So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star -- Again?
Just when Jason Bieler thought he had it made, the bottom dropped out from underneath him. In the spring of 1998, Bieler's band, Flat, had been signed to MCA Records, and its new album was complete and ready for release. But before the champagne was poured, the band found itself suddenly and inexplicably dropped from the label. "It's a very fickle world," laughs Bieler, who has come through the ordeal to find himself in a terrific position.
Flat, since rechristened Super TransAtlantic, signed with MCA's parent company, Universal Music Group, this past spring. STA's debut album, Shuttlecock, is scheduled for release early next year. One of its songs, "Super Down," has already found its way onto the American Pie soundtrack. Behind the scenes Bieler's career as a producer has been building steam ever since he produced his former band Saigon Kick's second record. Two bands he recently produced -- Fort Myers' Push and South Florida's own Nonpoint -- are talking record deals with various labels. Even Bieler's Website -- www.bvbmusic.com -- has flourished lately. Success, of course, suits Bieler fine. And yet beneath whatever he has achieved, the long-time resident of Coral Springs can sense the looming presence of those who expect him to fail.
"When anybody of any scene or band -- well-known or local -- comes out with a new thing or a solo project," Bieler says, "there's an added pressure of, 'It's gotta suck.' And that's just human nature, wanting it to suck."
If this natural propensity disturbs Bieler, he doesn't show it. Talking over coffee recently, he seems relaxed and in great spirits. His assistant, Spidee, and STA drummer Rick Sanders are seated nearby. Judging by Bieler's demeanor on stage, it would be easy to assume that he is an intense individual. If he appears to take his career a bit too seriously at times, it's because he's dedicated to his craft and to the business of music.
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STA has been playing gigs since last spring. As a live act, the band is just beginning to come into its own. According to Bieler, "The crowd is starting to figure out who we are just as much as we are starting to figure out who we are." Though STA is a new band, three of its members -- Bieler, Sanders, and guitarist Pete Dembrowski -- are old friends who have been part of the local music scene since its heyday in the early '90s. As for the band's fourth member, bassist Pat Badger, fans may remember his stint in the rock group Extreme. Fortunately his presence in STA doesn't elicit painful flashbacks to the '80s. Bieler is quick to point out Badger's positive affects on STA. "Since Pat joined the band," he says, "I think it added another dynamic that changed us musically. Pat's vocal style opened up a lot of possibilities that weren't there before. It's all made the band really come together."
And then Universal Music Group stepped into STA's future. Bieler says that the band's signing with the global powerhouse was something less than conventional. "Pete and I got signed before Ricky was in the band. This process has been actually completely the reverse of our previous bands, where we were a band, we wrote songs, we played out, we got popular, and we got a deal. This has been get a deal, write songs, get a band, try and go out and play."
When STA does perform, Bieler is its frontman. It is a duty that he first assumed some years ago, when he was still in Saigon Kick and that band's singer left. Bieler, otherwise known as an ace guitarist, stepped into the void and honed whatever skills he has as a frontman during years of touring.
Saigon Kick had a Top 20 hit in the early '90s -- "Love Is on the Way" -- and toured the world. Bieler was a rock star. He knows the pitfalls that await anyone who takes that role too seriously. On the other hand, he acknowledges the more pleasurable aspects of basking in the rock 'n' roll limelight. "I enjoy wearing the rock-star outfit," he says. "I rented it many, many times from the costume shop. It's a fun outfit to wear. It gets you a great table, and it gives you license to drink and get in more trouble than the average person walking in the bar without getting beat up."
It has been a long time since his Saigon Kick days. Still, Bieler is not yet an old man. He was, after all, only 19 years old when Saigon Kick signed with Atlantic Records less than a decade ago. He has seen the South Florida scene flourish as well as wither away. He credits Saigon Kick with helping to foster unity among local bands in the late '80s. Many fledgling acts from the time -- Amboog-A-Lard, Talk of War, Marilyn Manson -- opened shows for Saigon Kick. "Any band that had some local promise," Bieler recalls, "we tried to work together. The unfortunate thing was that the scene was always hostile. People were very, very negative." Bieler is more positive when he talks about the audiences that have supported him over the years. "I think I have always had a great response from the fans of the music scene down here. Ninety-nine percent of the people are nothing but supportive."
Today's local scene is a mere shadow of what it once was. The number of venues for live bands falls staggeringly short of what South Florida could handle. Musicians themselves are quick to complain about the pathetic local scene and the overall lack of an audience. According to Bieler there are bands that rise above these alleged circumstances. Bands like Nonpoint. "A band like that is a great example," he says. "Go see that band, and then tell me no one goes out and sees live bands. Have all the other bands explain that."
Not only has Bieler survived the rough-and-tumble South Florida rock scene, he's made quite a name for himself as a producer. Since producing Saigon Kick's last few records, he's worked with many up-and-coming artists. He has built relationships with various A&R people and has been given the opportunity to find bands and produce them himself, which is how he wound up working with Nonpoint and Push. When asked if he is genuinely into the bands he produces, Bieler says, "I have to like them. The problem with me, and the biggest detriment to my [producing] career, is my diverse taste in music. It has definitely caused a problem." The problem is that recording musicians usually want a specialty producer for their genres, whether it's metal, country, or whatever. In the business it is generally better to be known for producing just one type of music, as opposed to being multifaceted.
Fortunately for Bieler his production roster is full at the moment. And if that isn't enough good news for him, he has just been endorsed by Digidesign for the company's high-end Pro Tools studio-recording program, an honor awarded previously only to Trent Reznor, Lenny Kravitz, and Butch Vig. Digidesign is even using some STA music to demonstrate Pro Tools in music stores around the country, giving Bieler and company credibility and exposure.
"I can honestly say I'm really proud of everything I've been involved in musically," he says. As the STA juggernaut rolls forward, he'll no doubt have increasingly less time to recall past accomplishments. With a new album and several intriguing projects in the works, Bieler is once again set to encounter his own promising future.
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