In any other situation, sitting down to converse with someone who is wearing an unbuckled straightjacket may be considered out of the ordinary, perhaps even ill-advised. But within the metal community, when that individual is Warrel Dane, the situation could be considered unique, or only slightly odd from even the most unfamiliar perspective. Dane is the respected and revered front man and vocalist of Seattle, Washington’s now re-formed Sanctuary, considered legends of progressive metal. He is also known for his time fronting the long-running Sanctuary side-project Nevermore, formed after Sanctuary’s untimely breakup in 1992. Dane also released a solo album in 2008, entitled Praises To the War Machine.
Sanctuary’s return in 2010 for some one-off shows led to the group officially reuniting and signing to Century Media and the release of their third album, The Year the Sun Died, in October 2014. Touring in support of this new album, Sanctuary stopped in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, October 11 to play a show at the venue Fubar with local support from Melursus and VII. Before the show, Damnation Magazine had the opportunity speak directly to the charismatic Warrel Dane, where we learned more about his take on the state of the music industry into the social media age, the history of metal in Seattle during the grunge movement, and his experience doing voiceover work for a certain animated television serious that metalheads are most likely aware of (whether they enjoy it or not).
Why was it important to reform Sanctuary after 18 years for those first initial shows in which you did, and then to keep it going?
Well, we were friends again, for one. For many, many years we didn’t really talk to each other. And we just kind of slowly became friends again, and then finally just figured out, “Hey, what the fuck? Why don’t we just doing again?” At that time, Nevermore and Sanctuary were coexisting at the same time, sharing band members, too! [Laughs] It was all kind of a very incestuous relationship there.
Maybe not kinky enough [laughter]. But so yeah, that’s really the reason it happened. And what started out with it… There was a video game, called Brütal Legend. And they [the makers] wanted to use the [Sanctuary] song “Battle Angels” in the video game. And that kind of really is what got us talking [to each other]. And Jack Black was the lead character’s voice – I would love to imagine that he’s the one that picked that song, but I heard the… game designer is a metalhead, too. I don’t know, I’d like to say Jack Black brought Sanctuary back together [laughs].
It seems important for Sanctuary that the band members to not only be business partners, but also friends (or, at least, on cordial terms with one another)? Does that affect the dynamic, and would it if it was absent from the members’ relationships with one another?
Well, it wasn’t important for quite a few years. And, you know, you get older, a little more mature [laughs]. Well, we all grew up a little bit. Because when Sanctuary first started out, we were kids. Now… Well, one of us is a grandparent; not myself! [Laughs]
Not, yet anyway. Not for a while?
I’m too old for that shit. [Laughter]
Tell me about the music and metal scenes of Seattle, Washington. Both when Sanctuary formed and started out, as well as now. Has it changed over time with the rise and fall of grunge?
When we started out, there was a really big metal scene in Seattle. There was a lot of glam bands, it was kind of ridiculous. When the grunge thing happened in Seattle… Sanctuary put out their first two records in ’88 and 1990. Right around 1990, when Into the Mirror Black came out, that’s when the grunge explosion happened. And it was crazy being a Seattle musician at that time. Because you’d go out to clubs, and suddenly you didn’t know anyone. You’d go out to your regular clubs you used to go to, and you didn’t know anyone because all of these musicians from all over the country – mainly L.A. – were moving to Seattle to try to get signed, because that was the “Mecca” for getting a record deal at the time. It was just, really weird. I’m glad to say that that whole thing’s over [laughs].
I was working in a bar – actually, I owned the restaurant and bar for a while… Not until later, [because] I knew everybody there, I ended up buying it… At this same bar, I was hanging out one night, and I met this girl in the bar, and I was buying her drinks, thinking, “Yeah, she likes me! Cool, cool.” And at some point in the conversation over drinks, she said, “So, you’ve got long hair. Do you play in a band?” I’m like, “Yeah, I do.” And she said, “What kind of music?” I said, “Metal,” and she looked at me and said, “…How can you fucking admit that?”
…What was your answer?
My answer was, I had her thrown out of the bar.
[Laughter] I think that’s the correct answer.
That’s a totally true story [laughter]. So, the climate for metal when the grunge explosion hit was very intolerant. The grunge crowd and the metal crowd, they did not associate with each other. It was two distinct little groups… Well, one group was big, the other one was smaller [laughs]. Yeah, I’m glad all that’s over. I mean, right now… currently, there’s a lot of good metal bands in Seattle, and there’s pretty much no grunge bands except for the ones that are either dead or already established [laughs]. So, it’s interesting. Nice place to live… Now it is, again [laughs].
What are your thoughts or observations on how changes in technology – particularly the age of social media and crowdfunding – in relation to music have affected the industry, metal or otherwise, as compared to the 1980s and ‘90s, in regards to promotion, or just being a band in general?
Well, back in the ‘80s, major labels actually promoted bands. They don’t really, anymore. Sony is just an evil, evil corporation. They sign bands, and make them pay them $40 thousand to put out their fucking record, and don’t promote it. I mean, things have changed so much, especially with social media. Social media’s a great way to promote your band if you know how to do it right. And the whole… evolution of the Internet has really put the entire music industry into a tailspin. The only way bands can make money is touring and merchandise; selling t-shirts. Which, in turn, has created a system of club owners and venue owners around the U.S. that demand… Some people want 25% of your merch; between 15% and 30%, it varies. That’s just fucking evil, when people know this is the only way a band is surviving and making any money making music, making art. And then the turn around and try to rape you. It’s just very disheartening, and I have the feeling it’s just going to get worse. But, I don’t know. I never said I was a prophet of doom [laughs].
You’d been a voiceover guest on the Cartoon Network Adult Swim animated series Metalocalypse in the past. What was that experience like, working with Brendon Small? Are you at all involved with this new campaign, Metalocalypse Now?
Metalocalypse Now is a new campaign to bring the show Metalocalypse back to the air. It was just announced this weekend at New York Comic Con. It is pretty new information, so it sounds like you’re just as in the dark about it as we are. [Laughter]
I heard about that yesterday! I don’t have cable anymore, I decided I don’t need TV [laughs]. Well, doing Metalocalypse was really fun. The day I did it, Nevermore was on tour with Arch Enemy, and Michael Amott [Arch Enemy, guitars], Jeff Loomis [ex-Sanctuary/ex-Nevermore, guitars; current Arch Enemy, guitars], Steve Smyth [ex-Nevermore, guitars], and myself all did voiceover stuff. We didn’t know what to expect. Those guys, Brendon Small just made it so much fun, and I had a blast! I did not know what my character was going to look like, or what his name was. But I found out his name was Sammy “Candynose” Twinskins, and he’s a retarded drummer that wears pink spandex and plays his drum kit backwards! [Laughter] So, that was really, really fun. And the first thing I thought after that, when I got my paycheck for doing the work, I’m like, “…What?? You’re fucking kidding!” Voiceover actors make a fucking shit ton of money. So the first thing I did was, like, “Oh my God, how do I get more work doing this?!” [Laughs] I mean, $750 an hour is base pay??
[To Damnation’s Nick and Steve] We’re in the wrong business!
Yeah! No shit! And the “big guys” make way more than that. So then I figured out, “Oh Jesus, the voiceover community is way more competitive that the metal community.”
I’ve heard that same thing.
It is, it’s viscous. So, I’ve got two episodes of Metalocalypse on my resumé [laughs].
In one sentence, describe what your new album, The Year the Sun Died, means to you.
I think it’s beautiful, dark, viscous, at times poetic, at times very, very dismal and dissonant. And just depressing basically, because at the end of the record, everybody dies. Even the family dog [laughs].
That’s evil right there man, don’t let P.E.T.A. find out about that! [Laughter]
Well, when the world ends, I think the family dog is going to die.
Maybe the last to die, but it’ll die.
Special thanks to Warrel Dane for taking the time out to talk with us, Ryan Ogle of Concrete Marketing for setting up the interview, Sanctuary tour manager/sound board operator Tim Harding for coordinating the interview, and extra special thanks to Mike Judy Presents who brought the tour to Fubar St. Louis! Be sure to check out the rest of Damnation Magazine’s Nick’s photos from the show here. Santuary’s third and latest album, The Year the Sun Died, is out now on Century Media Records. Be sure to catch the band on the remainder of their fall 2015 tour dates.