Interview with bass/keyboard player Jim Crichton, Saga (May 13th 2006)

SAGA-interview 130506 16.30

At the top floor of the hotel Atlantic, with a scenic view of the harbour, I met with Saga-mastermind Jim Crichton prior to their concert at “Train” in Aarhus, to bid them welcome back to Denmark, and ask a few questions on behalf of this site. Saga has been a favourite band of mine for at least 25 years, so it was very strange for me, that I was to meet face to face with someone, whose music has been “the soundtrack” for a good deal of my young and adult life…

Welcome to Denmark – it’s good to have you back.

Denmark has always seemed to play a significant role in Saga’s history – how does it makes you feel to return to Denmark and see all of those familiar faces, that has been following you ever since the early days?
Jim -
Well, I think it started happening in Germany first, but Denmark was pretty fast. It has always been one of the stronger countries.
We did half of the live-album ( “In Transit” from ’82, red.) in Copenhagen, the memory of that has always been amazing for me – just being here in Denmark always gives you that feeling – I don’t know what it is, it’s great!  

The band has been together for 30 years now – how did you stay together that long?
Jim -
I don’t know – it’s still fun to make the albums, and the albums are selling, fortunately, and the touring isn’t as much as we used to do. This year we’ll do maybe 60 cities, it’s not too bad, but last week was really bad: we went from Belgium to Stockholm, and then right across Scandinavia – I think we drove every night after the show, 600 km or so, so everybody is really tired this week – the next week’s gonna be easier.

What’s the best and the worst about being together that long?
Jim - That’s a good question, I really don’t know how to answer that – the best… the best is just being proud of the fact, that everybody stuck together and did as much work as we did – if you ask the band how many albums we have, most of the guys don’t even know – so that’s kind of a fun feeling. I don’t know if there is a worst…  

Does it become like a marriage?
Jim - Well, it’s definitely a marriage, yeah – some days you don’t talk to somebody and then… but it’s a pretty good marriage, pretty simple.  

How did the idea arise to give some of your songs chapter numbers right from the beginning of your recording-career?
Jim - I thought of that idea, and I don’t exactly know where it came from, it was partly because of the cold war, and I was thinking that, you know, we’re gonna blow ourselves up, so somebody’s gonna have to help us, so this guy’s helping us (points at my Saga t-shirt with the Saga-dragon fly)… So, then I just thought, rather than making it like a childrens book with chapter 1 and 2 on the first album, I’d mix it up and make it into what I thought was going to be 8 chapters, but the joke was, if we put chapter 4 and chapter 6 on the first album, then they have to let us make at least four albums to finish the story.  

Was is always the intention to make a concept record with the chapters, or did the idea come by later?
Jim - I think we always talked about it, but when we started making the next set of 9 chapters, I think we’d wait and finish that, so…  

I’ve read several places that you’ve returned to the more “original” sound of Saga on your later albums, especially the new one – what’s your comment on that?
Jim - True, we made some funny albums, like “Steel Umbrellas” and “Pleasure and Pain”, and we tried to do something, reinvent Saga, but the fans hated it. So it’s basically the fans telling us, we’re not allowed to change too much.

…so it’s mostly a request from the fans that you’ve returned to the old style, more than an urge for yourself?
Jim -
...And I think there’s certain ways that we write, that no other band writes like that, and we stopped doing it. We kinda invented a few little techniques of writing, that we should always do, because it’s our style.

How do one keep up the creativity after 16 or 17 studio albums?
Jim - I don’t know – I have to kinda take about a month, and start changing the way, you know, what I’m thinking about, listening to a lot of music, and suddenly the songs start coming, I don’t know from where.  

What is your main source of inspiration?
Jim - There’s one band – when I listen to them, I always start writing – It’s Gentle Giant. When I listen to Gentle Giant I always write a song immediately.

So it’s not a concept or an idea that comes first?
Jim - No, not really. With me I’ll usually “hear” the song first, and I sing into one of these things (points at my Dictaphone), ‘cause my hands don’t know how to play that yet. I find the best things I ever write, is when I’m not anywhere near an instrument. And sometimes I don’t have the (technical, red.) things, so I phone my cell phone, and then sing the melody into the cell phone, and get the message when I get home, and then play it on the keyboard.

…so it’s more like a melody piece that normally comes first?
Jim - It’s a lick or a melody or an attitude-thing or even just a rhythm, something that’s interesting.

How much time did you spend in the studio recording your latest album?
Jim - Almost nothing – I think the whole album was recorded in under four weeks, and it was mixed in about ten days, and then we did the vocals in L.A. for about ten days, so it was really fast.

Is that because of your routine with recording albums?
Jim - Well, we rehearsed a lot in Canada before we did it, so we actually played it pretty much live – just counted in, played it, and then fixed what needed to be fixed.  

You did a live re-recording of "Worlds Apart" recently – why an album from ’81?
Jim - I just think it’s a great idea to make it – it’s not an album, it’s a DVD, and hopefully when it’s finished, it’ll explain how we made the album, and hopefully I’m gonna get some of the roadies that were involved back then, telling funny stories about weird things that happened, while we all lived in a house in England – it’s kind of a little bit of history…

So it’s returning to old history?
Jim - Well, it’s the biggest record we’ve ever had, and I thought the fans might wanna know more about how it was made, where it was made, and so on…

I’ve always been wondering – how did you end up with the name Saga?
Jim - Because of the chapters – as soon as we started the chapters. The band was actually called “Pockets” for the first couple of months, and when the chapters-idea came up, we just wanted a name that had something to do with stories.

In the late 80’es Daryl and Steve left the band, was it because the others wanted to take another musical direction?
Jim - Not really – I just think everybody was just really tired. Steve definitely wanted to make his own record, so… it just happened. But then a couple of years later Michael was at the Frankfurt Music Fair, and Jim Gilmour was playing keyboard, and they talked for about five minutes, and he said: “Do you want to be in the band again”, and he said “sure”, and Mike called me up and said: “Darryl and Steve are in the band again”, and I went: “Great!” – very strange.

Did the change in style come by because of their departure?
Jim - Well, I don’t know, that was… it still sounds like Saga, but it’s different – different drummer, a german drummer, Curtie…

Now Steve have left the band again – do you want to comment on that?
Jim - He was fysically not well. He thought he should take some time off and not play drums for a while, and now he’s got a band that he’s playing sometimes with in Canada. There’s about ten people in it, horns and so on, he loves that stuff…

How did you find a replacement for Steve – was it hard to find someone to fill the place?
Jim - Aaahm, yeah…

…you had a few tries…
Jim - We had a few tries – me and  Darryl had played with Brian Doerner before, and we said: you gotta try this guy, ‘cause he’s really good – every night he’s like… the audience loves him within four songs – he’s pretty good.

Does Brian play an equal role in the band as Steve did?
Jim - Well, I mean, he was there for the arrangement-part, that’s kinda like what Steve did too, ‘cause normally Mike and I, or Darryl and I, or Ian and I write all the little parts, and then when we go into the arrangement-part the drummer help pull it all together. I mean Steve didn’t write a lot of music, you know – he came up with some great rhythms.

How do you put together the set for a concert – does it depend on the venue or country, or…?
Jim - No, I think it depends on what we’re trying to do – with the new album you try to play as much songs as possible, without driving the audience crazy. Right now I think we’re at five, and in a minute we’re going over to rehearse a whole new number, and I think we’re gonna play it tonight, so we’re getting close to playing the whole album (he, he).  

Do you normally take requests from the crowd for songs to play?
Jim - Well, it’s too tricky with all the keyboards, there’s a few songs we could do that way, but Jim Gilmour would go nuts trying to find out what sounds he uses.

I haven’t heard you do for example “Mouse in a Maze” live before, why?
Jim - We actually did do “Mouse in a Maze”, last tour I think or two tours ago, ‘cause on the web-site it was like the number one most requested song…

Don’t you ever get tired of playing “Humble Stance” at every show?
Jim - No, I love the way the audience loves it that much – I don’t get tired of seeing the audience having that much fun. We played it for so long – we have to play that song!

How many times do you think you’ve played it so far?
Jim - Oh, thousands… my hands can play it if I was asleep.

It seems to me, that you’ve started to move more around on stage in the later years, compared to for example the concert I saw in ’83 – did you think about that or…?
Jim - Well, it depends on how big the stage is, it’s a little stage tonight, I can’t move around that much, I might hurt people – I’ve almost hit Mike 3 or 4 times on this tour, swinging around just past his nose…

How is it to play these smaller venues?
Jim - Most of them great. In Germany almost everything was sold out. In one place we sold it out twice, and then we had a day off, and they asked us to play another show, and it sold out again – weird.

Does the band still have the main base in Canada?
Jim - I lived in L.A. for 20 years now, and Mike lives there too, the rest of the guys live in Canada. I might move back, I’m not sure. The record business is really weird right now. I have three studios in L.A., some really shitty bands in there with no money – no record budgets for albums anymore, everybody’s making a record in their garage or in a closet, and then they bring it to the studio to try to make it sound like a record in the very end,  and it’s never gonna sound like a record…

You’ve made a new deal with an american record company now…
Jim - Actually it’s a german company that has American offices, so far they’re really good – we have the best chart position in Germany we’ve had for 15 years, and we’re actually charted in Sweden, which I couldn’t believe – we haven’t charted in Sweden for decades.  

Is it because you’re trying for the American market as well?
Jim - Well, we’d like to play there, but we haven’t played there for a long time, because there’s no support. I know we got offered all kinds of gigs there, but we’d just be driving around there in a bus for three months, drinking beer and, you know… so it’s just not worth it – I’d rather stay home. If you’re not selling any records, just drinking beer and playing “Humble Stance” every night, nobody knows you’re there, it’s not worth it…

Jim - Yeah, see you there…  

Devoted Saga-fan Claus Melsen

Saga - Trust

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