Louis Xavier Lewis-Smith might possibly have the best name ever. We want to say “thanks” to his mother for that. He might also have the best job ever. He’s the Global Brand Ambassador for Sailor Jerry Rum, and he travels the Earth, spreading the gospel about drinking exceptionally smooth rum in exceptionally well-crafted cocktails. Despite an insane travel schedule that earns him more SkyMiles than most flight attendants, Louis Xavier Lewis-Smith found time to build a recording studio in his own backyard in Bath, England. That means, in his off time he’s now hangin’ with the guys from Massive Attack and occasionally a guitarist formerly of The Black Crowes. We sat down with him to discuss rum, tattoos, music and all those reasons we should probably seethe with jealousy and hate him … but don’t.
You’re the global brand ambassador for Sailor Jerry rum. What the Hell does that mean?
LXLS: Oh man … ok … so I’ve been doing this for many, many years. That question should be simple, but it’s not. I guess on the face of it, I am the face of the brand. A lot of my work background is in bars, but I’m also there to meet fans, spread the word about our rum, set up and execute events and coordinate collaborations.
Tell us a bit about Sailor Jerry. You guys are in tight with the tattoo culture, right?
LXLS: Actually, Sailor Jerry began as a clothing brand, back in 1999. It was a small group of guys in Philly who were fans of Sailor Jerry’s work and of the man himself. For those who don’t know, Sailor Jerry had his heyday in the 1940s when he made his name by setting up a tattoo shop in Honolulu just before the Second World War. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, all the soldiers and sailors were coming through Hawaii, and Jerry was the guy who gave them tattoos. Our brand has always had serious ties to music, and even back when it was just clothing, bands would often wear our shirts. The rum came round in 2001, and we started sponsoring gigs and putting on shows in the clothing store. There’s one instance around 2002 when we closed off the street and had a mini festival. The tree outside the store had it’s own MySpace page because people were jumping out of it, and it became The Mosh Tree. Now the rum has exploded. We still work in film, fashion and music, but the rum is the most recognizable part of the Sailor Jerry name.
We hear you built a recording studio in a shed in your backyard?
LXLS: I was in music before bars. Studied as a sound engineer and producer when I was 17, and that’s how I got into bars—paying my way through music college. Fifteen years ago, I set up a studio in my basement in Bristol with a friend named Stew Jackson. Ever since, I’ve dipped in and out of music. About four years ago, I moved down to Bath and got a little place along the river. At the bottom of the garden, there is this old, cute, bohemian sculptor’s shed. It was rickety and shit and full of holes. It leaked. I set my eyes on it and was like, “Oh my god. This needs to be a studio!” I didn’t know the first thing about construction, but I just threw myself into it. I took a week holiday from work and was convinced I could do it in a week. It took me three years. So … yeah.
Piece-by-piece and bit-by-bit, I taught myself soundproofing and electrics. It was incredibly slow and really rewarding. I finished at 8 am one morning last July. Saw the sun come up as I was putting in the last touches. It’s running for about a year now. It’s simply called The Shed.
What bands and musicians are you working with currently out of that shed and when and where can we check them out?
LXLS: Stew Jackson is our resident producer here now. I’m hands-off somewhat due to my work with Sailor Jerry. He’s here every day, and he’s putting together the new record for Massive Attack, which is an old Bristol band that’s been going for 20 years. This is their sixth studio album. Marc Ford was here in March. He was the guitarist for The Black Crowes. He moved in here for two weeks to do the mixing and the overdubs. His son came over from Austin, Texas and played on the record too. We had the four of us living down here. That album should be out in Feb/March, and I think it’s going to be called Holy Ghost. It’s the first album produced in The Shed and it’s a really beautiful record. I was honored to play banjo on it … so that’s a big tick off the Bucket List.
Does Sailor Jerry support bands as a brand? Any cool promotions that you guys have coming up our readers should check out?
LXLS: We do tons of stuff throughout the year. The big one annually is South by Southwest in Austin. Every year it gets bigger and bigger. This year, we took over The Gypsy Lounge on Sixth Street and had two stages. We ran it for six days and probably had something like 80 bands. This year we will definitely do our own venue again and curate our own shows.
So if we were to come down to South by Southwest or one of your other events, could we get a free tattoo?
LXLS: Yes. The tattoos are free, but there’s a catch. At big events, we have a dartboard and pieces of Sailor Jerry flash art that you can get tattooed. What you hit is what you get. Last time at South by Southwest, we had Oliver Peck, who’s the big name in tattoos. And Keith Underwood too. You would normally have to get on a list for years to get an appointment with those guys, so it’s a cool opportunity.
How man Sailor Jerry tattoos do you have?
LXLS: None. I don’t have any tattoos.
Wait, what?! Isn’t that a requirement for the job?
LXLS: (Laughs) I think I’m the only one who doesn’t have a tattoo in our company! You don’t have to have a tattoo to have an appreciation for the art and that world, though. So I don’t feel any pressure to get one.
If you could make us one outstanding cocktail with Sailor Jerry, what would you make for us? Can we have the recipe please?
LXLS: As much as I worked in high-end cocktail places like Milk & Honey in London, I like simple drinks. I’m a shot and a beer guy. For a cocktail, you can’t beat a Daiquiri.
My Daiquiri recipe is…
2 ounces Sailor Jerry
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (this is key)
¾ ounce of sugar syrup (1:1 ratio)
Shake it over some ice and strain into a glass. Bam!
If we are too damn lazy to make our own cocktails, what are the top three bars in America to go sip some Sailor Jerry in your qualified estimation?
LXLS: 1. Golden Cadillac in New York. They just opened a few days ago and are doing Sailor Jerry Piña Coladas … in a slushy machine.
2. Any of the spots on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. Every year we are down there for a massive drink festival called Tales of the Cocktail. I love d.b.a. and The Apple Barrel on Frenchman. Great places for a shot and a beer.
3. The Continental Club in Austin, TX. It’s killer. Small place with live bands. Probably holds 200, with Country and Swing and Bluegrass …. and like real cool Southern shit. And cheap, shit beer like Lonestar. It’s fantastic.