A few weeks ago, we went to Il Vinaio Restaurant for a beer and doughnut tasting. The beers were not very big… and the doughnuts were tiny. Not even doughnuts, really. But hey, doesn’t get much better than beer and doughnuts! During the tasting, there was a band playing. I wasn’t expecting a band, but I was really digging the sound and their style. People were even up dancing and everyone was enjoying the tunes. I was so impressed, I reached out and introduced myself to the band on Facebook. Before I knew it, we were sitting down for an interview. I also love the name. I mean… I like whiskey, and kissing is great! Wait until you hear where the name came from… We didn’t have beer and doughnuts when we did the interview, but we should have! It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Whiskey Kiss.
I can use my imagination… but where did the name come from?
I gave Niki a kiss one night after taking a sip of Jameson Irish Whiskey while hanging out at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix and she said, “Thanks for the whiskey kiss!” That was when the name was born.
Do you guys drink whiskey?
We all partake here and there.
Have you had Fireball Cinnamon Whisky?
I have; it is pretty good, but I am a straight whiskey kinda guy.
You guys spell it whiskey, but sometimes, as in the Fireball, its spelled whisky. Why did you decide to spell it with an “e”?
Being an Americana roots type band we like to spell it the American way, like Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam spell their bourbon. Some other countries, especially in Scotland, call it scotch whisky, sans “e”.
Who writes all of your lyrics?
Niki mostly. She is an amazing writer in many forms.
Nick, that is a big bass. Do you ever get tired standing for the entire set?
That’s what she said… sorry, couldn’t help myself… I don’t get too tired. I have been playing bass in bands for over 12 years so I am used to the stage. It has taken some getting used to as far as not being able to move around and dance as much as I used too, because it’s like holding another human.
You guys are from Phoenix, Arizona. We just moved here. What is the worst part about living in the desert?
Well Niki and our trumpet player Bruce Legge are both desert natives. Niki is from Las Vegas and Bruce is from Yuma. I moved from Detroit three years ago so I am still getting used to it, but I can say I will take 3 months of heat over 6 months of winter any day. Joel Dark our guitar player is from Fresno, California. Jason Kay is from New York. All we can say is that winter is the best time to be in the desert!
I first saw you guys at the beer and donut tasting. Did you guys get to try the beer and the donuts?
We did! The pairing was amazing! We can’t wait to do it again on December 15!
There are a lot of venues here in the Valley. Where do you guys like to play?
We have a few favorites. The Blooze Bar in north Phoenix, Tumbleweed the owner is awesome and Thursdays are rockabilly nights. Rips Ales & Cocktails in Phoenix is another great place to play. Finally after the beer and donuts tasting not only is Il Viniao in Mesa one of our favorite places to frequent but now it is one to play, too! We are learning new great venues every time we play though, we love to play music anywhere that people love to have and dance.
Where did you guys meet?
Niki and I met three years ago when she moved out here from Chicago where she was going to school at the time, and I moved from Detroit to both become teachers here in the Valley. I met Jason Kay, our drummer, here in Phoenix when we started a Link Ray cover band with Link Wray’s grandson. Bruce Legge, our trumpet player is a fellow teacher whom we both taught with. As for Joel Dark, our guitar player… that was fate. He answered our Craigslist advertisement the same day he came to audition and played everything perfect. We really lucked out; he is an amazing picker!
Niki… you are about to get married. Tell us more about that!
Well, I can’t speak for her, but I am extremely excited to marry her! It is in October, so very soon! We are putting together a rockabilly reception show to celebrate in Phoenix with fellow rockabilly bands!
Your sound makes me want to dance. Do you encourage dancing when you perform?
Always! We love to see people on the dance floor. When we see people dancing it makes us get into the show even more.
What is the biggest crowd you have ever played for?
Well, we have only played 7 shows so far, so probably like 150. But, Viva Las Vegas in March will probably be our biggest to come!
I noticed that the band dresses the part. Do you always dress to impress when you perform?
Always; we like the visual aspect. We love the 50s and 60s matching outfits vibe and like to mimic that the best we can with a country twist. Niki is the outlier with awesome dresses, because lets face it… most people are looking at her, and for good reason.
What makes your sound “rockabilly”?
We call ourselves the sweeter side of “rockabilly”. We shoot for the tones and vibe of the early 50s. The upright bass and Joel’s Gretch guitar with some nice reverb is the other key part. I think it is mainly trying to capture that sound that existed in the 50s and bring it back the best we can.
How was the Zombie Beach Party at Rips?
It was a blast! It was fun to be beach zombies for a night and play with some killer bands like Trailer Queen, Jamie Waldron Trio and Atomic Shore.
What is the best concert you have ever been to?
Wow! That is a hard one… but I would say recently Niki and I went to see JD McPherson at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix. It was an excellent show, with lots of dancing.
Where do you guys practice?
At our drummers place in Tempe.
What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I was playing bass on tour with Todd Deatherage, an excellent alt country singer songwriter from Texas. I decided to jump off the top of my amplifier at a show in Cincinnati… let’s just say a little to much of a certain beverage in our band name didn’t help me nail the landing… I thought about getting up and smashing things ala Kurt Cobain to make it look like it was on purpose but alt country doesn’t led to that as well as grunge.
Jason has been touring with bands for quite some time. What other bands has he played with over the years?
It might be easier to answer what bands he hasn’t played with… He is one of the best drummers I have had the pleasure to play with and can handle any thing we toss at him, like out new Squirrel Nut Zippers cover of Prince Nez. The same is true for our trumpet player Bruce, who is an accomplished musicians that plays in many different forms here in the valley including in many orchestras.
Tell me more about the Rockabilly Festival in Las Vegas.
It is fantastic! I played there three years ago when I was playing with the surf band, Surfside IV. It is like stepping back in time for a weekend; everyone is totally decked out in 50s garb, there is live music around every corner, awesome hot rods at the car show, and this year Little Richard and Dick Dale are playing!!! It is a great time. We still can’t believe we get to play it.
Based on what I am hearing, and what I am seeing, is Elvis an inspiration for your sound and look?
He sure is. We just recently added an Elvis tune to our set. Niki’s mom is a die hard Elvis fan, so she grew up listening to him and so did I. Plus he and I share a birthday, so he and I have that connection. January 8th, for anyone who wants to get me a present, or watch Elvis movies on TV.
What are you doing when you are not performing?
Jason, Niki, and I are all teachers. Niki teaches drama in the public schools, I teach art at a charter school, and Jason teaches private drum lessons. As for Joel, we like to have people guess, so come up to us or shout it out at our upcoming shows and we will tell you the real answer. We never would have guessed; let’s see if you can.
You guys are working on a CD. Do you have a projected release date for that?
Not as of yet. We will for sure have it by Viva Las Vegas at the latest in March.
I am not all that familiar with the genre… who are some other bands that have a similar sound?
Locally you have bands like Voodoo Swing, Rhythm Dragons, the Devils Daughters, Trailer Queen, and the Jamie Waldron Trio. Globally there are some of our favorites like Imelda May, JD McPherson, and James Hunter.
You play a lot down on the south side… do you ever come up to Scottsdale and play?
We haven’t yet, but would love to anytime!
Do you guys have any merchandise?
Not yet, we are working on shirts, buttons, stickers, and our own whiskey… OK not the whiskey, but maybe someday.
Since you live in Arizona, does that make you a Cardinals fan?
Actually, I am a Lions fan… that’s right! I said Lions!
Where can folks hear more of your music?
You can listen on our website, on our Facebook page, or on our ReverbNation page. Don’t judge us to harshly on the sound quality. It is before we got our amazing band and it is literally all me and Niki recorded at home. Before our record gets finished if you want the real thing come to any live show coming up.
What’s next for Whiskey Kiss?
More shows. Check out whiskeykiss.org to see upcoming ones near you, recording, merchandise, Viva Las Vegas, and hopefully some touring.
Thank you guys so much for doing this. That was a lot of fun! In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Well, I think Niki being an English major and drama teacher wouldn’t mind me ending with a Shakespeare quote about music, “If music be the food of love, play on.”