British Band Skinny Lister Started with the Singing of "Sea Shanties"

At first glance, the name Skinny Lister may evoke the image of an underweight nerd who's been taunted by his classmates.

In reality though, it's one of those clever band names that leaves a somewhat amorphous impression. In truth, the Lister family were actually innovators in the field of anesthetics, but according to singer/ukulele player Lorna Thomas, their Skinny Lister was a boy that guitarist Dan Hepinstall went to school with.

"We have no idea if he is still skinny, but we will hopefully get a chance to reunite with him one day in the future," Thomas muses. "Hopefully he doesn't mind us nicking his nickname!"

If by some chance he happened to hear Forge And Flagon, the debut album from his namesake combo, he'd probably be flattered.

A stirring combination of edge, angst and insurgent attitude, all instilled with a genuine folk flourish, the album provides an ideal introduction for a young band that's already found a distinctive footing.

After working a series of major festivals in their native U.K. and the Vans Warped tour here in the U.S., the group -- which also includes guitarist Sam "Mule" Brace, bassist Michael Camino, and mandolin player Max Thomas -- is about to embark on an extended sojourn alongside headliners Flogging Molly for the annual Green 17 Tour. The band will play 19 dates, including a South Florida stop that will take them to Revolution on February 12, and eventually culminate with a St. Patrick's Day gig in Tempe Arizona.

New Times recently had an opportunity to chat with Thomas and ask her to share the skinny about Skinny Lister's MO.

New Times: Let's start at the beginning. How did you all meet and form the band? What was the original intent as far as the style and ambition?

Lorna Thomas: The band was started by Max and Dan playing traditional English folk tunes in pubs. Sam was singing sea shanties at a pub nearby. Dan recognized that these tunes had something very compelling about them, and so the guys started to mix them up with songs that Dan had written. I came along, as Max is my brother, and started singing and dancing with the band. We have recently been joined by Michael Camino, who we met on the Vans Warped tour this summer. He brings a great new rockabilly style to the music while giving it an energetic dimension!

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Please give us an idea of your influences? Who helped shape your sound? Do you feel a kinship to bands like the Mollys, Black 47, Dropkick Murphys, etc.?

We're really excited to be supporting Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour later this month. It's a great match for us. We've been listening to the Pogues for years, but also, growing up in folk clubs where everyone sits around and plays and joins into the party has almost definitely helped to create a Skinny Lister vibe. Although there are definite comparisons to the traditional Irish and Celtic sound, we've certainly got a very English slant on what we do, even incorporating very traditional English Morris tunes into our tracks.

How much of your sound is based on actual folk origins? How did you develop this affinity for your roots?

My dad, George Thomas, has been writing tunes for years. We even sing a couple of his on stage... We've sped them up and put musical accompaniment to them, but you can definitely still tell they're his. 

For years we tried to get away from the "traditional folk scene." I was listening to all sorts of pop music, and Max was into dance, but over time, Max and Dan realized that playing this music was fun and it almost always got people moving. It really felt like the right thing to incorporate that into modern tunes. We still enjoy showing up at our local folk clubs and chipping in tunes and songs, and we still enjoy the general sing-along vibe and tradition of these get-togethers. Long may they survive!

How did you choose the songs that went on your debut album? Were these songs that you had played in concert? How do you feel they've translated from the stage to album and vice versa?

We fought with fist and dagger! No, not really. All the songs on the album had been well-broken in at festivals up and down the U.K. during the summer leading up to the recording sessions. So we had a good idea which songs would work well. We tried to capture the live sound on the record, and therefore recorded it in a very live way with few overdubs. The click-track was also banned!

What is it that about your music that you think connects with your audiences, especially here in the States?

Wherever we play, there seems to be something in the music that connects with people in an almost primal way. We've not analyzed this too deeply, but perhaps the tradition, the sense of history and identity has something to do with it. In the states there is adefinite warmth towards the Celtic sound, which perhaps derives from some ancestor connection. Whatever the reason, if it means people are into what we're doing, and we can get a party started, we're happy!

What kind of reaction do you get from your audiences?

If all goes well, we'll hear them yelling at the top of their voices, sharing a waltz with the bass player, or supporting me as I'm surfing on special occasions. A Skinny gig is as much about the crowd as it is the band.

You've done several major festivals, and yet here you are on a club tour with the Green 17 outing. Which type of venue do you prefer, and how do you adjust your stage show to each locale?

We have played gigs in all sorts of venues from a narrow boat on the English waterways, to circle-pits on the main stage on Vans Warped tour. We even played a small gig in our Land Rover for the "Forty Pound Wedding" video! That was a lot of fun. Sometimes, the more intimate gigs are lots of fun, but then there's something about playing to a large crowd which is also very fun! Basically, the unknown is the best bit about performing, and when you see it go off, it just helps us to get more and more into the spirit of it.

What have been some of the high points of your career so far? What's been especially challenging?

Definitely getting our album Forge and Flagon out has been a great achievement, and then finding ourselves on one of the main stages at Vans Warped tour, playing in front of thousands with a U.S. record deal in hand. That was a great feeling, especially as we had no idea how our music would go down. Seeing people running around in circles to our music was amazing!

Skinny Lister appears with Flogging Molly on the 9th Annual Green 17 Tour, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 12, at Revolution, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $44.20. Contact Ticketmaster at 800-653-8000 or www.ticketmaster.com.

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