By Carl Begai
In March 2013, Saigon Kick put to rest months of speculation surrounding news the band’s original line-up, who recorded the classic self-titled debut and epic follow-up, The Lizard – had reunited. Guitarist Jason Bieler and vocalist Matt Kramer had stated numerous times in the press since parting ways in 1993 that they’d never work with each other again, and neither one was shy about the wording of those statements. Tempers have cooled in recent years, however, and in early 2012 both Bieler and Kramer revealed in separate interviews there had been discussions of possibly and hopefully burying the hatchet, and not in someone’s forehead. At the same time, Bieler was breathing life into his Owl Stretching studio project, which has since taken on a life of its own, and Kramer had released his second book, A Book Of Poems From The Smallest Of Towns. So, there was no lack of creative juice to fuel a Saigon Kick reunion, and in the end the diehard fans have gotten what they wished for.
“It’s gone really well considering the potential for epic disaster,” says Bieler. “It’s gone far better than we anticipated. We’ve been very, very selective about what we’ve done – and I think we spoke about this before – because we didn’t want to do one of those Will Work For Food kind of tours. We did seven shows in these cool markets, and the response from people who are really passionate about the band… it really exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I think because we’ve been staying in really nice hotels and not seeing each other, there’s no friction (laughs).”
Call it a case of being older and wiser, maybe?
“Nobody’s got the energy for those kinds of fights anymore. Strangely enough, Matt and I have been getting along better than we ever have. I think you just get to a point in life where the negative stuff just isn’t worth fighting about. In the early days of Saigon Kick, anybody who didn’t see my point of view had to be doing it on purpose as an attack. There was no other way I could wrap my brain around why someone could not see my logic. As you get older and hopefully a little bit more mature you realize that different people on the planet have a different opinion of things, right or wrong. I learned not to take differences of opinion quite so personally. Yeah, Matt and I have been getting along much, much better, and I think a little bit of maturity on both our parts didn’t hurt.”
Saigon Kick’s volatile history had some fans holding their breaths waiting for news of the band’s reunion going to hell, but the quartet wrapped up 2013 as a complete unit with something resembling a plan for this year. Bieler says keeping things small scale with a ‘baby steps’ approach was the best thing they could have done, and it paid off.
“I think because we were really careful not to say ‘Okay, this is the We’re Visiting Every Venue On Earth Tour 2013/14’ we were able to take the commitment in small chunks. Obviously everybody in the band has busy lives and other things going on, so we could really only do it for the sake of enjoying it. We didn’t go out there saying ‘Please fund our nine million dollar DVD project’, we made sure we didn’t have any of that baggage. We had to make sure we felt like doing it and it’s been fun. The most impressive thing to me is that we didn’t realize how important some of this music is to some of these people. That’s been the exciting and refreshing thing, discovering that. It’s encouraging meeting people and hearing why a certain song or album is important to them.”
Inviting select audience members on stage for the infamous kazoo solo on ‘My Life’ is one way the band chose to acknowledge their fans’ loyalty all these years later.
“I think those people were better rehearsed than we were,” laughs Bieler, “and that’s been a great thing. Sometimes we feel like a cover band showing up at someone’s party because the band means so much to them. Not on a grand scale of Metallica or anything like that, but it makes us sit back and go ‘Wow.’ We got caught in that weird space between the hair and grunge scenes, but there was a group of people out there that did get the point and that’s a cool thing.”
With the band being active and primed to keep things moving forward, it’s easy to forget that the classic Saigon Kick line-up with Matt Kramer up front hadn’t played together for 20 years. Dusting off the old songs for the tour rehearsals were a big part of the healing process, which had the potential to be a harrowing, nerve-wracking process or as comfortable as slipping on a favourite pair of shoes.
“I have to say it was both of those things,” Bieler admits. “It was a little bit like getting your sea legs; some of it felt very strangely familiar. I think the most important thing from my perspective, because I can’t speak for everybody, is that you don’t want to try to do anything. You want to be who you are and do what you do, so you don’t necessarily want to suddenly be wearing tight pants and doing jumping kicks off amps and making a mockery of yourself, nor do you want to be 15 or 80 years old. We’re not old, but we’re older, so we feel more comfortable in our skin. When you hit that point you lose all the pretense of ‘Do I look cool?’ or ‘Is this what the hip kids are doing?’ We’re able to concentrate more on the music, and it was almost like new territory. We can sit back and be who we are, and not worry about the extra baggage.”
The burning question for Saigon Kick fans these days right after “When are you playing (insert home town here)?” is if and when there’ll be a new album. Bieler suggests people take a few deep breaths and take the foot off the gas.
“Matt and I have been talking about that and we’re considering getting together to write in the not too distant future, but we’re not saying that we’re going to do an album or even a single. We’re going to test the water and see how it feels. We’re well aware of the fact that nobody cares very much about buying music these days, so we’re wondering what the best avenue for us to take would be. We’ve been approached by several of these crowd sourcing companies saying that we’d make a mint if we did this and that. The money part of it isn’t the problem for us, we just don’t know if we want to make a record. First we have to see if we have what it takes for a song, as crazy as that might sound, but there’s definitely potential for it to happen.”
Considering how prolific Bieler has been in hammering out Owl Stretching material – the release of a dozen songs in mere months – there has to be a Saigon Kick anthem floating around somewhere in his skull.
“I would hope so,” Bieler agrees. “We’d like to make something happen. Outside of the Saigon Kick thing, people who know me know that I write ridiculous amounts of music. I’ve come to a point where I’m just going to keep releasing stuff through Owl Stretching, and I’m not worried about the perfect song, I’m worried about expressing what I’m feeling and then moving on to the next thing. With Saigon Kick there are certain expectations, and I know from being a fan of certain bands that if someone told me there’s a new Jane’s Addiction song out and it blew, I’d be disappointed. We want to try to make it for what it’s worth as good as we can. I overwhelmed the band a lot in the past with the sheer volume of material that I have, so I’ve been really conscious about not saying ‘Here’s my new 75 anthems we can play live…’ I want the Saigon Kick thing to stay Saigon Kick, and have that come from a mutual contribution.”
For those that have shown up late to the party, Owl Stretching is Bieler’s pet studio project featuring solo compositions that he either pulls off all on his own or records with the assistance of friends.
“For the most part it’s just me. I’ve had my good friend Rick Sanders who played drums on the Super TransAtlantic stuff on a few tracks, Chris McLernon (bass / Saigon Kick) has been on a few tracks, and hopefully it’ll keep evolving like that. I talked to Chad (Szeliga / drums) from Black Label Society about doing something, I’ve talked to Robb (Rivera / drums) from Nonpoint and the guys from Skindred as well.”
Fans of the work Bieler did after Kramer left Saigon Kick in ’93 would do well to check it out. Three EP’s worth of material plus additional songs that are coughed up sometimes on a weekly basis.
“There are two components to this. I’ve put some older stuff out as The Baron Von Bielski Sessions, which happened in the time between Saigon Kick and Super Transatlantic. The Owl Stretching stuff is posted online as it comes out, and to be able to finish a song, sit there and appreciate it, and then five minutes later have access to people who are interested in hearing it is just the coolest thing ever.”
“For me it works great, and it’s kind of hard because as the producer of other people’s work my job is completely different. In this case it’s me stripping away all the bullshit. I’m not worried about finding a new label, I’m not worried about the perfect production. I’m just worried about voicing an idea and expressing it while its fresh.”
“My dream is to have Owl Stretching evolve into this ever-morphing no holds barred, no rules, anything can happen. I am creatively vomitous (laughs).”
Go to this location to check out the ridiculous amount of quality Owl Stretching music that has been released so far.