Get to know Skinny Lister
An interview with Lorna Thomas (vocals and ukulele)
By John B. Moore
Photos by Breta Branyon
London’s Skinny Lister seems to have more than a little in common with their most recent tour mates Flogging Molly. Both bands play a brilliant blend of punk rock and traditional folk music, both play under oddly named monikers and both have turned in a remarkably fantastic collection of songs (Flogging Molly most recently with 2011’s Speed of Darkness and Skinny Lister with the just-released Forge & Flagon).
Songs like the infectiously cheerful “Rollin’ Over” and “Wild As the Wind” and the more somber, but equally compelling “Peregrine Fly” and “Kite Song,” compete for favorites on an album brimming with great tracks. Signed to SideOneDummy Records here thanks to an impromptu parking lot audition, the band is finishing up their latest trek across the U.S. as part of Flogging Molly’s Green 17 tour.
Co-vocalist and ukulele player Lorna Thomas spoke recently about the band, the true origin of the band’s name and how a night of drinking with Flogging Molly can lead to a chipped tooth.
Can we start out by talking about how the band first got together?
Max (Thomas, melodian and mandolin) Dan (Heptinstall, acoustic guitar and stomp) and Sam ‘the Mule’ Brace (electric guitar and concertina) had been playing traditional music in folk sessions and pubs in London for a while when they started to blend it with original stuff. Being Max’s sister, I demanded that I get involved too, then Michael Camino joined us this year to add a percussive standup bass slap style. We started having great fun when we took to stages at festivals across the UK and then it’s just grown from there.
Being ‘across the pond,’ how did you end up connecting with Joe Sib and the folks at SideOneDummy?
(Laughs) A funny story really. We decided to play an open mic night at a pub on 6th street in Austin during SXSW and were spotted by a friend of Joe’s. He put SideOneDummy on to us and we ended up playing to Joe and the crew a few weeks later in their parking lot. They were all really cool and we got on with them from the off. We’re so excited to be working with such a great label. They have a real positive energy.
How did you come to the band’s sound? Did it evolve over time?
There’s a mix of sounds on the album. We have the slower delicate songs, but also the more masculine songs recorded with lots of male vocals and foot stomps. The more we play live I think the more we sharpen up this side, singing with more attack and attitude. Sometimes I feel the stage is like a battle ground and we punch out the songs with clout until the crowd gets involved.
Do you all share similar musical influences?
I’d say so. I mean we all listen to a very varied selection of artists from traditional, to pop and rock. If it’s good we all appreciate it. It’s very rare for us to fight over what we’re listening to when spending copious hours on the road. Mine and Max’s dad, George Thomas (aka Party George) has always enjoyed performing so he’s definitely a big influence us. In fact he wrote “Forty Pound Wedding” which features on the album. If he’s about, he’ll join us on stage too!
Does everyone contribute to the song writing?
Softer songs such as “Peregrine Fly” and “Colours,” written by Dan Heptinstall, have been influenced by a folk artist from Fife in Scotland called James Yorkston, whilst “Rollin Over,” “If the Gaff Don’t Let Us Down,” and “Trawler Man” all have something of the folk club spirit about them. Dan actually wrote “Trawler Man” in memory of his friend’s dad who died in a Trawler accident at sea. Mule has been belting out “John Kanaka” after a few pints for years. It’s a highlight at a gig when everyone joins in. It would be an outrage if that wasn’t captured on the album. In fact the engineer brought out a bottle of whiskey especially for that one! We really wanted to make sure that the recording sounded as live as possible so all the songs were played live…then guest musicians added. For example, Kathryn Tickell, recently crowned “Folk Musician of the Year” by the UK Folk Awards recorded Northumbrian pipes and fiddle on “If The Gaff Don’t Let Us Down” and Roger Wilson, a family friend and fiddle extraordinaire put fiddle down on other tracks too.
I bet the Flogging Molly tour is a riot!
We’re almost half way through the tour now and having the best time ever. We were a little anxious at first as its always a little nerve racking when opening up for such a great band, but so far, the crowd response has been incredible. The guys from Flogging Molly are great, too. We’ve stayed up late exchanging traditional tunes at pubs afterwards. In fact, I woke up with a chipped tooth after a night drinking Guinness and tequila with them. Good fun!
Have you read any good myths online yet about the origin of the band’s name?
Aside from the ones the boys have fun with no, not yet…though I have been told a new one which is that a chap called Lister got lost at sea and his body was never found. The actual true reason is not nearly exciting or poignant. Dan went to school with a boy called Steven Lister who was very thin. He got the nickname and for some reason we all liked it. Steven has only recently found out that he has a band named after him. God only knows what he thinks of that!
What’s next for the band?
We are coming back for another round of SXSW, anxious to make sure it is as productive as last year. We’re also very excited to say that we’re playing Coachella. We have some European Festivals and tours lined up and really want to get back in the studio to record the next album. We’ve been performing some of the new tracks on this tour and they have been going down really well.