Six by Six
Circle of Influence
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2022 Anil Prasad.
The careers of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Robert Berry, guitarist Ian Crichton, and drummer Nigel Glockler have intersected with some of the most important musicians and bands of the last 50 years. Berry is best known for his work with 3 featuring Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, Hush, and Alliance, as well as renowned solo output. Crichton is a founding and ongoing member of Saga, the multi-platinum Canadian rock act. Glockler has been a member of metal goliaths Saxon since 1981, in addition to working with Toyah, Alcatrazz, and Asia. Berry and Glockler also collaborated as part of GTR during 1987.
Each musician is associated with specific rock permutations, but there’s no pigeonholing any of them. They’ve all touched on virtually every rock and pop construct imaginable. And they’ve combined those experiences into a new trio called Six by Six that's about to release its self-titled debut album. It’s an anthemic, guitar-driven effort, infused with highly-creative, mercurial arrangements. Berry’s soaring, soulful vocals, and keyboard and programming work elegantly support its 10 diverse songs. Crichton lets loose across its tracks, ripping and shredding with wild abandon. Glockler provides nuanced and varied drum performances, informed by his art-rock and fusion influences.
The album’s lyrics are timely, thought provoking, and offer an optimistic view on everyone’s personal possibilities in life, as well as hope for our species that’s in the midst of dealing with myriad existential crises. Perhaps most importantly, it’s just serious fun to listen to. It’s clear the band was passionate and exhilirated about making the record.
Innerviews met Six by Six in person at Soundtek Studios, a state-of-the-art facilty Berry runs in Campbell, California. They offered a detailed view into the group's origins, intentions, and ambitions.
Tell me how you all got together and the mission you established for the band.
Crichton: I got a phone call from Robert’s manager Nick Shilton. He said Robert was putting a band together and looking for a guitarist.
Berry: I wanted to do something new. It was important to me after playing with Keith Emerson to find a musician that knew how to create great parts. I was talking to Nick about what we wanted to do. I wanted a guitarist that didn’t focus on chords. I was thinking about something a little progressive, but really rocking. The next day Nick called and said “What about Ian?” The timing was right.
Crichton: That’s how it started. We spoke about the idea, which was a three-piece band with guitar, bass, and drums. I was all ears. I thought it was a really good chance to break free and be guitar-focused, rather than be part of a keyboard-led band. So, I jumped at the opportunity and we started writing. I started sending Robert material. He’s got serious arranging chops. He’d send stuff back and I’d go “Wow.” It just started going from there. It was flowing and flowing. And that was before we had a drummer.
Glockler: I was in GTR with Robert. After that band ended, we lost touch for a while. Saxon played San Jose four years ago and Robert came down and we reconnected and kept in touch after that. One day, I got a text from Robert saying “Ian and I are doing this new band and you’re the guy!” I was like “What?” [laughs] Then I got another text saying “Yeah, we really want you to do this.” I responded “Well, brilliant. Fantastic.” It’s because I’ve always admired both of these guys. I knew it would be a privilege.
Berry: Ian is so prolific. He sends me thing after thing. It’s a good match in that I’m also prolific. It’s perfect in that way. The music came together in an organic way. It just happened. We also wanted this to be a real band. I’ve done my own band with 3.2, which was the successor to 3 after Keith Emerson died, and I was in Ambrosia, which wouldn’t make a new album. I wanted to work with new people that really want to create, play, and tour. I'm so excited about this. It’s a real team.
What does the name Six by Six signify?
Crichton: Both Robert and I came up with big lists of names. Some were pretty good, but every single one we Googled was in use by a band somewhere. Originally, Robert came up with Six Foot Six, which is the length of human DNA.
Berry: I thought that was cool.
Crichton: It would have been a good name, but again, another band used it. We landed on Six by Six because of Saxon and Saga. We were coming from two bands that started with S. It also means six arms, six eyes, six feet, and six balls. [laughs] It’s better than some of the other names we came up with, like Ogre Hair. [laughs]
Berry: There was also Scintilla, Bailiwick, Auspice, and Prophetic Token. They were really dumb names. [laughs]
Describe how your collective experiences with your key bands informed the direction of Six by Six.
Glockler: I come from a metal background I guess, but I'm not really a metal drummer per se. My influences weren't that sort of thing. From a heavy drummer point of view, Bill Ward was an influence on me, but he's more jazzy than someone like John Bonham. I’ve also always listened to prog stuff like PFM and a lot of fusion. So Billy Cobham and Lenny White influenced me more than the normal rock drummer did. Working outside of the Saxon framework with something like Six by Six gives me a chance to do more of that kind of thing. It allows me to express myself a bit more.
Berry: Before Nigel joined GTR, we had Jonathan Mover in that band. He was all over the place. Then Nigel joined and all of a sudden, he locked it down. He could play everything. It’s like when Cozy Powell joined ELP. It was a different ELP with him—a really good one. That’s what I thought about Nigel. He has the hard rock thing, but he has a lot of facility because of all the other music he likes and has played. That’s why he fits in so well.
Glockler: My attitude is “Play for the damn song.” I can do all this technique crap, but the question is does it suit the song? Almost never. So, keep it focused and think about what Vinnie Colaiuta does. He grooves with the most ridiculous feel and plays for the song.
Berry: I consider myself a content guy. Everybody has that special thing they do, and I need to work with people that fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. When Ian would send me music, I’d draw from my lyrical approach from Alliance, which is a little more earthy. You’ll also hear some of my progressive leanings, which keeps things more open, too.
With 3.2, I did that music on my own after Keith Emerson died. But the music still had parameters because of the sound we developed together with Carl Palmer. With Six by Six, I could go in many other directions. Whatever Ian would start, whatever the tone of it was, it would just blossom. It was a real collaboration.
Crichton: Robert really knows how to take things and put them in the right spot. Typically, you first hear arrangements with just the music, but no vocals. But Robert was able to do it with both.
Berry: What was funny is everything Ian would send me had James Bond movie titles, like “Casino” and “Skyfall.” We kept those two, actually, because they relate to the song. We changed the others.
Crichton: When I write a song, I save it in a folder. I have no idea what it’s going to be called at first, so I just give it a name. In this case it was James Bond movies. One time for Saga, it was the names of different kinds of fish. [laughs]
Going back to your question, with the first three Saga records, I was 20 years old and other guys were a bit older. The guitar tended to be mixed into the background, to the point where some people didn’t even really know there was a guitar player on those albums. I finally got my way on things like “On the Loose,” when the guitar came up and we kept it that way. Saga has always been a five-way, orchestrated thing. It’s cool, but I’ve also always wanted to do a guitar-bass-drums thing since I was young. With Six by Six, I didn’t have to be worried about being mixed low. I got my ya-yas out, not just with lead parts, but with other parts of the music. We’re all guys with different backgrounds, and it’s come together really well. I’m super-happy with the album.
Berry: Ian’s one of a handful of guitarists you can instantly recognize when he plays a solo. He’s got his own thing and that inspired me. No-one’s going to sound like him. Also, in his work with Saga, he had to quantize things. Everything has to be perfect.
Crichton: Saga’s very clean with perfect arrangements. There’s no noise happening or string-rattling sounds.
Berry: On Six by Six, he unleashed the beast. There were no parameters to follow.
Crichton: Everything I played on this record, I played live and it felt really good. If you solo and then dissect it, it becomes something else. Six by Six felt great. We weren’t going to clean everything up like in the Saga world. I wanted a lot of feeling on this record. I didn't want to sound like a scientist. I really wanted it to be a different record that came from the heart. There are some solos on the record and when you listen to them, you’ll hear me taking a lot of chances. I did some pretty radical stuff. I thought Robert would go “Wait a minute, Ian.” But he didn’t.
Berry: That was part of the point—open up the cage and fly free.
Provide some more insight into the band’s creative process.
Berry: Let’s use “China” as an example. It started with a little fingerpicking thing Ian sent me, with a chorus, and the next section. When Ian sends me stuff, I’m honestly excited to hear it, because the best part of the song is already done. I went to bed after he sent it and couldn’t sleep because I was singing the song. It's focused on the Uyghur monks the Chinese government have been persecuting. They’re basically exterminating them, and it really upsets me. There are a lot of things going on like that in the world. So, I wanted to write a song about that based on the music Ian sent me.
Crichton: It’s an awesome track. You can also replace “China” in the song with any dictator-led country.
Glockler: They’d send me the demos and I’d think “What bits can I put on this?” Robert plays drums on the demos and does a great job.
Berry: It’s simple drum stuff when I do it.
Glockler: Actually, Robert is really good. I played the demo with Robert on drums to my wife and she said “Well, what do they need you for, then?” [laughs] I flew out to Robert’s studio in Campbell, California and we recorded my parts there.
Berry: Those double kick-drum metal kinds of things you do aren’t something I’d be able to do. Nigel really added his style to the sound.
Crichton: I also came down and did some stuff in Campbell with Robert, but I also did a lot of recording at my studio in Brantford, Ontario.
Tell me something each of you finds unique about each other as musicians.
Crichton: Robert is super talented. When I started giving him all these parts and stuff and he started sending me back arrangement of vocals, I was blown away and I knew this was going to work well. And Nigel and I played some shows together over 25 years, when Saga and Saxon shared festival dates. I was always impressed with his drumming. It’s a mix of rock, heavy stuff, prog, and psychedelic. I was really pushing for the ‘60s sort of psychedelic thing for this record, and Nigel was perfect for that.
Glockler: I’ve always admired Ian’s playing. He’s probably my favorite guitarist, and like me, he loves Indian food and beer. [laughs] We’re a match made in heaven from that point of view. Robert and I have worked together before and he’s a really great writer and arranger. We’re good buddies too, which I think is really important for the chemistry. We actually enjoy hanging out with each other. There are no egos or snideness going on. We’re open and can say anything to each other. We also like to fool around, have fun, and joke.
Berry: Ian is also one of my favorite guitar players. I never thought in a million years he was going to do something besides Saga. He has an instantly-identifiable voice. Saga wouldn’t be Saga without him. So, when he said he’d do Six by Six, I was really excited. What I didn’t realize at the time is that he also had this reckless abandon side of him, which really brought us alive. It’s not just about perfection and that intricate, staccato picking he does.
Nigel is a really comfortable guy to be around, which also made it a great experience to make the record. Even back in GTR, I originally had one friend in the band—Steve Howe. The rest of the guys didn’t really like me. Then Nigel came in as a new guy and I though “This guy is pretty cool and he plays great.” At the time, I didn’t realize Saxon was studied by the guys in Spinal Tap for their film. [laughs]
Glockler: Harry Shearer, who plays Derek Smalls, came on tour with us for a week. He watched our bass player Steve Dawson do that thing with holding his hand up and rumbling the E string. He got all of that from Steve. I find it really funny that later, when the movie came out, every band was going “Oh no, that was definitely us.” But I can categorically say that bass stuff came from Saxon.
Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge moment, I’m pretty sure came from Black Sabbath when Ian Gillan was with them in 1983. They had a huge stage set based on Stonehenge, but it was so big they could only fit it into three gigs. So, Spinal Tap did the exact opposite for their film.
Explore some of the elements and approaches you pursued to elevate the album beyond some of your contemporaries rooted in their past output.
Crichton: It’s exactly what you said. I’m just not into it. Thousands of guitar players are all playing the same kind of thing. You’ve got to follow yourself. When I learned guitar starting age 12, I was listening to Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. By the time I got to age 15, I could play quite well. I thought “Well, all these guys are different. Hendrix doesn’t sound like Beck. Beck doesn’t sound like Jimmy Page. Well, that’s my lesson—listen to yourself. Go make your own sandwich.” And that’s what I’ve done my whole life.
If what Robert and I wrote was becoming homogenous, I probably would have backed out. But what we’ve done got me really excited and I felt this really could be something.
Berry: The feedback thing Ian does with sustained notes is different. He controls feedback on some of his solos and it doesn’t necessarily flow through the melody, but shoots up an octave on the right. It’s so cool and rocks with a youthful edge. We also tried to downplay keyboards in the background. Live, I’m going to play bass with my left-hand or bass pedals, and do keyboards where I need to. We want to perform as a three-piece.
Crichton: “Live Forever” is another example of us doing something different. It’s more of an acoustic piece. I gave Robert all these parts and what he sent me back gave me chills. His vocals on that, and across the record, are incredible. There’s so much feeling on it. It’s not like operatic singing. It’s something else. It’s a little picture that we’ve painted.
Berry: “Live Forever” isn’t about death, but about hope. It’s about how you get from A to Z and how much good you can do while you’re here. None of us are going to be here forever, but let’s live as long and as well as we can. Let’s be positive. After Keith Emerson committed suicide in the middle of what was going to be the second 3 album, it made me want to influence people to love life, if I can. Don’t take things so hard. Do something good with your life.
“Yearning to Fly” is the lead single, which sets the tone for the album. Tell me what it communicates.
Crichton: It’s about my dream. I’ve always wanted to be a helicopter pilot. It’s also about freedom and getting away from whatever is bugging you or trapping you in life. It could also be about yearning to get the hell out of a job and doing something you want to do in life. I love the little lines I hear in the song and the melodic elements. I didn’t write the lyrics, but that’s what I hear.
Glockler: It’s one of my favorite tracks.
Berry: The lyrics are about not sitting back and watching the world pass by. If you don’t ask the questions, you’ll never know the answers. Life is about taking chances. You need to reach out to make things happen. It’s also the song that got us signed to Inside Out. Thomas Waber, who runs the label, really liked it.
Crichton: I told Thomas “You’ve got to check this out.” I sent it to him and he came back and said “Let’s talk.”
Robert and Nigel, both of you were involved in the abandoned second GTR album. Reflect on that experience and why the record was never finished.
Berry: We really had quite a time in GTR together. Nigel was the new guy—even newer than me. He knew Max Bacon and Phil Spalding really well. He was with Saxon and they thought “Just plug him in. Here we go.” But there had to be some gear switching from hard rock into what was more of a keyboard album. The first GTR album was more of a guitar album in which Steve Howe and Steve Hackett were featured prominently. But this one was going somewhere different. I had a hard time sticking around, unfortunately.
Glockler: There were a lot of politics going on. Eventually, it just imploded. When I first got asked to join, I was a big Yes fan. I thought “Shit, I’m going to be in the same room as Steve Howe.” I was a bit nervous looking back at it. I don’t think I played at my full potential. I wasn’t relaxed. The whole thing was a bit unsettling.
Berry: It was a bit edgy, because Max and Phil were against my involvement. But Phil pressed you pretty hard, too.
Glockler: You’re right. There was tension. I couldn’t relax during the whole thing. I got pretty pissed off with the political crap. But honestly, I felt had we finished the album we started, it would have been better than the first one. I thought it was going to be great. But it never got to that point because suddenly Arista pulled the plug on it. Steve came in one day and said “It’s over.” Bang. That was it. The rest of the band were like “What?”
Berry: The demos sounded like masters to me. They were really good.
Glockler: Yeah, they sounded great.
Berry: Geoff Downes got more involved and we had plucked violins instead of power chords in places. Arista said “Not interested.”
Glockler: What was left of that second album has somehow leaked out. It sounds like crap. It’s unmixed. It’s a shame, but I ended up doing some of Steve Howe’s solo after that, like his Turbulence album. There’s an interesting moment on that album in which Bill Bruford took one of the tracks I did, and fed it into his electronic stuff. So, it’s actually me playing, but sounds like a Simmons kit. I also worked with Steve on an album called Guitar Speak on a track called “Sharp on Attack.” And through the GTR experience, I also did some Asia stuff like playing on Aqua and some tracks that came out on the two Archiva albums.
So, in a way things worked out, but I was still annoyed GTR didn’t finish their album. But with everything going on, I don’t think we would have lasted very long on the road. It could have come to blows.
Tell me what you’re all up to outside of Six by Six.
Crichton: Saga has made 23 studio records across 46 years. As for as any future Saga records, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t say no to one. We released Symmetry, an acoustic album, in 2021. I play banjo and mandolin on it. It worked out really well. Saga is an international band and we go on tour for a month at a time. We have shows throughout 2022, but there aren’t any plans for writing. Six by Six is what I’m really excited about at the moment.
Glockler: Saxon released an album called Carpe Diem in 2021, which did great. We’re doing festivals throughout the summer, and then a fall European and UK tour. After that, I’m hoping we’ll be touring with Six by Six and we’ll make the two schedules work together.
Berry: I just did a 3.2 mini-tour and released a live 3.2 CD/DVD set called Alive at ProgStock. I think at this point, I’m totally dedicated to Six by Six. Without Keith Emerson around, and after two 3.2 studio albums, I think it has gone as far as it will. The record label Frontiers wanted the second 3.2 album, Third Impression, which encouraged me to put that together, which was received even better than the first one. But to be honest, 3.2 had its place in time. I think it’s time for me to stay really creative with Six by Six. It’s where my head’s at. As soon as Ian sends me more material, we’ll start on the next Six by Six album.
Crichton: I’m still in love with music and playing guitar. But I also understand there’s an element of luck that makes things happen. When Saga put out its first record, it was just floating around Toronto. It got exported to Munich and suddenly it took off and sold 50,000 copies. All bands need that sort of kick. We’ll see what happens with Six by Six, but we’re really hopeful about its prospects. We’ve all got our own fanbases to draw from, and we think we’ve done something really great that they’ll like, as well as new listeners.
What do you see as the unique value of music during this volatile period we’re living through?
Crichton: We’re living dangerously as a civilization and who knows where it’s going. There’s a movie called The Piano Player in which a musician is playing piano as World War II is going on. I feel like that. All of this geopolitical stuff runs over all of us. Nobody’s asking us for our input on the decisions the governments of the world are making. We just have to live through this mess out there. I decided there’s nothing I can do about it. The excitement of this new band has really given me a focus and we’re doing the best job we can. We have a volatile planet right now, but we have before and we’ve come through, generation after generation.
Glockler: People always want music. Whatever type of music you listen to, you really need it and it will always be there.
Berry: It’s a great communicator. It doesn’t matter what language it’s in.
Glockler: Music is an emotional thing. If someone’s sad, they want to hear music that lifts them up. That’ll always be the case.
Berry: The big money people are controlling everything, but each of us has our own circle of influence and we try to do the best we can. I think we can move forward and make a better world.