They kicked up a lot of dirt on their way out of the local scene and into the national spotlight. The road that brings these guys back into town seems free of the obstacles they tore down on their way out. They're our own homegrown rockers, Saigon Kick. But let's not pat ourselves on our backs just yet. South Florida didn't make Saigon Kick, and those hopping on the bandwagon since their new album, The Lizard, took off commercially are not the core fans who did. "We don't owe Miami," says drummer Phil Varone. "We owe the fans. They've been behind us all the way. Half of the people that we knew at the Edge were the same faces we remember seeing at the Treehouse back in 1988."
The group, formed nearly five years ago, started in the trenches like the other local bands, fighting for gigs and burning holes in their sneakers passing out thousands of flyers advertising their shows. Singer Matt Kramer, guitarist Jason Bieler, and Varone (later joined by new bassist Chris McLernon) stuck together and stuck it out during the dues days. "It's like a marriage," says Varone. "We scream, argue, hug, and leave. Except for Chris, who joined later, we were all friends before the band got together."
Record company executives discovered the Kick at the Button South in late 1990. According to Varone, the band didn't have a demo, a manager, or photos. They did, however, boast a following, including members of Skid Row who persuaded Atlantic Records to come see Kick live. But their first, self-titled, release didn't do as well as they hoped, although it did receive some favorable press and airplay from Piper High-based WKPX-FM. "We'll always be a local band in Florida," Varone says. "But we didn't get the support we should have, even after our first record." The way Saigon Kick sees it, local commercial radio stations should have been the first to play them.
According to Varone, Y-100 was one of the last stations in the nation to add the single "Love Is on the Way" to its playlist. "We're in South Florida," the drummer spits, "and we can't get a local radio station to play our song. That only adds to the struggle of the scene."
The band has already been writing new music for it's next record. They're also working on a new video and selecting the next single. They also appeared in an Ovation music equipment ad published in several guitar magazines. Captioned "Saigon Kick Around Miami," the ad brought attention to the group's hometown. "We could have picked anywhere to do it," notes vocalist Matt Kramer.
"But we want to be true to where we're from," adds Varone.
That ad campaign aside, there remains a bitter taste in their mouths when talking about the local scene. According to both Kramer and Varone, the Button South didn't pave a smooth road for the band during the time they spent in the local ranks. They got paid $500 per gig even after two sellout shows. "No matter how many fans we'd pack in, they'd still pay us $500," the two concur. "If 1500 people would come and they'd charge ten dollars a head, they'd still pay us the same."
According to Kramer, the money dispute lead to a seemingly permanent schism between the Kick and the venerable rock club. "We couldn't get paid enough, and they felt that the amount we asked for was insulting to them, so we played somewhere else," says Kramer. Although the Button paid the band more for their last three gigs there, Kick feels it wasn't enough to compensate for all those $500 nights. "After the first record," says Varone, "we requested a certain amount of money, which we didn't get." And now, the musicians say, the Button refuses to even try to book them and won't play their recorded music in the club. The band's agent at the time, Darlene DeLano, confirms their version.
"The Button South is the location that made Saigon Kick," counters a spokesman for the club. "There was a time when we paid them only $150 to play here. At one time they wanted more money, and we had no objection. They said they'd bring so many heads into the place. The deal was that if they brought, let's say 500 people, they'd get $1000. Otherwise, they'd get the normal pay. At that time, they did not bring that many people in, but we gave them $500 just as a bonus. Once they got signed, we paid them $5000. The next time around, they said they wanted $15,000 for two nights A $30,000. We agreed. Between the two nights, we made $15,600. So we lost money. The next time, they wanted $15,000. We said no, you're not worth it. The bottom line is this is another group that thinks they're Jesus Christ."
One ear unequivocally bent in support of the band is WSHE-FM(103.5 FM) DJ Glenn Richards. Richards piloted the radio program "WSHE's Only South Florida Rock & Roll," which airs every Sunday from 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Richards has closely followed the Kick's rise to stardom. "If you look back ten years," Richards says of the Miami scene, "there was no place to play, and if you did hear local bands, they were doing covers. Try to find a lot of cover bands now. The bands like Saigon Kick had it a lot better than bands before them, and bands now will have it better than they did."
Richards is a firm believer in the notion that each and every success story bolsters this city's national reputation and enhances the chances for others to break out. "The local scene owes Saigon Kick because they kicked down doors," Richards asserts. "At the time, they were one of the bands trying to do all original music and get paid for it. They proved to club owners that local bands are viable."
Aside from the feud with radio stations and the Button, the band has one other thorn in its rosy story. A few local bands have frustrated Saigon Kick along the way. "There were some bands that would dis us on-stage or behind our backs," Varone explains. "Now that we're doing well, they're our friends. If they, and they know who the fuck they are, would spend half their time practicing, instead of worrying about what other bands are doing, they would have a successful scene and they might just get somewhere.
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"We're not driving Porsches and lovely girls aren't following us around," the drummer continues. "The real work starts after you get signed. If I knew then what I know now, I would have quit." He laughs and goes on to point out that there are lots of locals who deserve more recognition, citing the Goods and Naked Rhythm, as well as bands already signed, such as Young Turk and his personal favorite, Nuclear Valdez, who recorded two albums for Epic before being dropped by the label.
As far as the handful of bands Varone's wrath is aimed at, he has one final message for them: "My ass is on a tour bus and I want to say a great big 'fuck you' from Phil."
Saigon Kick performs with Extreme at 8:00 p.m. Saturday at James L. Knight Center, 400 SE 2nd Ave, 372-0929. Tickets cost $22.50 and $25.