Ojai Underground – A Conversation with Michael Saidman
By Demitri Corbin
Michael Saidman is a very busy man. As a frequent denizen of the Ojai Deer Lodge, he has become a fixture in the Ojai music scene. He is the talented singer-songwriter and founder of Deer Leg, which will be performing a number of gigs throughout the summer. We sat down for a talk, which is the first in a series of conversations with people who are a part of the Ojai Underground.
It’s late afternoon on what is thus far the hottest day of the year. It’s a stifling of 102 degrees as I step off the Ojai Trolley in Meiner’s Oaks. Saidman picks me up and we head to Camp Goat, his secluded Mo-Town residence. We arrive and step into the cool air stream where we are greeted by Kytriena Payseno and Scott Belsha; two members of the interchangeable Deer Leg band. The heat has zapped our vitality, making for a sluggish start. I turn on the recorder.
DC: Alright. So, I’m sitting here at Camp Goat with Michael Saidman and Kat Payseno, we’re just going to chat about what’s coming up for Deer Leg and other assorted festival things for this mid-summer 2014. So, we’ll just start with Mike, say hello.
MS: Hello … Demitri … how are you?
DC: First off, what’s summer been like, what’s summer going to be like?
MS: Summer has been hot, very hot … uhm (laughs.) Summer has actually been really chockfull of gigs….it’s been…went down to Vegas for a gig and did a Father’s Day special, a thing that Jonathan McCuen put on, that was really exciting… and the arrival of Kat being back is exciting for the summer…what else… trying to get in the studio but we been so busy with gigs…
DC: Too busy to record.
MS: Too busy to record right now. Bernie Larson is doing that Ojai recording thing, so we will hopefully be on volume two.
DC: What’s that exactly?
MS: That’s a collection of Ojai musicians that Bernie Larson put on, called the “Ojai Sessions” …I don’t know if you want to put that in, but whatever…
DC: I met him. He produced the CD with Stephen Shareaux.
MS: Yes, that’s correct, very good album. Really enjoyed that. Paying a lot of attention to writing new songs, honing my skills in on some other songs I’ve been crafting my work on other songs, cover songs…will you remember that…
DC: Just keep rolling and relax!
KP: Yeah, you’re all nervous.
MS: I just want to say something you can put down-
DC: Don’t worry about what I’m going to put down, tell me what you’re excited about. I think we should start with that. What are you excited about?
MS: I’m super stoked about –
DC: Kat being back –
MS: Kat being back, of course that’s exciting to me, are you kidding me. She’s the love of my life and also a amazing back-up singer who adds some really good flair to the band and some good rootsy vibes. Excited about a of gigs, been really packed, cause we’re at the point where I feel we’re tight right now.
MS: Tight. Yeah. Tighter than we’ve ever been.
He pauses and let’s that settle. We all laugh.
MS: I don’t know….
DC: Give me the lineup of events. It seems like you have 8 or 9 coming up over the course of these weekends.
MS: What’s exciting is Beach House Tacos on August 3rd, a Sunday event which I love playing. During the day, right on the Ventura Pier.
KP: And it’s during the (Ventura County) Fair.
MS: Yes, it’s during the fair, so there’s a lot festivities, which is WONDERFUL….
KP: They have great tacos …
MS: They have great tacos. The last time we played there it was a full house and we just had a blast. And then August 7th is the Discovery in Ventura, which is a new place that just opened up by some cats from Santa Barbara, well actually they’re from up North.
KP: It’s a bowling alley, right?
DC: Oh, yes, it’s the new bowling alley I’ve heard about.
MS: Yes, it’s a great venue! They actually have a green room…
DC: Do they have a stage?
MS: A huge stage! And a great sound system that gets blasted into the whole place, so you could bowl to Deer Leg when you come and see us. Or bowl to whoever you go to see. And it’s FUN, you know.
DC: And I heard the food is good.
MS: The food….is….good….the food’s amazing…
DC: Well, I don’t have to talk about the food.
MS: (laughs) The food is AMAZING Demitri!
DC: How can I word it to put the real meaning behind that? Anyway, it’s a new place.
MS: (laughs) Don’t get me started with food!
DC: No, I want to continue what we started, back to music.
MS: But that’s always exciting, it’s a new place to play. I love playing new places. That’s like…like opening a present on Christmas, when you play in a new establishment. Especially when the sound is good and the people are good, it’s wonderful. And the people in Ventura are fantastic, they’re very attentive. Responsive, is that a good word? They’re very responsive.
KP: Yeah and you want to bring in your own crowd to these new places.
DC: You want to bring your own cheering squad.
KP: And it helps to like, boost the business.
DC: That’s right. So, go on to the next one.
MS: And then the NEXT one is really exciting because it’s a series of shows, two shows, maybe we’ll fit one more in there but it’s Friday night, August 22th at Bombay’s in Ventura, 9 pm and Sunny Erickson’s going to be in town and he’s going to play that with us, and Barnie, hopefully. I always love having book end guitars.
KP: And the secret guest…
MS: Kat will be there.
DC: It won’t be a secret if I put it in the article.
MS: It’s no secret, Kat.
DC: You’re no secret.
MS: Well, I don’t know, is there a secret?
DC: Will this be your first time performing since coming back? Is that right?
DC: When are you stepping in?
KP: I already did.
DC: I already missed it.
MS: At the Art Walk at Bell Arts.
KP: I only did five songs.
DC: Only five songs! That’s a set!
MS: Well, we have about 30-40 songs.
KP: I used to sing on a lot of them, but it’s been a year now…
DC: There’s the one song you two sang as a duet, I can’t remember the name of it now, but I loved it.
KP: Tequila and Lime?
DC: Yes, I think that’s it.
MS: Anyhow, going back to the schedule, Friday August 22nd is Bombay’s, then Saturday, August 23rd we’re going to be play at Seven Bar & Grill over by the Funk Zone. They’re having a annual jamboree they call it, the Santa Barbara Music Jamboree featuring a beard and mustache contest and a pinup girl contest. So, yeah, busy.
DC: And what else after that? I mean, in all this lineup, you haven’t mentioned Ojai, which is what this is…
MS: Well that’s true. That’s because you jumped – we jumped. We mentioned the Beach House Taco before the Deer Lodge –
DC: Which is when –
MS: Which is important, the Deer Lodge, August 1, 10 pm. And we all love going to the Deer Lodge and celebrating –
KP: It’s the not World Famous Deer Lodge anymore, it’s the Ojai Deer Lodge?
MS: No, It’s the Ojai Deer Lodge.
DC: With new proprietors?
MS: Yes. You haven’t put this in any of your articles yet.
DC: No, I haven’t yet.
MS: Pam and Tom…Tom and Pam…
KP: I have to say that place – I haven’t been there all year – they’ve been in ownership for just a little over a year and they’ve really turned the place around, it’s a really nice there. I really like what they’ve done with the place and I think they’re making smart decisions.
DC: That’s wonderful.
MS: So yes, we’ll be there Friday night.
DC: That’s great. Let’s stay in Ojai because right now there’s, I can’t think of one off the top of my head, that is THE music venue right now –
MS: It is the only venue –
DC: It’s the only venue –
MS: Have you seen that video going around?
Saidman tells me of a parody video on the Jester with Hitler and his team kvetching about The Jester not being open. Kat and I surmise that it must be a prank from theater crowd.
DC: But beyond that I want to get – I want you to give me a musician’s perspective of the music scene in Ojai, particularly with music venues diminishing down to…
MS: One place –
MS: I’ll tell you about the music scene in Ojai. It’s awesome, it’s great, it’s booming. There’s a lot of musical gems in Ojai, people don’t realize who you’re playing with. If you go to the Deer Lodge Jamboree on Thursday night, you could get up there with the likes of Aaron Embry….
DC: You’re not going to get a light bulb out of me, who is he.
MS: Look him up, okay…ugh…
Scott Belsha enters.
DC: Scott Belsha…
MS: Scott Belsha.
Belsha proceeds to turn a pepper grinder over Saidman’s head.
MS: …what an opportunity to play.
DC: Have you played Libbey Bowl?
MS: Not yet….
He strokes his beard sinisterly.
MS: Oh no, not yet.
MS: One day Libbey Bowl will be mine. That’s how I do things, I manifest places to play. I like put it in my head and it’s a fun realization that you play a venue that you’ve been to in the past and thought, “I want to play here,” even if it was two years ago, even when I didn’t even have the Deer Leg Band….
DC: Well, let’s get to that –
MS: Small victories, that’s what it’s all about, Demitri, small victories.
DC: Well, let’s talk about Deer Leg. As you know, I’m not fond of that name at all, but apparently people love it. Tell me the story of the inception, the epiphany, the evolution of the Deer Leg Band
MS: Deer Leg started with basically me as a singer-songwriter, playing at the Deer Lodge, going up there on a Sunday, playing with Jonathan McCuen. And he’d say, ‘Get on up there, Mike!’ I never had a band before and this is my first band. I used to live in Philly and I had a restaurant there and used to host Thursday night music night always at my place, Thursday night music night at Mike’s and sometimes there’d be 20 people there, sometimes it would be three but everybody knew Thursday night was music at my place. That’s the only music experience I had other than playing as a singer-songwriter. So , when I got to Ojai, start playing with Jonathan, I started playing harmonica with him and eventually he was like, “Why don’t you get up there and play your own stuff, get up on the stage.” Always wanted me to get up and play solo….so, after playing gigs there I went down and recorded my first EP at Tucker’s studio, Playback Recording Studio up in Santa Barbara and that was when the first EP was released. I made that EP more to give to musicians and give to bar owners to get gigs and get a band, that was my whole intent of making the EP. So I made the EP, made connections through Tucker. He’s my best friend from high school and I helped build the studio, so we had a trade thing going on at the same time. It was wonderful. Kismet, the universe lining up with McCuen and the studio and everything. So, I started a band, it was like time to start a band. And I did it and it was totally grass roots…
DC: That’s where the grassroots come from cause how did you get to Deer Leg?
MS: And Scott Belsha was actually one of my first drummers, he still is a drummer of the Deer Leg. You know, Deer Leg is an incarnation, it’s just a revolving door, that’s what I call it. Sometimes there are set spokes in the wheel, sometimes there not….
DC: You have to tell me how you came up with the name Deer Leg.
MS: SO, Deer Leg, the name came from a song that I wrote probably 15 years ago. It’s like one of my first songs. And it was because was living in the woods in the mountains of New Jersey, believe it or not. And there’s a lot of hunting going on. And my dog Luna she would run out to the woods, she did this once and she grabbed a deer leg and brought it back and there it was: Luna, hyper dog with a deer leg in her mouth and I had to grab it from her and I dug a hole and I realized I couldn’t do that because she would dig it up, so I had to wrap it in plastic and throw it in the trash can, so the lyrics to Deer Leg go;
‘Deer leg in a dog’s mouth
Deer leg in a trash can
Wrapped in plastic
Like a mad man”
DC: That’s the most unnerving song I’ve ever heard.
MS: Yeah, well..
KP: Then she came back –
MS: She came back with a different leg four separate times because the hunters cut off the deer’s legs, so she kept coming back.
KP: And he thought he was going mad, like, “ I just got rid of this leg, what’s going on?”
DC: And thus…
MS: And thus, I wrote a song called Deer Leg and when it came time to name the band, you know, I tried to come up with all these names but Deer Leg, the song just stood out. It had to do with my dog who I’m really connected with so, that’s a really good thing. It pays homage to Luna at the same time.
DC: So, it’s all about the story of a boy and his dog.
We all laugh!
MS: That’s true! Luna’s been with me during every song I ever wrote, seriously, 16 years.
KP: He’s going to get a tattoo of her paw.
DC: That’s a good time to wrap it up. Do you have anything else you want to say? Some words of wisdom to the readers, to your fans? Think about it.
MS: I’m on the spot?
DC: Yes, you’re on the spot.
MS: You know what I want to say, just keep supporting live music. Come out and enjoy it. Forget sitting at your computer and listening through Facebook, or Spotify or whatever your media is. Come out and support live music. It’s an awesome thing. It’s payback, it’s involvement, it’s what community is all about.
DC: Great, thanks!
Deer Leg Band includes Michael Saidman on vocals, Josh Krapff on drums, Barnie Tower on lead guitar and Kytriena Payseno on backup vocals.