HomeInterviewsSXSW Artist Spotlight: Skinny Lister

SXSW Artist Spotlight: Skinny Lister

As part of our ongoing coverage of SXSW 2024, 360°Sound had the pleasure of sitting down with Lorna Thomas and Daniel Heptinstall of the English folk/punk band Skinny Lister. Lorna and Daniel are “involved” and share lead vocals, with Daniel also on guitar. The rest of the band features Max Thomas (Lorna’s brother) on accordion, Scott Milsom on upright bass, and now Tim Hillsdon on drums.

Formed in London in 2009, the Skinnies have six full-lengths to their credit, including their latest, 2023’s Shanty Punk. The band tour relentlessly in the UK, Europe, the U.S. and even Japan, and their high-energy folk stomps and shanties raise a commotion wherever they play. It was a lively atmosphere at the Marshall Fun House at Parish in East Austin, but I’d love to see this lot in a cramped London pub or in a small seaside English town on a drunken summer evening.

We sat on the green-room couch backstage, accompanied by the odd pint, and talked arm-wrestling, Rebellion, and stuff running through our veins, among other things.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Please watch the entire interview, available at the end of this article and on our YouTube channel @360degreesound

360°Sound: We’re at the Marshall Fun House and you guys are definitely putting the ‘fun’ back in Fun House. 

Daniel: It’s built for us, this place. 

How are you enjoying Austin so far?

Daniel: Loving it. We’ve done SX, like, we can’t really count. Is it four or five times, I think? It never lets us down. It’s always amazing fun.

Lorna: Yeah, the first time we came, I think we got an agent and a label and a tour. You know, all this stuff.

Daniel: Not only has it been fun, it’s been very useful for us. It swung open the door to America for us. So we’re forever in its debt.

Lorna: How can you not have fun here? It’s warm, there’s plenty of roof terraces everywhere.

And they’re bringing pints.

Daniel: As we speak.

Daniel Heptinstall & Lorna Thomas on stage

So have you done some touring in America? 

Lorna: Yeah, a lot of touring in America. And we’re about to go and do some West Coast dates as well. And we’re with Flogging Molly at their Shamrock Rebellion. 

Daniel: We’ve got a show in Ventura [California] with our labelmate, Frank Turner. We’ve been lucky enough to be invited on the road with bands like Flogging Molly. In fact one year ago right now, we did about an eight-week tour across America with Flogging Molly. That was amazing. Dropkick Murphys has taken us across the US. Frank Turner, as I mentioned. So we’ve been very lucky that we’ve been given these opportunities. It’s given us the opportunity to build our own little fan base, as well. We’re grateful for that. And we just enjoy coming to America. We’re glad that we’re embraced in our own little way. 

You got a great reception here. Do you tend to get that kind of reception wherever you go?

Lorna: I mean, that was a 1:30 in the afternoon, people hungover reception. It was good, but imagine eight hours time.

And a few more pints… 

Daniel: That’s kind of what the Skinny Lister show is about – having a good time. You know, a few drinks if you want. Community. And yeah, good times. 

Lorna, you’re like a one-woman dance team up there. You really get the crowd going.

Lorna: My brother Max, as well, the accordion player. He’s pretty nifty on his pins.

Daniel: That’s why they call him “Pin and Digits.”

Lorna: He’s got his toes and his fingers all goin’.

I love the little arm wrestling competition you had up there. [Lorna was taking on all comers.]

Lorna: I tell you who I smashed – Johnny from Pet Needs. 

Daniel: Did he let you win? 

Lorna: No, it didn’t feel like that. I did the technique and I got him good. Umph. Bang!

Daniel: He did have a heavy night last night. 

Lorna: Labelmate rivalry.

Daniel & Lorna at SXSW 2024, with Scott Milsom on bass and Max Thomas on accordion (minus drummer Tim Hillsdon)

Is that what happened to Tim? [Drummer Tim Hillsdon did not perform with the group] Did he have an arm wrestling accident? 

Lorna: Yeah. So [SXSW] is a bit last minute, because we got drunk with Flogging Molly on the cruise [Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog cruise] last fall whenever that was. And they were like, ‘We’re gonna get you on our Shamrock Rebellion Festival. Can you make it?’ We’re like, ‘Not sure we’ve got a visa or not, because it ran out about last week. But we managed to just squeeze it in, and then threw it together, and we’re like, ‘Oh man, we can do SX as well at the same time.’

Daniel: So, [Tim] was booked up on something else. He couldn’t really pull it out. 

Lorna: He’s drumming with [English guitar legend] Albert Lee.

Daniel: So we thought we’d go back to our roots. When we first came to SX years ago, we never had a drummer. For the first album and a few years we didn’t have a drummer. So this is quite nostalgic. Going back to my right leg as the drum kit, essentially. 

Lorna: It doesn’t feel nostalgic; it feels like torture.

Daniel: Yeah, it feels like we need a drummer.

My roots are in England. My people come from Barrow-in-Furness [in northwest England]. So this kind of music runs through my veins. Did you guys get in on the sea shanty thing that was happening a couple years ago?

Daniel: Doing shanties and folk music is a massive part of what we do – it’s the core of what we do. I mean, the new album is called Shanty Punk, by the way. There’s a couple of shanty tracks on there. Glad it connects with you.

What other types of music were you inspired by?

Lorna: My dad is on tour with us – he’s the babysitter. But he’s been a folk singer. I grew up in folk clubs, so it’s kind of in my blood. And Max and Dan, before the band started, were doing English folk tunes together at parties. So it’s kind of all mixed together.

Daniel: We lived in a pub in Greenwich…

Lorna: In a pub?

Daniel: Sorry, next door to a pub. On Tuesday night, they used to do a folk session, a shanty session. So we always used to go there on Tuesday night and get involved. We thought it’d be great if you could transport this English pub atmosphere onto a bigger stage. Just have fun with it, is kind of what we tried to do.

Quick snap of Skinny Lister at SXSW 2024 for the photo album

Lorna: We never really thought we’d be in Austin, Texas, or wherever else we play.

Daniel: We thought it might be in the next bigger pub down the road. It’s taken us all around the world, and we enjoy doing what we’re doing. And we’re just glad that people enjoy it.

Lorna: We still love doing it.

And Greenwich is very much a seafaring community. 

Daniel: Yeah, it is. We lived right on the river there, and some of that infused into us. I’m from a fishing town in East Yorkshire in the north of England. So maybe it sort of seeped in somewhere. 

So the sea runs in your veins. 

Lorna: I can’t say it runs in mine. I was born in the middle of England, far away from the sea. But the folk music is in my blood.

What are you looking forward to the rest of the week? 

Lorna: Tomorrow we fly to LA. 

Daniel: We would certainly hang around if we didn’t. 

Lorna: We love it here, y’know? We could stay.

Keep up with the Skinnies and see when they might be coming to your village on skinnylister.com

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