By A. Lee Graham
Posted 3/10/03

Saga has sold 8 million albums, played to packed stadiums and earned the respect of fans worldwide. But after 25 successful years, the Canadian quintet may be best known for something less spectacular: a white jumpsuit.

Worn by vocalist Michael Sadler in the "On The Loose" video, the outfit strutted across thousands of television screens in 1982. MTV was in its infancy, and U.S. audiences lapped up the energetic video like so much Moosehead beer.

"The video caught on," recalls Sadler. "Hey, anything to reach new audiences is a good thing."

Jumpsuit or no jumpsuit, the vocalist happily storms stages in 2003. And what a year it's expected to be. Kicking things off is Silhouette, a new DVD offering rare videos, interviews and live performances. Next up is Marathon, the band's long-awaited followup to House of Cards set for release in April.

As if that weren't enough, SPV Records is reissuing Saga's back catalog with remastered sound, bonus tracks, new artwork and liner notes. Even the controversial Pleasure and The Pain CD gets a face-lift.

And with a U.S. tour likely for the fall, American audiences have reason to celebrate. Michael discusses what's shaping up to be a busy year:

I understand you're preparing for quite a big tour. Tell us about it.

We just finished our second show in Ausberg (Germany), just outside Munich. We sold out the venue. It went really well. It was a nice way to start things off. It was part of the official tour, but I call it a "warm-up gig" from a band point of view. It's like taking a car for a test drive. You know it's doing to drive, but you want to test it, anyway.

Right. You figure a Ferrari will fly, but you just want to make sure.

Yes, exactly (laughs)

With Marathon set for release and Silhouette already in stores, 2003 looks like a big year for Saga. Did you ever think the band would still be creating music after 25 years?

You start a band and cross you fingers. I never dreamed we'd be here this long. It's almost like you wake up one day and look in a mirror and say, 'Shit, I'm still doing the same thing 25 years later.' I am extremely fortunate because I'm one of the few people on the planet who gets to wake up every day and go to work in something that's really a lot of fun. I get to pursue my hobby, for lack of a better term, as a profession. It's lasted 25 years. It may last 40. Who knows. What I always say is as long as it's enjoyable and doesn't feel like work, like a routine, we'll continue.

Whose idea was it to release the DVD?

The primary decision came from management. With the remasters coming out, it seemed like good timing. We included all our videos except "Time Will Tell" because, contractually, the label (Atlantic) owned it. They still have the rights. I also really like the live footage. Part of it's from the Hammersmith Odeon in London. My favorite section of the DVD are the interviews. They were shot in different locations, so we didn't know what the other guys were saying or being asked.

It must have been like eavesdropping on one another's confessionals.

In a way, but it wasn't sensational.

Like a VH1 "Behind The Music" episode?


What I found fascinating was how some of your vocals were captured. Like recording in the rafters of a barn or when you were asleep!

Working with (producer) Rupert Hine was amazing. He was this English eccentric. He wanted to get that throaty, not-quite-awake voice in the morning. Trying to get someone to recreate that after they've been awake for a while is hard. So the best thing was not to tell me, and he managed to really capture something special.

You must have wondered it it was a dream.

I sure did! Right after that, I ran across the studio and said, 'Did you guys do what I think you just did?!' I heard it played back and told Rupert, 'You fucking genius!' He wanted a sense of angst you can't get unless you're in that state (of awakening unconsciousness.)

Releasing a DVD and expanding your Web site seems almost ironic, considering your material's cautionary take on technology. How do you embrace something that you've often questioned?

My take on technology is it can be your best friend or worst enemy. It's a wonderful, wonderful tool used the right way. It can be abused, but it opens up a whole new venue of opportunity. You know what it does? It enhances the creative process.

How so?

As opposed to using it as a crutch, you can use it as a tool. I don't like the idea of relying on machines to do things for you, but they have a place. If you can imagine something, you can make it happen. That's the beauty of technology. I don't have to wonder how to create a certain sound. It can happen. You're not letting a machine decide which chord to make. Then again, your computer can crash and you can lose all your chords. In that case, you can tear your hair out.

I always found Saga fascinating, in that your music is complex, yet not saturated by soloing and overindulgence. How do you make such challenging music catchy and upbeat - and brief - in terms of length? I can't think of a single band that's done that so successfully.

I know what you mean. It's important to have some sort of song structure. It makes musical things more palatable for the general audience. It's not that you want to go commercial; you want to make as successful a record as possible without compromising your ideals.

You enjoyed radio success in the early-'80s with "On The Loose," and kept the progressive rock audience happy. How do you balance the two?

We never crossed the line to pure art rock. It's knowing when to play - and when not to play - more than anything.

Not only is your sound unique, but so are your abilities. It's not every band whose lead vocalist is an equally adept keyboardist.

Yes, the thing is being an enigma for years. How do you describe Saga? There's at least four different elements working: Jim Gilmour comes from a classical background; (drummer) Steve (Negus) comes from the ranks of R&B; Ian (Crichton) was doing Led Zeppelin stuff in a copy band and is a big fan of Jeff Beck; Jim and I came from a background of Camel and English progressive rock. Of course, the harder edge comes from Ian's guitar. And the lush side from Jim.

But would you call Saga a prog band in the truest sense?

I still don't know what label it is. I don't think you can call it out-and-out prog rock.

Describe Marathon.

I consider it a very good Saga primer. For people who have never heard of the band or been exposed to our music, it's a good way to hear what we're all about. We're confident about what we are and what we do. We drew on past feelings and past experiences and the essence of what it was like doing our very first record without consciously talking about it or sitting down and thinking about it. There was a group consciousness. We went into that space without knowing it.

Did you try incorporating elements from Generation 13 (the ambitious 1995 rock opera examining family dysfunction and global survival) into the new material?

No, but I can't deny that there wasn't some of that in Marathon. It's a melting pot of what we've done.

If Marathon marks a comeback, would it be fair to call Full Circle a comeback? That's what many fans said when it was released.

Yes. That's a fair assessement. It felt like a renaissance. That was the mood, without anyone specificially saying that out loud.

Some bands might bristle at the term "comeback," as if the band broke up or stopped making music when, in fact, the only thing that might have slowed was the media coverage.

But Full Circle really was a comeback, if you use comeback in terms of what made the core sound of Saga. Full Circle was ... turning point is the wrong expression. OK, it was a welcome return to our ideals. We were having a lot of fun again.

Generation 13 caused quite a stir in 1995. Some fans hated it, while others came to its defense. What's your take on the album?

There's a real love-hate relationship with Generation 13. People either love it or just don't get it. The fact that it's a conceptual album could have something to do with it. Some people get something in their head about concept records. They think 'this is a concept album' and, for some reason, they don't like concept albums. It's almost prejudged before they hear a note. Our fans are fun. They can be like that but be there for the next one (album).

They're very vocal about how they feel. It's because they care. They've grown up with the band. They know what we're about. I appreciate that. I'd rather hear that (negative criticism) than nothing at all. It's like the old adage: bad press is still good press as long as they spell your name right.


Right! (laughs)

Does Saga take fan feedback into considertion when composing new material?

Yes and no. Certain tracks, fans might or might not like. We take it with a grain of salt, but we listen to it. I wouldn't think for one second that we would ignore comments like that. I think it's important to listen. When musicians create music, they've got to please themselves first.

Bit you can't make Worlds Apart over and over and progress as artists.

True, absolutely true. You can compromise your sound too much, and you run a serious risk if it doesn't work. Go for a more commercial market, and you can miss the mark. You don't gain the commercial audience and you leave many fans behind. They almost write you off. And if you blatantly cross the line, you're in no man's land. But commercial success is nice. To me, commercial success just means you're reaching more people. Financial success if great. It allows you to put food on the table.

Whose idea was it to re-release the catalog with updated art? What struck me immediately was the new Pleasure and the Pain art. What happened to that nifty tongue-piercing photo?

I'm not sure who did it (made the decision to replace the original cover). Between the head of the record company and the PR department, somewhere along the line, someone said this cover's going to scare people. I said, 'OK, look. Let's just get this product out.' Ultimately, we said, whatever you think will move it in the shop, fine. It was ahead of its time. So what if the cover doesn't represent the music inside? I don't care. That has nothing to do with it. It's shocking. That's good. They're not used to those sorts of things.

We all know how adventurous Saga's own music is, but what does Michael Sadler enjoy listening to when he's not composing and performing his own music? What's in your CD changer?

On the road, I don't listen to music. I tend to read on the bus or catch up on sleep. I used to be a musical snob. Progressive music was the only real music that existed in the world. In my old age, I became very open minded. I listen to anything. You know what it boils down to? I appreciate anything done well and anything with feeling, some kind of ... passion. I listen to someone like Eminem and I understand why he's as big as he is. He works for that kind of thing and rises above that kind of stuff. I wouldn't buy one of his CDs, though. There are some good country songs, too. I just appreciate something really done well. My taste is wide open.

Can U.S. fans expect a tour this year?

I can't give you anything concrete, but it's of a good authority that there are concrete plans in motion now to make our way stateside. The timing is perfect. There seems to be a feeling of a small renaissance of the band in 2003.

When was your last proper stateside tour?

Oh Lord. Certainly not in the '90s. We probably haven't played since the late '80s. As for this year, today is Belgium and tomorrow (Feb. 27) a travel day. At the end of April, we hit Scandinavia. Then America, perhaps later this year, with Canadian gigs, too, and some summer festivals to come back to. Realistically, America would be in the fall.

Give me your take on Canadian bands. Is there a camaraderie among acts in your country? You hear about a "Seattle sound" or certain scenes that pop up worldwide, whether in Liverpool or Gothenburg. But you seldom hear of a "Canadian sound." Yet from Rush to Bryan Adams to Shania Twain, your countrymen have contributed great variety to music.

It's almost like there are a lot of Canadian bands and they become extremely huge in Canada and are not heard anywhere else. Or they're huge elsewhere and not in Canada. Germany was our first big market, Munich especially. Then the European audiences from there. We built up the European market and we did so many shows outside Canada, in Venezuela, etc., to the point where we were on tour in Germany, and a large FM station in Toronto (the band's hometown) had a listener phone-in poll for their favorite Canadian band. And live on the air, someone nominated Saga, and the DJ said, 'I love that band, but they're from Germany!'

I understand why because when they played that track, we were always in Germany. If your first market is Islamabad, you go there. We went to Germany. You go where your audience is. That's where our market was at the time, in Germany. I did everything short of walking on stage and saying, "We're a Canadian band!"

That must be frustrating. You get all this success overseas, then return home to find your countrymen don't even know you're neighbors!

Yeah, it's pretty strange.

Would you say Canadian bands suffer even more of an identity crisis than bands from other countries?

I'll tell you something. I was watching "Stuart Little II," and there a classroom scene in geography, and some kid said a reference to Canada, saying it's not one of the states. They said, 'Do you children know why Canada isn't one of the states? Because they want to be alone!'

Kids will grow up thinking you're an isolationist nation.

Exactly! (laughs) At least you're doing your part. We miss America and look forward to getting on stage there.

We look forward to seeing you again, too. Thanks, Mike.

My pleasure.


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