Ray Babula guitarist and spiritual father of SANCTUM is one of the kindest musicians I have ever met. It was a really wonderful experience to be in extensive contact with him in order to write, form and complete the biography which featured on the SANCTUM - "Believers" CD reissue on Arkeyn Steel records. Those of you who got the CD would probably have given this bio a read. There are many elements and information from the biography used in order to form the questions of this particular interview. It is actually the very first on line interview with SANCTUM, so those who have not yet checked the bio can get a brief picture on the band's story, those who have checked the bio, can read some extra stuff. I also have to add that as these lines are being typed, a second pressing of the reissue is coming, so if you missed the first one, here is your new chance to grab the music, the info and the SANCTUM magic that is trapped in there.
New Jersey, 1981. Young guitarist Ray Babula wants to form a band. What were your heroes back then? What were you listening to in you room as a teenager? Can we mention these heroes as influences that lasted up to the Sanctum era and beyond?
That is a very broad list. I would listen to just about anything from AC/DC to Neil Young. There’s a little that I took from everyone in every style of music. To this day I learn from those who are learning or have played for years. As a teen, heavy metal was something new. Bands Like Megadeth, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Anthrax, Slayer, Dio. Then you have the great guitarists the list is huge. They have stood the test of time and were an influence when it came to learning how to play. Not necessarily emulating what I had learned from studying their styles but their structuring of songs. when it came to writing I would take the time and turn those bands off and listen to what I had going on in my head. Of course, people will always have to relate something with another in order to put things in their own place. But when it came to writing we as a band did not say to each other, “let’s write something that this or that band would write.” We took from each other’s thoughts and put them together.
During 1982 the idea to form a band started to get more solid in your head. Well what exactly were you thinking of? A cover band for clubs, a bigger one with originals? A career? What?
We were just having fun. If Mike would play something on the drums someone would almost always start to jam. It was never anything planned. We could play off the same chords for an hour and solo over them. The improvisation is really what sparked it. That is a lot that I think is missing from musicians today. Everyone is caught up in playing perfect instead of just playing music and if you mess up so be it. That’s how we got a feel that it would work with Jim and the others that came along. The more we played we began playing songs we knew from other bands and always had that “what if” conversation. We just went with it. There were a lot of new bands coming out back then. It is always a dream to make that big arena. I personally just wanted to play. The Parties we started out playing at were hanging with friends having a good time and just jamming. As time went on song writing became something that had to happen. Every one of us had something to say with our instruments that needed to come out. As that began to happen things began to change and we were all in it for the ride. We became strictly an original band and just kept at it hoping for the next step.
1982. Can you remember how exactly did you meet Mike Rogers (drums)? I guess he was a key person in the formation of Sanctum, right?
I met Mike through my sister. He came over and heard me playing and then we began talking about our experience and what we listened to. At that time. I had only played here and there with other musicians and Mike had the same limited experience. there was that same passion when it came to listening and playing and the entire thought process that music brings out in a person. So, we got together a few times nothing serious. Then I had taken my guitar with me to a party and there was a bass player there which was Al, We did a little playing and when we got done he asked if I would want to get together he knew a drummer. That’s when Mike and I had begun to take things a little more serious. He was a huge reason for the formation. We had countless hours of trying to plan of how things would be done.
Al Duscai (bass) and Ray Palm (guitar) were soon added to the very initial line up. You were now a four piece, but you faced extreme difficulties to find a vocalist. Why was this such a big problem?
You have those who sing. Then there are those who can kind of sing but have the stage presence. Then there are those who can capture an audience with both. It was important for us to find someone who had both a good voice and take command of center stage. It’s rare to find someone that can take the stage and it’s a natural thing. It’s the same with a guitarist, drummer or bass player. You can be on top of your game. if you’re on stage and the audience doesn’t feel it, it doesn’t matter how good you are if you don’t grab their attention.
So, this can briefly be described as the first period of the band. From 1982 up until 1986. Ray Babula – Guitar, Mike Rogers – Drums, Ray Palm – Guitar, Al Duscai – Bass and Scott Dunn – Vocals. My info says that during this early period you were mainly doing covers at parties or small gigs. Do you remember what songs you used to cover?
We were without a permanent singer Scott had been with us a very limited time. During that period, we had tried a few different singers. If we were going to play somewhere, we found someone to do the job. That was our way of screening. If you couldn’t handle it thrown at you then we needed to move on. They were cover songs the work was already done by someone else. I felt if you wanted to be a front man and couldn’t handle doing something that was already there then it was time to reevaluate. We weren’t really doing much as far as playing a lot of places. Most of the time we were focused on keeping things professional and getting better as a band.
I am more than sure that a very important moment on the band’s saga was when Bob Mass entered Sanctum for the vocal spot. Well, who was Bill Clifford and how did he introduce Bob to the band?
Bill is a long-time friend the family. We go back to elementary school which was a long time ago. He has always gone and listened to local bands and mentioned Bob had been looking for a band. I knew that if Bill was going to bring someone around, he wasn’t wasting my time. Bill is also the person who suggested the bands name. No one was aware of that I think until now.
We are in 1986 and the band has already begun to work on some originals just before they enter the studio to record the first one. But before I move on to the recordings, I want to ask this: Can you remember which was the first original track that Sanctum composed?
The first complete song was One burning Candle. We had material that had bits and pieces, but nothing had come together completely until that song. Mike had the verses written I came up with the melody behind them. I can remember sitting with an acoustic after he let me read the words and it was one of those songs that just happened.
So, in late 1986 / early 1987 Sanctum entered the Mirror Sound Studios, at Cinnaminson, New Jersey (this is the studio in which Sanctum did all their demo recordings), to record the “One Burning Candle” demo track. Composed by Ray Babula and Mike Rogers, circa 1986, this was the first track that the band ever recorded. For the recordings of this one, Rich Stahley would join the band on bass. Al Duscai was the band’s regular bass player but Rich Stahley would often join the band for the recording sessions, as it was not always easy for Al Duscai to be in the studio. And here is my question… Why Al was not participating in this -and some other- recordings?
Al had gone back and forth for personal reasons. That was all in how the timing worked out. It wouldn’t have been right to take something away from someone who had things to deal with in his personal life. He was a one of the reasons we were together. There was no hesitation when he decided to rejoin.
The band’s first recorded tune had a different title during this early period. It was later changed to “Candle” and appeared on the “Believers” Mini CD, why this change?
That’s an easy one! It’s easier to write a setlist down that way! Then it became known as that.
In general, who wrote the lyrics and arranged the titles on the Sanctum material?
Those were a combination of Mike and I. They were written from discussions we had about what was going on around us. Each song has a specific meaning behind it.
Sanctum has been categorized as a “Christian band” because of the lyrics (?). Do you accept this? Are you aware of this? Any more comments on this?
As a band it was never our intention to be known or categorized to one specific group. I can understand how things can be taken as such given the lyrical content in certain songs. It’s all about how one interprets things. The content is really about the hypocrisy of things in life. It’s about letting someone be who they need to be without condemning them for what they believe. You take your road I’ll keep on mine. That doesn’t mean leave me alone. it means It’s not my job to judge you. Don’t judge me. I will respect your thinking on what you believe in. Now let’s just get along, life is entirely too short, come on and enjoy it.
“Outcast” was the second demo track you recorded during 1987. I know that this one is an early composition by Ray done back in 1985. Can you give some more info about the song?
“Outcast” came from something I wrote one day. You know those days everyone has. You keep pushing on and feel like you just want to say screw it. You question everyone who tries to give you a positive side, but you personally feel like they’re full of it. So, you question what they tell you. Then you finally suck it up, taking one sucker punch after another. Then in the end you kick the snot out of that outcast you’ve created, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get through it.
Did you actually enter the studio to record this one in order to help a friend who was taking a recording course? Did it all go well?
The song was only an idea I had. Then we were asked if we would go in and record something. There wasn’t a whole lot of time allotted for the class and at that time Jim wasn’t a member yet. So, I thought why not that song it was short enough. It was recorded on one take. The overdubs were a part of the class just to show how they were done. If I remember correctly, I think the whole process took about twenty minutes. There are a few things that definitely would have been done different but that wasn’t the purpose.
Near the end of 1987 needing a spark, Sanctum replaced Ray Palm with Jim Mayberry. Why did Ray Palm leave?
Actually, I am the reason for Ray’s departure. I looked at the group and thought a change was needed. Ray had come a long way from when we first got together. I didn’t feel as if it was moving at the speed I had hoped for. It was a tough decision to make. Unfortunately, I was the one to make it.
During the same period, you started co-operation with Dave Connor, who had managed some well-known acts in the early 70’s and agreed to take on Sanctum. How did you meet him? Do you think it was a wise move to hire a manager?
When Jim came into the band Dave came with him. That was a good package deal if you call it that. The first time Jim and I played together it was effortless. Things just fell in place. When I met with Dave it was the same thing. He had the drive to get things moving. He knew about the business and who to talk to in order to get things on the right path. When Dave came on board, he was in it and we all knew it. That was without a doubt a good decision.
In November 1988 the new Sanctum lineup entered the studio to record “Nasty Weather”, “Running Away” and “No Man’s Land” The usual suspect Rich Stanley jumped in one more time to record the bass, as Al Duscai participated only in rehearsals and yes, the newcomer Jim Mayberry was on second guitar for those tracks. Have you got anything worth sharing to remember from those sessions? Why wasn’t Al on the recordings (again)?
That was more of a timing issue. We hadn’t planned on going in the studio. One night we were discussing what next and the studio was next. Rich was a friend of Bob’s so he made the call, we met, we all agreed it would work then we went. The time was limited.I think we spent four hours total on all of the songs including a quick mix down. You would think there would be stress but it was just the opposite. By then the band itself was working together as a whole unit.
I am curious to know, have you ever sent some of those demo recordings to a record label? What was the feedback, if any?
We didn’t send them to any companies. There were discussions about it but the end we all felt that it needed to be better. WE as a band needed to be better. Things were beginning to come together. Jim joining the band was a step in the right direction to reach that goal. So we decided we should play live and see how well things went. Then we would go back in and really spend time on the songs at least that was the plan.
Have you ever released any of those recordings to the public, even hand by hand?
We didn’t make copies and hand them out or trade them like other bands would do. Our following was all from people talking to each other. If someone asked for a copy, I would give them one or another band member would. We didn’t have the resources to do a mass hand out like that so we kept playing wherever we could.
I guess that the shows you did with Bob back in the 80s were loud and not to be missed. Am I right?
Things had begun to come together around then. The crowd was growing, we were having a good time on stage and off. That was a good time for the band. A lot of it had to do with the people who came and supported us. Our friends and families. They were a huge part in the madness that went on sometimes for days and even weeks at a time.
Thanks to those gigs there was a Sanctum fan base getting even bigger form gig to gig, am I right? Quite a notable fact for a band with strong gig activity but without a release (yet)…
That was how it was turning out to be. We would be walking on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore and suddenly someone would yell SANCTUM. I think a lot of that had to do with the endless gigs we were doing. We did our best to perform every night and if only one person left liking it, they would tell someone else. It seems like it would take forever like that, but it really worked out for us.
During 1988 you composed the beautiful acoustic, instrumental piece “You Will Never be Forgotten” (this particular track exists on a home recording version that was done later on -during 1992-). Do you want to share some feelings about this song? I know it is very important to you.
I was going over the usual practice routine one day and I came across news piece about Randy Rhoads’ death and it seemed to put me in one of those moods. How tragic and sudden it was. So I began to just pick here and there on a few chords and then the melody just came out. I had the short piece and left it at that. Then the next thing I know I’m dealing with the sudden loss of my brother. That put things into more perspective. As I was trying to deal with it the best I could, I picked up the acoustic and began playing the same melody that I had come up with earlier. Then it changed up a little as I was thinking about our lives growing up and then it all came together. I had hoped to release it, but I didn’t force the issue.I held onto it then changed it once again while going through a rough time recently. Finally tuurning it to what it is now. It’s a piece that I kept to myself only a few people have heard or known of it until now.
We are already in 1990. Sanctum entered the studio again and started to record new material. What were your plans back then? Some new demo recordings? A full length or what? I guess budget was an important factor for any kind of plan, right?
It was the next step. We had support from everyone around us the time was right. We planned on only doing the six songs that are on it to see how it would go. Later on we planned to actually go in and take our time re record the songs and then add to it. Budget played a huge part in that release. We booked the studio from midnight to the early morning just to get a little break in the cost.
During those 1990 recordings, Bob Mass left the band. What happened?
Bob and management seemed to have an ongoing issue. I cannot answer on that because I don’t recall exactly what that was about. Along with that came him not keeping up to his agreement he and I had, and with the band. After hours of talking about it as a group, we were left with no choice. You were either with us one hundred percent or your done. We had all at that point put in too much work for someone who was not in it like we were.
Was it difficult to find a replacement for the vocals? How did you find Vinnie Cardona, or has he found you after all?
We put an advertisement everywhere we could. Vinnie was in the military and was stationed at nearby Fort Dix. I think he was only the third or fourth person we had give it a shot. I said yes, the first line he let loose there was power in his voice. You know that power that a singer has when they are right there with you the band is loud, but you can hear him and its not through the PA system. He had that kind of strength in his voice.
During March 1991 Sanctum entered the Trax East studio at South River, New Jersey. In their hands they were carrying all the tracks of the previous -1990- recording sessions. They laid the tracks down in the new studio and started re-recording the vocals from scratch. How did this process go?
Going into Trax East Bob was still a part of the band. We laid out a basic track hoping to go back and do each one at a time. During that time is when Bob was let go.
Really, are there possibly rough mixes of the 1990 with Bob and not Vinnie on vocals?
There at one time was a rough mix of both but unfortunately the tape was damaged and later destroyed.
So this recorded material eventually became your first official release. Sanctum – “Believers” came out in July 1991 as a private release by the band itself. There was an edition of 500 cassettes plus an edition of 500 CDs. So let me please ask: Why have you decided to release this stuff yourselves? Have you shipped it to any label prior to this decision?
There had been rumors of the possibility of something bigger happening. Instead of sitting around and waiting on someone to decide if they would or would not, we decided to do it ourselves. There was no way we were going to back off the momentum we had gained.
How was the feedback regarding “Believers”? How did you promote your release?
We sent copies to every college radio station that had a metal show. Then we sent them to major stations as we went along. It had begun to show up on regular rotation on every listing that reported that sort of thing, Not only had it been listed we were in the top three of huge bands at the time week in and week out. The intro to Believers was being used by a major Philadelphia station for their metal show. They continued using it for several years after the band broke up. It seemed to have left a good impression. I know we were all grateful it happened in a positive way.
Speaking of promotion I want to refer to some important gigs that the band did. Savatage (1991), Pantera (1991) and Paul Di’Anno’s Killers (1992), I guess those gigs made Sanctum’s following grow even larger, right? Have you got anything funny or interesting to remember form those shows?
Those were some of the best shows we did. I remember rolling up with four buses of our friends in New York and getting out in front of the venue. Then a van pulling a U-Haul pulls up and asked if we knew where they could unload. I didn’t know my self but told them they could pull up behind us. We unloaded, put the equipment on stage, then went back to do our thing. We began talking had a few beers and whatever else. They said they were a band from Texas named Pantera. None of us had heard of them, at least not yet. Its cool to see that when it happens for a band.
We are in 1992 and the band has started to compose -and eventually record- some new material, the “Murder” track. Shortly after the “Murder” recordings there was another lineup change: Al Duscai (bass) left and was replaced by Dennis Pressey. Al was one of the older members? Why did he leave? Can you remember how Dennis came in the band?
Once again Al decided he needed a life changing moment. Jim had known Dennis from the area he had grown up in. That was another easy choice to make. Dennis was an excellent bass player it was a good tight fit with him and Mike. He was the first and only choice for that position.
Back in the early 90s the music scene had started to change dramatically in the area, the country, the world and there was less room available for bands in the musical style of Sanctum. How did the band come through this strange new situation? Was there any specific moves you made or you tried to make to remain active, keep your fan base or move forward?
The trend began changing but we were still playing out all the time. Things didn’t really change for us while that was going on. I guess if things had gone to the next level It may have been interesting to see if we would still be one of those bands from back then who are still doing it.
Shortly after Al’s departure, Vinnie Cardona left the band as well. The band was searching for a replacement vocalist and this was not an easy task. Gigs were postponed and the overall situation was strange. Why so many changes in such a sort time?
After meeting with Vinnie there were things he was not happy with. He had some material that he and I worked on and began to use with Sanctum. When it all comes down to it. His opinion of how his songs should be played were not what he was getting. From our discussion he didn’t think some members were taking their work serious enough when it came to his material. He decided to try it himself. We tried to replace Vinnie but after a few attempts I personally had enough. I had to walk away at that point. What had taken years to build up was all gone in one meeting. No one outside the band had a clue management, road crew, even close friends. It was better to leave on a high point then to take what could have been a spiraling disaster. The tension it created was enough to make that decision. At the time it was a good decision. I wish I hadn’t completely walked away but it was the way it had to be, at least for me. Mike continued to play with other bands and Jim is playing with his latest band Whiskey Grin. Who knows what will happen next?
In your opinion, which was the best and which was the worst moment in the band’s saga?
The whole experience was good. Whatever bad things that happened didn’t matter. We never worried about them. We were having entirely way too much fun living out what we wanted to do.
In your own words how would you describe the music of Sanctum to someone who has never heard of it?
I was asked that along time ago and my answer was this: Propaganda perpetrated by the man to suppress the establishment. I had no real answer for that question. listen to it and come up with what you think it is. Decide for yourself if there is something there for you. Put it in whatever category you want. If there’s anything someone can take from it then I have done what I set out to do. We as a band have done what we set out to do.
I guess that you know how rare the first pressing of “Believers” has became throughout the years. Just like a real treasure -indeed the music is real gold-. I guess that a possible explanation for this is that you probably sold copies of the Mini CD just locally and you have not managed to spread it overseas, am I right about this?
We sold to who ever wanted it. I still have no clue as to how it got over seas and I’m not going to question it. I am humbled by all of it. Once again people who enjoy music are responsible for that and I am thankful they have taken the time to listen.
Are you aware of this vinyl bootleg?
I was not aware it had become what it did. When I began looking into it more, I came across the bootleg. I thought it was a fake. Then a found a few more. Then I began to get upset about it. Someone stole my kid I got pissed. Then I thought about it again. Is it wrong? It is one hundred percent wrong. They should be punished for it. That’s still not over yet. But if I realistically look at it. Mike and I wrote those songs as a teen. If someone saw enough in it to do that than how could I be pissed over it? Thanks for liking it that much to go to that extent to put yourself in jeopardy over it. That’s a real fan!
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Sanctum?
The name came from a suggestion of my friend Bill. We used to practice at my parents’ home. When we weren’t together as a band that’s where I would go. It was a place that once the music began the outside world didn’t exist for a short period of time. The name just fit.
Thanks a lot for your time Sir. All my respects to you. Thanks for the music.