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February 4, 1999

The new Nevermore record, "Dreaming Neon Black", had been out for a little over a week, but its magnitude was just beginning to set in. It was clear from the start that this album was not to be taken lightly. Yet with each successive listen, the depths of the masterpiece were slowly revealed. The intricate rhythmic picking, the killer riffs, the passionate vocals and emotional storyline - there was much to digest. Enter current Nevermore and former Sanctuary vocalist Warrel Dane to sort it all out for us.

METAL UPDATE: "Dreaming Neon Black" was just released on January 26th. Already people are calling it an instant classic, one of the all-time greats.

WARREL DANE: Thanks guys!

MU: Are you starting to get the sense that you really hit on something extra-special with this record?

WD: Ah, I guess so because it really-it seems from the reactions we're getting that this album really affects people. Either they really love it or-I talked to somebody today who said that the album made them horribly depressed. I was thinking - good! It means we did our jobs correctly then. Because it is a kind of depressing subject and there's a lot of emotions in it. When I started fleshing out this story I knew that it was gonna affect people emotionally, just because there is a lot of passion and a lot of intensity in the emotions in the songs.

MU: Do you think that works of popular culture can qualify as "high art"?

WD: Well, I think they can. But, you know, obviously there's some stuff that wouldn't fit in with that. I think that if you're conveying a message to people that leaves a lasting impression on them, that's, to me, what separates art from entertainment.

MU: Do you think some heavy metal albums are worthy of the same level of analysis and critical attention as say, the works of Shakespeare?

WD: Yeah, about one percent of them! (laughs)

MU: Which bands or records do you think of when you consider that rarified air?

WD: Oh, well, Queensryche's put out some really good records- Megadeth, I would say too. And old - let me make this very clear - OLD Metallica. Stuff like that I think is- I mean, when Metallica was at their heyday, and when Megadeth was at their heyday, they put out some great - great - fucking heavy metal that wasn't just your stupid- you know, party, drink-a-lot-of-beer type of music. It was fairly cerebral, a lot of it. That's missing in a lot of today's metal, I think.

MU: Well, it's not missing in "Dreaming Neon Black", that's for sure. Let' s talk about that record. First of all, is the album a concept album?

WD: Yes.

MU: I've seen the record described as-loosely based on a theme.Is that the case or is there really some more cohesion going on?

WD: Well, there is-the story is purposefully vague because I want people to get different things out of it, perhaps. And I don't want it to be very obvious on the surface, because there's more going on in the story than I'm really letting on when I'm doing interviews.

MU: There goes about 12 of my questions!

WD: (laughs) So, you know, I like making it interesting.

MU: Did you set out to write a concept album?

WD: No. It just so happened that right about the time we were beginning writing for this- I have a friend - an old, old girlfriend - who disappeared, years and years and years ago. Well, not years and years ago, about ten years. Anyway, I had been having these strange dreams about her, just out of nowhere, right when we were starting to write the record. That' s where the title track came from by the way, "Dreaming Neon Black" - I was dreaming that she had been drowned. And this whole thing seemed like - well, I'm having these weird dreams, maybe I have to write a record about her!

MU: Let's talk about the title, "Dreaming Neon Black". Throughout Sanctuary and Nevermore you've used the word black a lot. (laughter) What does the word black mean to you?

WD: Besides being absence of color, I guess it's also- For me, black can be synonymous with what one would consider unknown, what one would consider not possible to know- Or, as in the case that I'm using it in "Dreaming Neon Black", it's more of a metaphor than anything.

MU: Well, what does "Dreaming Neon Black" metaphorically represent?

WD: (laughs) Well, here's the deal. If you listen to the whole CD, and follow the lyrics closely-I know you probably didn't get the lyrics because you probably got a promo, right?

MU: I have the lyrics, and I've read them. But I want to give Metal Update readers the opportunity to hear the meaning straight from you.

WD: Well, if you read along throughout the storyline, by the end of the CD I think it becomes quite clear what it means exactly. And that's just my little bit of- I just like to stimulate people's minds a little more than, just, you know-

MU: You don't want to spoon feed them.

WD: Yeah.

MU: OK then. Let's talk a bit about the more general lyrical themes found throughout the Nevermore records. One of them is drugs. There are a lot of drug references.

WD: Not on this one.

MU: Not so much, no, but throughout your career - "42147", "Timothy Leary", and going back, Sanctuary covered "White Rabbit". Are you fascinated with psychedelia?

WD: Well, yeah. I think mainly because, during that whole happening, my brothers and sisters were right in the middle of all of it. I'm the baby - I'm severely the baby - my parents almost aborted me because they didn't want a mongoloid, they were so old when I was born. And my mom still tells me, (impersonates his mom's voice) "We know what's wrong with you! The doctor told me you'd be a mongoloid!"(laughs)

MU: We're glad your parents didn't act on any of those thoughts.

WD: (laughs) So anyway, they were right in the middle of that whole sixties drug revolution thing, and I guess I kind of vicariously lived through their stories when I got older, and that whole era just did fascinate me quite a bit. And of course, in high school, wanting to "fit in" with the rest of the kids, I did a lot of drug experimenting.

MU: Well, another common Nevermore theme is politics. This album isn't as political, but there are a lot of references to stuff like the coming millenium, especially in the song "Beyond Within". Do you worry about things like the Y2K problem or the whole millenium thing?

WD: I'm not really concerned about Y2K. I have a Macintosh! (laughs) If you saw that Super Bowl commercial, you know they're the only ones that are going to survive!

MU: You mention the Super Bowl, the ultimate media event. Yet your lyrics challenge the listener to "manipulate the media!" Are these just lyrics in a song, Warrel, or do they reveal something about the way you feel about the world and society?

WD: I think that they are a little bit of subtle introspection as to my view of the world today-

MU: Is the world really such a dark and bitter place?

WD: Fuck yeah! (laughs) I mean, it has its bright moments, but really- A lot of the core of human existence from the dawn of time has been suffering. It's only natural for me to write about that. And writing about the dark side of life has always intrigued me far more than anything happy.

MU: That may be what heavy metal is all about.

WD: Yeah. See, I don't think heavy metal should be happy. I am a staunch believer in this.

MU: You're not going to write a riff like the one that opens "Beyond Within" and then have it be about skipping through the daisies on a bright sunny day! (laughter) It's just not about that.

WD: I don't think that Toni Iommi or Jimmy Page or whoever it was that started this whole crazy heavy metal thing- I'm not sure they could listen to one of these newer bands that are playing really, really happy metal - I won't name any names - but I can't see them listening and doing anything but thinking, "Oh my god, what did we create?"

MU: You mention Toni Iommi. Black Sabbath is on tour right now. Is that something you'd check out or have any interest in?

WD: I wanted to go to the show here and I just couldn't get in. It sold out way too fast and then I couldn't get in. I wanted to go!

MU: Who do you consider your musical peers right now?

WD: That's a good question. I'm not really sure. Bands like Iced Earth, of course. For some reason, our two bands always get mentioned in the same breath, being the supposed leaders of American power metal. Whatever. (laughs) I really admire bands like Fates Warning.

MU: Are you familiar with "A Pleasant Shade of Grey"?

WD: Of course, I love it. I love that album. And for them, I kind of have a lot of respect for them, just seeing how they've stuck to what they were doing all through the years. Much like I'm trying to do myself. (laughs)

MU: That's something a lot of people talk about when they talk about Nevermore. This new album is heavy as hell! There is absolutely no sign of a sellout. Most bands don't get heavier as their career goes along, they get lighter, right?

WD: I don't know why the albums keep getting heavier (laughs) but it's nothing intentional really.

MU: Do you like bands like Dream Theater?

WD: Oh yeah.

MU: Do you identify more with the Dream Theaters, the Queensryches, the Fates Warnings, or do you identify with a heavier breed?

WD: I don't know, I think that we're somewhere in between, I don't think we can really be put into either one of those categories. And that's either our blessing or our curse, I guess.

MU: Are you in touch with David Mustaine?

WD: No, not by my choice. I'd like to talk to him. I haven't talked to him in years.

MU: Perhaps someone will send him a copy of "Dreaming Neon Black".

WD: I would hope so. We want to tour with him again, damnit! But really, I have nothing but respect and admiration for Mr. Mustaine, also because I probably wouldn't be talking to you right now if it hadn't been for him discovering Sanctuary. It was our foot in the door into the music business and I'm eternally grateful to him for helping us the way he did. He, at the beginning of my career, taught me a lot of things that I still put into practice with Nevermore. So it was a good experience meeting him.

MU: Do you look at him today as someone who never really sold out?

WD: Yeah, for the most part. I mean, I think I'd rather listen to Megadeth records at this point than the new Metallica records. I think that he has definitely retained his credibility within the metal world. He certainly hasn't covered any Bob Seger songs! (laughs)

MU: Speaking of covers, there are rumors that Nevermore is considering releasing a cover album.

WD: We are.

MU: Also with the word black in the title...

WD: (laughs)

MU: Is the rumored album title a reference to the Metal Church song?

WD: Yes. That's where the whole thing came from - "Dreaming Neon Black" - and if we do this cover record it will be called "Beyond the Black". We thought that was a nice play on words and plus that Metal Church song just fucking rips!

MU: Absolutely. Could you tease us with a little speculation of just what songs you might be considering covering on that album?

WD: I know quite a few of them. "Beyond the Black", "Sirens", by Savatage, "Diary of a Madman", by Ozzy - I think we played that on our whole last tour.

MU: Are you taking requests?

WD: Hmmm- Maybe... (laughs). We also might do "Temples of Syrinx" by Rush-

MU: How about "NM156" by Queensryche?

WD: That's been suggested.

MU: That record should be amazing. Until then, are there any plans for a U.S. tour?

WD: We are talking about it right now. We will probably tour with Iced Earth in the States. I'm hoping that that gets all worked out.

MU: When do you think that might be?

WD: As soon as April. We may also do a short tour with OverKill in the States.

MU: That would be amazing.

WD: I talked to Bobby yesterday and we're working on it.

MU: Tell us about the European tour you're doing right now.

WD: It starts on February 21st, and we're going to be hitting Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain and Greece. It will last about 4 and 1/2 weeks and it's our first headlining tour over there.

MU: So how long do you think you'll be playing for?

WD: Our set list? It's probably going to be around an hour and forty minutes.

MU: Are you playing any Sanctuary?

WD: We do. People still want to hear 'em.

MU: What do you think when you look back at those records today? Hold up "Dreaming Neon Black" next to "Refuge Denied", and how do they sound?

WD: I think "Dreaming Neon Black" stands up a lot better with "Into the Mirror Black". Just because - "Refuge Denied" - I love that album, but lyrically I hadn't quite developed my style yet. That didn't really happen until "Mirror". So for me, some of the lyrics are a little amusing when I listen to it. (laughs) But it's still killer.

MU: Was "Into the Mirror Black" commercially well-received?

WD: Yeah, it did really well.

MU: So everything was going strong for Sanctuary at that point?

WD: Everything was going strong, and then grunge happened. And two of the guys in the band just freaked out and decided that maybe we were playing the wrong kind of music.

MU: What are those guys doing now?

WD: The drummer, Dave Budbill, is living in Florida, working for a church group I believe. He got the big-time religion thing. Sean Blosl, he has been working on doing soundtracks, I believe, for independent movies or at least he was at one time. Lenny Rutledge tried several different configurations of another band. He's finally, I guess, abandoned that idea, and I think he's concentrating more on trying to get involved in production, in producing records. Actually, he was very helpful during the recording of the demos for "Dreaming Neon Black". We did some demo work in his studio and it worked out really well. I think that if he puts his mind to it he can be a really good producer.

MU: Speaking of really good producers, you've got one. Neil Kernon. Are you happy with the production on "Dreaming Neon Black"?

WD: Oh yeah. (laughs)

MU: How did you hook up with Neil? I spoke to Craig Nielsen from Flotsam and Jetsam recently, and he longingly recalled the production on the band's 'Drift' album. You're familiar with that record?

WD: Yes.

MU: Anyway, Craig loved Neil Kernon's work, but indicated that he was very expensive.

WD: That's weird 'cause he's really not that expensive. Well, he is, but he's fuckin' worth it, obviously. (laughs)

MU: He's been with Nevermore from the beginning, right?

WD: Well, back when Nevermore was first playing around clubs here in Seattle the drummer we had at the time knew Neil - through a mutual friend - and he had been living here in Seattle. The first thing I thought was - oh, he probably moved here to do all the new grunge bands. But to my surprise, he was focusing on metal bands. Which was for me- I was like - damn that's cool, but I don't understand it-he must really love metal. Apparently he does.

MU: Do you really love metal?

WD: Ya think? (laughs)

MU: Are you a lover of all that is metal?

WD: I am a lover of all that is metal as long as it's good. There's a lot of good black metal bands, and there's a lot of shitty ones.

MU: Who's a good black metal band right now?

WD: Emperor. I would say, is the best. Pretty much untouchable. Emperor, Satyricon and Opeth I think are all really good.

MU: Those are great bands.

WD: There's good power metal bands, and there's shitty power metal bands.

MU: Who's a good power metal band right now?

WD: Well, Iced Earth, of course.

MU: Perhaps Nevermore? (laughter) Do you embrace the term "power metal"?

WD: I don't know what the hell it means. (laughs) I think there's too many of these little sub-genre labels. A lot of people don't consider us a power metal band. I've heard people say - "power-thrash", "power death-speed"... What the fuck? It's just metal.

MU: So, Neil Kernon was into metal, and he was in Seattle.

WD: Yeah, he was at a show we were playing and after the show he kind of approached us and said, "Yeah, you guys are really good, I'd like to work with you." And we were kind of, a little, taken aback-freaked out a bit-holy shit - this guy's the guy who fuckin' did 'Rage for Order' - oh my god! And eventually we hooked up and we did a bunch of demos with him. We' ve been stuck with him ever since. (laughs)

MU: Do you feel that Nevermore has gotten back to, surpassed or hasn't yet reached the level of success you had with Sanctuary?

WD: I think that we're kind of right at that breaking point again. When "Into the Mirror Black" came out, there was so much hype, so many accolades from the press-and we never got to live it out to see what was gonna happen, 'cause the band broke up. At that time, I remember feeling all this momentum and that we were going somewhere - something was going to happen, 'cause it was just too intense. And I kinda feel like we're at that place again. It's taken a long time, but now it seems like this heavy music is making somewhat of a comeback, and we're here right at the right time. So I feel like we are definitely at that place where Sanctuary was right before the breakup and now, this band's not going anywhere so we get to see what happens. (laughs)

MU: What kind of addition has Tim Calvert been?

WD: Tim Calvert is a full band member, and he has been involved heavily in the songwriting. There's like two or three songs on the record that the main body of the music was mostly his input.

MU: Can I guess which one's they are?

WD: Yeah, take a guess, because when people do this, they always guess wrong.

MU: I think "Beyond Within" is a Tim Calvert riff.

WD: That one is, yep.

MU: And that's the only one I'm willing to go out on a limb on. (laughter) What else?

WD: "Deconstruction", "All Play Dead", and "Cenotaph".

MU: It's a great combination. Were you a fan of Forbidden before hooking up with Tim?

WD: Oh yeah. Sanctuary toured with Forbidden and Death Angel back in the late eighties. That's how we got to know Tim to begin with.

MU: Let's talk about the vocals on the new record. It sounds like you're stretching out more. Do you feel more confident as a singer?

WD: No, I think that the thing with 'Politics' was - that was just an extremely aggressive record and the vocals that I sang on 'Politics' were very fitting to the music. I think it called for my range being more confined and angrier, and this record has a range of emotions and sounds that it really called for different moods and variations in my voice and that's why there's much more high, screaming vocals.

MU: Exactly. You're doing much more of that than you have since Sanctuary.

WD: Well, yeah. (laughs)

MU: But it's tasteful. And it's done in the right places.

WD: It felt right at the time.

MU: When you listen to that last vocal line on "Poison Godmachine", it sounds like Rob Halford circa "Sad Wings of Destiny".

WD: Thank you!

MU: Who are your vocal influences?

WD: Well, you just hit the first one! (laughs) Halford is probably my biggest influence. Halford and Ozzy, I guess.

MU: And not the likes of, say, a Geoff Tate? Or is he more of a contemporary?

WD: I didn't really get into Queensryche until way after "Operation: Mindcrime" became huge. Mainly because, I think, they were from the same town, probably... I don't know, I never really got into them that much. Now I am, of course. Looking back on all of their records, they're amazing. But yeah, I'd consider that more of a contemporary than an influence. But Halford, Ozzy, Ronnie James Dio, of course Bruce Dickinson. And god that new Bruce Dickinson album is awesome.

MU: Its amazing. And the word is that Iron Maiden is getting back together. Do you think that's a good move for Bruce?

WD: Well- (laughs) That shit on "Chemical Wedding" is better than anything I've heard on the last couple of Maiden records. I'm not sure he needs them.

MU: That was the Metal Update readers' number two album of the year. [Death's "Sound Of Perseverance" was number one] There were rumors that you were going to participate in Chuck Schuldiner's Control Denied project. What can you tell us about that?

WD: Well, Chuck asked me if I wanted to sing on the Control Denied record-

MU: Did you know Chuck, or was he a fan?

WD: Yeah, yeah. Nevermore had done a tour with Death the year before in the summer of the States. And that's how we knew him. He apparently heard our record when he was on tour in Europe and we were on tour over there as well, I think. And I remember calling home and talking to our lawyer and he said, "you ever hear of someone by the name of Chuck Schuldiner?" - yeah, he 's in a band called Death, why? - and he said, "Well, he called me today and apparently he wants you to go out on tour with him." (laughs) We're like, you're kidding?-of course! So we did a tour in the states and we got to know him. I gotta tell you, the guy seems to have kind of a-it seems like people have a different perception of him than he actually is-

MU: Are you speaking of an image problem?

WD: Yeah. I've never met the ogre that a lot of people say that he is.

MU: Well what do you think of Death's album, "The Sound of Perseverance"?

WD: That was my number one album for last year. Second was "Chemical Wedding".

MU: Well, what are your expectations for this record? You pour yourself into a record like this and then you send it out into the world. What can you reasonably expect in 1999 to come of this record?

WD: You know, it's like a crap shoot - you never know what's gonna happen. You just throw the dice and you get what you get. I'm happy right now with what's happening. We get to do headline tours, we get to play in front of a lot of people. We get free travel! If this record is our groundbreaking one, like a lot of people say it is, then fine - bring it on! (laughs) I've been doing this for a long time. But if it's not, well, maybe the next time, 'cause we're already plotting our next opus.

MU: You've got another album like this in you?

WD: Ya think? (laughs) Yeah.

MU: This isn't the pinnacle?

WD: Well, you know, this is funny because when "Politics" came out I thought, how the fuck are we going to top this? This is not possible. (laughs) And now, looking back on it, I think that we have. And apparently a lot of other people think that way too.

MU: The future seems bright - any last words for the fans? The new cover album is coming when?

WD: Definitely not until the fall. That's not even possible until fall, maybe even early next year. But we're going to be back in the studio to record another full-length original record at least by the beginning of next year. We want to, anyway. We're starting to write already. Just in case. In case we come up with something good. (laughs)

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Interview: Eric German
Editor: Brant Wintersteen
Webmaster: WAR
Update Support: Laura German
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