- by Tom Dumarey
On 'The Story Is...,' Skinny Lister's fourth album, the UK band take their exuberant take on folk-punk meets rock ‘n roll meets whatever-they-feel-like-playing to new heights. It is another great addition to their growing discography and one that will hopefully see them reach an even bigger audience. As they are getting ready for a busy festival summer, we caught up with vocalist/guitarist Dan Heptinstall for a chat about 'The Story Is...', out now via Xtra Mile Recordings. (photo credit: Phoebe Montague)
PRT: First of all... congratulations on the new album! I absolutely loved it. The least you can say is that it comes with a lot of different sounds and emotions. How hard was it to put all the pieces of the puzzle together?
Dan: Thank you – glad you like it! We didn’t really start with an overall picture in mind for this album, it was more a case of writing a bunch of songs that we all agreed on and seeing where they took us. We have allowed ourselves to be fairly eclectic on this album. There’s the usual folk stomp and folk ballad present on there – but also influences including XTC, Elvis Costello, The Jam and Blondie are evident. Despite the variety, we like to feel that by the time the tracks have been arranged and performed by the band - they still have the Skinny stamp on them.
PRT: You recorded the album in two halves with a couple of weeks worth of festival shows in between. From what I gathered, that was out of necessity, but it seems to have worked out well. Was it hard to get back into it after a couple of weeks? Or did the energy from the live shows seep in?
Dan: The best part of this approach was that it felt relaxed and it was good to have the time in between sessions to reflect on the first bunch of songs. We also wrote a couple of brand new tracks in the gap - ‘My Distraction’ and ‘Diesel Vehicle’, the first of which was a single, so it was useful in that respect also. And yes – road testing the material is always a good idea, so being able to play the newer tracks at the festivals helped bed them in. We took a more live approach in the studio this time too – when laying down the drums we also put down bass and acoustic guitar. This meant we could keep the feel as live and natural as possible. This was something Barny our producer was keen to do and it was an enjoyable and rewarding way to work.
PRT: Is it a way of working that is worth repeating?
Dan: We definitely would. It really depends on boring stuff like tour schedules and producer/studio availabilities. There’s also something quite appealing about having a short defined time too but it definitely makes it more stressful!
PRT: ‘38 Minutes’ was inspired by the false alarm of a nuclear missile attack on Hawaii. Other than trying to get in touch with your loved ones if they weren’t already with you, what would you do during your last minutes on earth?
Dan: Mmm? Maybe I’d take my own advice -‘Crack open the Hibiki whisky’ and ‘pray to a God I never believed in until now’! Maybe to the sad yet euphoric soundtrack of Roy Orbison singing ‘It’s Over’.
PRT: You read about that false alarm and then proceeded to write a song about it. Which made me wonder… when you look at or read about things, does it always play in the back of your mind whether or not you could write an interesting song about it? Or do you really pick moments when you sit down to write?
Dan: Some things just jump out as being good subjects for songs. ’38 Minutes’ was one of those tracks. It was inspired by a friend of ours who lives in Hawaii and who posted his experience of it on social media. Some of the lines were lifted from his facebook update – the being in a coffee shop when he recieved the text etc, throwing his hands to the sky etc.. I then pieced much of the other words together from other peoples experiences i found on line – throwing their kids down the manholes etc.. I always find that working this way, using truth and detail, you can often write more original words. ‘Artist Arsonist’ was another subject matter that jumped out – written about a guy who tried to set fire to his apartment below mine, again every word is true, and leads to words and imagery that i would have never have arrived at if I was simply making up a story.
PRT: ‘Any Resemblance To Actual Persons, Living Or Dead, Is Purely Coincidental’ is not just the name of the last song on the album, but it also reads like a disclaimer.Does that mean all the songs are based on true stories? Autobiographical?
Dan: Ha! It did kind of come about from an idea to add a disclaimer. A couple of members of the band thought one track in particular was a bit close to the bone, so I wrote this song in response to that really. But yes – as I say – I find it much easier to write about subjects taken from real life. I think we’ve got a tradition of doing this. Songs like ‘Trouble On Oxford Street’ and ‘Tragedy In A Minor’ from the previous two albums are also examples of this. Obviously you can take artistic liberties, but I think it’s usually to the benefit of a song for it to contain some kind of truth.
PRT: Do you ever feel like you’re giving away too much of yourself in your lyrics?
Dan: It’s usually the tracks that initially make you almost wince a little due to laying yourself on the line, that turn out to be the ones that connect best with people. So on the whole – I think it’s a good thing to invest yourself as much as you can into the songs. Again – it comes down to giving the track some kind of truth. The words that get sung back to us the loudest at shows – are often those moments where you’ve laid yourself bare. (In a lyrical sense of course!)
PRT: Back when we still bought cds, you had the little booklet with the lyrics in them. Now with streaming, you don’t have that anymore. Is that part of why you decided to post all your lyrics on your website?
Dan: I think that mainly came from fans requesting us to post the lyrics. I’ve always been intested in looking at other artists lyrics, so it’s nice to make ours available to those who are interested in our tracks. It also means there’s no excuse not to sing your heart out at a Skinny show!
PRT: If I’m right, you are celebrating your 10 year anniversary as a band this year. Congratulations!! Probably a nearly impossible question, but what would be your personal highlight?
Dan: There are many highlights including the excitement of our first US Tour, or playing to 5,000 people in front of Mount Fuji at Fuji Rocks Festival. But one that always sticks in my mind is our first Flogging Molly Salty Dog Cruise. We got to play the set sail pool party as we pulled out of Miami harbour heading to the Bahamas. That was one of those moments where I thought how did we get from our local folk session in Greenwich to the Bahamas – amazing times!
PRT: Will you be celebrating in any way other than touring and supporting the new album? Any surprises in the works that you can maybe already unveil a little?
Dan: We just got off our first U.S. tour of the year and are getting ready for a ton of festivals across the UK and Europe which we’re very excited about. So we’re already have plenty on the Skinny plate at the minute. And we do have a few things in the pipeline – but if I told you they wouldn’t be a surprise! Watch this space!
PRT: In folk music there is a lot of respect for traditionals. What is your favorite traditional? And if one Skinny Lister song were to become a traditional… which one would you like it to be and why?
Dan: Skinny Lister was built on traditional songs and tunes. Myself and Max used to play traditional polkas, jigs and reels around peoples party’s, and we used to get stuck in singing sea shanty’s at our local folk club in Greenwhich. So yeah – we have big respect for those tunes. The one that comes to mind is the sea shanty ‘John Kanaka’ – this is one we picked up at the folk club all those years ago and is still a staple at every Skinny show. It’s great to hear that sang back at us every night. An original track of ours that really nods it’s head to the traditional style is ‘Bonny Away’. I really like the feel of the song and its melody. It sits in well in the folk club and I think is has a timeless quality – so maybe that would be one I would like to see become a traditional.
PRT: Lorna,I read somewhere that you once played in an Appalachian folk band and performed at an S&M club… just wondering, how does that happen? Was it some weird fetish theme night?
Lorna: Yeah! I’m not sure how that does come about! We were just enjoying getting dressed up & performing the old time stuff. We started at a friend’s house, then a mate put us on at his night at The George Tavern in East London, then word spread and we were asked to bring our act to an S&M party in someone’s house. It was a pretty wild evening. There were some other odd acts their too besides the sex stuff going on. For example, there was a guy balancing a powered up lawnmower on his chin and we were instructed to throw iceberg lettuces at the blades. Great fun!