2884 University Ave., San Diego   »  Neighborhood: North Park   »  (619) 435-0868   »  SaikoSushiSD.com

by Mikey Beats

In this Beats & Eats, I bring my good buddy Timothy Joseph, who is the new host of an all local music show that airs every Sunday from 9 p.m. to midnight on 94.9FM called The Local 949, up to North Park’s Saiko Sushi and Sake Bar to discuss music, food and sake.

Mikey: First things first, you are now the host of The Local 949 and you backdoored a radio DJ career. That’s exciting. How did that come about?

TJ: It was an interesting juxtaposition to say the least. My studio, Phaser Control Recording Studio, used to sponsor The Local 949 with Tim Pyles. I was happy with that because my name would get mentioned during the show and in trade, the local show would record live sets at my studio. Then, Tim Pyles abruptly left and moved over to 91X to run the local show there, so they called me in to do a guest hosting spot. I lined up a bunch of really interesting guests, I preselected a big playlist of my favorite local bands, and I had my friend Sheep with Big Front Door come in with his delicious food. We did this big show where we talked about the state of music in San Diego and what it’s like to be in a local band.

The show went over really well and people enjoyed it, so I got a call and they were like, “Hey, man, whatever you did was really cool, can you do it again?” I said, “Look, I’m really busy. I’m a musician, running a business, a single father and I’m in a band about to put out a record. I don’t have the time to take on another job.” So I said yes. I’ve given a million interviews to newspapers, television and radio shows for my music career and I always felt like they never asked the questions I really wanted them to ask. A lot of the times it was usually to promote an album release or a show, but I never felt like they got down to what motivated me to be an artist full time. Unless you come from that music background, you can’t ask those types of questions because you don’t have the knowledge based on those experiences.

Mikey: So what you’re saying is if the interviewee had not lived that sort of lifestyle, they weren’t asking the right questions?

TJ: Well, I come from a songwriting/recording/touring/living-as-a-musician background. So when I have artists in, and even people in the business, I ask questions that aren’t normally asked to people of that stature, because I’ve seen it from the inside. I’ve been to towns where I’ve been treated like shit by the promoter or the booker. Or, I’ve done radio interviews where I’ve been asked the weirdest questions. That was getting really bland and lame.

Mikey: Right.

TJ: People who come on the show are people who I genuinely think make a difference in the local San Diego scene, people who have a hand in the evolution of music in this town. It’s a very tumultuous scene. There’s a lot of segregation, a lot of old boys clubs and I’m trying to break down those barriers because good music is good music is good music. I think that the way to build the scene back up like it was in the early ‘90s, when I was a kid, is to encourage young musicians and young bands to go see other bands, meet them, make friends and play more shows. It all starts from an inner core and they advocate for each other. Their friends, family and fans begin to corral around these bands. That’s how a scene builds, grows, prospers and how towns bring attention to themselves.

Mikey: One hundred percent. OK, we have to do some eats. They just rolled out with fried chicken skins accompanied by a couple limes and Sriracha. Very simple. It’s adding to my man boobs, but I don’t care, I like it.

TJ: You’ve always been a hefty man. It works for you.

Mikey: It does.

TJ: You’ve got a super hot wife.

Mikey: Right? Sexiness does not have a weight limit. Anyways, tell me more, please.

TJ: I’m trying on the show to really give a lot of practical advice. I have a lot of bookers and talent agents on like Tim Mays from the Casbah, I’ve had Cory Stier who books the Soda Bar and Joe Rinaldi who has booked everywhere from San Diego to LA.

It’s those people that even if they aren’t artists, they are working to improve the scene and be involved. I ask them questions that might benefit bands that don’t know the answer to questions, like: How do I book a show at this place? Once I get a show, how do I get people out? When’s an OK time to play before or after each show? These questions need to be answered because people don’t know. They may not know how the music business works. The music business is rapidly evolving every day and if you aren’t involved with it every day, you don’t know what’s the right thing to do or the right thing to say. My goal, more or less, is to bring everyone kind of closer to the actual artist, closer to the understanding of the business, how it works and how to understand what it’s like to live as an artist.

Mikey: What you just said, that was not rehearsed. That was real.

TJ: Well, that’s how I run the show, too. I don’t script the interviews. Whoever I have on, if I don’t know a whole lot about them, I make sure I do before they get on. I don’t pre-design any questions. I get them on, we eat, drink, talk about music and I ask them what they’re doing. You know, they’re releasing a record, they’re going on tour, they had that crazy experience, let’s talk about that.

Mikey: It seems you like to get your guests comfortable and then get the real deal out.

TJ: My whole idea was kind of like a fireside chat type deal. Stuff you don’t normally hear these artists or music industry people say, they say. You make them comfortable and you talk like you’re talking to one of your friends. Most of them are my friends, I’ve been in this town a long time. They open up and kind of become at ease and start voicing their opinions about certain things. That’s when the real information comes out. The whole idea is to perpetuate togetherness in the music scene. To perpetuate the idea that we have all these great creators in this town and we are going to somehow bring them together in this swirling mass of a scene and everybody is going to be coherent together.

Mikey: San Diego could be a music utopia, the key elements are here, we just all need to communicate with each other and be real.

TJ: I figured it’s the same way I write songs and do music. As you get older, you realize that the more honest you are about what you feel, the less restricted you are about being politically correct or towing the line in certain areas to not offend people. The more readily available you are to express your true feelings, the more effective your art, or whatever you say, is going to be. A lot of people bullshit their way through everything. I think that if you’re real about things and upfront, it has a lot more connectivity and a lot more effectiveness. I try to get the artist or music industry people, or whoever comes in, to feel that way, because the things they say are always kind of out of the box. When I had Tim Mays from the Casbah in, he told stories that he probably would have never told in an interview. Brian Karscig, now with Nervous Wreckords, he told some stories about touring with The Killers that were incredible. Stuff you wouldn’t normally hear.

Mikey: People know that you’ve been there and lived this musician life and that plays a lot into them getting comfortable and letting their guard down. This is real San Diego music scene knowledge and here comes some real tasty food.

(A grilled mushroom salad and a side of seasoned edamame is dropped on the table and we both dive for it. Evan the owner walks up to explain what we are eating.)

Evan: This is grilled Japanese mushrooms. They are maitakes, king trumpet oysters mushrooms, a little fresh ginger, cilantro and a vegan soy sauce.

TJ: Amazing. I could probably eat a gigantic bowl of that.

Mikey: The cilantro in Asian dishes, how did that get into their recipes?

Evan: Cilantro is indigenous to Asia as well. You’ll see it in a lot of Thai and Vietnamese [dishes].

Mikey: It grows in Asia as it does in Mexico. That’s news to me.

TJ: This seasoned edamame is amazing.

Evan: Yeah, again, really simple. Fresh garlic, fresh ginger and a little bit of sesame oil. We char it.

TJ: Evan, I’ve been eating your food for a long time and it only gets better.

Evan: Do you guys want to move on to some sake or some beer?

Mikey: Yes-dot-com! While we wait, what’s the good word on your band Palace Ballroom, TJ?

TJ: So dude, the new Palace Ballroom record is coming out in April. I worked almost two years on this record. Recorded it in my studio, produced it myself, mixed by Sean O’Donnell in New Jersey and mastered by a guy in New York who mastered all of David Bowie and Bob Dylan’s music. We’re doing a different release for it. There are eight songs on the record. It’s a 30-minute record. Ahead of time, we’re making a video for every song. So, eight videos and we’re going to release one a week leading up to the album as a promotional idea. They’re like guerrilla style. So, we’ve already filmed six of them.

Mikey: That’s absolutely brilliant.

TJ: We’re going to do the other two over the next couple of weeks and then start in March.

Mikey: So what’s the release date?

TJ: Late April.

(The sake arrives and Evan pours it into a glass until the sake overflows into these little wooden boxes the glass sits in.)

TJ: Evan, explain the overflow.

Evan: The bottom box is called a masu. Traditionally, it was made out of Japanese cedar. They were a rice portion box that everybody in Japan had. That was their daily portion of rice for the day. They’d fill the box up and that was what they were allotted for the day. Because everybody had those and because sake used to be stored in the same type of cedar, they’d drink out of this for lack of better glassware. As the glassware and sake became more sophisticated, the host would place the glass inside the masu and pour the sake until it overflows to show generosity toward the guest. So essentially, we’re doing a different version of that. We mix it up by using melamine versus wood because it’s a bit more sanitary and doesn’t affect the flavor of the sake.

(TJ drinks the sake like a shot.)

Evan: You’re not supposed to shoot it like that. It’s not a shot. It’s supposed to be sipped like wine.

(Lots of laughter.)

TJ: It’s delicious as a shot. That was amazing.

Evan: So how you’re supposed to go about this is you sip it down a little bit and then pour what’s in the box back into the glass. The one I gave you is one of my favorite sakes that we carry. It’s called Shichi Hon Yari, the Seven Spearsmen. Very, very good. The other one is the original premium sake of Japan. They claim to be the first sake. All these sakes only have four ingredients in them. Every premium sake can only have rice, water, yeast and koji. Those are the only four ingredients allowed in a koji-style sake. It’s amazing how many flavor combinations you can get from the same four ingredients. It’s a testament to the brewer’s skill level.

(A gorgeous plate of sashimi is placed on the table.)

Evan: That’s the Jim Bruce special.

Mikey: Jim Bruce is the man.

Evan: Up front that’s our house smoked salmon: cold smoked salmon with a little bit of miso mustard on there. Next to it is the big eye tuna from Hawaii. These are the local spot prawns and local sweet shrimp.

TJ: And they’re local?

Evan: Yes, the local spot prawns are right out from Point Loma. The tails here and the heads are fried. Almost all of it is edible. All of these feelers and legs are totally edible and delicious. This is a Japanese yellowtail, Spanish mackerel, Fijian albacore, salmon with a little bit of white soy sauce on it. It’s a freshwater salmon from New Zealand and I think that’s it.

TJ: This is a beautiful presentation.

Mikey: Oh my gosh. I’m so excited right now. So here’s the thing about me being a food guy: I honestly don’t care about admitting the fact that I don’t know shit about food. I enjoy this and when I get to learn more about it and what I’m eating, it’s really exciting to me. For example, this local shrimp: I love the presentation as two pieces of raw shrimp in a hollowed out lime with shiso leaf and some pretty little viola flowers. That’s the first time I ate a viola. I played a viola but I’ve never eaten it before.

TJ: When did you play the viola?

Mikey: At Clairemont High School. Not consistently, for like 30 seconds, until I realized I sucked. Anyways, you know me, I’m all about the locals and now I’m eating local shrimp.

(I pop one in my mouth and it put my whole life on hold.)

Mikey: Wait a minute, that’s amazing.

TJ: Yeah, it’s really good.

Mikey: Hey, how is this local shrimp sweet?

Evan: It’s naturally like that.

Mikey: It’s naturally sweet? So that comes out of the ocean like that?

Evan: Off of Blacks Beach in La Jolla, about 500 feet deep.

Mikey: You guys put nothing on that?

Evan: Nope, nothing on it.

Mikey: So you peeled it, put it in this lime and it tastes like that?

Evan: Yup.

Mikey: We have good local music in San Diego and good local shrimp.

(TJ and I go through the plate of sashimi with our chopsticks popping one piece after another into our mouths, simultaneously releasing little spurts of orgasmic moans as each piece of delicate fish flesh touches our palates. The quality of each piece is so high and cut so perfect that every piece feels as if it is absorbed into the tongue and cheek without even chewing. Maybe I haven’t eaten at that many great sushi places in my life or maybe I had and this place is that good, but that plate of sashimi is better than anything I had ever experienced. TJ and I pause to a stare down when there was one last piece on the plate. I envision us Lady and the Tramping the last piece after calling no homo, but in the time of my short daydream Steve Kang comes in and swoops up the last piece like a seagull. TJ and I shrug our shoulders and move on.)

TJ: This is an incredible location, very comfortable atmosphere with high ceilings.

Mikey: We can even walk outside a buy some crack.

TJ: You can’t buy crack as readily as you could like 10 years ago down here. I used to live here before I bought a house in Encinitas. This place was filled with crack dealers and hookers. You didn’t want to walk around past 9:30 at night because it was dangerous.

Mikey: And this is the heart of North Park.

TJ: It’s been completely gentrified. It’s got hipsters with pointy shoes and beards and pretty girls.

Mikey: Oh, pretty girls?

TJ: Oh, beautiful.

Mikey: Wow. That never happened before?

TJ: Well, it did, but they were expensive.

(There is laughter as Evan rolls back up with some more sake.)

Evan: OK, so I brought out a custom flight for you. The first one on your left is a really cool special release sake that isn’t on our menu; it’s called a nama sake. There should be melon flavors sort of bright and big flavors and very fresh tasting. They exist for about a year and then they are gone forever. There aren’t vintages like you do with wines. That’s probably the last bottle in San Diego, maybe in California. The second one is the Isle of Paradise; it’s a really dry, clean-style sake. It goes great with fish. The last one is really cool, it’s called Red Maple. It has three things that are very rare: it’s a nama sake, therefore it’s unpasteurized; it’s a Genshu, so it’s not diluted and has higher alcohol levels of about 18 percent; and finally, it’s aged for two years, which is extremely rare in sake. Typically, you usually drink sake really fresh, but this one is aged at just about freezing so the maturation process takes a lot longer, giving it a unique flavor profile as well.

(Both TJ and I raise our glasses for a cheers.)

Mikey: SAKE-NAMA-ALAIKUM!

(Laughter all around.)

Evan: I need a t-shirt that says that.