June 29, 2017 Interview – Jason Bieler of Saigon Kick
With a passion that runs far and deep, Jason Bieler is a man who lives for music. Beginning his career in the late ’80s a part of Saigon Kick, Bieler’s career is far from limited to the Hard Rock band’s success. Going on to other projects including Super TransAtlantic, Bieler also co-founded the successful Indie Rock label Bieler Bros. Records with his brother Aaron, is building a following with Owl Stretching, and so much more. Recently setting out on some very special solo shows, Bieler looks to continue to expand his horizons as a musician with no signs of slowing down. Recently we caught up with Bieler to talk the years gone by, the concept behind his solo shows, plans for Saigon Kick, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in Rock-n-Roll for over three decades. From your time with Saigon Kick to your co-founding Bieler Bros. Records, you have attained a great deal of success along the way. First, tell us, what has this unpredictable ride been like?
Jason Bieler – It is just what I have always kind of done. I love music, being around musicians and creative people, so I don’t really know much of a lifestyle that involves anything else. I think, like anything else, it has amazing high points and challenges here and there. I am definitely aware of how lucky I am able to do, still make a living at it, and still love what I am doing. That is just kind of the overall way I look at it.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is a good outlook to have. As mentioned, Saigon Kick built a really well-respected name coming into the ’90s with a list of albums as well as touring. The band’s sophomore 1992 album, The Lizard, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Do you look back on the life and times of that period fondly?
Jason Bieler – To a certain extent, but I am not really one to look back. I definitely get why people who are fans of the records and band have moments that certain songs and certain things mean a lot to them. That is outstandingly humbling, but for me, I just wake up and try to be creative and try to do what I do. I am sure that one day, hopefully, while I’m sitting in a rocking chair, I can sit back and say well I did this or I did that, but to me it is always about moving forward. I really haven’t gone back to listen to what I have done in the past, and not because for any other reason than I am a person who likes to focus on what is next. I don’t mean what is next in terms of selling tons of records or not, I just mean writing the next song, working with the next artist, that is just where my head’s at. So, I haven’t really taken stock in a lot of that stuff yet.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. When you are constantly working and looking to progress as an artist, you want to keep looking forward. You have been involved in other projects through the years, you have Owl Stretching. Owl Stretching has released a list of songs and you built quite a strong following independently. For those who do not know this project, what can you tell them about it?
Jason Bieler – Basically having been in a band and having been part of a label, and had an independent label, I just wanted to start to get back to the fundamentals of writing. The project basically started with no real thought beyond that I want to write songs and I don’t want spend a ton of time getting bogged down in technology and spending years mixing stuff. It has been an almost improvisational writing process where I will write the mix and actually release the vast majority of that material within 24-48 hours.
That’s how it all started, with no real grand design or any of that, other than I just wanted to keep sharpening my tools as a writer. Strangely enough, or maybe not strangely, when you really don’t look at it from the standpoint of trying to put out music, it has grown and really developed into a little life of its own. The basic premise of it is just really writing songs and making music.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. Now, as you said, there is no filtration here. You write the song, you record them, and they are out for people if they want to listen to them. That is not something many artists do. Have you been getting a lot positive feedback from it?
Jason Bieler – Yeah, it’s amazing! I have only released it on this platform called Bandcamp. Just the other day we had over 100,000 streams on just that little site. It grows, literally, more people purchasing and supporting. You also do not have to purchase stuff, it leaves it wide open as a business model saying, “If you want this you can pay for it,” obviously that is amazing and super helpful. If you don’t, just listen to it and spread the world. It has really grown into something far bigger and more substantial than I intended or even thought of it being.
CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear and cool to see things grow like that. You co-founded an Independent Rock label with your brother Aaron to form Bieler Bros. Records. This has been a very successful Indie Rock label which has seen a list of bands be a part of the family, everyone from Nonpoint to Soil. What have you learned from running this label and how did it all get off the ground for you?
Jason Bieler – Having been through so much on the label side as an artist, my brother and I knew the home we wanted to develop for artists. I think we have been very fortunate to help discover or be a small part of these band’s stories. Whether it be Skindred or the UK’s SikTh or Ankla. They have all done generally very well and most of them are still doing great things. That has been another amazing thing. I enjoy helping an artist navigate based on experience. I think a lot of label A&R people were fans of music, but they never saw it from the artist’s perspective of being on tour, dealing with radio stations, dealing with managers, and dealing with labels. I think it helps a lot when I talk to bands because I have been there and I have done the same exact thing they are trying to do. I think the communication has at least always been a little more on the same wavelength.
CrypticRock.com – That is truly a gift to offer young bands. Bieler Bros. Records came together back in 2002, are you still discovering artists?
Jason Bieler – To be honest, over the last five years or so we went into a wait and see mode because things changed so much in terms of the business side of it. I have never been more optimistic about music and the business now, but there was a ten year period where it went from CDs in Best Buy, to no CDs, and now, for the most part, the elimination of digital sales.
It is moving into the streaming world, which is amazing for fans, but, as always, business changes as fans figure out what they want to do and how they want to get music. That is really challenging for every label, major or independent. We weren’t quite as aggressive as we had been in the past over the last few years. We just finished up a plan to relaunch the label and to get more aggressive moving forward with the label.
CrypticRock.com – That is something exciting to look forward to. You are right, the industry has changed, it is always changing formats. As far as purchasing of music with compensation for artists, that really needs to be figured out. It is still like the Wild Wild West out there with the internet right now.
Jason Bieler – Yeah, it is for everyone. When I look at the starting of the label, of our domestic revenue, I want to say that almost 70% of all of our money came from Best Buy. That is a retailer that doesn’t exist in music anymore. That is a pretty radical shift for business. Ultimately, I try to look at it from the perspective of a fan, I love spotify as a fan. I think it is amazing, I can listen to anything, anytime, anywhere and find deep catalogue tracks. People far smarter than me are hopefully going to figure out how to compensate the artists fairly.
The whole eco-system relies on each other, when one part is not doing well, most times the other parts aren’t. When the labels got crunched, that meant less money invested in the new artists, and that meant fans got less new music. Then you get this super Pop world where only artists of Beyonce’s status are going to get money poured into them because they are the only ones who can sell enough records to be a good investment for the labels. It created a whole ripple effect and I think the most damaging part is there hasn’t been much investment in new music.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is very true. Years ago, there would have been a chance to let an artist to grow. Nowadays, if the artist is not an immediate success, they are probably going to get dropped after one album because there is no money. As you stated, it is a trickle down system.
Jason Bieler – Yeah, exactly. Even now, I am friends and deal with the majors all the time. They look at things like radio push, they look at it at 4-6 weeks from where they are going to either stay with an artist or move on to the next one if it doesn’t have traction. That is not a healthy world for a new artist. That might be great for say Justin Bieber or something like that. When you are trying to break a new band, you look at a band like Pink Floyd or even Metallica, their first record didn’t sell, obviously now it has. These were bands that weren’t massive upstarts.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely true, and the case for many bands through the years. You are actually heading out for some select solo dates in Florida. For those compelled to come check this show out, what can they expect from these shows?
Jason Bieler – Not looking back, like we spoke about, but I have so many projects I have been involved in from solo stuff to the American Pie (1999) Soundtrack and more, there are just a tremendous amount of songs. As an artist, I wanted to strip it down to its rawest form. I have always given the speech, but it is putting your money where your mouth is, if the song is worth its weight, you can do it with an acoustic guitar, it should still be a great song. This is a real chance for me, trial by fire, putting my money where my mouth is, and show up with an acoustic guitar with some songs as well as stories, and try and go through the material in a new way.
Those who are fans of it, it will be something completely different for them. There are a lot of interesting stories and anecdotes that go along with a lot of the songs. It should be a real fun evening and I am looking forward to the challenge. The thought of doing it is daunting, but at the same point, just do it and figure it out. In life, with anything, you can’t just plan stuff forever, because you wind up never doing it. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time, I have been a fan of singer-songwriters, so I decided to just make it happen finally.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is something that allows you to connect more with the audience. It is more personal than “firing up the amps,” it is certainly something more intimidating.
Jason Bieler – I have been talking about doing it for a while. With solo stuff, I was toying with the idea of putting a band together. Then I said, let’s just go back to what this is about? How did these songs come about? They come about with in my studio with a guitar. That is the way the vast majority of this stuff happens. Taking it back to that and hopefully sharing it with people. All of sudden, I am getting offers to do these shows in France, London, New York, and Los Angeles. It is kind of interesting that doing something more honest and revealing has opened up doors that I did not anticipate responding to, it is kind of cool.
CrypticRock.com – It would be interesting to see you come to New York and going to other cities with this. Saigon Kick did take a break for some time, but reunited in 2012. There has not been a record in some time. There has been talks of new material over the years. Is there still the possibility of new Saigon Kick music in the future?
Jason Bieler – We have been talking about it for a while. Without “talking out of school,” everyone in this band are not of the same objectives, desires, or goals. I don’t want to impose what I want to do on top of everyone else. I kind of let Saigon Kick do its organic path. It is the nature of the band, I respect it for what it is. I am happy to do more shows when they come about and am always ready to play. I am playing with Jonathan Mover, Chris McLernon, and Steve Gibb right now, who is amazing, having a blast! The shows are fun and we will just let it take its course.
CrypticRock.com – Great, and if it happens, it happens. Fans will look forward to that. In the meantime, you have a lot still going on.
Jason Bieler – Right, and while we might not all agree on the timeline, the one thing we do agree on is that we know where the bar is set for us to do new music. That is the thing we are very aware of. I don’t just want to release new music because it is something to do or because we can sell X amount of copies really fast. I really want to do something that musically pushes the envelope for the band. It is not necessary of it selling, but I want it to be something that is upper level that is really cool and something I am really proud of.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you want it to have the artistic integrity and something you are proud of. My last question for you is pertaining to films. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?
Jason Bieler – My kids are massive Sci-Fi fans! I am more into obscure films, I always like a movie called Harold and Maude (1971). Obviously I saw Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the original Exorcist (1973). I am a big fan of Quentin Tarantino and how he puts his movies together. I try to watch just about everything. I am not your guy on Star Wars or Star Trek trivia or Horror movies. Strangely enough, Daniel Pearl who did the director of photography for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), also shot the “All I Want” music video for Saigon Kick!