A dream by drummer Jonathan Mover has prog music enthusiasts foaming at the mouth about ProgJect, a new supergroup of sorts, who will make their public entrance on a tour starting next month. The ex-Marillion and GTR drummer wanted to honor the genre that influenced him as well as millions of other musicians and a massive, devoted fan base. He put together four other musicians, all veterans of the scene and stars in their own right to play covers of prog's most beloved and enduring songs. Songs from the likes of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, ELP and more.
From a press release about the band, he explains how it came to be: ""Prog Rock is the reason I play drums," Mover explains, "but by the time I turned pro, Prog in the classic sense was over. And, although I got to work with some Prog-associated artists, such as GTR (with Steve Hackett and Steve Howe), and Marillion, my career took a decidedly different, though incredibly fortunate path, working with artists such as Alice Cooper, Joe Satriani, Aretha Franklin, The Tubes, Shakira, and others. That being said, I never lost my desire to play the Prog I grew up listening to."
He adds: "The idea and inspiration came in 2019 from my getting a last-minute rescue call to play with the Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box. That not only relit that childhood fire and desire, but made me realize: if there's an audience for Genesis, and an audience for Yes, and Pink Floyd, and ELP, and King Crimson...there's an audience for all of them. So, why not play them all, since I love them all, and assemble a team of extraordinary musicians that feel the same as I do? And they, like me, wanted to play a variety of Prog from all our favorite bands, and therefore thought more of the concept of an 'homage band', instead of a tribute band."
Mover says that "the chemistry and dynamics of ProgJect are amazing" and "we're all very excited and literally counting the days to hit the road. Not only because of the delays imposed by Covid (we were supposed to tour over a year ago), but also because we love playing this music so much and know how much prog fans love it too; we can't wait to perform it for them. And of course, as much fun as it is in the rehearsal room, it will be infinitely more fun in front of an audience."
Joining Mover (who also played with Joe Satriani, The Tubes and Alice Cooper) in a short tour will be keyboardist Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard, Asia, Chris Squire), guitarist Mike Keneally (Zappa, Steve Vai), bassist Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Beth Hart) along with vocalist Michael Sadler from the band Saga. Quite a lineup indeed.
It was a pleasure to speak with Michael recently who gave us more details about ProgJect.
antiMusic: I guess the obvious first question is that while this project was put together by Jonathan Mover, how did Michael Sadler come to fit into the equation and how long has this recipe been cooking on the oven?
Michael: Well, I was just sitting at home, minding my own business (laughs) and I got a call out of the blue from my friend Allan, someone that I knew from interviews for the East Coast prog scene. We had become friends and stayed in touch. Allan had lunch or something with Jonathan about two years ago when this whole thing started to take shape...or at least the germ of an idea. Jonathan was speaking about this idea he had and he was working on the potential lineup and who he could get to the various musical chores, as it were.
And it came down to who he would have as the singer and Allan suggested, "How about Michael Sadler?" and Jonathan said, "Well that would have been one of my first choices but I'm sure he would be much too busy with the band." And Allan said, "Well it probably wouldn't hurt to reach out." So he gave him my contact info and he reached out.
I was home the day he called and I picked up and started talking with him. I hadn't known Jonathan before but we spoke and he told me his idea and basically just asked if I would be interested and I almost immediately said, "Yes." I was still quite busy with Saga and it is my priority. It's been such for 45 years and still is. So we're working around my schedule with Saga at this point. So I said, "Yes of course, if we can fit this around the schedule of my other band, than yes. Definitely."
The other idea that was quite fascinating to me was that it's quite exciting to sing a lot of these songs. What really appealed to me is that it's not a tribute band. When you're talking tribute bands...if you're in a Van Halen tribute band, you get guys that look like Van Halen, someone that looks like Roth. And they play all Van Halen material. The same with Aerosmith or AC/DC and so on.
This is more of a tribute to the genre as it were. It's a chance to play these tunes that we were influenced by or excited by. The songs of our peers. And it's a little nod to them. And for the singers, it's great because I don't have to sing in one style all night and purposefully sound like someone. I can bring my own...I don't want to say interpretation because I want to stay as true to the melodies....they're written in stone. And you can't really vary that much, especially with prog audiences because they're very fussy about these tunes, in the right way. (laughs)
So the idea was really exciting to me because over the years, I would think in the back of my mind how I'd really love to sing this song or try that one. So just short of doing a karaoke of it...you know, popping into a prog karaoke bar. (laughs) I'm not sure that exists. (laughs)
But this would give me the chance to do this and see what I could do with these songs. Much of them meant a lot me during my formative years in being introduced to prog, especially the early Genesis material. "Squonk" was something I really wanted to do. I had wanted to do a cover of that for years. So yeah, it was really intriguing to me. I didn't hesitate.
antiMusic: How familiar were you with the other guys. I know you run in the same circles but had you had much contact with the other ones?
Michael: Jonathan, not at all. I had vaguely heard of Mike Keneally in the beginning. I only knew of his work with Zappa. I knew of Matt Dorsey through his work with Sound of Contact. I had played some live shows with them and had guested on a couple of songs live.
And Ryo, I knew about through playing some shows with Spock's Beard. They had opened for us at a German festival called Lorelei years ago. I remember the first time I met Ryo. He had never seen Saga play before. And he came into the dressing room after the show and said (in Ryo's voice) "Oh, that was amazing. I want to be your keyboard player. I want to play keyboards for you." And Daryl was sitting behind him and says, "You know I'm right here, don't you?" (laughs) Undeterred, Ryo says, "Yeah, yeah yeah. I want to play with you guys." (laughs) When Ryo gets excited, it's hilarious.
But that was the first time I had seen him play and saw his on-stage presence. But I had no idea really, just how technically brilliant this man is as a keyboard player until we started rehearsing and watching him play. He plays ELP flawlessly....I mean, he plays it all flawlessly. It's remarkable. I didn't have any idea until I saw him warming up on the grand piano one day before rehearsal...before anyone was there. He was just doing some classical things and his scales. And I was just like, "Good heavens. I had no idea." I knew he was a very, very good keyboard player just because of the material he was playing with Spock's Beard but I really didn't know the scope of talent this man has.
I mean, I'm in a band with some very seriously talented human beings and it's a privilege and honor to be playing with these guys. There's just a mutual admiration and respect for each other. It just came together so quickly after we started rehearsing. It's a joy. It's really a pleasure to be performing these songs with them.
antiMusic: How did you go about putting together a potential set list? Did you defer to Jonathan for the final say or did everyone have a hand in choosing the material?
Michael: Yeah, he had a working set list that he had in his mind but he welcomed any suggestions from members of the band. Speaking of "Squonk", I suggested that one because I really wanted to do that so that was added. But we all pretty much left it up to him. I mean, the ones that he came up with, nobody really had any objections to. There may have been one or two that, from a vocal point of view, said, if you want to do that one, fine. But I'd rather not, for various reasons.
The only songs....see, they don't even come to mind because this was in the early stages but it was only a matter of thinking that I wouldn't do it justice. Or it wouldn't suit my voice. It wasn't a range situation. It was just that I want to bring the most to these songs and if they don't touch me as much as the other ones, I probably wouldn't give as much of myself or put as much into the performance as I would with the other ones.
But "Squonk" was one I really wanted to do and "Rendezvous 6:02" was another. I had a good relationship with John Wetton and we shared a couple of the same demons, as it were. He had his struggles with alcohol as did I, so that was a common ground.
And he had opened for Saga a number of years ago, just him and an acoustic guitar. It was wonderful and the tour was just phenomenal. It was a lovely combination and a great evening of music. I didn't know what to expect the first night. I had always respected John as a singer and certainly as a human being but his talent as a singer, I had always really enjoyed.
I remember the very first night with him walking out with his acoustic guitar and starting out. He played "Rendezvous 6:02" just on acoustic guitar and it so touched me and moved me, I went out of my way, every night on the tour, to go to the sound board or somewhere where I could be semi-anonymous and I had to listen to him perform that song. So I asked to do that one as well and ultimately it just breaks things down because it's just Ryo and myself. Piano and voice. It's a beautiful song and John and I have a very similar range so that was one that was a must for me.
antiMusic: Were there any songs that after you tried them out, discovered they didn't work for whatever reason?
Michael: No, I don't remember doing any and thinking this one isn't quite doing it. I think that our doing that screening process at the beginning...we're all veterans and have been doing our craft long enough that we all know what we could do. And also by going through all the songs in the beginning, we all pretty much came to the table ready to do these songs.
There's a couple that are my least favorites but that's saying it's an 8 out of 10, instead of a 9 1/2 out of 10, you know? We wouldn't be doing these songs if we didn't all feel something from them. I had reservations about doing the Jethro Tull song, "Living in the Past". I knew the song and thought, "Well that's kind of lower tempo. There's not a lot of meat and potatoes to the song but I'll give it a shot." And I was pleasantly surprised and I'm so glad we're doing it. It's got a great place in the set.
There wasn't anything that we thought, "No, this just isn't going to work." But as I said, before we got together, we were able to say, "Yes, this is going to be able to work". But the thing is, you can say that. I'll refer to Saga for a moment. You do an album for example and spend weeks or months or maybe a year or two on working on a record. You get so familiar with the material and record it and you're really close to it.
Then you're putting the set together when taking the next tour on the road and you're going to do some material from the new album. Not a lot but you have to handpick three or four that you want to showcase in the set. And this has happened where you think, "This song is going to go over great live!" So you go out of your way to recreate it as best as possible. You sort of re-learn it as a live tune.
You start the song off and think "This is going to bring the house down." But for some reason what you think would have been a great live song doesn't translate. You get a luke-warm response to it and you think "Wow, I just thought this would really get them going."
And on the other side, we had a song called "Times Up". The record company said, "You have to play "Time's Up" on the next tour." And we said, "Are you kidding me?" (laughs) That's not a live barn-burner kind of song. It's very low-key. So we played it on the next German tour and the crowd was singing along. They knew all the lyrics and we were all looking at each other going, "Oh my god, the record company actually knows something we don't." (laughs) I had no idea that it would translate like that but you can never tell.
antiMusic: You mentioned staying faithful to the vocal arrangements but do the guys take liberties with the songs, say with solos for instance or is everything strictly by the book?
Michael: Well, that's the thing. I think I'm the only one who has more of an opportunity even though I can't stray too far from the original. But even the instrumentation has to be note-for note. And even solos. Because you're talking about signature solos.
When it comes to prog music, soloing is more of whatever instrument is taking over for the vocal and doing a melody as opposed to shredding on a guitar, for example. You know, here's your 18 bars. Go nuts. You do your own kind of solo. The solos in prog music, for the most part, are really signature pieces as opposed to just a free-form, here-you-go. So their hands are really tied with what they're dong musically.
I have the only wiggle room. And the only wiggle room I have is that it's my voice that's doing it and my inflections. I really don't stray from the notes....just maybe some timing here and there or some phrases. But it's got to be really close to the original because it's a very discerning audience we're playing in front of.
antiMusic: I don't want to say I was surprised but I was very impressed with "Roundabout" and "Siberian Khatru". Walking in the shoes of Jon Anderson is no easy task considering the range but you were equal to the task. Are you having to bear down a bit to stay in that stratosphere?
Michael: The Yes material was my main concern at the beginning. I was really concerned about doing it. Because Jon is a freak of nature. If you ask most singers about singing his song, they're all just like "Oh my god!" He's got this range that for most singers, you'd have to pop over into falsetto to do it. I was nervous about even trying it. We did it and I actually surprised myself. I went to sing it and thought to myself, "I had no idea."
I know what I can do. I'm familiar with my voice after all these years. I'm pretty confident with my range. I'm pretty confident with my sweet spot and listening to Jon, I thought his sweet spot was noticeably higher than mine. I thought I would be able to hit these notes but would it sound like I was straining or was working to get up there. So I tried it. I listened back to what we had done and I thought it sounded relatively natural and I'm pulling it off. (laughs)
antiMusic: How long a set are we talking about and will the material change according to crowd reaction?
Michael: Well, we'll see. You do a running order, same as you do with Saga or any band. And you think you have what is good pacing. We have all had experience with putting set lists together and crowd reaction --- how you put together a set in terms of a flow. We will start with the one that we have. We may make some adjustments for the first few shows depending on how it goes. If, after three or four shows, there's a certain area where perhaps we could put in better segues or put songs later in the set, that will come up. Or not. We'll see. Maybe we hit a winning formula right off the bat. I suspect it may shift a little bit.
But we're looking at a healthy two hours set. Maybe two hours - 15 minutes, if it goes that far. There will be less banter than I would normally spew (laughs) as it were, during a Saga concert. I tend to yak a little more than I would with this stuff. Of course, there will be the occasional story between songs or related anecdote or introductions of the members....that kind of thing. There will be a little less chatter. But I say that and once I get familiar with the set and the audience and this and that, I'll probably end up having the guys stare at me, thinking, "Get off and let us play." (laughs)
antiMusic: Considering the reason behind this whole thing is material that started a whole thing known as prog, can you tell us about your introduction to the genre and how you first started playing it. Who initially drew you in and what were your favourite aspects of the music?
Michael: During high school I was with some guys and we were fiddling about doing cover versions of this or that. But actually the first song that I ever sang live was a song that everyone is familiar with called "Born to Be Wild". That was in the church basement of our parish.
But my first exposure to the live thing was doing that song. I remember it vividly. I was so nervous, I can't explain it. I stood there with both hands on the microphone, eyes closed for the whole set....forty minutes or whatever it was. From the first note to the last, I had my eyes closed. I didn't say anything and I couldn't wait to get offstage. (laughs)
But anyway, my first experience with a real working band was a blues band. I was the young pup. There were all these older guys. I mean they were all in their early 20's but I was only about 15 or 16 at the time. So this little white kid from a suburban area, it was this little town outside of Oakville, singing these authentic Chicago blues. You know, the bass player had the harmonica around the neck and was playing it at the same time. It was just a three-piece band. And we're doing Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and stuff like that.
Before I started with them, I had just got out of the church choir. I had been with it from about 8 to 15 years old. And I go from that to singing Chicago blues and it was like, "What?" (laughs) And that kind of progressed. All the guys were living together and I was still living at home with my parents. I had left school and the church choir by that time, knowing that I wanted to pursue music.
I got a call from the guys saying to come over to the house where they had the rehearsal room. They said, "Hey Michael, go downstairs. There's a surprise for you there." So I went downstairs and there was a piano and I said, "Oh wow. What's going on?" They said, "Well we got a piano." I said, "I know. I can see that. Great. It's going to make the material more diverse. Who's going to play it?" And they said, "Oh, you are." (laughs) I said, "Oh really? Are you aware of the fact that I have no idea how to play?"
And you know what their response was? "Ahh, you'll learn." (laughs) So I was like, OK, give me a few years to learn. If you're not in a hurry, I'm sure it will be fine." (laughs) It was hunt and peck in the beginning. I guess I had enough of a sense of music that I eventually figured it out.
So it was a blues band in the beginning and then we made a natural progression into jazz. Jazz-blues. And from that to fusion. Then we added a bit of the rock element. And we were in that phase when one day, I was alone in the band house and the drummer had been to the big city. He had been into Toronto to a store that specialized in English imports and he came back with an album and said, "Michael, you've got to hear this."
So he put the first side on, dropped the needle. First side went through. It was silent in the room. He turned it over and played side two. There was another heavy pause and I just looked at him and said, "Jerry, I have no idea what that music is called but I want us to start playing music like that. I have no idea what they do what they're doing but I want to play music like that." I understood how different and out of the box it was, thinking-wise and the approach to music and I said, I want to start creating music like that.
And it was Three Friends from Gentle Giant. It wasn't just like, "that's a great record." It was more like "What the hell was that?" (laughs) It was just such a different approach. I kind of made sense later when I found out that they were originally called Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. And they had gone through that natural progression themselves only they had added the rock element to it. You had the Celtic elements and the old English approach and they were multi-instrumentalists.
I was just like, "WOW!" That was it. I was hooked for life. I couldn't do anything else. I was a prog snob for the longest time. (laughs) Prog music was the only music on the planet worth listening to, as far as I was concerned. Everything else was rubbish. Unless it was 7/8 and changed tempo every 15 seconds, forget it. (laughs) But that was my introduction to prog and I never looked back.
I'm not as much of a snob, as it were. (laughs) In the meantime, I've become extremely open-minded. The way I look at it now is, a good song is a good song. A well-written song is a well-written song, regardless of the genre. I've heard something and gone, "That was a really great song." And someone will look at me say, "I didn't know you liked country." So I've said, "Well, I don't as a rule. It's not my favorite genre or anything but I don't care what you call that song. A great song is a great song." I just appreciate a well-crafted song --- great melody, great lyric, chorus." But you know, my preference is still to be as tricky as possible. (laughs)
antiMusic: I imagine that you've had more than a few practices with the guys so far. As you get more comfortable with each other, that familiarity can sometimes fire up a creative streak. Is it entirely possible that this could result in some original material being worked up?
Michael: I think there's not only no question about that, I think it's pretty much inevitable. We haven't said to ourselves, we can't wait to start doing original stuff but I think that's just going to be a natural progression. Once we really get to know each other, playing-wise and getting this communion of the five players, which is already starting to happen, I think it's inevitable. I think we're looking at original material somewhere down the line. Probably sooner than later, the way it's feeling right now. I can't see it not happening. I feel very confident about doing that.
antiMusic: That's exciting.
Michael: Yeah, and the ground work has already been set because people are asking for it. The comments have been 50-60% "can't wait to see this song or that song or hear that solo" but a lot of the remarks are about original stuff. Because they look at the players and the history and reputation and I guess people think, "OK, put these five guys together writing something and it's going to be something special." And I agree with them. I think if we put our minds together, it's going to be a natural, organic procedure to writing. I think it's just going to flow and it will be a wild ride and we'll come out with some pretty cool stuff.
antiMusic: My favourite record by Saga is Images at Twilight. That's where I first fell in love with the band. I saw you touring the debut record first but by the time I had the money to get it your second one was out and I grabbed that first. "You're Not Alone" is just perfection. This is the record that really turned the heat up in Canada. What memories do you have of putting together this masterpiece?
Michael: You know, I don't think that in any moment or time we had anything idea near of what it turned out being in terms of something special as a record or "You're Not Alone", in particular. I think we were always just concerned with making tunes the best we could and making them sound like us.
We've always lived by the code that when working on something new, that if anything reminds one of us of something else, we trash it immediately. Even if it doesn't remind everybody in the band. If one person thinks of that reference that they made while doing the song, then it will influence the way they approach the song, even in a subtle way.
So we've always gone out of our way, well first of all, not to sound like anybody else but not to have influences come out...even subtly. But to answer your question, I don't think we were ever aware or had been aware of what we were working on in terms of....I'll tell you what. The only time that's happened was with Worlds Apart.
During the end of recording that one, there was a general sense of "I think we have something special here. There's something intangible about this record that you can't put your finger on or plan for. Like they say, that sometimes happens during recording, there's just some fairy dust on this one. It just happened. And I think a lot of that was due to working with Rupert Hine quite honestly.
We had lived in a house for six months or so prior to recording that album. Prior to that record, we would write 10 or 11 songs that we would be considering putting on the record and you'd whittle it down to the top 9 or 10. This time, we had the songs that were going to go on the record. We had done that in the early process and committed to those songs. We worked those songs...constantly every single day, before going into the studio.
The arrangements were pretty much...there was no wiggle room and there didn't need to be. We had the songs...I don't want to say slick but we had them down to a point where the songs had a life of their own. And then they were pretty much written in stone.
Which left Rupert and Stephen Tayler, all they had to do was bring their expertise in terms of production and creative ideas to making the record sound the way it ended up sounding. We didn't have to sit around saying, "Well, maybe we should have six bars of this or that," or "let's expand this section or swap these two out." It was more like "OK, how can we get the most of out of what we have here?"
We have the structure. We have the melodies. How can we make each song as special as possible? And that happened. When we were getting to the end of the record, we were all looking at each other, without saying it, we just had the feeling that there was something going on here. And the management and record company agreed with it.
I remember the record company going...because I struggled with the chorus of "On the Loose." I had all the verses down and I wasn't quite happy with the chorus. We were throwing out catch phrases to try to encapsulate what I was talking about. And were throwing out all these ideas and I remember the management saying, "If you get this right, it's probably going to be a hit single." And we just kind of looked at him and said, "Sure." (laughs) That's a manager talking. You can't predict that kind of thing. Unless you really designed it that way. And even then, you still have to cross your fingers and it comes down to the audience...the timing. The same song released six months later or a year before, it might not be the time for that song. But he got it right and we got the chorus finally. It was the right one that resonated. It made sense.
But I'll never forget the first meeting with Rupert Hine. On the first day, we were sitting in the studio and he proceeded to give us his thoughts on each of the players, not the part, because we hadn't really gone through the album yet, but the players and what they had done in the past. "Here's what I hear for the drums. We want to try this and that" kind of thing. He liked everything. He just had some ideas.
So he went through everybody and left me to the end. He said, "OK Michael, let's talk about the vocals." And I thought, "Oh-oh, here we go." And I was ready for whatever he was going to pick apart and that I would have to change my style and whatnot. And he said, "OK Michael, bottom line. We know you can sing. What I want you to do is forget everything you've learned." (laughs) Wait, wait, wait. You mean I have to start from scratch so that the eight years in the church choir means nothing? (laughs)
But what he meant was, I had the technique down. But he wanted me to feel the song. To live the song. Don't worry about making a mistake. If you want to do this something, do it. Just have fun with it. And once I started doing that, you can actually hear the difference from record to record. And that's when I started loosening up a little bit and being a little more less cautious and less concerned about how precise it was. It was a little more rough around the edges and it was more enjoyable to perform that way.
And it wasn't just with me. It was the same with Ian's soloing. Same thing. "Ian, we know you can play. Now just feel the song and nine times out of 10, the first or second solo will be the one because you're not even thinking of it."
I think Rupert was just trying to bring the best out of everybody and be themselves without being concerned about mistakes or technical abilities kind of thing. That was already established.
antiMusic: When I first saw Saga live, the thing that amazed me was the switching of the instruments. How did this first make its way into your live shows and did you do it for the visual aspect or was it just because you naturally played those parts in the studio?
Michael: The switch-up on stage didn't happen from what went on in the studio. What people played on the record was what they played. You're the keyboard player, you play the keyboards. There were only a few times I would play a piano part on a recording, only because I had written that part, like the beginning of "(Goodbye) Once Upon a Time", I wrote sitting looking at the Caribbean Sea with a grand piano and I came up with that. The beginning of "Images", same thing. Other than that, Jim Gilmour played all the keyboard parts, I would do all of the vocals.
The one thing though is that onstage, occasionally I was kind of stuck behind the keyboards. Jim Gilmour only had the two hands to work with and there's much more than that going on in a lot of the songs. In order to recreate that, someone has to be playing keyboards and that happened to be me. So we found that early on, I was kind of stuck behind the keyboards which is fine but doing lead vocals and being the master of ceremonies, you can't be out there in front leading the charge and entertaining and that kind of thing.
And we talked about it and Jim said, "One way to get you more out front and less stuck behind the keyboards is to choose a few songs that is easy enough for me to play on keyboards and easy enough for you to play on bass." So instead of saying "Well, this will look cool live,", it was more out of necessity. We said, "OK, we'll choose this song because it's not that hard to play bass live while I'm singing."
And the drumming thing, the duet thing with Steve Negus, that was just done for fun. That was actually more just a way of featuring the Simmons electronic kit in the beginning. Because I still don't consider that a drum solo per se. (laughs)
But the funny thing about this is I think we put it together in like half an hour or so. It was just trading off a few things back and forth. But it almost turned into a single. We were at this rock disco in Munich and people were dancing. We were there and hanging out and suddenly "A Brief Case" comes on and we're looking at each other going, "Really? They're playing this along with all these rock singles?" And as soon as it started, the dance floor filled with people and they're dancing to this drum thing. And I'm thinking "Oh my god. What have we done?" (laughs)
What started as something just to feature the Simmons drums turned into something and people rave over it and we were like "Really?" (laughs) It's very basic as far as I'm concerned. It's cool, I'll give it that.
But it was a moment that was designed for a live thing. I mean, it's not on any studio recording. It just became famous through In Transit and it apparently struck a nerve with people, so you never know. (laughs)
But no, the switching of instrument was just something that was borne out of necessity. I enjoy playing bass. One of the hardest things to do is to play something that is syncopated that is against the main melody and try to make it feel natural. You can work it out but sometimes it ends up feeling a little machine-like because you have to sacrifice half of your brain to figure out what your fingers are doing and the other half on what your throat and voice are doing. That was my fear at first, that one of them would be sacrificed but that's why we chose songs that were relatively basic. Same thing for Jim on keyboards.
antiMusic: One thing that has always amazed me about your voice is your...I don't know if you call it a vibrato because it sounds nothing like anybody else I've heard. Like the word "assured" in "Wind Him Up". The note is just so tightly circular and regal. It's like the moment when the sword is drawn from the stone and it's an "aaah" moment.
Michael: (big laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) Has this always been a part of your voice or something that just occurs when you sing this sort of material?
Michael: I think it's a combination of both. Part of it comes from the early training in the choir. I was taught early on to sing the right way, from your abdomen, not from your throat. I don't think you can teach vibrato. You work with what you have and recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. It's something that I never really thought about. It comes naturally to me.
I have a problem...actually it's only happened to me two or three times in my life being hired for background vocals on records when there's other people involved. Because apparently, I stand out in a crowd. (laughs) There was a specific incident. I was in a German studio and was asked to be part of five or six people doing background vocals. We were all lined up and there were two or three microphones and we were backed up from the mic. There was a control room and you could see the producer and the engineer and we did a run-through. We got the usual comments like "so and so switch places" and blah blah blah.
Then it was "OK, pretty good. Michael can you just take one step back?" And I thought, "OK maybe it's the positioning of the mic or whatever." We tried it again. Then it was, "OK, getting better. Michael please take another step back." (laughs) It was his polite way of saying I don't think we really want to hear you. (laughs) Apparently it wasn't blending in so well with the other singers. (laughs) It wasn't that it was bad. So yeah, my background vocal days were numbered at that point. So when it comes to guest vocals, it's usually just a duet with someone else or solo vocals on someone else's record. Certainly not with a group of singers because the whole point of having singers like that is to sound like one voice...like a choir. You shouldn't be able to distinguish one voice from another. My voice is a blessing and a curse, sounding like this, I guess.
antiMusic: You're doing dates for ProgJect throughout April and the cruise on May 1. Then you're hitting the road with Saga for a good chunk of the year. Is there anything else you're up to that we should know about?
Michael: Well, there's various things that you can find on the Web, that I've done, that are surfacing now. But the most recent thing, I've done is, strangely enough, vocals on Ryo's upcoming solo album. I guess since we're working on this thing now, he seized the opportunity to call in a favor. (laughs)
antiMusic: So what can we expect for the tour with Saga? Are you concentrating on a certain aspect of your career or a kind of greatest hits sort of thing?
Michael: Not really. There's no new material per se. Obviously Covid had an impact on everybody and gave us all a chance to do some writing and work on other projects. Just trying to stay busy and not lose our minds from not being able to play live. What we have discussed is, especially in Europe we've gone out quite often over the years, almost regularly a tour once a year. And there's songs that we almost always play. Obviously there's signature songs that we wouldn't be allowed to leave the building unless we played them. You have to play, "Don't Be Late" and "You're Not Alone"...that kind of thing.
But increasingly there's been more of the usual suspects in the set and what we're trying to do in the upcoming shows this year is do some, what you would call deeper album tracks. Some of which we've never played or haven't played for a long time. Just to shake things up a little bit. It's partly because we want to and also because we've been getting pressure...well, let's just say suggestions (laughs) from the fans.
But they're right. If you're an avid fan of a band, you wouldn't want to go and see them each time they come to town and have the same old thing. Apart from new material from an album they might have out, you'd like to see it slightly different each time. So we're looking at how we can put together something cool for the shows this year...at least until we can put together a new album.
Morley and antiMusic thank Michael for taking time to do this interview.
Visit the official website here.
Check out ProgJect when they head out on tour in April and May.
April 1, 2022 Los Angeles, CA Champion Site+Sound
April 6, 2022 Edwardsville, IL The Wildey Theatre
April 7, 2022 Milwaukee, WI Shank Hall
April 8, 2022 Chicago, IL Des Plaines Theatre
April 9, 2022 Indianapolis, IN The Irving Theater
April 10, 2022 Cincinnati, OH The Ludlow Garage
April 12, 2022 Kent, OH Kent Stage
April 13, 2022 Buffalo, NY Showplace Theatre
April 15, 2022 Derry, NH The Tupelo Music Hall
April 17, 2022 Sellersville, PA Sellersville Theater
April 19, 2022 New York, NY The Iridium
April 20, 2022 New York, NY The Iridium
April 21, 2022 Newton, NJ Newton Theater
April 22, 2022 Norwalk, CT The Wall St. Theater
April 23, 2022 Vineland, NJ The Landis Theater
April 26, 2022 Annapolis, MD Rams Head On Stage
April 29, 2022 Boca Raton, FL The Funky Biscuit
April 30, 2022 Tampa, FL Central Park PAC
May 1, 2022 Cape Canaveral, FL Cruise To The Edge Pre-Cruise Event