Saga was formed around 1977 by Jim Crichton. Together with his brother Ian, Michael Sadler, Steve Negus and keyboarder Peter Rochon, Saga released their first self-titled album in 1978. Rochon was replaced by Greg Chadd and the second album saw the light of day. The band joined Styx on their European tour, playing Paradiso Amsterdam among others and then with another new keyboardist, Jim Gilmour, the band released the highly acclaimed album Silent Knight in 1980, making them quite popular in Europe (foremost Germany) and Puerto Rico.
International breakthrough came with the release of Worlds Apart, produced by Rupert Hine. The single On The Loose became a hit all around the world, especially in the USA. Every SAGA fan will remember the introduction of ‘The Briefcase’ with the famous live duels between Sadler and Negus. Then the sound changed a little more in the direction of pop rather than progressive oriented rock and another hit for the band came in 1985 with The Flyer.
The second half of the eighties featured the departure of Gilmour and Negus. Saga continued with session musicians while Gilmour and Negus focused on a project of their own, aptly titled Gilmour Negus Project. In 1993 the band reunited and released The Security Of Illusion followed by some less popular albums, although Generation 13 in 1995 marked the release of the band’s first conceptual album ever.
Another record label (Inside Out) around the band’s 20th anniversary turned out to be a good choice and Saga returned to their old roots starting with Full Circle in 1999. This album, just like the first two, again featured the characteristic artwork in the style of the first two albums. The band seemed as strong as ever, touring successfully with a mix of golden classics and their consecutive new albums. However, Steve Negus left again in 2003 and his position was filled by Chris Simpson and later by Brian Doerner.
In 2007, Michael Sadler dropped the bomb by announcing his departure from Saga after 30 years as their front man. A final album with Sadler (10.000 Days) was released followed by an extensive tour across Europe. The last show, which was in Munich, was filmed and released on DVD (Contact).
Whereas many would have expect Saga to disband, the remaining members decided to search for a new singer instead: they found Toronto based Rob Moratti from Final Frontier to be their new vocalist and so (the) Saga continues. For the first time Moratti is in Europe and for the first time we can hear the new songs from Saga’s latest offering The Human Condition as well as old favorites, sung by Rob. I had the opportunity to sit down together with Jim “Daryl” Gilmour and look back at the 30 years of Saga history, the new album, talk about the current tour and future plans.
Hello Jim! Is it Jim or Daryl by the way? How’s the tour so far?
JIM: Daryl or Jim, both actually, it doesn’t matter. The tour is going smoothly, but we’ve only done three concerts and so far the response has been great!
Did you have a lot of rehearsals before Saga embarked for this European tour?
JIM: No, at least not with the whole band. We practice a certain amount of songs at home because we don’t live exactly next to each other. The first and only real rehearsal was our first day in Germany on April 15th. That day was used to practice and get the right feel.
How hard was it to find a new vocalist and was it difficult to decide whether Saga would continue to exist or not?
JIM: Well, we knew from the moment Michael announced his retirement that we were going to continue as Saga, no doubt about that. It took us about a year to get ourselves a good vocalist though. Right after our last tour with Michael we started a search through the internet: people could get MP3’s with some songs, add their vocals to it and send it back to us. There was even one girl applying! Anyway, we ended up with about forty to fifty candidates and there was only one, whom we were seriously considering to invite to audition. The other channel we had been using was word of mouth. In fact that’s how we found Rob: someone said to us “hey, you should check this guy out”. So we did: we found his “MySpace” and we all thought, yes, this could be our front man! In March 2008 we had an audition scheduled and Rob happened to be the first in line. As soon as we had let him sing a couple of songs and had done our thing, we knew he was number one but... (sighs) we still had to go through all the other candidates that day and the next.
How important is the continuation of Saga for you and how important is it for the sales of the back-catalogue?
JIM: Touring is the only way to make money as a musician these days. The internet killed everything else, it’s horrible. The minute the first promo goes out, our (and everyone else’s) music is available on the internet the next day. The back catalogue is something driven by the record company only. We just give our full cooperation but there’s hardly any profit in it for us. The other thing is, we are artists, musicians and as such we have to perform live, that’s the only justification of who and what we are!
In the nineties the band tried to define another course. Why have you tried this and how did the public influence you to come back to the music composed in the beginning of Saga’s career?
JIM: For the sake of the challenge we have tried to do that in the past but it obviously didn’t work out. Generation 13 was an exceptional album in many aspects and we really put ourselves to the test with that one! We’re still very proud of that album, especially because it was the hardest album to finish of all. After these more experimental albums we felt it wasn’t that rewarding and we just felt the time was right to do what we’re good at ... Personally I’m constantly trying to find new sounds and to make tiny changes in the arrangements and I try to do new things on every new album.
Jim C. once stated that his main source of inspiration is Gentle Giant. Can you comment on that statement? What kind of influences/inspiration play a role for you?
JIM: I guess it’s true; we all loved Gentle Giant! To be honest I never listen to rock music, well ... never, sometimes the radio perhaps and then it doesn’t bother me but at home it’s mainly jazz. So other prog or rock bands can hardly be a source of inspiration for me. I love to play jazz music myself, I love the freedom to improvise but I wouldn’t say I’m extremely good at it!
Are you aware that there’s a partial reunion of Gentle Giant “Three Friends” featuring Kenny Minnear, Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimore?
JIM: No, I didn’t know about it, we must pass that information on to Jim C.!
In the mid-eighties at some point, Saga was a trio ... do you know if the remaining members considered contacting your former keyboarders Rochon or Chadd?
JIM: No, definitely not, there was no need for them to do that. Besides, Peter Rochon took another direction early and decided not to opt to become a professional musician but he’s still a friend. Chadd is a different matter: he’s bad news and we don’t want to be involved with him ever again.
What is the challenge of going on making records, DVD’s and going on tour after 30 years of music industry?
JIM: I think it’s the same as in any other job. It’s what we do and what we love to do. We’re creative people and we’re not a band constantly touring with merely old favourites. Compared to the early years the touring has become more fun and less exhausting than they used to be. Mostly good accommodations and the tours usually are no longer than 6 weeks, so it’s pretty cool.
During the tour you are selling the last few albums and the new DVD. Why not all the remastered albums?
JIM: That’s the choice of the record company and not our decision.
The remasters feature mostly one video or song. Many remasters have several demo’s or never released tracks: does this mean you actually have made very few demo’s in the past?
JIM: No, we probably have more demo’s but we took the best ones to release Phase I: that’s almost an entire ‘demo-album’. For The Human Condition we had a couple of songs more that we decided not to use. Perhaps they will included as a bonus at some point or maybe we will decide to work on them a bit more and then they might make it to the next album.
Isn’t it a bit odd to have the DVD (Contact) with former vocalist released at the same with the new album with Rob? Do you consider this a good decision marketing-wise?
JIM: No, I for one don’t agree with this policy at all. It’s a decision made by the record company and that is out of our hands. The planning was to have the DVD released about half a year ago, but I understand there were some problems with it, that’s why the release had to be postponed. It’s fair to say there were circumstances beyond our control.
What is the most fulfilling SAGA album for you? Does the release of Worlds Apart Revisited mean the band’s ‘communis opinio’ is that Worlds Apart is the all time favorite?
JIM: Looking back I’d say probably Silent Knight because that was the first album I was playing on. I was classically trained and I never played in a band before, so it was all very new and kind of shocking to me. The most fulfilling album however for me was Generation 13 because it took me a lot of time and hard labour to get everything in the same key. That was my job and I had to make all those different arrangements too: it took me many weeks! Worlds Apart was chosen to be put in the spotlight again because it’s simply our best selling album.
What are the responses reviews/sales from the latest album so far?
JIM: It’s hard to say although we get good to excellent reviews from all over the world. The album won’t be released in the USA until mid May and it has just been released in Europe so I can’t comment about the sales in any detail yet.
Which album or songs do you like most and why?
JIM: My favourite album would be Generation 13. We all wrote the music for that one. My favourite song would be Scratching The Surface: it’s mine and it was a hit!
Which album was the hardest to record and why?
JIM: The toughest one must have been Generation 13, it’s a lengthy album and it demanded my utmost concentration to put all the pieces of the puzzle in the right place. But The Human Condition was very hard too because at the end of the day we ended up to have trouble keeping ourselves to the timeframe we agreed on.
How has the internet contributed for writing, recording and arranging your music? Has the composing and/or recording process gone through any changes compared to previous albums?
JIM: To begin with, I didn’t write one note on Silent Knight. Along the way I began to write and as time passed I learned more and I developed my writing skills. Due to my classical training I was used to write every note on paper before recording. For The Human Condition the writing process, mainly by Ian and me, took about a year. Than we began to exchange MP3’s via the internet and we started arranging what we had. Just before Christmas (2008) we got together in a cottage in Orillia (Canada) to work on all the material. Then right after new year the drums were recorded in the Metal Works Studio near Toronto. The other instruments were recorded in our home studio’s and then everything was sent to Jim C. He was so caught up with work in his studio that he couldn’t contribute to the writing as much as he had on previous albums.
Most of the lyrics were written by Moratti. Was this part of the agreement or did he volunteer to do it to make the songs ‘his own’ more easily?
JIM: Exactly. We really urged him to do it. We tried to make him feel confident and more importantly, that he was really contributing to this album, and help him to consider it his ‘own’ too.
Rob stated that you have been busy all of 2008 working on the new album. Is this a fact or was it a combination of working on the album and getting familiar with the lyrics of all other Saga songs?
JIM: I think you hit the nail on the head. Naturally, it took him a while before he felt comfortable singing the older tunes and writing lyrics for the new songs wasn’t an easy task.
Will Rob ever play keyboards or any other instrument on stage in the future and are there any songs you will never play live with Rob and if yes why?
JIM: Rob keyboards? Possibly. I will need to teach him a bit more but as far as I’m concerned, it has a fair chance of happening in the future. (Note: Rob was playing some keyboards in Purmerend already! – MvBF). As for older songs: I cannot think of a reason why Rob shouldn’t be allowed to sing any SAGA-song.
For The Human Condition you stated that there were probably a lot of unfinished songs and ideas. What are you going to do with those?
JIM: due to lack of time, we could only record and produce the songs properly that ended up on the album. We had many more ideas and outtakes but we would need more time to work on them and decide if we would use them for another album. Some of my own compositions might end up on my next solo-album.
I presume you are all full time musicians. Does this mean there is still need to practice or try new things, instruments, techniques?
JIM: You might not believe this, but I still practice every day. I mostly play classical music and mainly jazz. Furthermore I’m constantly experimenting with my keyboards, trying to find new sounds and ways to arrange existing songs more easily. As you can see during our shows I’m pretty busy up there!
The gear you are using on stage in 2009 appears not to have changed a lot. Is this appearance or does SAGA deliberately stick to what they used a decade ago?
JIM: I grew very fond of this set up and I wouldn’t change it unless I really had to. Although it looks the same, every few years Korg comes up with a new model and then I’ll be one of the first keyboardists who is getting it. So the keyboards are ‘updated’ fairly frequently.
As far as I know Jim C. always had a big share in composing Saga’s songs and he’s been the producer for a long time now. Do you have other specific tasks as well?
JIM: Yes. My task is arranging the songs: all orchestrations are my responsibility.
Many of the covers are characterized by an artwork featuring the ‘futuristic dragonfly – like creature’ from the first album. Different artists like Ronny Wies (Images), Fabian Kraus (Full Circle), Eric Fulghum (House Of Cards and Marathon), provided covers in a similar style or concept, while covers from other albums are totally different. Who makes these choices?
JIM: The whole band always chooses the design, the ideas being different for every album. Penny, Jim Crichton’s wife is a professional photographer. She has looked after the lay out for many of the booklets.
For this tour your drummer Brian Doerner physically was not recovered enough, so yet again you tour with Sutherland. In 2004 Jim C. stated that Steve Negus would always be welcome to come back. Did you invite him for Sadler’s farewell tour or this current tour?
JIM: No, not really. He’s my good friend so I will not say anything negative about him. As you may have noticed, he took another direction in the past years so we didn’t think about asking him at all. I don’t even think he’d consider such a proposition.
Mike Sadler once told me touring America is a must if you want to maintain a certain level of popularity. Since it’s a big potential market out there, why have you made the choice not to tour the USA extensively?
JIM: Well, the obvious reason was that after Worlds Apart, the sales of our albums in the USA were going down, meaning less tours. At some point, considering the huge expenses and time investment we decided to leave it as it was: no or hardly any touring in the US. Now with Rob as our lead vocalist and the new album out, we might try once more and go touring the USA again!
How many times have you toured Europe now, can you remember?
JIM: 856 times now (laughs). Seriously, there are many tours and we have frequently been hopping over to play at festivals. Too many to remember them all, probably about 100 times.
Are there plan to re-record older songs with new vocals, as a bonus CD perhaps?
JIM: It’s certainly worth considering, that’s for sure. We know Journey did it and it worked out very well for them. I think there’s a lot of points in favor of such an idea.
What kind of things do you do when you’re not doing music related things and what would you like to do as a musician, that you haven’t done already?
JIM: As a musician I would love to play with a full orchestra, some of the songs I wrote would be very suitable I think. It’s a pity I can’t afford to hire an orchestra, but if I ever hit the jackpot..! Outside of the music related business I love to go canoeing in the wild unleashed nature. Recently my girlfriend and I drove for about 5 to 6 hours to get to some remote place and it was gorgeous! In the past I did it many times on my own. It’s really awesome, you should try it!
No, not me, I hate sitting all curled up for such a long time so I guess I’d better leave that to you! What’s the next step after this European tour?
JIM: I just finished some work with Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth) for his Glen Drover Project, a song called Egyptian Danza. After this European tour we have a month off, that’s when I will go camping! Then we come back to Europe play a number of festivals again and also in Eastern Europe. After that there will be shows in Canada, Puerto Rico, South America and who knows ... the United States!