An Interview with Michael Sadler of SAGA – October 10, 2013

Revitalized Saga Ready to Return to Studio, Opens for Styx in Kingston

By Jim Barber

After more than 35 years as a touring and recording act, Canadian progressive-rock legends Saga are showing no signs of slowing down, getting stale, or losing their appeal with the music loving masses.

Quite the contrary.

In fact, the band's last album, 20/20, released in the summer of 2012, was one of its most successful records of the past 15 or so years, generating both popular and critical acclaim it was the cornerstone of one of the band's most exciting and well-received tours in recent memory.

Work has already begun on material for the next Saga album, the second since vocalist Michael Sadler returned to the fold after a five-year break. He came back to the band as 20/20 was already being written, so his contributions were limited to reworking some melodies and laying down the vocal tracks in his inimitable style. This time out, he is participating fully in all aspects of the album's creation – as he has done since Saga's self-titled debut was released in 1977.

"We are all writing our brains out individually so we will have a stockpile of material. And after doing a couple weeks of shows in Germany we'll get together in early December and go through all the material we have, throw it all into a pot and see what happens. It's a very democratic process. We don't work on something unless everyone is feeling something about the material. Sometimes there are nearly completed songs; sometimes there are little bits and pieces. So we try to fit the pieces, say a chorus and a verse, together," Sadler said.

"And I am back to being hands-on musically this time. It was slightly frustrating for the last record, but in a way I am glad I went through the process of coming in midstream because it was a new experience for me. But my musical ideas will be more infused this time around."

In between working on the new, as yet untitled album, Sadler and band mates Ian Crichton and his brother Jim, Jim Gilmour and Mike Thorne are also opening for long-time pals and fellow classic rock icons Styx at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston on Nov. 14.

Sadler said it's been a long time since Saga has played Kingston, not being there since the band's club days in the late 1970s. And he said he is excited to return, and to be able to share the stage with Styx.

"Our first tour in Germany was opening for them in 1979 or 1980, and that tour really opened everything up for us. Since then we have done countless shows with those guys, and I think it's because of the similarities of genre. But the bands get along really well and the audiences are compatible. I'd love to jump on a tour of the U.S. with them," he said.

Getting back to the 20/20 album and tour, even though his participation on the album was limited, Sadler is still eminently proud of the final product and was amazed at the reception the material – and the band itself – got on the subsequent tours.

"I felt it was pretty strong. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised across the board with the great reception it got. And the reception that we received on our last tour in Europe was phenomenal. It was so successful and it just really regenerated everybody – fans and band alike. I hate to use the word renaissance, but there seems to be a new or newfound, revisited fervour from fans," he said.

In recent years, the Welsh-born singer said he has noticed an increasing number of young people attending Saga shows, something that leaves him feeling pleased, but also wondering how these kids are being exposed to music that rarely gets played on the radio.

"I think a lot of kids are discovering us through their parents. They are bored out of their minds with the sludge that is being offered on the radio, and there are very few places where they can find us and bands like Styx and Journey and Foreigner, but on classic rock radio. Many of them go rooting through their parents record collection and go, 'Wow, this is good stuff,'" Sadler said, adding that for many of the aforementioned bands, there is the high level of musicianship onstage every night in the still-successful classic rock acts on the circuit.

"You can feel the humanity of it. There's real guys, playing real instruments and giving it their all at all their shows. Toto, Journey, Styx, us – they all truly deliver the goods and people are coming back to see them time after time."

The band recently released a new live DVD filmed in Munich. Germany has always been like a second home for the band, ever since their first forays across the pond in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At one point, many of the band members actually lived in Germany, and Saga can still fill large arenas over there. The band played Europe so often that it never really made inroads in the United States and is still not nearly as popular in its home country of Canada as it is on the other side of the Atlantic.

But Sadler said the band has made a concerted effort on recent tours to reacquaint itself with its North American fans.

"We still need to sit down and get serious about doing something in the States. We were focussing on our old haunts Europe and Puerto Rico and we had some amazing shows, some of the biggest and best crowds ever. And we did play more shows in Canada too. But you know what; we haven't been out to the west coast of Canada for more than 20 years. And I know from doing one show down east in Halifax not long ago that the fans are everywhere, we just have to show up. We have to put our foot down and say, 'let's get these shows.' If Styx can play 130 shows a year, there's no reason why we can't."

With a roster of hits songs like 'On the Loose', 'Wind Him Up', 'Catwalk', 'Scratching the Surface' and 'The Flyer', some of which are more than 30 years old, Sadler said it's still wonderful to sing the old songs, even if they've been sung a thousand times before.

"There are a few songs that we wouldn't be allowed out of the building if we didn't do, and I have been asked a whole bunch of times if I ever get sick of playing 'Wind Him Up' or whatever. And no, you try to make it as fresh as possible each night. You know that there is someone there who is waiting to hear that song. For more than one person in that audience on any given night, that is their absolutely favourite song, so it's a joy to play," he said.

"I don't understand those guys who hate to play their older stuff. Grin and bear it. Do yourself and your audience a favour. These people are coming to hear certain songs, so at least make it look like you enjoy playing them. At the end of the day, that's why you are up on that stage. That's why they are coming to see you. I am not ashamed of anything we have written, so what would possibly be my objection to playing any song, no matter how many times we've played it before?"

Part of the continued vigour of the band is seeing the joy and awe on the face of drummer Mike Thorne. The Newmarket, Ontario native was chosen from an online contest to be the designated Saga skin basher and Sadler said he has impressed from the moment he first sat behind the kit less than two years ago.

"Professionally, he is cutting it. He is tremendous to watch. He is one of those drummers that makes it look really easy and it's a joy to play with him onstage. Mike is one of the most upbeat, positive people I have ever met in my entire life. It takes a lot to get him upset," he said.

"And you know what was great was going to Europe with him for the first time and watching him getting so excited about everything – all those things we are so used to. We grew up as a band playing over there, and we are so used to it and jaded in a sense. We still appreciate it, but it's not the same. Now we are reliving all of that vicariously through Mike. It's just so cool."

Sadler said the record label would like to have the album in the can by February, for a release later in 2014. He said plans are in the works to tour more extensively in Canada and the United States, so fans in southern Ontario should be seeing the band in a venue near them sometime in 2014.

For more information on Saga, visit


twitter button
facebook button
pinterest button
gplus button