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A Dram Good Time With...

In our opinion the association between Jack Daniels and rock is old and tired and that’s why Simply Whisky feels compelled to re-introduce whisky into the music scene by profiling contemporary bands talking about their interest, opinion and experience of single malt whisky.

Sam and Tim from Swiss Lips

Simon of Simply Whisky recently caught up with Mancunian band Swiss Lips at The Old Queens Head in North London, a small gig by their current standards.  Now signed to Sony Epic their crazy catchy synthesized electronic dance music is reaching a much wider audience.  Having recently played the Fuji Rock festival in Japan, Swiss Lips have also been on Channel 4oD’ Freshly Squeezed and 4Play.   You can catch them throughout October on a UK tour with Bastille.

“Inevitably we are going to die at 27, and we are creeping closer to that”— Sam, Swiss Lips

Despite bass player Thomas and guitarist Luke being devoted whisky lovers somehow news of this interview has escaped them, and they are nowhere to be seen.  As a consequence we are talking with lucky lead singer Sam (S), a relative newbie to whisky, and synth player Tim (T), a wine connoisseur by his own admission.  Let’s begin.

When did you as a band come of age musically?

S: ‘I think we are still doing it, but we’ve just finished our first album and we are really happy with that.  We’ve still got a lot of growing to do, but as a foundation for what we want to achieve, we’ve achieved it!’

What is the first album called?

S: ‘We haven’t decided yet to be honest, we are still thinking whether we are just going to call it Swiss Lips or give it a suitable name.  I think that if we do give it a name it will have to be something that really nails it on the head, and sums up the general theme of the album.’’

So what is the general theme of the album?

S: ‘It’s about youth and mortality, and being somewhere between birth and death and acknowledging that.’  Well, you only live once and so perhaps it’s just all about trying to have a good time? S: ‘I think we’ve only just realized it, and that’s the problem’.

T: ‘Yeh, I think it is just part of getting older, a few of the songs were written a couple of years back.’

During (previous band) the Ten Bears era?

T: ‘Mainly towards the end of that period, when I joined. A lot of the songs are about being younger and half way through writing them we realized that we were getting a bit older.’  ‘Shhhh,’ says Sam. ‘So, its all about realizing’ Tim reckons.  I remind them that they’ve both got a little bit of life in them yet. T: ‘We are still young, but you know… out of our teens.’  S: ‘Inevitably we are going to die at 27, and we are creeping closer to that.’ Well then, you had better keep your spirits up and your creativity levels high!

Being debonair gents with a rock n roll persuasion I’m presuming you have kissed many lips. Perhaps you have decided that swiss lips are the best.  Is this true?

S: ‘No, unfortunately. I’ve never kissed a Swiss girl…have you?’ turning to Tim.  T: ‘No.’  S: ‘No, I don’t think I have. The name Swiss Lips sort of came about simply because we were struggling for a name, and it popped into my head and I didn’t know what it meant. It just felt good, and it rolled off the tongue (Ed: as swiss lips do) and we said it too many times and then it was kind of like a temporary thing, and then it became the name. I think a lot of great bands have really bad band names, so hopefully you can just let the music take over the thought process.’

Agreeing, I suggest that the name ceases to become relevant after a while.  S: ‘Yeh, totally.  It’s just like you being called Simon.  I’m sure your friends never think about the exact meaning of your name.  To them you are just Simon.’  Admittedly that’s true, although I happen to know that in Greek it means listener.  S: ‘Really?’  Yes, as it happens, but you are right...most people would never care to ask or to question that.  T: ‘My name means honouring God.’ ‘That makes a lot of sense considering your lifestyle,’ Sam jokes.

Speaking of lifestyle I take the opportunity to introduce the first dram, an Irish whiskey called Tullamore D.E.W. which is 40% ABV.  Pointing out that it is triple distilled and therefore of lighter taste I pass the guys glasses that have been designed to enhance the whiskies aroma, suggesting they gently pass the glass under their noses before taking a small breath in.

Tullamore D.E.W. Triple Distilled 40%
Not only is it triple distilled but it is a blend of grain, malt and pot still whiskey

Dae ye ken?
Tullamore D.E.W. is the 2nd best selling Irish whiskey in the World.  Recently acquired by Wm Grant & Sons there is new packaging but the same great taste.

American white oak ex-bourbon and European oak ex-sherry

Malty, sherry notes, vanilla, toasted wood, faint citrus

More intensely flavoured than standard Tullamore D.E.W. with distinctive sherry notes from the wood influence apparent. Spicy, nutty, and sweet

Mellow, spicy and sweetish with good length

Distillery Info
&Sons, who have invested €300 million in a new state of the art distillery, the town is once again producing whiskey for the first time since the original distillery closed in 1954.

T: ‘Its a sexy glass, I must say.‘  S: ‘This whisk(e)y smells like caramel.’  T: ‘It smells really good for whisk(e)y, and I’m not the biggest whisk(e)y drinker, but I think with any spirit it has to be worth a little bit.  If you spend more you get good quality, like a good gin. I’m a big gin drinker.  This smells like it’s going to be smooth, which is important for me, because with cheap whisk(e)y I just can’t do it. It doesn’t work with me.’

All the more surprising then that the Tullamore D.E.W. is only £20.

I go on to mention to the guys that while there is no bad whisk(e)y some whiskies are better than others, and that it is all about the taste sensation.  T: ‘Exactly, and you don’t have to mix it with coke to enjoy it.’  You can drink whisk(e)y however you like, but if you want to appreciate it you are best to try it neat first. Experiment, perhaps adding a little water to remove the alcoholic prickle, until you find the right taste.

S: ‘Do you like Jack Daniels?’ It’s all right, I admit.  S: ‘But it’s not this!’  No it isn’t.  The Tullamore D.E.W. is more in the same ballpark as a Jameson.  S: ‘So can we taste it now?’  Of course you can.  Hold it in your mouth for 10 seconds or so and move it left, right, up and down so you stimulate all the different areas of your palate - remember you have five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. T: ‘That’s really nice.’  S: ‘Mmmm.’

T: ‘I’ve been trying to make myself like whisky for a while to be honest, and there are a few that I’ve tried that I’ve liked, but this is just amazing.’

S: ‘It is so easy to drink.’  T: ‘It is really smooth, but it has an intensity to it as well.  It hits you!’  It may be the spiciness; this Tullamore D.E.W. is more intensely flavoured than the standard one.  T: ‘Yup, I love it.’  S: ‘It makes your taste buds go crazy!’  T: ‘It hits you right between the eyes.’

Once you swallow do you notice anything about the finish?

S: ‘I can still feel it.’  T: ‘It warms you up, it warms your cockles.’ Yes, this whisky has good length. Some whiskies have a very short finish and disappear quickly while others reappear a few seconds later as a reminder of the taste.  I’m glad you like it.  Time to move onto the next question...

What is the best musical moment you have experienced (either individually or as a group), and how did you celebrate. What did you drink?

S: ‘I think Japan was our best moment so far, well for me it was, what did you think Tim?’  T: ‘As a band, yes definitely, but I was actually thinking of what bands I’ve seen on tour', he laughs. 'While I’ve played big gigs with other bands before I feel like we are just finding our stride now, we played Japan about a month ago and it was just mind-blowing!’ 

Was that at the Fuji Rock festival?

T: ‘Yes, it was amazing.  We drunk sake actually, a lot of sake, and a lot of just whatever was there.’  S: ‘They have a drink called Pocari Sweat.  You can drink all day long, get really drunk and then you drink this stuff....  It’s a strange liquid, I don’t know what’s in it, but you drink it and it stops you having a hangover.  It rehydrates you.’

At this moment a door opens and another member of Swiss Lips appears.  T: ‘Hi, how are you?  Simon, this is Nick, our drummer. Nick, you might aswell join us, we are having a little interview. Have a taste of that, its fantastic whiskey' as he hands his glass of Tullamore D.E.W. to Nick.

S: ‘Simon runs this site called Simply Whisky which we are being interviewed for.’  Not wasting any time Nick (N) gets his nose into the glass and comments: ‘There’s a bit of toffee in there!’

Picking up the thread again I inform Nick that we are just discussing their appearance at the Fuji rock festival and their consumption of Pocari Sweat.  N: ‘It tastes a little bit salty.’  S: ‘It stops you from having a hangover, it rehydrates you completely.’  It sounds like a very useful tool to have in a drinker’s toolbox. S: ‘Yes, its great!’  T: ‘I think it’s a placebo!’ N: ‘It's not placebo, but it works!’

George Orwell, author of 1984, travelled to the Island of Jura for creative respite, which drink enhances your creativity and is your writing companion?

S: ‘For me its coffee, just because it keeps me awake.  When I get into writing I get into a zone in my mind where I start getting really tired and start to fall asleep, and I find if I drink alcohol I can’t write, so I drink a lot of caffeine and it helps me to focus.’  T: ‘I’m the same, a lot of coffee during the day, but occasionally I will come home from a night out and have a glass of red wine while I’m writing, but it is very occasionally.  I do like a good glass of red.  I get a little lamp on in the corner of the room and just scream into a microphone, then when I wake up in the morning I realise it was rubbish!’

If your band was a drink what would it be, and why?

S: ‘If we were a drink?’ he ponders.  N: ‘Would we be a shit mix? There are so many different influences throughout the band.  There would be red wine in there, Pocari Sweat, him with his whisk(e)y (gesturing to Tim), there would be me with a dash of soda in there, and Tommy would probably drop a tea bag on top.’  T: ‘I think rather than a shit mix we’d be a red wine.  You have me who is robust like a Malbec, you would have Thomas who is light on his feet like a Pinot Noir, we’d have Nick who’d be a Cabernet Sauvignon because he is very complex (this gets a laugh from Nick), and we’d have Sam who’d be a Petit Bordeaux.’

Moving on to our second whisky of the evening I inform the band that this one is from the Scottish island of Islay.  S: ‘Islay?’  Yes, and its called Kilchoman. S: ‘Is Islay in the Hebrides?’  Yes, the Outer Hebrides in fact, and you will find that this whisky is very different.  N: ‘Smoky!’  T: ‘It’s a lot lighter in colour.’ Interjecting Sam announces: ‘My mum has got a house on Lewis.’  Does she?  You are a lucky boy.  S: ‘I know, yes.  It’s beautiful up there, but just so far away.  Its cheaper to get to Spain’ he laughs.

Returning to the whisky I suggest they are likely to get peat on the nose and maybe a little Christmas cake, while on the palate there is butterscotch and soft citrus.  I then point out that the whisky is only 5 years old and 46% ABV.

Kilchoman 2006 Vintage Release5yrs 46%
A young whisky from Islay's newest distillery

Dae ye ken?
A fire in the kiln at the distillery in the early days nearly halted the operation. Franchi and I were fortunate to try whisky from their very first cask. The fire and our visit to Kilchoman are unrelated.

Primarily american white oak ex-bourbon

Peat, christmas cake

Butterscotch, soft citrus, mouth watering

Classic Islay, fresh, clean, peaty

Distillery Info
Kilchoman started production in 2005 and was the first distillery to be built on the island of Islay in 124 years. A traditional farming operation they grow their own barley and do the malting, distilling, maturing and bottling of their whisky all on Islay.

T: ‘How old was the Tullamore D.E.W.?’  That doesn’t have an age statement on it because it’s a blend. S: ‘It's so smokey.’  As their senses are being stretched I ask:

Is the aroma of your whisk(e)y transporting you in spirit to Scotland?

S: ‘It does, yeh. It is a bit like that up there.  It reminds me of the sea and the cold air.’ T: ‘I already know that I prefer the first whisk(e)y, even before tasting this one.  I presumed I would like the other one because it smelled a lot smoother, and it ended up tasting like it smelled.’ Well, it is good to try different whiskies to find your own taste because that is the whole point of experimenting.  They say there are over 400 flavours in whisk(e)y and there might be a particular flavour group that appeals to you more. 

T: ‘The Kilchoman is very smoky to taste.  I think it would be good if you were trying to give up smoking, you could just drink that all day.  It is so strong!’

N: ‘Am I right in thinking that to taste a whisk(e)y you don’t have to drink it, that you can just lick your lips?’  No, you should use your whole mouth so as to stimulate the different primary tastes on your palate in addition to your lips.  N: ‘We are getting down to the nitty gritty now!’

What has been the most enjoyable drink to pass through your lips in the last 48 hours?

T: ‘To be honest, it was a really good orange juice.  If I could have a lifetime supply of any drink, that’s what I’d have, orange juice!’ Was it fresh?  T: ‘Yes, and with juicy bits, extra pulp, and not from concentrate.’ S: ‘I was feeling a bit ill yesterday, I thought I was coming down with a cold because my girlfriend’s got one, so I’ve been taking Berocca all day for the vitamins.’  That will keep you on your feet!  I use it as well.  A banana and a Berocca first thing in the morning after a night of tasting whisk(e)y works wonders. N: ‘Don’t forget the Pocari Sweat aswell!’

T: ‘Nick, what has your best drink been in the last 48 hours?’  N: ‘I would honestly say the Kilchoman because I didn’t realize that the flavour of whisk(e)y was that diverse.’  S: ‘If we are including these then yes…these are like luxury drinks, I’ve never tasted anything like them.’

N: ‘Crazy, I thought whisk(e)y was just whisk(e)y.’

That’s the thing, and I’m glad you’ve noticed it.  Whisk(e)y has many polar opposites.  For example, you might get smokey, sweet, salty, fruity, woody or dry flavour sensations.  It helps to play around until you find your preference. 

T: ‘The Kilchoman has got such an aftertaste.  It's amazing that you can still taste it after swallowing it.’  S: ‘I feel a bit dizzy and drunk after the sips of it I’ve had!’  Perhaps sensing that Sam may not make full use of his healthy dram Nick eagerly instructs him to ‘Save the rest for after the gig.’  T: ‘Keep drinking, get the crowd pumping and then piss yourself by tune 2!’ he laughs.

Speaking of your music, our favourite tracks of yours are Fire In Your Heart, which perhaps doesn’t count as it was by Ten Bears, although you do sometimes still include it in your set, and U Got The Power.  The lyrics include the lines “all things going against you, we’ll fight them out in the avenues.” What have you had to fight for, and was it worth it?

S: ‘We’ve had to fight for this (referring to being in the band).  We are very lucky to be in the position we are now in.  We’ve got people around us supporting us, helping us make an album and get our music out there and all those things.  That has been a long time coming.  Every one of us has been in different bands for a long long time trying to get people to believe.  But it is definitely worth it.  For example, we’ve just been to Japan!’ he smiles.


T: ‘We’ve got a song called Fight For What You Need’ which sounds really cheesy, but its not.’  S: ‘It is pretty cheesy actually.’  T: ‘Well yeh, but I think it’s actually our coolest sounding verse offset by a cheesy sounding chorus, but that’s fine.’  N: ‘It balances out.’  S: ‘We’ll play it for you tonight.’  T: ‘But it has been a big fight to get to where we are and it continues to be an uphill struggle, but that’s great and I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

Well, thank you for creating such great music that for me has an instant quality.  The first five seconds gets you, which is not always the case when you hear or go to see a band live.  N: ’I was the same; I was a fan of Sam’s songwriting before I joined the band.  My brother knew Sam and he took me to see him playing an acoustic set and the tunes were just instant, they were great, they’ve got something to them.’  T: ‘It might not be as instant tonight because we’ve not had a sound check, so it may take a couple of songs to get it sounding right’ he laughs.  Well, like a good whisk(e)y good music requires patience until you see how things develop.  S: ‘Yes, I agree.’

Thinking about the introduction to whisk(e)y you’ve had this evening and about your future whisk(e)y journey, what’s next?

T: (without hesitation): ‘I’m going to come straight up to you after the gig for more of that first one, the Tullamore D.E.W.  Seriously!’ N: ‘I’d love another drink of the Kilchoman after the gig if that’s ok, because it was absolutely lovely.’ S: ‘You’ve just shown us two very different whiskies that taste like completely different drinks, and to have them contrast like that was awesome.  I think I could get into whisky drinking.’ T: ‘Yeh, I’m certainly trying!’

S: ‘I’d like to go on a night out and just drink whisky straight like this, take my time and try lots of different flavours.’ Well, let me know whenever you need my help!  S: ‘Let’s go out for a session – you can take us on a whisky night out.’

Thank you all very much indeed, and have a great gig.

S: ‘Thank you.’  N: and T: ‘It was a pleasure to meet you aswell, thank you.