Interview: Jason Bieler & Matt Kramer, Saigon Kick


New Atlantic Records' signings SAIGON KICK, who you may have seen recently opening up for EXTREME on their UK tour, are a band who are attempting to defy categorisations with a unique blend of aggressive hard rock tinged with melodic and punk overtones. Our "man on the town" Marcus 'Dog' Liddell staggers in on a video shoot to find out for himself if they really do fit in a box...

In the unlikely setting of London's tacky Limelight club, that venerated temple of plastic pop and computerised dance, I find myself chewing the fat with Jason Bieler, guitarist and principal songwriter with Miami-based four piece SAIGON KICK who have recently just released their self-titled debut album through East West. We're talking about, naturally enough, real music and real life!

Why the Limelight Club? Oh, y'know, one of those spontaneous little video shoots, courtesy of Hard N' Heavy, is taking place in a lounge bar, where long-haired rock stars sit around being, well, all the things that rock stars should be -- weird, wacky, wild, irrelevant...oh, yes, let's not forget 'enigmatic.' (But in real life it don't quite work out that way, ya dig!)

Bieler seems almost embarrassed and distracted by all the fuss that accompanies such a situation. Vocalist Matt Kramer moves around with a kind of bemused detached air, whilst the band's manager frets about the Hard N' Heavy crew possibly presenting the band in too cliched a manner.

SAIGON KICK are certainly not a metal cliche whether you love or loathe them, and to use an actual cliche 'they defy categorisation' as Bieler explains:
"This is an album of extremes from heavy to alternative."
An apt enough description as there's everything from restrained thrash, BEATLES-influenced harmonies, and Middle Eastern stylings to alternative leanings. Among Bieler's other influences are THE POLICE, U2, and SINEAD O'CONNOR, and if that's not enough Bieler wants to:
"Keep on expanding musically."

However, isn't there a danger of loosing your identity under the collective baggage of all these worthy influences?
"No, we'll still be able to retain our identity because there aren't many heavy rock bands who have two people singing lead vocals"
In a lyrical sense Bieler & co. cover a wide variety of subjects ranging from sensuality and drugs through to environmental and political issues. Sometimes the topics/ issues are clear cut, sometimes ambiguous. But, as Bieler points out:
"If you wanna look deeper there's more meaning in there. If you just wanna listen to it on the surface it'll work as well."
Bieler likes to talk, and whilst he occasionally talks over his quieter partner, he's still far removed from the hyperactive hype merchants that are occasionally to be found in the world of music (or just about in any form of entertainment). He's refreshing, down-to-earth and direct:
"I don't buy into bullshit. I don't like people who don't believe in what they're doing."
Talking of bullshit has it helped steering clear of LA being based in Miami?
"There's really nothing, besides dance music in Miami, that would interfere with what we're trying to do. So moving to LA, you might feel pressurised to be like what's happening in LA at the time...or New York, London, or any other major musical centre."
Matt Kramer: 
"There's a lot of prototypes in LA. It's like for one GUNS N' ROSES who make it, you get 300 more copyists."
Bieler again:
"We're kinda left alone to...ha!...destroy ourselves. We kinda got to talking directly about what's in our heads and put it on the album with the least amount of interference. The record company didn't want to interfere because they didn't really understand what we were doing."
It seems such ignorance from the record company has worked to their advantage.

"We would never sign to a label without total artistic freedom over everything. We make the final decision on every single thing that has to go down with the band. You get a lot more involved, it's a lot more demanding but it's a lot more rewarding. In the end if you fail it's your fault. If you succeed at least you have yourself to thank for it."
A few hours later we're in one of those French bar/ restaurants where all the waitresses ponounce everything on the menu with an impeccable 'French' accent. The video shoot is completed and the guys are reasonably satisfied with it. We wind up the conversation. The topic of touring is discussed, both Bieler and Kramer agree that this is one of the keys to breaking it but they want to change the usual approach adopted by most American bands.

"Instead of touring for like ten months in the States and then coming over here, we're doing a month in the States and a month here."
What's your experience of touring been like up till now?

"Because the album's so diverse we're getting a lot of different touring possibilities. It keeps us developing a kind of unique show because we're never in front of the same crowd. If you're touring with only heavy-metal bands you develop a show around how their audience is going to react, and what works in front of a RATT audience isn't going to work in front of a CHEAP TRICK audience, and what works in front of a CHEAP TRICK audience is definitely not gonna work with a FAITH NO MORE audience! You start to develop a unique show, where you do what works everywhere."
Time to bring in Matt, the singer with the wry sense of humour, who occasionally interjects when Bieler momentarily draws breath.

How do you see your role, after all you're the front man?
"I don't have ab instrument. I don't have anything to hid behind. I'm playing as much with the audience as I am with him [referring to Bieler]. I also like to reflect a lot of different attitudes in the same song."
Do you see yourself doing this in twenty years time?

Bieler again (possibly inserting a U2-pun): 
"We have an edge now because we're young, it's new and exciting, but as we grow I don't want to be a forty-five-year-old guy running around acting like a ten-year-old. Bands like U2 are growing older and are getting cool. They're still a great band, but they're not acting like they did when they first came out. There's still an 'Edge' to them but it's different to what it was at first. They grew up and that's what we wanna do."
I for one wish them well. The album is a bit of a curate's egg, good in parts, but at least with SAIGON KICK they're trying to forge their own identity, away from the dime-a-dozen cock-rock roosters over in LA.

Mark Liddell
Riff Raff
July 1991
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