The long-running Canadian progressive rock band (formed in 1977) were one of many groups that have used their time off the road to create new recordings. But for their made-in-lockdown album, Symmetry, Saga have chosen to do something special: new versions of classic songs from older albums, rearranged for acoustic instruments, played with guest musicians, and introducing new feels (even a touch of bluegrass?) into the band’s stately, majestic prog-rock epics.
“For the most part, it’s not just taking our old songs and playing unplugged versions of them,” Saga vocalist Michael Sadler told Goldmine. “We actually reimagined them as new arrangements. In some cases there are brand-new melody lines, because you have to make adjustments when breaking a song down, especially with all of the keyboards and the kind of guitar that (guitarist) Ian (Crichton) plays. If you break that down to a smaller, more intimate setting, a lot of things don’t translate.”
Reimaginging their songs for Symmetry necessitated, in some cases, rebuilding them from the ground up. Sadler recalled not just adjusting vocal keys, but also, in the case of “Wind Him Up,” changing the lyric to make it current. He even developed some new vocal melodies.
“It was a great challenge,” Sadler said. But the band didn’t want to let fans down by just putting out a rote regurgitation of old songs. “That’s not what this record is, and that’s what I hope people realize, because you have to hear it to actually get it, what we’re trying to do with it.”
The new album had its origins during what Sadler referred to as the band’s 2017 “sort-of farewell to the road tour. We never said we were packing it in, but we were going to put on the brakes on touring, at least for the immediate future.”
On this tour, the band served as their own opening act. “We had a backdrop that was not dissimilar to the cover of Symmetry,” Sadler recalled, “and we had acoustic instruments set up in front of it. We came out as a band called Pockets, which was the very first name the band ever had, before we released our first album. So we took on this persona of playing certain Saga tracks stripped-down. It was born then, with the hopes of perhaps getting those live recordings onto an album.”
While a planned live album from that tour didn’t materialize, the events of last year prompted a revisiting of the idea. “When things came to a halt on the last tour at the beginning of 2020, that afforded us the opportunity to go, ‘Let’s do this record, but let’s do it right. Let’s make it something special as opposed to just acoustic renditions.’ So that’s where it was born, and then with the lockdowns, it was a perfect opportunity,” Sadler said.
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