"Always There: Progressive Stalwarts Saga Prepare to Unleash New CD, DVD, Reissues"
By Jedd Beaudoin
Date of Interview: January 30, 2003

Saga For over 25 years now Saga have been at the forefront of progressive rock; while many of their contemporaries broke up, battled obscurity and winnowing fan bases, Saga have stayed together, continued to release well-received albums and have grown and maintained a loyal fan base, one that theyve paid tribute to with their recent (excellent) DVD Silhouette and the upcoming reissues of their entire catalogue (from SPV), not to mention the upcoming CD Marathon.

The following interview with Michael Sadler (vocals/keyboards), Jim Crichton (bass/keyboards), Steve Negus (drums) and Jim Gilmour (lead keyboards/vocals) covers the bands history with a brief glimpse of its future. (The band is rounded out by guitarist Ian Crichton.)

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Jedd Beaudoin: Can you take us back for a moment to the early days of Saga? Do you remember your initial reactions from the first time you all played together? How much of what people might consider the "Saga sound" was in place at that time?

Michael Sadler: I remember thinking, "I'm not sure what to call this, but whatever it is, I like it! Sure beats working for a living!" I think the "Saga sound," in its infant stages, was there from the beginning. It just felt right.

Jim Crichton: I remember the first show as if it was yesterday. We played everything that was on the first album so the style of the band [was] established from the first show on. We rehearsed 6 days a week for 6 months before we played that show.

Steve Negus: Almost all of it; we were out playing the clubs in 77 and we were fine tuning the material that ended up on the first CD (album at that time). We spent 8 months in a rehearsal hall in Toronto, writing and rehearsing; when we hit the clubs, we were doing a whole show of original material.

Jim Gilmour: Well it was in place before I joined but it obviously has evolved over time.

JB: How did audiences react to you early on? What were some of the moments that led you to believe things might work out okay for the band or was that not ever a thought that you had?

MS: Looking back, the initial reaction seemed to be, "I'm not sure what the hell that is, but I think I like it!" I never consciously wondered if things would work out okay or not. I just knew that I was enjoying myself and hoped it would last for a long time.

JC: The band was so tight on stage that even though people didn't know the material in the early days, we usually had no trouble holding their attention.

SN: There was a lot of excitement about the band in Toronto. The first thing we did was a simulcast live on Q107 on a Sunday night, then the next night we opened at a club, The Piccadilly Tube, and we jammed the bar for 2 weeks straight. That launched the band, which then was called Pockets, locally and the rest was just hard work, then more hard work, followed by [even more] hard work.

JG: At first in Canada there was no reaction; no one understood what we were doing here. It wasn't until we did the 1st European tour with Styx that I knew we were on to something.

JB: When you made your first album, did you think, Well, we might only get this one shot, so we better do it right, or did you know, immediately, that no matter what youd continue making albums?

MS: As with anything new, creatively speaking, there are no guarantees, especially when it involves something that relies on the public's taste and reaction. All one can do is believe in oneself and hope for the best.

JC: That's why we put two chapters out of sequence on the first album, [we were] hoping that someone would let us finish the story.

SN: You never know what's going to happen; you just "assume" that there will be a "next" one.

JG: Nothing is for sure in this business; you just do what you think is right at the time.

JB: I think people in the U.S. are all-too unaware of the Canadian music scene. It sometimes feels like whenever two or three Canadian bands make it onto the radio over here, we say, "Gee, there sure are a lot of bands in Canada." But, of course, there's an industry all its own up there with plenty of thriving artists, including many who were proved quite influential in the long run (Max Webster, Prism). Can you talk a little bit about what the music scene/industry was like as you started making albums and what the reaction in the U.S. was to your music early on?

MS: Steve's got this one covered. Take it away, Steve.

JC: When we first started, songs would get played on the radio because they were good. Those days are gone. Now what we hear on the radio has a lot of money behind it. We first got on MTV because they didn't have enough videos to run a full day of programming. They were playing our videos when the albums weren't even available in America, luckily for us.

SN: I remember that a radio station in St. Louis started playing the first album, and the response was really good, so we drove all the way there from Toronto to do one show with Triumph. Back then, to be successful, you had to play your own music or you couldn't work the best clubs; there was a healthy scene of original Canadian bands, Goddo, Max Webster, Rush, Streetheart, Wireless, and loads more so, on any given night in Toronto, you could see some really great music. After all these bands graduated to doing "one niters," there was a void which the agents filled with clone bands and ruined the club scene. Most of the great clubs from back then are gone now. Well done! Thank the agents' great foresight for that one.

JG: The scene here was at best "primitive"; if you could do high schools on weekends you were doing okay. The U.S. really didn't catch on until the video for On the Loose came out.

JB: Then there was "On the Loose." It seems that many bands have "that song" in their catalogue: the band either considers it a fluke and they hate it and have always hated it, or they love it and are grateful for something that brought them a great deal of attention. Can you talk a little bit about that song, both its origins and the kind of weight it carries for the band, whether positive/negative?

MS: We only have positive feelings about that song, considering what it did for our career at the time. I do remember the reaction to the song, while in its musical form, that it felt important enough that it took well over 100 re-writes of the chorus to get it right.

JC: Only positive thoughts. To this day I think the band still loves playing it live. It's cool because it wasn't written to be a single, it just happened.

SN: Well, On the Loose, was our biggest single, and helped us to sell a lot of records in the US. It's a good song, and it wears well. Quite a large number of our fans heard of us because of that song, so, it's a good thing. Kind of a calling card, you might say.

JG: It started out as a jam in Toronto and was put away for months and months. The intro keyboard part I play resurfaced when we were living in England writing Worlds Apart. We just worked and worked on that and the whole album for 8 months or so then went to Rupert Hine at Farmyard Studios to record. We are definitely grateful for that song.

JB: It's also interesting to note that your music was and wasn't an anomaly. There were plenty of pop bands (Toto and The Police to name a few) who also had some facility as composers and musicians. I don't want to sound cynical, but I can't help it: Do you think that that moment of popular music has passed for good, or do you think that we'll cycle into it again, or is it still out there but I'm missing it?

MS: What goes around comes around.

JC: I think the entire package known as a CD (Saga was the first band to make a CD in 1981) has to be rethought. It's not exciting. Having 12 songs on a CD where the songs usually go down hill in quality from the beginning to the end is getting kind of sad. I think until the record companies start investing some money in creating a product that has longevity that you can listen to and watch for years, we will continue to see the kids buying video games which are way more creative than most albums.

SN: The music reflects the times and these are different times. The whole music industry is in a state of flux at the moment, who knows what will happen next? These are the best of times and the worst of times.

JG: I think it's gone but I hope I'm proved wrong. I certainly am not seeing it out there at this moment.

JB: The mid-80s proved a different time for the band; there was still some good material coming out but with some pieces of the Saga portrait missing. How would you characterize the band circa1986-1992?

MS: I think it can best be described as a learning experience for all of us. I believe it was necessary at the time and we were and are stronger for having gone through it.

JC: I think we tried to reinvent the band a couple of times just to keep it interesting. But in the last few years judging by the attendance at the gigs there was no reason to reinvent the band.

SN: Well, that was a period of time when Jim Gilmour and I weren't in the band so, it's hard to comment on what Saga was doing at that time. Daryl (Jim Gilmour) and I had our own project GNP and Saga put out 2 CDs without us. As it turns out, it was only a separation and not a divorce, and we came back into the band for The Security of Illusion album.

JG: Trying to find itself.

JB: Do you feel that enough people are aware of your music or do you think that there are preconceived notions about what a Saga album will/won't be? Are preconceived notions always a bad thing?

MS: I live for and welcome with eager anticipation the reaction, good or bad, each time we present something new.

JC: Every band would like to reach a larger audience; I feel fortunate that our audience has stuck with us. It's still fun to make Saga albums and I don't want to stop.

SN: Well, after 25 years, I think that people have preconceived notions as to what we are all about. That's only natural. I don't think that we will be trying too hard to reinvent ourselves at this point in the band's career. We write a particular kind of music, and that's what we do. I don't think it's preconceived on our part, as to what a new Saga CD will sound like.

JG: Yes, they are not always as it seems.

JB: You've enjoyed a successful career in the European market. How does that feel when you travel to a country where people might not speak your language and you might not speak theirs and yet they join in this kind of "communion" over your music?

MS: That is the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile.

JC: The first time we played in Europe and heard the crowd drowning out the band singing in English is a moment I will never forget.

SN: At first it was very strange and very exciting. Everything was new, but we've been doing it for quite a while now, and we are quite comfortable with the European lifestyle and customs. It is a breath of familiarity now, and there are certain things that we all look forward to when we go there to tour.

JG: As they say: Music has no barriers, so when any group of people are joined by your art form it is a tremendous privilege and pleasure.

JB: How would you characterize the last ten years of the band? There are some (and I'm among them) who feel that the last 6-7 years represent this band at its best. Thoughts?

MS: Like a fine wine, like a fine wine!

JC: It's always a challenge to try to top yourself, but I think that in the last 6 years Saga has merely returned to doing what Saga does best.

SN: Well, I would say that we are playing really well these days. Things are more relaxed and there is so much music to choose from and that keeps it fresh. I think we are communicating better than we did in the past and that helps too. The internet is [also] a wonderful thing.

JG: Well, there were some experimental times in there where we tried to be relevant to the current scene, not always with success, but I think as players we have definitely got it down now.

JB: You're working on a new album at this point. Pretend for a moment that I've never heard Saga before, don't own any of the albums, what's on this that will make me a fan?

MS: The part between the first note of the first track and the last note of the last track!

JC: A lot of effort.

SN: Some good music and some good playing.

JG: Great playing, memorable melodies which in a lot of ways are missing in progressive rock these days and great looking guys (laughter).

JB: You're also going to be touring with Ray Wilson of Genesis fame. Please compare and contrast: Sega Genesis - Saga/Genesis.

JC: I haven't met him yet but I am looking forward to it.

SN: Who comes up with these questions!? (Laughter.)

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