Sound and Spirits: A Conversation with Angela Laino

Drink Features Spirits

We head to bars for a stiff drink. We head to them for a good band. We migrate at midnight to congregate with friends and grow closer together. With the idea that bands and booze go hand-in-hand, we’re starting a regular column that seeks out a musician to break down that bond between sound and spirit.

Performer: Angela Laino
Instruments: Her sexy, soulful voice; keys
She Drinks At: The Wayland, NYC
You’ve Seen Her In: Tangueray ads

Musician/Bartender Angela Laino is a whole lot of fun. From her incredible voice and presence on stage to her ability to hang with the best of them post-show till dawn. She’s also a featured artist in a series of Tangueray advertisements.

We wanted to pry into Angela’s life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (where she bartends at a cocktail den called The Wayland) and get the scoop on her recently released album Sink or Swim.

Both Laino’s voice and her craft cocktail recipes are making waves far beyond Manhattan. Originally from Miami, she began singing in operas when she was 13, and picked up a pen to compose her own tunes by the age of 16. Music is in her soul, but if you manage to catch one of her bar shifts, you’ll realize this girl has skills with a shaker too. We adore her Indian Summer. It has gin, simple syrup and fresh lime, bolstered by 2 teaspoons of curry powder (say what?!) and sprigs of cilantro – shaken aggressively.

We loved the nostalgic, sultry aspect of your Sink or Swim album. In your own words, how would you describe your style?
Describing my style has always been a trick question. To me, my style and writing are constantly changing, and I am inspired by so many sounds and experiences. But I generally stick with Soul … anything that has depth and strength in the body of the song.

You’ve been behind the stick for quite some time too, most recently working at the diminutive-but-recognized Wayland in the East Village. Has being a bartender made you a better performer in any ways?
I would say they have equally influenced each other, at different moments. As a bartender, you’re also a performer, and, just like the band, very much in control of the vibe and energy of a room. So yes, by default they are both training camp for the other.

Let’s chat on Sink or Swim for a moment …
Sink or Swim is my most recently released album, though it was recorded a while ago. It covers a lot of moments in my life and is a reflection of the title. When shit gets rough, you have two choices: sink or swim as hard as you can and get out of there. I’m a swimmer. My next album is coming up very soon, and I’m really excited about it. It’s recorded on tape and will be available on vinyl. It’s a current reflection of life and social issues, so I’m excited about that direction.

If Sink or Swim could get drunk, what would your album order?
Absinthe, bathtub gin or moonshine … liquor that’s old, original, and strong.

You currently work at The Wayland in the East Village. Some might say that NY’s East Village is one of the best neighborhoods in the world to go out drinking. What do you think?
They are right! The East Village is exactly that—a little village in NYC where you can still see the sky and be surrounded by gardens. [It’s full of] locals who have either been there for generations or artistic people who have come to thrive off the inspiring energy. One can only hope that it will stay that way. The East Village definitely has some of my favorite watering holes – with an incredible community of bartenders and great cocktails – but, bias aside, I have to say that The Wayland is not only the best bar I’ve ever worked in, but is also hands-down my favorite bar to drink at. And I have been in a lot of bars. Everything from the humble, vintage, salvaged decor to the music to the staff to the cocktails – man, I scored big time when I got a job in this place.

Given that it can get a bit nuts there at times, tell us the craziest thing you’ve ever seen go down in an East Village bar.
Well the craziest thing I’ve seen I might have taken part in (laughs) … So I am going to bow out on that one. In terms of “crazy bad,” it would definitely be Hurricane Sandy. I lived above the bar during [the storm] and watched the water lift cars and float them down the street. It poured into The Wayland and completely flooded our basement. I survived Hurricane Andrew in Miami and this was still a shocker. Opening in candlelight and having the whole neighborhood come together through sleepless, cold, dark nights was definitely “crazy” and something I’ll never forget.

What’s your favorite thing to sip at the moment?
Tanqueray. I have always been a gin drinker, but hearing the story and mission of Tanqueray and working with the brand has given me a new found respect for the history and the creative passion and authenticity they promote. On non-gin nights, I’m probably sipping an Anderson Valley oatmeal stout (it’s like a chocolate oatmeal cookie for grownups) or a Peak organic.

Wait … did we see you in commercial for Tanqueray Gin? And on a taxicab advertisement? I could have sworn your face was driving down the street …
I never thought that the initial phone call I received would have ever turn out to be such an amazing experience and opportunity. What started out as a humble “We have heard about you and want to work with you,” turned into my face all over the country for their campaign – from billboards to web commercials featuring my songs – as one of the faces of Tanqueray. The premise of their campaign is selecting passionate creative people pursuing their talents with the same intensity and drive that Charles Tanqueray had for gin. I am honored to be a part of it, and the entire experience was amazing … from the photographer to the set to the amazing team I was able to work with. I am very grateful.

Do you drink before going on stage?
Hmmmm … if you had asked me 10 years ago, this would have been a completely different answer. My nerves were stronger than I was when I first started performing live. But these days, I’m in charge. So, I prefer to not drink before a show. I like to be clear and present when I perform. After the show … well it’s celebration time. And that is another story.

If you could serve one musician alive or dead at Wayland – who would it be?
This might be trying to grant two wishes at once, but if I could serve anyone, it would be any original singers responsible for writing early American Negro Spirituals and Torch songs, mainly sung during the construction of the Underground Railroad. Like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” or “Wade in the Water,” and “Steal Away.” In my opinion, pain and struggle and the relentless fight to survive or create change have always created the most powerful music, because it was born from a place that you cannot imitate or fake. It’s basically you have two choices – give up or sing your way through it. And let me tell you, there is no stronger music that your soul can produce than the music it is using to heal itself and carry on.

If you could ban one liquor for all eternity, what’s getting the axe?
Goldschlager. That stuff got me kicked out of school.

When we want a great cocktail at The Wayland or to hear your voice, what’s the best time to head over?
I go behind the bar whenever I’m thirsty or inspired … so if you’re there, you’re there. I do play the last Tuesday of every month with a 6-piece band of badasses under the name Angela Laino & the Trix.

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