At the beginning of the 90s Saigon Kick brought a fresh new edge to Metal with hard hitting riffs and unique harmonies with a sense of adventure that saw them spreading their wings musically from album to album. The band split towards the end of that decade but have returned for another assault on the senses. Mick Burgess sat down with main man Jason Bieler to talk about Saigon Kick and also his latest project, Owl Stretching, which has seen Bieler release a shed load of new songs, written and conceived in his home studio and available to download right now. He’s happy, he’s enthusiastic and Bieler tells all about his exciting new project.

You’ve just had an offer of a virtual digital box set of 15 or so releases for less than 20 UK pounds. Now that is a bargain and a half. What’s the response been like so far?

I just wanted to write in an improvisational way and spend only a day or two on each song. I didn’t want to get bogged down in all the technology, Pro Tools options. I didn’t want to get into the producer head place. I just wanted to write and try to be creative. It wasn’t intended as a great business venture or a comeback, it was more of a case that I was writing lots of stuff and rather than have it sit around somewhere I thought I’d put it out for the people that cared. I just wanted to try different things and I have been really surprised at the reaction. It’s taken on a life of its own. It’s been great.

Back in the olden days as an artist you’d need a record label to fund, promote and distribute your music. Has the development of the internet given you the freedom to put you and your fans together so you can sell directly to them?

I’m not some kind of giant pioneer but I was doing something like this on a site in the mid to late ’90s and when MP3’s first came along I tried to make something that although a bit clunky in its functionality, involved selling music directly to the fans. I maybe could have worked it a bit harder then but it was early days. Now there are forums and social media where you can get in touch with your fans. I can see where it can backfire for certain people but generally speaking I like people and I like talking to them so I’m fortunate at this point, although it’s not this mega Kim Kardashian-esq type of thing, everyone has been generally positive and so far it’s been really great.

Owl Stretching is your latest project. Where did the name come from?

It’s a name that I’ve tossed back and forth at a couple of things for a while. I just thought it was so nonsensical and so blatantly non-commercially attempting to come up with a cool name. I think it’s a nod towards Monty Python and based on what I think one of their original sketches was going to be called but cooler heads prevailed and they came up with Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I just loved the name and just seemed to fit with my thought process behind this.

Is Owl Stretching a solo project for you or is it a band set up?

There’s no method or thought process. There’s people I’ve talked about collaborating with but I don’t know if it’ll just be solo stuff or other things but the main point of focus to me is to try to make as much music as possible with as many musicians that I like as possible so I come into things open to whatever the situation may be.

Listening to the incredible amount of music available, is the main theme of Owl Stretching to allow you to create whatever music that you want without any constraints?

I think that possibly the downfall of Saigon Kick was because we were too diverse. We were never really embraced by the Hair Bands and I think people were genuinely confused by what the band was about. As time has gone on I think that’s played to our advantage. It’s been nice to hear from the guys in Slipknot or Mudvayne or Five Finger Death Punch saying such nice things about our records. I think maybe our albums are making more sense now than when they were originally released. In terms of diversity, that’s how I always listened to music. I just like great music whether it’s Elvis Costello or Meshuggah, I just love great songs. I’m just not one of those people that’ll say I’m a Metal Head or a Country Guy. The freedom to do just whatever I want to do and confuse people has been fantastic.

There must be over 100 songs in the whole Owl Stretching works at the moment. Are these ideas that have been with you for a while that you couldn’t really use in previous bands or are you just in a productive vein of writing at the moment?

Some of the stuff I made available going back to the Bieler Brothers days, there’s a couple of obscure demos that people have been asking for but the vast majority of 70 songs or more have been done in the last year or so.

How do you tend to write? Do you write with a partner or do you tend to jam ideas around yourself?

I’m very fortunate that I have a great studio set up in my house. I get up every morning, get a coffee then go into my studio and hit a keyboard or a chord and just see what comes out. I have absolutely no recollection of what I have done so if I have to perform anything live I have to relearn everything. I’m always amazed at my friends who can just go and say let’s do Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers, I just can’t do that. I have to go and learn it first. I have however been very fortunate that writing songs has come fairly easy to me. That side of it has always just been there for me.

Again that must be such a liberating thing for a musician? There must have been a ton of great ideas lost over the years when artists used to have to book expensive studio time weeks in advance and have lost those initial ideas?

It can be liberating and it can be dangerous. My focus on this hasn’t been to put this together and write hits and tour the world as the Justin Bieber of modern Rock. My mindset has been to have an improvisational formula where I’m not trying to spend 3 weeks on a song. I’m trying to get these bursts of ideas but not refine them to the point where they are perfect but go onto the next and hopefully I’ll be able to sharpen my toolset and get quicker at writing and recording. That’s been my focus and I’ve been very fortunate that there’s a great group of people who are really into it. It’s totally taken me by surprise. I would have been more than happy if I’d made enough money from this to buy myself a couple of lattes but the reaction has been incredible. I have a caffeine problem now as it’s been a lot of fun and got way bigger than I ever could have thought.

Demo Wars is a great collection of demos. Are these a work in progress for a future formal release or will you leave these as a snapshot of your creative process?

I’m terribly undisciplined and if I don’t finish a song within 36 hours at the outside they end up going into this drive of almost finished ideas which is a shame as some of them are kind of cool. Those that are a little clearer from the sketch book, maybe not fully finished but still good ideas, I thought I’d make them available I think it’s quite interesting to see how an artist comes up with and then shapes those initial ideas into sometimes, something very different. The people who are into what I do seem to enjoy that. I’ve got nothing to hide.

How have you organised the music across the EP’s? Was the idea to group stylistically similar styles together within an EP or have you released the EP’s as you’ve recorded them so each EP covers a lot of different ground?

As they’ve come out is generally where I’ve been at. There’s no method behind it, there’s no larger concept where this one is a Metal one and that one is whatever. I just release them as I write them with a couple of exceptions where I’ve moved a couple of songs around but generally they’re reflective of the writing process of where I’m at. Fortunately and unfortunately in this world today with the likes of Spotify and streaming there’s just so much music to listen to. I’ve never been able to listen to this much music before. There’s so much music I’ve been discovering that are exploding my mind so I’m drawing on all of these new influences that I wasn’t aware of before. It can go from the heaviest Prog Rock driven stuff right over to the likes of Cannonball Adderley. There’s so much music out there where you can go down these wormholes and that’s just been reflective of what I’ve been doing.

Although there is a wide spectrum of music across all of the EP’s you can tell straight away that it’s your work with those trademark harmonies. That’s what made Saigon Kick so unique. How many times do you have to record your vocals to get that sound?

I don’t think I have a great voice by any stretch of the imagination but I can create a sound. I approach the vocals much like an instrument. I’m not like those great singers like my friends Jeff Scott Soto or Nathan James who can sing all day, so I have to figure out how to make the best use of my voice. I tend to record two or three tracks of every sound and maybe pan them one either side and one centre then add harmonies over the top. I’m a massive fan of Queen, XTC, The Beach Boys and Jellyfish so I try to build the harmonies up like that. I think I have the poor man’s way of getting vocals on something but it seems to work for me.

While Owl Stretching is currently a digital project will you be releasing any music on vinyl or CD?

I’m getting that question more and more. I’m becoming a fan of people being able to pick and choose and instantly get it. I don’t have to worry about manufacturing or shipping. It’s led to a speed and instant gratification particularly for me. It’s so nice for anyone who creates anything for people to be able to hear it. I don’t really want to have to wait 6 months to read people’s comments. The reward for me is to be able to release something, then 24 hours later a kid in Singapore is going, I like that song or I didn’t like this song as much as that song. I’ve resisted vinyl and CD for that reason but that doesn’t mean that we won’t do that in the future.

What about live work? Will you be playing this music live or is this side of you studio based only?

We do keep getting asked about doing shows but I don’t think it’s hit that critical mass point yet when the World Tour by owl Stretching is imminent but it is definitely growing and is definitely something we’d consider doing.

Back in 2012 you put Saigon Kick back together. What is the current position with them?

We are the slowest decision making band on earth. There’s a lot of bands from around our time that are playing 300 shows at every single place on earth and they need to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that and no shame in that. We are fortunately in a different place so we are really taking our time and we are doing things that make sense when they make sense. We may have done a total of 15 shows max. since we reunited over the 3 year period but we go to places that we want to go to and to shows that we want to be at for no other reason than to play and do what we want to do. We just want to make decisions that are right for us as a band rather than knee-jerk decisions that some bands make. We just need to find the right opportunities for us as a band.

Why did you decide to put the band back together again after you split at the end of the 90s?

I think once we knew we could be in a room together without murdering each other that was a huge first step. As time goes on you get older and you realise that the band had something that was kinda cool and you don’t get many chances in life to right past wrongs and if nothing else the civility that we now have is fantastic and the shows and everything has been a bonus. We are talking about doing new music and more shows and hope to maybe get over to Europe and the UK in the next year or so.

Tom Defile left early on when you were together the first time and left again early on after the reunion? Did it just not work out together or did he have commitments elsewhere?

I don’t like to talk negative about anyone but I think that it just didn’t work. Sometimes you get in the room with people and you can see that it’s not long for this world. It just didn’t work out but I do wish him tremendous success in life

The core of the band is now you and Matt Kramer. When did Jonathan Mover come aboard on drums?

Jonathan was on Atlantic Records way back in the day and was friends with one of our A&R guys and he’d heard our early demos and came to our shows when we played with Extreme so we’ve known him for a very long time. I respect him beyond as a musician, he’s just phenomenal. When it came up about playing with us we had no hesitation. It’s been great. Phil was a great drummer for us but Jonathan is just incredible. Some drummers play exactly like the record but I said to Jonathan to go completely nuts and I just hang on for dear life. Why put a drummer like Jonathan Mover into the band and just get him to play like the record? It’s kind of self-defeating. Some people might get upset with that and I get that. If I went to see Elton John and he did Ska versions of his greatest hits I’d be upset but our songs still sound like the songs but Jonathan just brings something different and interesting to the songs and it’s great fun to play with him.

Back in 1991/92 you toured the UK with Extreme on their Pornograffitti album. Have you been back since then?

That was a phenomenal tour. We’ve been lifelong friends of Extreme and we’ve just played with them recently on the Monsters of Rock Cruise so our history continues. We started the European tour at the Marquee in London and played a few shows and headed to Europe. By the time we came back Extreme was getting huge so to see your friends over the course of 4-6 weeks selling out clubs to selling our theatres was incredible. From 500 to 4000 people a night was amazing. It was a wonderful time and it was actually our first time touring in the UK and Europe. I’d love to come back but the promoters these days are so young and new and have no idea who the band is so we have to prove ourselves that we have a core of people who will come to our shows.

When Saigon Kick first appeared on the scene it was just before Grunge took off. Your music was very heavy but melodic and with those trademark harmonies gave you a very unique sound which was very different to the prevailing hair metal bands of that time. Do you feel that you were unfairly lumped in with those bands?

I was a guy who grew up listening to music, put a band together and got to tour around the world, the single went Platinum and our album went Gold. Oh, poor me!! Some people thought we were this or that. It seems to be correcting itself over time where people will say that they didn’t realise that we sounded like this or that so what I’ve been doing quietly recently is taking credit for Nirvana as I think our ballad killed off Hair Metal and without that paving the way Dave Grohl would have no career.

Love Is On the Way, from your second album The Lizard, was a huge hit for you. Did that take you by surprise?

Again, I wish I could say I had some sort of masterplan, I knew Extreme had been successful with More Than Words but we actually had a ballad on the first album too so it wasn’t as if we’d changed anything. We had gone to Mexico with a guy who had filmed a bunch of Janes’ Addiction videos and we shot a video for Hostile Youth. While we were in Mexico with this great artistic design on coolness, a couple of radio stations in Florida decided to start playing the ballad. It’s one of those things where all of a sudden the phones go nuts and the sales went insane and it kind of happened like that rather than a conscious effort on our part. It seems silly for me to apologise for having a hit record. We all like success and I lived in fear of being that 60 year old fat guy playing in front of 6 people who think I’m the coolest guy in the world. The music is what it is and it’s there for people to discover and if it’s what they like then that’s great and if they don’t like it then that’s great too. Extreme, Kings X and Jellyfish were bands that floated through a few genres so they were some bands out there at the time that weren’t Hair Metal or Grunge when that became popular. I think Europe and the UK got that more as the ballad wasn’t really a hit over there so I think it’s less of an issue for us outside of The States.

Did you record label suddenly want you to reproduce Love Is On The Way Part 2 for your next record?

Not really. I was lucky enough to become lifelong friends with Jason Flom and he went on to start Lava Records but he signed Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Matchbox 20 and Katy Perry, the list goes on and on. He’s arguably one of the top 5 A&R people of all time. He said to me that he had no idea what we were doing but said just keep doing what you do. He didn’t know if we were supposed to be like Skid Row or Alice in Chains but we were too weird for that. He kind of gave us enough freedom to hang ourselves and we did a good job of hanging ourselves.

Saigon Kick always tried to create something different and not repeat yourself. Water was a perfect example of that. Was it you wanting to push the boundaries further to explore different styles?

I’m glad that I was oblivious to what I should have been paying attention to. Every artist goes into the business thinking they’re going to be Prince or Zeppelin or The Beatles and it’s just all of those other poor bands that are going to go by the wayside. I think you need that belief especially at the beginning before reality sets in. I just did what I wanted to do and I just assumed it would carry on. I was never concerned with being a Rock Star but you want to be successful enough to continue doing what you are doing so I suppose I’ve always been able to do that but if you set out to be a multi-Platinum selling artist consistently then you’ll have problems eventually

Is that why Matt left at that point?

Yes, I think that’s totally fair to say. I didn’t want to become a one dimensional 10 Rock tracks and a ballad band. That just held no interest to me. Not that is what Matt wanted either and they did have some valid points like we were a heavier band in the beginning and for a good chunk of our audience that’s what they wanted. I just didn’t feel like doing that. I just wanted more variety and at that time I just wanted to become Peter Gabriel junior. That’s where my head was at the time and I’m as guilty as anyone for wrecking what might have been. There were a billion bands doing these riffs and I just didn’t want to do that. That definitely fractured the band.

Why did you decide to end the band in 1999?

It was starting to look like lonesome Jason Saigon Kick and I thought maybe it was time to put this down and try other things. I just wanted to have a fresh perspective and thought enough was enough and it was time to do something different.

You created the Bieler Brothers label shortly after Saigon Kick split. What was your aim in that? Were you looking to create music yourself and use the label to release that or were you looking to bring through new talent?

I’d been producing stuff and working in the studio more and more and writing. In the late ’90s I was lucky enough to run into some bands I felt strongly about like Nonpoint, Skindred from the UK, we did their first big record Babylon. Benjy is the modern day David Lee Roth. We started developing the label from there and did really, really well with it.

Which of the bands that you worked with are you most proud of?

I’ve always been proud of our work with SikTh as I think they started the movement that is Periphery and all those different bands back in the mid 2000s when we released Death of a Dead Day. I’m super proud of the fact we’ve worked with Karnivool and we released their Themata record. I think they are just a brilliant band. Also A Silent Film did very well for us and Fiction Plane too which included Joe Sumner, Sting’s son. The record they did with us was just brilliant. Bands like Onkwa, Soil and Will Haven, I couldn’t be more thankful for crossing paths with those guys. We’ve worked with a bunch of diverse but fantastically talented musicians and that’s been as exciting for me almost as much as anything else that I’ve done. To be able to help somebody navigate the waters just a little bit and maybe have a positive impact to some degree on their career has been a ton of fun.

You also do movie soundtracks and have worked on films like American Pie. Does the director send you a copy of the film and give you a brief of what they want and you write something to fit. Is that how it works?

I put a band together with Pat Badger from Extreme and we did American Pie and Miami Vice. We were so lucky with American Pie as we’d seen an advanced screening and at that time the movie was so potentially offensive but now it seems kind of tame and we worked on a song that we thought would be great for this one scene and because it wasn’t this mega franchise at that time everyone was really open to using it. The soundtrack record ended up going mega Platinum which was great. I think that’s a really cool movie to have a song in.

Just to finish up, You were involved briefly with Talisman in the early ’90s. How did you get involved there?

I was around 18 at the time and a friend of mine ended up auditioning for Jeff Scott Soto. I had played on a demo that he’d sent to Jeff. He was a bass player and Jeff said he didn’t want him as a bass player but asked who the guitarist was. I was an 18 year old kid at home and this was at the height of Yngwie-mania and I got this call from Jeff. I initially thought it was a prank call when he asked me to come out to LA. I looked like Axl Rose in the first Guns ‘n’ Roses video and Jeff came and picked me up. We did some work together and Jeff ended up working with Marcel Jacob who was in Yngwie’s band with Jeff and Jeff asked if I’d come over to Sweden and do this thing with him and Marcel and I ended up living in Sweden for 2 or 3 months and I toured all of the place with those guys. It was such an amazing experience and Marcel was such a monster musician and a monster intellect which is not something you get to say very often with musicians. He was such a sharp guy and he really shaped my view musically of how to be a pro. Jeff is such a great guy and an incredible singer. I couldn’t speak highly enough about them.

Why did you not stay and record with them?

Saigon Kick was really starting to take off around that time and was beginning to hit critical mass. They were going to make another record and I don’t think I was tailor made for that style of Rock so we all agreed that they should get a guy in who was more in that sort of vein. Unfortunately we lost Marcel a few years ago but we all remained really good friends and Jeff is a brother. I wrote a track on his last record that just came out and I see him all the time. He gave me my first professional gig ever so I always owe him. I’ll have to pressure him to come and sing on one of my Owl Stretching records.

With Owl Stretching, Saigon Kick not to mention your production work and music lessons, do you have time for any other projects?

Over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve just become enamored with Jazz music, music theory and studying. I find that the only way I can retain information is that I have to teach somebody else that information shortly thereafter. I dedicate one day a week to force me to remember all these principles and theories. I actually enjoy that process. If I’m not actively using these principles it just becomes a blur to me, the teaching helps to reinforce my learning. So in between writing, producing and performing, I spend time learning and teaching others.

For more information visit:

Jason Bieler: jasonbieler.com


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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