Skinny Lister’s vocalist and ukulele player Lorna Thomas talks about the evolution of the band from traditional folk and watching her big brother bleed stage. They play Manchester’s Ruby Lounge on 5 October.
Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
We come from a very folk background. Max (Thomas), my brother and accordion player in the band, and I were dragged to folk clubs by my folky dad as kids, and I think the influence of that stayed with us. Dan (Hepinstall) and Mule (Sam Brace) also used to attend a weekly folk session in Greenwich, which spawned a love of sea shanties. But having been on the road with the likes of Frank Turner, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, we have become a lot rockier. Dan also writes a catchy pop melody, so that, delivered with a punk sensibility, is basically our sound. Influences vary widely from the weird and wonderful to the pretty straightforward stuff. This latest album, The Devil, The Heart & The Fight, has dashes of Adam & The Ants, folk club shanty sing-alongs, The Clash, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Kate Bush all thrown in there – so yeah, possibly a bit 80s too.
How have you evolved as a band over the years?
As I say, we came from playing traditional English tunes in pubs and at each other’s houses. Growing up in a very folky household meant we were well used to group singing and playing. That, along with the shanties and tunes Dan and Mule had been playing at their local folk club, provided the genesis of Skinny Lister. We started mashing these elements up with songs Dan had written and we found that when we took them to festivals we’d snuck into, people started to dance and have a good time. Dan had a stomp box initially but after we did the Vans Warped Tour across the US, we wanted to step up our sound and the addition of Thom the drummer definitely helped with this. Our songs could go places with new beats and we really found it added to our dynamic. Personally, I only joined the band to get into festivals for free. I’ve sung for a while but only started taking it seriously when we started to get more gigs. I was all about the after party! Now, though, I love what I do and feel incredibly lucky to be exploring the world with these mighty fine musicians meeting lots of lovely folk.
Were there any alternative band names before you arrived at this one?
Afraid not! Skinny Lister was kind of Dan’s project even before the band got together. It came from a school mate of his whose nickname was Skinny Lister as he was a thin lad. Dan thought it had a ring to it and borrowed the name. Not sure how the real Skinny Lister feels about this – he’s yet to come to a gig.
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
We’re currently making videos for the new album. We’ve always done all our own artwork as we enjoy all aspects of delivering the music. It can be stressful organising people, or getting the right weather or whatever, but when we finish the final thing it’s always great to have created something we’re proud of and that has our own stamp on it.
How to you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
Well yeah, that’s a constant battle. I’d like to think our music sets us apart, but with all the stuff online it definitely helps if you’re up to other interesting stuff too. At the beginning we did stuff to develop our story, like going on canal boat tours, playing at pubs and festivals, driving around in our Landrover, recording EPs, getting drunk and generally having a laugh while producing something too. It was all great fun but in addition to that it gave us lots to talk about. The videos we do are usually challenges we set ourselves as well, so there are always questions about those – for example, once I went wing walking, we swam in the sea in December, we had a jellied eel eating competition. If you look busy, people tend to believe it! Now it’s about trying to find time to keep on doing the other stuff when there are so many gigs to play – which is obviously a great problem to have.
What’s on your rider?
I wish we had a unicorn or monkey or something silly but we’re not that rock ‘n’ roll I’m afraid. I know one band was really chuffed when they received a signed picture of Janice from Coronation Street. Another band in Colorado actually had a monkey on theirs and got it. Maybe we should add something. Suggestions welcome! Generally, though, as long as we have something to nibble on, beer, whiskey and rum, we’re happy.
Tell us about your worst live show.
Easy. It was in Jacksonville. We were supporting Dropkick Murphys. We were quite far through the tour so all pretty knackered and I think we’d had a heavy one the night before. There was no backstage area so I washed in the public loos. The stage was pretty small too and there were loads of cables all over the place. We were all getting stuck into Trouble On Oxford Street (a song about when Dan got beaten up by a couple of punks after messing with their mohawks) – Max was pushing and jumping around all over the place then out the corner of my eye I just saw him dive (fall) off the stage head first into a metal barrier. He was out cold but then the security guy pulled him up – face covered in blood. No one knew whether to stop or carry on. Then Max just leapt back on stage – tried to fix his accordion and then had to sing a shanty pretty much straight away with blood running down his face. Scary! The crowd didn’t seem to notice or care, they just wanted more. Crazy times for a little sister. Anyway, we cleaned him up after the show and the Dropkicks had a good laugh about it for the rest of the tour.