INTERVIEW: Skinny Lister

Starting out together in 2009, London-based five-piece Skinny Lister craft wonderfully intricate folk songs laced through with an element of punk. Touring extensively over their years together, they earned themselves an award as the hardest-working band in the UK, self-releasing a series of singles before signing to Imperial Music in 2011.

Ahead of their second ever Birmingham date, which takes place at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on Wed 13th November, we chat to the band to find out more.


Where do you take your name from – is it anything to do with Joseph Lister, the pioneer in the advancement of antiseptic surgery?

Lorna [Thomas – vocals, ukulele]: He means nothing to us – that association is something that Daniel Heptinstall [vocals, guitar] made up to hide the fact that he’s a complete weirdo and named the band after a kid he went to school with and hasn’t spoken to since – those fun, tender years when everyone had a nickname. Skinny Lister (the boy) actually got away lightly – some of the other nicknames were far less attractive…


You are from all around the world – how did you all come to be in one room together to form the band?

Dan: We’re a very English band with an Hawaiian bass player.

Michael [Camino – double bass, vocals]: I bumped into these guys at [music and sports festival] Warped Tour in the States. I’d been touring for a long time, I liked their music and we got on. I used to drop bottles of rum off when they were short. I’m not sure that they knew I played bass seriously – they’d just seen me play drunkenly at a crazy after-show party.

Max [Thomas – melodeon, mandolin, vocals]: Yes I had a blurry memory of that and also a drunken Dan Hep standing on a bass encouraged by Michael, so we watched some YouTube clips and then decided to fly him over. No regrets.


Your debut EP, Grand Union, was recorded on a canal boat as you journeyed along the canal it took its name from. What was the thinking behind this?

Lorna: We set off from Linslade near Leighton Buzzard and made our way down to Camden. I’d always wanted to go on a canal boat and so we thought we’d have a nice relaxing time writing in the day and playing gigs at night. It turned out to be really hard work. We’d be up at 5am after a night playing and drinking in one of the canal-side pubs and then we’d have to cover a large distance as well as record tracks on the boat for the EP we had promised. So it was hard work, but so much fun. We did make it to the gig in Camden after arriving into the lock in an absolute downpour. We had an amazing gig that night at the Lock Tavern, and managed to get our EP finished and ready to give out.  Hurrah!


You have an incredibly distinct sound with much music press likening you to The Pogues. Are they an influence on the songs that you produce?

Dan: We’d be lying if we said that we didn’t love The Pogues and yes, we play and write traditional sounding stuff with a modern twist. We also have something of the punk spirit in us too which may be a fall out from performing on the Vans Warped Tour last summer but also stems from listening to The Clash and Dexy’s and stuff like that. Lorna and Max’s Dad, Party George, is also a big influence as well. We perform some of his stuff which is always fun.


Who are your other musical influences?

Lorna: We like so much different stuff it’s difficult to say. What we’d listen to in our own time is completely different from how we want to feel or sound when performing. Actually, we do have a ban on recorded music when we are touring as we want to develop our own sound and not be too influenced by others.


PRS crowned you the ‘Hardest Working Band in the UK’ in 2011 – what does that recognition mean to you and what is it that so inspires you to work?

Max: It wasn’t anything that we were aware of. We started the band to get into festivals for free and that’s what we did. It just so happens that we played more than anyone else that year. I think doing so much really helped us develop a strong identity for life on the road.


You released your debut album, Forge and Flagon, in 2012. How long had those songs been with you and how difficult was it to produce the record?

Dan: It was actually really enjoyable as we’d played the material over the summer and then went into the studio that December to record. Some of the songs had been with us much longer though – for example, we’ve been singing ‘John Kanaka’ down the folk club in Greenwich for years and Lorna and Max grew up listening to their dad singing an unaccompanied version of ‘Forty Pound Wedding’. We were less ready for the challenge of trying to make a ‘summer sound’ in a freezing cold studio in the middle of December. We recorded it as live as possible though and Lorna danced about – we soon warmed the place and David Wrench, the engineer, helped when he bought out bottles of whiskey.


Were you humbled by the reaction it received?

Lorna: We were pleased with the reception yes, but once it was out we just wanted to get started on making another. We’re currently in the process of arranging new songs, which I’m excited to say we’ll be trying out at the gig next week! VERY EXCITED!


You’ve played some incredible places around the world, notably Japan this summer. Where has been your favourite place to play?

Lorna: Different places have different meanings. Japan was incredible – having 5,000 people in Japan do a sit down Mexican wave during the end bit of ‘Colours’ will stick in my mind forever. Playing the UK has a special place in our hearts as this is where we started, and the Germans like their beer possibly more than us Brits so we always have a laugh there. And America – blimey we’ve had some great times there too! Basically we have fun. It doesn’t matter where we are. We’ve played WW2 bunkers in Dalston, hotel lobbies in Texas and Tequila bars in Tokyo. Sometimes it’s nice just to go down to the local folk club and take your turn to sing a song!


You are an incredible live act – what makes a good live performance?

Lorna: Thank you! We love what we do. And we love doing it in front of people that love what we do too! If they join in then we love it even more. It’s that simple.


You play the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham on 13th November. Have you played here before – if so, how has the city treated you and if not, what are you expecting?

Lorna: Weirdly, as Max and I are from the midlands, we have only played in Birmingham once and that was at Moseley Folk Festival. We were seriously hung over from a gig the night before in Dorset but we had a great time and people seemed to enjoy it! We’ve never played the Hare & Hounds before but hear from friends that it’s a great music venue. We’re really pleased that they’re having us and look forward to raising the roof on it!


What can we expect from the show?

Max: Hopefully you’ll hear some tunes you like, you’ll have fun, a drink and a sing with us. We haven’t done our job properly if you don’t go into work the next day with a sore head and a raspy voice.


Skinny Lister play the Hare & Hounds on Wed 13th November with support from The Dirty Old Folkers. You can purchase tickets, priced at £7 advance, here.