Interview with Michael Sadler of Saga

By Rok Podgrajšek

For a long time, Michael Sadler was the voice of Saga, then a few years ago, he decided to take a break and focus on family matters for a while. He was then replaced by Rob Moratti for the album The Human Condition, but he is now back in the fold, and Saga are back with a brand new album, 20/20. Michael Sadler talked to us about his reunion with the band, the new album and plenty of other subjects.

How does it feel to be back in Saga? Judging from the music on the new album, it seems that you had no problems adjusting to being the Saga vocalist again.

It feels great to be back and there was no real adjustment for me to make. In fact, as soon as we started the first rehearsal it felt as though I had only been gone for a couple of weeks. Actually if anything I felt an energy and hunger in the band that I hadn't felt for quite some time! And the fans' reactions to the shows we did last fall only served to confirm that we had made the right decision for everyone concerned.

Can you tell me something about how you and the guys got back together again and started working on the new album, 20/20?
How long did the whole process take – from writing, recording, production, mixing, etc.?

That depends. It's difficult for me to say just how long the process took in it's entirety because when I returned the music for 20/20 had been already written & for the most part recorded, with the possible exception of solo here and there. So it's difficult for me to say exactly when the whole process began. But as far as the lyric writing and vocal recording is concerned the whole process, including the occasional interruption and re-write, probably took a total of about 3 or 4 months.

What does the title 20/20 mean? Is it an allusion to your return to the fold?

As always there were a few different working titles for the new album but nothing was hitting us the right way. So at some point I said, "why don't we keep it simple and just call it "20", referencing the band's 20th studio album". From there we took it one step further and introduced the element of sight, as in 20/20 foresight (looking towards the future) and 20/20 hindsight (remembering and drawing from the past). And then when Jim Gilmour developed vision problems during 2011's tour with Marillion, it made complete sense to call the album 20/20!
I find many of the characteristic Saga elements on 20/20. Was the song-writing something you just went into and it turned out sounding like classic Saga?

Actually, as I mentioned above, because I had not come back yet I wasn't present for the musical side of the song-writing process. But I can't imagine that it differed greatly from the past. After so many years of making music together certain things just happen naturally. And I have to admit that when I first listened to the music that been written for 20/20 I had a very similar reaction to yours. It sounded to me vaguely reminiscent of the early albums while still sounding fresh...very 2012.

Before your return to Saga, Rob Moratti sang on one studio album. How do you think he handled the vocal duties in Saga?

Personally I thought Rob did a great job on The Human Condition and I feel that the sound of his voice and his way of singing suited the material on THC. But as far as how he was received by the public, I will say this; I feel that any of the criticism he may have received based on not sounding like me was obviously completely unfair. Of course you can expect the critics and fans to compare the new member of a band to the old one, but in this case I feel it was somewhat overly biased. Granted, when the member being replaced has been the voice of the group for 3 decades it takes some adjustment. But the fact is, Rob Moratti and I are simply two different kinds of singers, each with his own strengths and weaknesses. It all comes down to the personal taste of the listener really.

Was it always the plan for you to come back into the band once you were ready?

I wouldn't say that it was always the plan to one day return to Saga, but I certainly never ruled out the possibility. Let's just say that the door was left open. But one thing we did agree on was that if and when I were to return, it would have to be the right time and the right thing to do, for everyone concerned.

Can you tell me something about the Chapters idea? I know you started it in the 70s and finished it a while ago, but the theme seems more topical than ever, with the world being in the state it is now. Do you ever think to yourself how prophetic all of the chapters now seem?

I do find it interesting to see how some of the things we touched on in the lyrics for the Chapters are being played out in the real world. But quite honestly, it wasn't that hard to see the direction things were headed, or at least had the potential to head. So, whether it was prophetic or merely an educated guess, it is fascinating now to sit back and observe the state of the world today and it's relationship to some of the lyrics.

Do you ever think of doing more concept work, like Chapters and Generation 13?

It's not something that we are actively thinking about but I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility of doing at least a "theme-based" album in the future. But having said that, we do still have a desire to turn Generation 13 into a proper stage production, a little like the way Green Day took "American Idiot" to Broadway.

Saga has always been a very positive band for me. What was happening in the world and in your lives that you released a dark album like Generation 13?

Generation 13 wasn't a reflection of what was going on in the world or our lives at the time. The album was actually based on the book, "13th Generation: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail" by William Strauss which Jim Crichton had read and was inspired by, enough to suggest that we do a concept album based on some of the ideas and principles found in the book. So the album certainly wasn't an insight into the band's "dark side". On the contrary, the band was feeling very positive and creative at that time.

Saga is sometimes criticised for some of your 80s and 90s work, like Wildest Dreams and Steel Umbrellas, which are actually two albums I really enjoy, with Wildest Dreams being my absolute favourite Saga album ever. How would you rate these kinds of albums (with a more pop direction) now, in hindsight?

I think those albums are/were very important ones to the band's career creatively speaking in that only by making records like those ones was the band able to take a step back and understand our strengths and weaknesses. I also think it's very important for any band to not fall into a rut and become "lazy" creatively just because you've come up with what you consider a "winning formula". It's only through experimentation that one can grow artistically.
But having said that, it can be very dangerous to stray too far your original style or sound as you run the risk of alienating the audience that you already have.

People often associate you with progressive rock. Was that the case in the 70s when you started out and how much do you think such a description applies to Saga's music?

When we started out, playing in the bars, I remember looking at the audience and noticing this look on the majority of the faces in the crowd like "what kind of music do you call this?" But at least everybody would end up staying until the end of the evening, which we took to be a very good sign. The progressive label was attached to the band, I think for the most part, because of the number of keyboards we were using. We were just plain and simply "different" at the time. Today I wouldn't necessarily label Saga a progressive band. I like to think of us as a really good rock band that has very strong progressive influences and tendencies.

Can you tell us something about the live shows you have planned for the 20/20 tour? Will you be playing the whole new album? Will we see any surprises in the set list?

The plan is to make the set for the 20/20 tour as eclectic a mix of old and new songs as possible. What we want to do is cover as much of the back catalogue as we can, including songs that have either never been played live before or ones that haven't been played for a very long time. Added to the mix will be at least 2 songs from 20/20, for now. Surprises? Of course, there are always surprises!

What about your solo album, Clear? Will we see more solo stuff from you in the future and what can you express with your solo music that you perhaps can't with Saga?

I look forward to one day working on some new solo material. The thing about making an album for yourself is that you are not restricted by or obligated to a certain style. In other words, you have complete and utter musical freedom, and consequently Clear wound up being a very personal album for me and one that I think deserves a follow-up.

Thank you!

You're welcome!


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