SAIGON KICK – Matt Kramer: Lizards And Lore

By Carl Begai

For the uninitiated, Saigon Kick was a band that could have and should have made it big. By no means did they take the world by storm with the release of their self-titled debut in 1991, but anyone with an open mind fortunate to stumble across it was instantly hooked. A rabid cross between The Sex Pistols and The Beatles, with occasional stomps through the Orient, a truckload of attitude and tongue planted firmly in cheek as required, Saigon Kick sounded like no other artist on the scene. They quickly became a cult favourite. It was their second album – The Lizard, issued in 1992 – that put the band on the map, but for all the wrong reasons if you talk to vocalist Matt Kramer. When he quit in 1993 while recording their third album, Water, it was essentially the beginning of the end. The band went on to record three more studio albums with guitarist/co-founder Jason Bieler up front, but they were never able to recapture the magic of Saigon Kick’s early years.

Kramer has gone on record as saying that he and Bieler don’t see eye-to-eye on certain issues, making a reunion nearly impossible. An attempt was made in 1997, but things crashed and burned after only two shows. A follow-up tour in 2000 – without Bieler – held promise for some kind of future, but nothing materialized. Then, in 2009, word came down the band would get back together at the Rock Gone Wild Festival in Algona, Iowa. And once again, things fizzled out before they got off the ground.

“We were supposed to do the gig, but it went belly up,” Kramer explains. “The organizers went bankrupt before the show went down. It would have been a great show. We had Tony Sales from Tin Machine to play bass, we were looking at a couple different cats for guitar, so it would have been a really cool line-up. Sadly, it didn’t go through, but on that note maybe I can give you some interesting stuff that might have happened on the Saigon Kick road (laughs).”

“Interesting” doesn’t even come close, and Kramer’s revelation solves the mystery behind an official “coming soon” Saigon Kick website that’s been up for a while, and active Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“We actually almost got together a couple years ago, and I don’t think anybody’s really talked about it publicly. I actually spoke to Bieler on the phone and we didn’t try to kill each other (laughs). It was a very gentlemanly conversation. I went in with my concerns, and I went in saying that I would like an equal share, of course, all the way down the line, even if I wasn’t in the band. We couldn’t come to an agreement on that, but that’s what I’m looking for. That’s the only way I can build up the brand again, because it isn’t doing very much right now. I’m always the singer of Saigon Kick, I don’t have to go out there in order to be the singer of Saigon Kick, but everybody seems to want to get out there. Can we come to terms? That, unfortunately, is the political bullshit of the matter, which definitely sucks because it would be cool to get back out there and rock again. I’m certainly in vocal shape, because I’m training singers now. My voice has never been better; it’s way better now that when Saigon Kick was active because I train every day. The band would definitely tear it up.”

“It almost happened, and I keep getting emails asking about us getting back together,” he adds. “It’s just that those conditions have to be met. I’m a founding member of Saigon Kick and I was the lead vocalist, and unfortunately my laid back approach tends to get me stepped on once in a while. In this case I have to stand firm.”

Hypothetically speaking – meaning the fans and media hacks should note that absolutely nothing has been confirmed regarding a reunion – if Saigon Kick did get back together, would Kramer be willing to sing ‘Love Is On The Way’ live? He believes the song’s hit status was the baseball bat that broke the band’s knees, and it’s still a mainstream favourite. His disdain for the track isn’t surprising when you consider Kramer’s preferred tooth and nail approach, which was over-the-top enough to make an impression on a young Brian Warner, who now calls being Marilyn Manson his day job.

“‘Love Is On The Way’ is now a classic song whether I like it or not,” says Kramer, “and as much as it killed the band for me at 24 years old, at this point it is without a doubt doing the most to keep the band alive. So yes, I would sing it and try to do a good job doing so for the millions of people that have heard it and like the song.”

As for the Saigon Kick albums he wasn’t involved in – the anemic Water, the much improved Devil In The Details, and the instantly forgettable Bastards record – don’t hold your breath…

“Definitely not! Killer albums or not, remember that I left Saigon Kick singing the Water album at the microphone in Sweden. The point isn’t if it was great material or not, which is left to whom might like or dislike it. Basically, that sound was Jason hijacking the band in his own direction; that should have been a solo album. You see, I hated a lot of the songs off of The Lizard and they should never have been brought into the band. I absolutely blame that direction for the band’s downfall. We were a true edgy art rock band that could have had a many decade career had we kept it on its true course. That’s all history now. A lot of that (Water) material was songs left over that I wouldn’t sing then and would never ever sing now.”

Oddly enough, the day before this story went to print, a thread appeared on Saigon Kick’s official Facebook page asking fans what the ideal reunion line-up would be if it came to pass. One individual offered the simple “No Kramer, no deal….” which seemed to be the general consensus. Judging by how the band’s fortunes flagged upon his departure, without Kramer there really is no Saigon Kick.

During an interview with yours truly in 2005 for his documentary Waking Up Dead, original drummer Phil Varone summed up Kramer’s appeal as a frontman. Mr. Warner, credit where it’s due, please…

“Let me tell you, for the record, Matt Kramer is by far one of the greatest talents that needs to be seen. People have seen him to an extent with Saigon Kick, but as far as the masses are concerned he should have the success that Marilyn Manson has, because Manson gears his shows and his life just like Matt did in the early days. Manson was at our house every fucking day. Brian is a great guy and a brilliant mind, and that’s why he succeeded. But, I also feel that Matt has that mind as well, but never got the respect he should have.”

Kramer’s new book, A Book Of Poems From The Smallest Of Towns, is now available via Watch for an exclusive interview with Kramer about the book, coming soon. In the meantime, check out BW&BK’s 2007 feature with Kramer on his first poetry book, An American Profit, here.