Generation S: Saga Release New DVD, CD and Reissues, Talk to About It All by Jedd Beaudoin


If you've never heard a Saga record, this is the year to make the commitment to do so. Not only is the band releasing a new disc, Marathon (SPV), on April 8, they're inviting everyone to pick up reissues of over twenty releases from the course of their 25-year recording career. (Their DVD Silhouette is also just out from SPV.) If you've been away from the band for a while, this is also your chance: Generation 13, A Beginner's Guide To Throwing Shapes, Silent Knight, Worlds Apart and numerous others are waiting to find new homes and open ears. Don't be late.

The following interview, with vocalist Michael Sadler, bassist Jim Crichton, guitarist Ian Crichton (briefly, at least), keyboardist Jim Gilmour and drummer Steve Negus was conducted via email as 2002 became 2003.

JB: At the moment you're working on a new album. What can you tell readers about the project, its origins and evolution and your hopes for it?

Michael Sadler: I think this is the most appropriately named album we have ever done. For various reasons it's taken a bit longer than we thought but having said that I believe it's one of the strongest collection of songs we have done for some time. As with previous releases, all we can do is be proud of it and hope it is well received.

Jim Crichton: To me this album is a continuation of Full Circle and House of Cards. Chapters 9 through 16 are on these records and to me the three albums are like a set with a consistent sound through all of them.

Ian Crichton: It definitely has been a marathon. We went through a lot of problems that slowed it up during the year, it was supposed to be delivered in May for a September release! It's a real up record, I'm well pleased with it.

Jim Gilmour: It's similar to the last two but different and I hope it does well!

Steve Negus: This CD is a little different from the others. We are taking advantage of a new technology and exchanging ideas through the Rocket network and Cubase. Everyone gets to be an engineer on some part of the CD, that's really cool! It's a great learning process for all of us. As we all get better at it, the free flowing exchange of information should help us to write the future Saga CDs ... however many there might be!

JB: I also have heard that this album will feature the final chapters of the story you've been telling all these years. Any thoughts/reflections on the process?

MS: Did someone say "final" chapters?

JC: Working on the chapters has always been fun. For me the best part is hearing what people think they're about which is sometimes far more interesting than the real storyline.

JB: I think most people know that there's a certain quality affixed to a Saga album and that there will be certain key elements that will be familiar and memorable, but what is it that keeps you fresh after all these years, keeps you excited about making music and making the kind of music you do?

MS: I guess the key word is passion. There's something very exciting about the whole creative process, from conception to completion. There never seems to be a dull moment.

JC: Every new album is another chance to out do the last one. That's enough to keep you on you toes.

JG: A lot has to do with new technology ...getting new sounds etc. and [that fact that] I really love doing it.

SN: I think it's the team effort that keeps it fresh. Nobody wants to let the others down. We give all that we have for each new adventure. I really think it is about "moments." Each CD has some special moments and it takes a lot of due diligence to create those. After all, it's an art, not a science!

JB: So, overall, do you think that writing songs and making albums gets easier or harder, the farther along you go? Or are there certain patches where it's easier, others where it's harder?

MS: Writing is never automatic. Sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a certain melody in my head and proceed to jot it down for future reference. Other times I'll tell myself that today I'm going to write a certain kind of song and nothing comes out. You have to learn to let it happen naturally as opposed to writing something because you feel you have to. After all, at the end of the day, you have to like what you do.

JC: It never gets easier. Each album is another challenge to make something that excites us and hopefully excites the audience as well.

JG: It's always hard work. Some days are easier than others, tech-wise it is definitely easier.

SN: I don't know if it gets harder or easier. Sometimes the ideas flow, sometimes they don't. When they don't you have to work harder to make them happen. That is on a song to song basis sometimes the vision of the song is crystal clear, and sometimes it takes some "searching" to get the right stuff happening.

JB: You're also re-mastering your releases. What is that like, going back and listening to things that have been done for some time? Do they spur specific memories of the original projects or do you pretty much just try and get it over with?

SN: Actually, doing the re-masters was quite a pleasure. There were a lot of old songs that I hadn't listened to for such a long time. They did bring back memories, and some of them surprised me. Songs that I didn't think were so good back when we recorded them sounded much better than I remembered.

JB: It's curious, too, because your albums have always been "experience" albums for me: it starts with the cover and ends with the last note of the album. How important is it to you that all those elements work in concert? Were there bands that inspired that sensibility in you?

MS: I'm not sure that it's a matter of sensibility. As I've said, it's generally a very natural and human process. A new album begins very early on to develop a life of its own and basically you just go with the flow. Everyone can usually tell whether or not a particular song is right for the album.

JC: Gentle Giant!

JG: Oh, definitely. ELP were prefect examples of that for me as well as earlier Yes.

SN: One hopes that all the elements work. Sometimes they do, sometimes, they don't. Most times, we have to rely on our "gut" feelings as to what works and what doesn't. We all have had lots of influences over the years, but I would think that we are mainly influenced by our own playing "personalities" these days.

JB: Can you talk a little bit about the typical writing and recording process of a Saga album, if there is a typical process, or your favorite way to work?

MS: Typical isn't in my vocabulary! I've always been partial to spontaneity!

JC: The first stage of the album is usually everyone submitting mini songs. We go through those, pick the ones that are the most interesting and we get together for a couple of months to arrange them and then head into the studio.

JG: We write forever then pick the strongest bits and fiddle with them & write some more. This album we had close to 100 mini songs between myself Ian & Daryl (Jim).

SN: For recording, the rules are, there are no rules! Every CD seems to have a different and unique approach compared to its predecessor. I think we have written every conceivable way imaginable. Lyrics first! Melody first! Rhythm first! ...or sometimes just inspired by a sound or combination of sounds. Pretty vague, I know, but we're dealing with "ideas", and it's hard to pin down exactly where a certain idea came from, as it gets "enhanced" once each player puts in his "two cents worth"!

JB: Some people see the Full Circle album as a kind of renaissance for the band. Would you agree with that or do you think that, in some ways, every album is a kindof renaissance because you're not exactly the same person/band that wrote and recorded the songs from the previous album, that you've somehow or other grown?

MS: I think for, the most part, the latter is true. A lot can happen between the completion of one album and the beginning of the next. We are five individuals living separate lives outside of the band, so when we get together to "work" we bring our own experiences to the table and it's almost like starting all over again.

JC: That's why we called it Full Circle.

JG: Full Circle is just that. We experimented previous to that then came back around at what seemed like a good time to do it. But every album you go in with a fresh outlook.

SN: Well, over the years we have definitely "tested" the limits of what Saga is musically. I think on Full Circle we came to the realization that we had overlooked a bunch of good ideas that had worked in the past, and that we didn't really have to work so hard to "reinvent" ourselves on every new CD. So, that CD definitely has a more "reflective" feel to it, than some of the previous CD. I think we are more comfortable now with what we do, and we can continue to make music that we and our fans like, drawing on each individual's strengths to make the Saga "sound" that we know and love.

JB: I think it's true that Saga has always tapped into the times, but I find House of Cards especially that way.

MS: I don't remember a particular mind-set with House Of Cards. I just remember that album taking shape rather easily.

JC: House of Cards is a continuation of Full Circle. It's the same album.

JG: I can't remember that far back! (Laughs.)

SN: Never heard of that CD... who recorded it? (Laughs)

JB: I think, for instance, that "God Knows" is a great song and it seems to be a favorite with a lot of people. It's very passionate--both lyrically and musically.

MS: Growing up can be very frustrating, and we all choose to deal with life on our own terms. "Tommy" just decided to make up his own rules and live his life accordingly.

JC: Columbine...

JB: A lot of people, especially in the U.S., will always remember "On the Loose." Was that song a kind of curse for you or do you feel that it's okay, that it introduced a lot of people to the band who might not have otherwise heard of you? (Or, do you in fact find that journalists think about it a lot more than you do?)

MS: There's no denying that "On the Loose" was and still is for some people our signature song, especially in the U.S. A curse? On the contrary. I think "On the Loose" was a blessing in disguise, for obvious reasons.

JC: It's always nice when a lot of people can find your new album. That was a lucky year for us.

JG: "On the Loose" was and is a great song and did great things for us. It's just that everyone wanted another one.

SN: On the Loose is a good song, I never thought of it as a curse. Journalists definitely think way more about this stuff than we do.

JB: Although Canada has contributed a great deal to the world-wide music scene, there have been artists there who (as in America) haven't really crossed the border.(I'm thinking especially of Max Webster.) Do you feel that there is a great difference in musical sensibilities between, say, the U.S. and Canada? I, for one, can't ever see Rush as an "American" band, there's always something slightly elsewhere about them. Thoughts?

MS: I think for the most part that the "Canadian" thing is exaggerated. I still believe it ultimately comes down to the music. "If you write it, they will listen!"

JC: Every border you cross is an accomplishment. North America is easy, I remember meeting bands in East Germany before the wall came down that were very successful their, and they were very aware of the fact that they were never going to cross any borders. That's Hard.

SN: I don't think there is a big difference, I just think that being Canadian, you have to work harder and be better to be as successful as an American band. After all, we're all using the same 12 notes that's all there is.

JB: I understand that you're also about to release a DVD. That's interesting on a number of levels, although I'm curious, I guess, about your reflections on the era ofvideo. You started making records before MTV, before people started making long-form videos. What do you make of these last twenty-or-so years?

JC: Videos are good and bad, they obviously help promote your record but nowadays you need10 tomes as much money as the videos cost to pay the stations to really play the video. We get to see the videos that have a lot of money behind them, not the best videos

SN: Well videos have been a necessary evil over the years. They cost lots of money to make, and they don't make any money. I have never really enjoyed making videos.

JB: Canada: It's big, it's cold. Is it a threat?

MS: Only if I don't call home for long periods at a time.




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