Matt Kramer

All posts tagged Matt Kramer

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.

Saigon Kick 1

“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.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

I recently caught up with original Saigon Kick vocalist Matt Kramer to discuss his newest project, A Book Of Poems From The Smallest Of Towns. During the conversation we addressed the rather persistent rumours of a Saigon Kick reunion looming on the horizon, which have been gathering strength over the last year. Kramer revealed that he and his former bandmates have in fact tossed around the idea of getting back together, which came as a complete shock given that the mere mention of original guitarist Jason Bieler’s name 10, or even five years ago, was enough to blast open Kramer’s well stocked crate of derogatory adjectives. It turns out there are certain finance-oriented requirements that need to be resolved with Bieler before Kramer will commit, but in a nutshell, if they can come to terms Saigon Kick’s return goes from being a pipe dream to a definite possibility.

A day after the story’s publication – found here – I received a polite email from Bieler stating that, if I had the time and interest, he’d be open to telling his side of the story. It was a surprising offer, and accepting it a no-brainer, particularly since Bieler rarely speaks to the press. Between co-managing his own label, Bieler Brothers Records, and working on his Owl Stretching project there isn’t a lot of time that can be dedicated to rehashing the past. Or at least there wasn’t until now.

It should be noted that Bieler didn’t set out to shoot down Kramer’s claims, nor did he take potshots at his former bandmate. In fact, like Kramer, Bieler didn’t display even the slightest animosity. On the contrary, Bieler is all for working with Kramer again.

“I think Matt has his own perspective, and maybe his life has gone down a different path than mine, which has given him his feelings on the way things went down,” Bieler offers. “Do I think that I hold partial responsibility for making bad decisions in Saigon Kick? Absolutely. I think everybody shares that responsibility, though. Matt and I have spoken a few times over the last year, and things have been really civil, so that’s a healthy place to be. When everybody was on the phone talking about the possibility of a reunion, I told the guys that I don’t care if they want to draw up contracts, it was cool with me. I don’t want anything more than my share. So, whatever Matt wants to do, if he wants to do it, I’m fine with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Saigon Kick vocalist Matt Kramer doesn’t merely step outside the box, he lives outside of it. This was readily apparent when he and his bandmates – Jason Bieler (guitars), Phil Varone (drums) and Tom Defile (bass) – stomped onto the scene in 1991, releasing a self-titled debut that dared to be obnoxiously different. Adrenalized punk-flavoured tunes, Beatles-styled vocal harmonies splashed over walls of guitars, a kazoo solo, acoustic and straight-up metal influences served with groove and attitude, Saigon Kick were the owners of a playground that was both intimidating and welcoming. Kramer’s departure from the band and the war of words in the years that followed don’t need to be rehashed here, suffice to say he went and did his own thing. The 2002 release of his retro-flavoured solo album War & Peas caught the fans off guard, and the 2007 appearance of his first of several proposed poetry books, An American Profit, left his diehard followers with their jaws on the floor.

As in, Is he out of his mind?!

Kramer has never apologized for the path(s) he’s taken and never will. And while An American Profit didn’t catapult him to the literary bank, it gave him enough ammo to justify a second book of poetry.

“An American Profit did well in my eyes because it got some good feedback,” he says. “When you’re putting out a bunch of personal lyrics that don’t come with noodling guitars and bashing drums, you’re kind of out there on your own. And I’m not even there to sing the stuff. It was a challenge for me because it was a different side of me – a lot of different sides, actually – that I don’t show as a frontman. But you know, we’re all in our undies drinking coffee at 6:00am and not big rock stars (laughs).” Continue Reading

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).” Continue Reading

Part 2 of my 2005 coverage of SAIGON KICK drummer Phil Varone’s fall-from-grace documentary Waking Up Dead featuring an interview with the man himself, originally published by BW&BK. Call it a dose of “rock star” reality…

Phil Varone entered the heavy metal arena in 1991 with Saigon Kick, a little known band from Florida that would go on to become a cult favourite on the metal scene before imploding in the mid-90’s. Varone would take part in a Saigon Kick reunion tour in 2000 – reportedly where his troubles with drugs began in earnest – and would eventually resurface with Skid Row, going on to record on their comeback album, Thickskin, in 2003. The tour that followed and the addictions that went with it ultimately brought Varone crashing to earth. He’s clean now, however, focusing on his second chance at life.

“I’ve been off drugs for a while now,” Varone says. “I go to my cardiologist regularly, I go the gym six days a week, I have a trainer, so I’ve really done a 180 with my life and I feel great. I’ve never felt better, to be quite honest with you.”

According to Varone, it took leaving Skid Row and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle behind to bring about the change in his lifestyle.

“Basically, my doctor said that if I went back out on the road I was going to die” he reveals. “I made the decision at that point to quit what I was doing and clean up. I went through some mild heart attack situations on the road that we actually have on tape, got close to overdosing a couple times, all that shit. Bottom line is that the music industry and being on the road exposed me to a lot of things. My decision to stop touring was for health reasons, and because I also have children that I need to take care of, to be around. When we decided to do this movie and we had all this interest in it, I saw that I could help people with it. Waking Up Dead is part of my rehabilitation.” Continue Reading