No single musical genre immediately comes to mind when discussing the sound of Saigon Kick, the Florida-formed band that first hit the scene in the early 1990s with their self-titled debut that quickly resulted in cult classic status. Not quite metal, not exactly glam, and not entirely alternative, Jason Bieler, Matt Kramer, Phil Varone, and Tom DeFile created a band known for its intricate melodies, complex lyrics, haunting vocals, and all around avant-garde compositions.
Best known for their sophomore effort The Lizard, the album produced Saigon Kick’s highest charting single in “Love is on the Way,” a beautiful ballad penned by lead guitarist Bieler. But the group’s fortunes didn’t last long after that as tensions began to build during the recording of follow-up disc Water, ultimately leading to a brand new look of the band.
Lead singer Kramer quit and bassist DeFile was fired. Chris McLernon took over DeFile’s duties, while Pete Dembrowski was added as a second guitarist. But the integral job of lead vocalist was still vacant; and rather than search outside of the inner circle, the decision was made for Bieler to take over as frontman while still maintaining his ax-playing responsibilities.
While the lineup has endured its share of turmoil in the years since, between bouncing around record labels, changing members, and ill-fated reconciliations, the band finally managed to bury the hatchet—thankfully, not in one another—and embarked on a full scale reunion, led by Bieler and Kramer, in 2013, playing around the U.S. Although extremely successful and very well received by fans, the shows only focused on the first two Saigon offerings, mainly due to the fact that they were the only studio recordings that featured both artists.
Bieler, who came into his own after essentially being forced into the frontman position, has never looked back. He fully embraced his new role and in addition to Water, he also released the critically-acclaimed Devil in the Details under the Saigon name, in addition to keeping busy with several other projects including Super TransAtlantic, which featured Extreme bassist Pat Badger, as well as Bieler Bros. Records, which he co-founded with his brother.
But it’s Owl Stretching, the ambitious side venture that Bieler’s been working on since 2011, that has occupied the majority of his time as of late. Instead of following the more traditional route of writing, recording, and releasing a full 10 or 12-track album all at once, he’s instead opted to issue new individual songs as he records them—without any of the obstacles that typically burden artists.
“I wanted to get back to a point where I was writing music for me; I didn’t want to have a manager or a PR firm. I wanted to write a song and within 24 hours have it produced, mastered, mixed, and done and then move on to the next thing,” Bieler told Royal Flush. “My music at this point is like Twitter—I make short statements. I just don’t think anyone’s lifestyle allows for more than that any longer,” he continued.
It’s a strategy that has, thus far, paid off. The amount of plays that he’s received on streaming store Bandcamp, have far exceeded Bieler’s expectations. “The feedback has been great and people have been really into the whole idea,” said Bieler. “It’s grown organically and it’s been really rewarding.”
And luckily for fans, he’s commenced a modest tour of small venues where those in attendance are treated to nothing but Bieler and his acoustic guitar. “The focus is on all of my songs across my career, so everything from the first two Saigon records with Matt to the others I worked on to Super TransAtlantic to Owl Stretching,” he said. “I’ll definitely be playing songs that fans don’t get to hear live otherwise. But I hate to call it a career retrospective because I’m not ready to die just yet,” laughed Bieler.
Another aspect that’s been enjoyable for both Bieler and the audience is the ability to tell stories in intimate settings. “I have a lot of cool anecdotes about my career, and it’s been going over really well,” said Bieler. “It’s been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done live.”
As for the future of Saigon Kick, while there are no immediate plans currently on the horizon, the odds are quite good that Bieler, Kramer, and the rest of the band will share the stage again. “Fortunately, we’re in a situation where none of us have to go out and play every three months to pay our bills,” joked Bieler. “I just don’t want to beat it to death.”
That same sentiment seems to apply when Bieler’s asked about his favorite compositions from his body of work. “I don’t really listen to my stuff. I wouldn’t want to watch myself in a movie either. For me, the best part of music is that moment when I’m in the studio and I finish a song and I get this creative buzz. That’s the highest point for me. Then I’m on to the next thing,” explained Bieler. “But to be clear, I love how those records mean so much to people. I think it’s amazing. I’m not devaluing anything I did in the past.”
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