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190 Proof

190 Proof: James Sardone Chats about Booze, Being Under the Influence, and Dive Bars

Singer-songwriter James Sardone joins us for a 190 Proof interview to discuss alcohol, favourite drinks, and the best dive bar.



James Sardone

As an artist, James Sardone just never stops growing. You can see it on his brand new EP Colors (vinyl version here), a real exposé of the guitarist’s skills as a songwriter. From Wilmington, North Carolina, the singer-songwriter uses his guitar and his pop sensibilities in tandem, combining the influences of 40 years of alternative and indie music. Originally from the Appalachians, Sardone has been etching out his place within indie rock for some time now, stemming back to his younger years in the late 1980s when he was part of the post-punk trio Brickbat.

His sound and musical preferences have evolved over the years to now a more electronic-influenced, 1980s retro feel. There are many highlights within this new set of songs, including two versions of the song “Colors of Your Brain,” one a shortened radio edit, while the other an eleven-minute marathon track meant to keep those feet moving. In addition, you’ll find a brilliant take on Blondie’s “Dreaming,” which features guest piano by none other than Tracy Shedd.

The reason for all the musical changes by Sardone over the years is simple: he doesn’t like resting on his laurels. This means that he is not content with staying in one musical space for too long because he feels confined or gets bored quite easily. That’s why so much of his music, over the years, has sounded so different because it’s more about the authenticity and the amusement in it for Sardone, rather than just succumbing to a perceived pressure to sound a certain way.

But never mind music for now! Today, we are joined by Sardone for a 190 Proof interview, in which we discuss his alcoholic beverage preferences, being under the influence, dive bars, and more.

First things first: beer, wine, or liquor?

James Sardone: “Oh, hello. It depends if I’m having a glass with a meal or not; but as you say, first things first… Bourbon. I’m a known foodie and used to work as a sous chef, so wine is the go-to with a good dinner. Beer comes last, but I like Belgian and German beers like Duvel, Delirium Tremens, or a Weihenstephaner. Extremely hoppy beer doesn’t work with my buds (kind of like some freaks not liking cilantro), and makes my mouth taste like an eternal ashtray.”

What was the first drink you ever had, and how old were you?

“Probably Coors or Budweiser and mostly like started some bad habits at 14. I’m sure some awful swill like Miester Brau or Miller High Life might’ve been involved. I had no idea what to drink. There wasn’t any really good booze like we have today. It was all Canadian Club out of our parent’s liquor cabinet.”

It’s been a long day, and you get to have a drink: where are you, and what do you get?

“If I’ve been working in the sun, a crisp Pilsner; if it’s been a hard day working the jobby job, an Old Fashioned. Not to be confused with the ‘new” Old Fashioned with the muddled, radioactive cherry and orange slice… I’m talking ye olde, original whiskey cocktail. I just muddle a small demerara sugar cube with Angostura and orange bitters, splash that with a tidbit of soda, add bourbon or rye and express the oils from an orange peel. Simple, alcohol forward as the booze critics like to say.”

James Sardone ‘Colors’ vinyl album artwork

James Sardone ‘Colors’ vinyl album artwork

What’s the most unique/strangest/most batshit thing you’ve ever had to drink? Describe the experience.

Barium, it’s like drinking chalk, but then comes the x-ray. If you don’t need your pipes looked at, I don’t recommend it. Nothing to see here folks, just too much coffee.”

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done under the influence?

“Back in the early 2000s, I was on a date with my now wife, and we went to the Rodeo Bar in NYC (where I used to run sound). We were ending the date with a nightcap; we ended up closing down the bar. On the way out, I tried to be dashing like some kind of ’40s film hero by sliding down the stair handrails from the upstairs lounge, completely wiping out, and rolling down the stairs. I was feeling no pain; luckily, no serious injuries beside some bumps and a good deal of embarrassment. We still laugh about it.”

What do you think is a totally overrated drink or brand?

“I did a blind taste-test with James Tritten of Fort Lowell Records, between Buffalo Trace and Ancient Age; I chose Ancient Age (laughs).”

You only get to listen to one album, but it’s only when you drink, and it’s for the rest of your life; what is it?

The Replacements, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash.”

Marry, fuck, kill: Your choices are Captain Morgan, Admiral Nelson, Sailor Jerry?

“Kill ‘em all and get yourself a good, funky bottle of Smith & Cross. It’s great in a ‘Charles Dicken Punch.’”

What’s the worst (or best) dive bar you’ve ever gone drinking to?

“The MARS Bar/ NYC. Definitely some characters out of William Kennedy’s Ironweed alongside ’90s hipsters, The mix was horrible to look at.”

James Sardone ‘Colors’ album artwork

James Sardone ‘Colors’ album artwork

If a drink could define your life so far, what would it be and why?

“The Old Fashioned. I’ve been in the music biz for a very long time, so everything I do with my music, I try to be mellow, professional, and exceptional. I like the magic and mystery in the crystal whisky glass as well as not knowing every detail about an artist in the days before mobile devices and the internet.”

A fan asks to buy you a drink in a bar; what do you choose?

“I accept, of course; I usually cap that offer by telling them I drink for free and can I buy you the next one?!

What do you think about kids soaking tampons in alcohol and then inserting them up their asses to get drunk?

Um… I have never ever heard of that. Whatever happened to sniffing glue? Good enough for The Ramones, good enough for you!”

Where is the most embarrassing place you have barfed?

“Going back to the late ’80s, in the median of Fifth Ave, downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. I was walking home from a friend’s house just around daybreak, ‘walk of shame’ if you will. I suddenly projectile vomit bile three feet. I was wearing a trench coat and a trilby; later, a friend told me he saw me on his way to work and thought it was Tom Waits for a second.”

James Sardone & JT, photo by Lingam James

James Sardone & JT, photo by Lingam James

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