MATT KRAMER - Kicked Into Re-Verse
November 2, 2007, 10 years ago
Comedian/actor Denis Leary has a classic bit where he rants about how difficult it is to get a coffee flavoured coffee at your local coffee shop since the rise of Starbucks as a world power. During his tirade he refers to patrons and employees of it and other flavoured frappachino decaf latte establishments as “haiku writing motherfuckers”, suggesting in no uncertain terms that poetry, like Maple Nut Crunch syrup in one’s Cuppa Joe, is not something chest pounding, meat eating alpha-males partake in. That said, if you’re a Saigon Kick fan that agrees with Leary’s train of thought it may come as a blow to learn that vocalist Matt Kramer has swapped his microphone for a quill. No joke, the man has issued the first of many books of poetry – entitled An American Profit – but it doesn’t contain the flowery frou-frou verse one often associates with the term “poetry”. Far from it. Just like his in-your-face on stage delivery, Kramer’s writing is intense, offbeat, quirky, occasionally violent, always uncompromising, and even if the concept of reading a book of poetry leaves an odd taste in your ego, you can’t help but be drawn in by his performance once again.“I’ve been trying to write songs since I was a kid, long before I joined a band,” Kramer says of his decision to try his hand at poetry. “I was always trying to write ‘the’ lyric. I just started getting these reference book, not really understanding what they were at the time, and it just grew into something that I never really had to work at. I didn’t have to dig deep for it. It was the same with singing. I try to keep life that simple. I guess I’m really self indulgent (laughs). Whether it’s a song, a poem, a piece of art or a journalistic piece, we as people can either relate to something in life, we can enhance life, or we can put our twist on it. When I wrote ‘Body Bags’ (on The Lizard album) and I was writing the line ‘Say your prayers motherfucker…,’ that was cool. I had this big ass grin when I did it because I could actually write a line like that. It was the same thing when I wrote the poem ‘Carcasses For Kids’ for this book. It’s a true story about me being in Nebraska, having this deer carcass and trying to keep these kids away from it, and they come up and start petting the fucking thing. It’s a big world and there are lots of lovey-dovey poets out there, but this is my rock n’ roll book.”
The last anyone heard of Kramer it was 2002, when he released his first solo album War & Peas. Fans have been clamouring for new music since then, so the poetry route is more than a little unexpected.“The War & Peas thing, I put that out myself and kind of shot myself in the foot doing it by not getting a label to back me up,” says Kramer. “That was my answer to the fact I left Saigon Kick because the band, management and record company wanted to follow the ‘Love Is On The Way’ rush. They wanted to turn me into Bryan Adams and I couldn’t do it, so for me to come back 10 years later like I did with War & Peas, I had to do it and I’m glad I did. With this book, I’m not giving up music, absolutely not. In fact, I’m doing more music than ever. What the fans might not want to hear is that I’m doing a rock jazz album. That’s my next project. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to make a heavier rock record after that; it’s just that at this point there’s a lot out there in the world.”
“I love rock more than anything in the world,” he continues, “and when I dedicated my life to music it was a pretty offbeat rock band that I wanted to join. My mother was an opera singer, so I didn’t start off in rock; I was just a pissed off kid and I chose that outlet because I could vent. I’m actually a voice trainer now to a lot of these pop divas that spend a lot of time here in Miami, and it just turned out I’m teaching people Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Spanish songs. It turned out I had a nack for singing a lot more than rock. When I do this jazz record it’s not going to be your grandfather’s jazz band. It’s going to be one of these bands that if you did like jazz and if you did want a night out watching a jazz band, this would be the band you’d want to see. It’s going to be sexy, it’s going to be heavy, sometimes I’ll be doing rock songs jazzed up, sometimes it’ll be old jazz standards that you heard from your grandfather rocked up. And on top of that I have two album’s worth of rock material that I didn’t put on War & Peas. There’s a lot of material. It’s funny because it seems like I lay dormant for so long, but I’ve been working the whole time.”
Songwriting can be considered poetry put to music, but Kramer says there is a marked difference in the way he wrote for An American Profit versus Saigon Kick or his solo album. In fact, only three song ideas ended up in the book.“The outro for the song ‘Spinning Around’ – which appeared on War & Peas - is a separate poem called ‘Spinning Out Of Control’. I heard this rapid fire vocal line in my head and I just kept adding and adding to it, and the next thing I knew it was a one-and-a-half minute outro. It turned into it’s own poem that is connected to ‘Spinning Around’, which is also in the book. One of my jazz songs is in there as well, called ‘Pages Of Betty’, which is about Betty Page. All the others were written as poems and I didn’t make them into songs. They were meant to be poems. One of the first poems I ever wrote, I was in Toronto staying at the Novotel, and it eventually became a song. I figured if the poem could become a song, why I couldn’t I just write poems on their own. It was called ‘Enemy’, and it had a really twisted writing style that I didn’t even know I had in me. That style ended up all over my book and my writing.”
“I try to keep my writing out of the box I belong in,” he adds. “This book being as heavy and rock n’ roll as it is, there are going to be things that people don’t like. Especially in the back of the book where I completely start going off about a day job that I ended up in. When it comes down to it, after releasing this book people that like it might not like my next one because it some really nice poetry. There’s not a whole lot of it, but I wrote enough of it to have a pretty substantial second book. And the scary thing is, once I get fans from that book… I don’t read a lot of poetry book, but taking out Edgar Allan Poe and the heavy shit he wrote, I definitely have something super, super dark following for my third book. I think I might be getting ahead of myself but I’m looking at getting a book out every six months. If everything goes right what I’m hoping is to have the next one out June 2nd, 2008, and my third book – which will probably get me banned from bookstores for the title alone – is going to come out next Halloween. I’ve got four done already, so by then hopefully I’ll have a couple more in the bag. Everybody’s going to think I’m really busy releasing these books and I’ll be working on my jazz album. These books are line up like ducks and ready to go.”
Kramer reaffirms his commitment to his music and his fans, but he makes it clear that his interest in poetry is not merely a phase.“I’m still a rock guy at heart, and as much as I like writing my own tunes I like getting together with a really great riff writer,” says of his songwriting ventures. “I’ve worked with some amazing guitar players – Harry Cody, Doug Aldrich, Alex Kane – and those guys come with a lot of amazing riffs and style, so if I’m not open to that I can miss out on some of the best work I could ever do. When I’m with cats like that I really focus on what they’re bring to the table with the guitar. I’ll find a rhythm and I’ll start writing lyrics to it. Now I’m writing a lot of songs basing it off of the vocal line and singing around it when I’m in my studio. With poetry I don’t have to stick to a grid, which is what’s nice about it. Also, I don’t have to be anything. As a rock guy I write for me; do I want to get that sappy, angry, happy, sad, whatever? But, as diverse as I can get… well, Saigon Kick was considered too diverse in a lot of ways. In poetry I can write something my grandfather used to say, or things that kind of hit home when your walls aren’t up. That’s what I love about it.”
An American Profit is available through www.mattkramer.net in the merchandise store.
To see Denis Leary’s coffee flavoured rant go to this location.