it was like it was 1991 again, he knew all the old songs and then there he was on the new album as well. Heís such an awesome guitar player. Thereís a lot of great contributions by him on The Year The Sun Died.

KNAC.COM: Into The Mirror Black was produced by HOWARD BENSON. What was it like working with HOWARD BENSON on record #2?

RUTLEDGE: That was really different. At the time, SANCTUARY was on the verge of being let go by Epic Records because the musical climate was changing and everything. Someone from the record label had suggested bringing in HOWARD BENSON to see if we could work with him. It worked out pretty well, it was kind of an unlikely pairing. He wasnít really a metal guy, but when he came in I felt like he made us a better band. We were within the first 10 bands that he produced. Itís funny because I hadn't spoken to Howard in like 30 years and last Monday I had a Zoom conference call with him and we talked about the old days. It was great to touch base with him. That was the first time that I had spoken to him since Mirror Black was recorded.

KNAC.COM: Who proposed the idea of remastering Into The Mirror Black? I picked up a double CD set a few years ago that included Refuge Denied and Into The Mirror Black. The label Iron Bird claimed both the albums were remastered, but they really werenít.

RUTLEDGE: That really upset me because I remember seeing that it was getting released and I also remember a lot of people saying just what you said, that they werenít remastered. I just spoke with another guy that said the same thing. I think they said they remastered it, but they really didnít. It wasnít done right and I donít think that was good for our fans. This time around we wanted to do it right, we thought it would be really cool to do something to commemorate the 30th anniversary. Weíd do it for Century Media which makes sense since Sony owns Century Media. We thought that would be pretty easy, right? Well, it actually took quite a while. It took close to a year of negotiations to get things together and sort out all the details. We also wanted to add a little bonus, so we wanted to make sure that the concert would be a part of that. In 1990 Epic Records released an EP that was called Black Reflections, which was a promo that was sent to radio stations. It had a couple of live songs on it, they didnít mix it very well and they didnít do anything with it. I donít even think that we were involved in that. When I got ahold of the masters of the live show, I thought it would be a great opportunity to release it with Mirror Black. We felt that we could remaster the album, put some demos on there and put the live show on there and give people something for their money. We put together a nice booklet with pictures from that time and the backstory on the album. I think it turned out great. I think fans are really going to love it.

KNAC.COM: I was aware about the promotional EP that was sent to radio. So the live material on the second disc is from that show? The EP is pretty rare because I think they sent out like 500 copies or something like that?

RUTLEDGE: I heard a rumor that the label pressed like 1,000 of them and a number of them just disappeared. They were out there, I remember they eventually sent me two. I didnít know it existed initially. I remember the show in May of 1990 it was recorded at The Country Club in Reseda [California]. I remember the recording of the performance, I just didnít know what they did with it. If you can believe this, those master tapes just showed up on my doorstep. I donít know what it is with me and master tapes? I find them in my barn. Thatís how I came across the stuff that made up Inception. These live tapes came from our former manager who felt I should have them and he sent them to me. Itís a good thing someone had them because when the record company has these tapes they just disappear and you never see or hear them again. If youíre FLEETWOOD MAC they know where the master tapes are, but if youíre SANCTUARY they donít know where your tapes are! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: Obviously, Into The Mirror Black didnít get a fair shake. What do you think attributed to that?

RUTLEDGE: Itís hard to say. I think the easy thing to do is to blame the record company, because they arenít doing their job or whatever. I donít know. Maybe it wasnít enough exposure. Itís just hard to say. It seems like that record has legs that has a decent European following. I donít think it did as well in America. In Germany it was a critically acclaimed album.

KNAC.COM: In your opinion what are the highlights on Into The Mirror Black?

RUTLEDGE: Oh wow. [long pause] We had an interesting time when we were recording in Sound City. When we were there, I donít think we realized just how legendary of a place we were recording in. It has such a rich musical history. I mean, I remember seeing a few gold and platinum records hanging on the walls, but it didnít sink in at the time. It wasnít until I saw the DAVE GROHL documentary that he did on Sound City that it hit me and then I was blown away. That was such a great time for these young guys from Seattle to be down in L.A. recording a new album. We rented an apartment for 6 weeks and just being a part of the L.A. scene for a few days was fun. It was just so different from what we were used to back in Seattle. It was like a non-stop party for us! Iím surprised we got through the recording! [laughs] We were living it up!

KNAC.COM: Are you still in touch with Jim Sheppard?

RUTLEDGE: Yeah, he lives a couple hours from me in Bremerton, Washington. I talk to him from time to time. Weíre fine.

KNAC.COM: You have done a lot of work behind the scenes in the production role. I think you were involved with the demos that got NEVERMORE to Century Media. Are you still busy with production?

RUTLEDGE: I did it for a little bit. We had a studio where we rehearsed and did some stuff here and there with the band but Iím not a producer.

KNAC.COM: I assume EDDIE VAN HALEN was an influence and inspiration to you. You remember the first time you heard VAN HALEN?

RUTLEDGE: Absolutely man! Thanks for asking. Eddie changed the landscape of guitar FOREVER! I remember hearing ďEruptionĒ going into ďYou Really Got MeĒ for the first time. Still to this day the first VAN HALEN record is in my top 5 albums of all-time. Itís just phenomenal. I donít play like Eddie or even in that style, but I donít think that there's a guitarist who loves hard rock or metal that does not like or appreciate EDDIE VAN HALEN. He changed music forever.

KNAC.COM: Can you describe WARREL DANE in one word?

RUTLEDGE: [long pause] Complex.


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