When I last interviewed Laini Colman, it was 2017, and we chatted a bit about (among other things), her self-titled debut album, dreams, boat living, and, of course, songwriting. Five years on, Laini is releasing her third album, Racka Shacka, a follow-up to 2019’s Take Breath. The world has changed a lot in the intervening years since we last spoke, but one thing remains the same: Laini’s music continues to be as imaginative as it is poignant, and Raka Shacka promises to be a delight!

I love that title – Racka Shacka! Where did it come from?

Totally from my head, LOL.  It’s a lyric I made up for one of the songs on my new album to describe a dance movement. When Mike Raine was mixing and mastering the album for me, he asked me what the album was going to be called and I realised I hadn’t put any thought to it. All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be the same as any of the song titles on the album. Racka Shacka just seemed to work as something more encapsulating even though not all of the songs are about dancing.

Of course, I’m reminded of your online gathering place, the Facebook group Laini’s Beach Shack. You stepped away from it for a while but left the shack’s motor running as it were. Why did you step away, and what was it like to return?

I love how you ask the thorny questions, Marc.  It’s not an easy one to answer.  Stepping away from the Shack was a hugely hard decision for me to make as it really felt like my baby.  I’d originally set it up for my newsletter subscribers (although anyone could apply to join). I had a huge amount of fun in there, interacting with amazing people from all walks of life and all parts of the world, with music and creativity as a common passion.  Many of the members became close friends, and I had the privilege of being able to visit some of them in person on a trip to the UK. 

However, I was struggling with my mental health because I’d taken on so many things and because life was presenting quite a few challenges closer to home. I felt as though I was being spread more and more thinly every day and heading towards a burn-out. I realised that I needed to focus on my health and home life and so I stepped away, not just from the Shack, but from Social Media as a whole and also from my music (which was kind of drastic!). I asked the members if they wanted to close the Shack, but they said that they would like it to remain open and so for two years that’s how it was. 

Finally, late last year, life started to settle and I felt a huge urge to start writing and recording again and to reconnect with my online community. I wasn’t even sure whether anyone would still around in the Shack, but I posted a message and was absolutely astounded when nearly everyone who had been there two years previously responded to say they were still there and how wonderful it was to hear from me! 

I felt so moved – it was an incredibly feeling!  It inspired one of the songs on my new album which is about it being OK to hide yourself away when life is getting too overwhelming, and your true friends will still be there when you re-emerge.  Anyway, I’m trying to pace myself better now and to enjoy the amazing life I have without putting any pressures on myself.

In our previous interview, we chatted a bit about the boats you’ve lived on – Pied Piper and Dream Catcher – but, if I remember correctly, you’ve been living on land for the past few years. How has the transition been, and has it influenced your songwriting?

We’ve actually only been living on land since August last year.  Even though we’d stopped cruising in 2015, we carried on living on our boat after we arrived here in Tasmania.  We would probably still be living on it now if it weren’t for my Husband’s (Peter’s) feet.  He had a very nasty paragliding accident in 2017 (flying feet first into a cliff at 55km/hr – I know, OUCH!) and at the time we weren’t sure whether he would walk again. The surgeons did an amazing job though and managed to piece his shattered heels back together with the help of lots of hardware, but it was becoming apparent as time went by that they were not healing properly and that he would require more surgeries – one foot at a time with a healing period of six months in between.  

Continuing to live on the boat was just no longer an option and so, after 20 years of life on the water we finally grew up and moved into a house.  Peter had his first foot surgery in November and the second surgery is now imminent.  Having said all of that, we both now agree that the time was right (foot surgery or no foot surgery).  We’re loving being in the house and having the space (and a garden for Ziggy, our dog).  Life is easier and it’s allowing both of us to re-discover our creativity – Peter with his art and me with my songwriting and music.  I now have a whole room I can call my studio and Peter has a separate room he can call his – what a luxury!!  In the space of two months after setting up my studio I wrote six songs, which is amazing for me – I’m usually a very slow writer – so yes, the transition has definitely influenced my songwriting!

And, of course, there’s your dog, Ziggy. Personally, I know that my dog saves me from being a complete recluse during the day. If not for the fact that I have to walk him every couple of hours, I’d probably spend all of my waking hours in front of a computer screen! How does Ziggy fit into your life as a songwriter and musician – or even your life more generally?

Ziggy has totally transformed my life!  We adopted her from the dog home in 2019.  I’d never had a dog before and in hindsight, getting a nineteen-month-old adult rescue Staffy with lots of anxieties and absolutely no training was probably not the most sensible of ideas, particularly as I was also supporting Peter. 

To say she was a challenge is a bit of an understatement.  In the first six months of having her I had several meltdowns as I felt that everything I was trying to do to help her wasn’t working, but now I can see that I was trying to push her too quickly and she just needed a lot of time and a lot of love to build up trust.  It was around the 6 month mark that I realised I needed to step back from social media and also, more drastically, put my music on hold as my mental health was starting to suffer.   Now, two-and-a-half years later, she’s a changed dog – incredibly loving and gorgeous to have around – still with some anxieties which I’m continuing to work on, and still some behaviors I wish were better, but I’ve learnt to accept her for the beautiful dog she is, warts and all, and couldn’t imagine life without her. 

She’s loving being in a house (compared to the boat) and having the space of a garden, but to be honest, the majority of the time she just wants to be inside with us, curled up somewhere near (touching us if possible LOL). Another of the songs on my new album includes her curled up at our feet.  She loves being in the music studio with me, but seems to prefer it if I’m only playing the piano and not singing LOL.  I walk her twice a day (every two hours, Marc! Really?!) which is definitely one more walk a day than I would have had before – I was never an early morning person, but now it seems I have become one!

In some ways, I feel like your previous album, Take a Breath, was remarkably prescient, at least in terms of what people would need to get through the next couple of years. How have events since the release of that album influenced your songwriting? 

It’s interesting – I’ve definitely seen a shift in the way I write.  It has become a lot more personal since my last album.  That’s not to say I don’t give my imagination free rein at times, but to a lesser extent than I used to.  I would say that over half of the songs on my new album are directly influenced by how I have been impacted by life events (either in the broader sense or closer to home).  Not always in a literal way, as I think that can sometimes close off a song to the listener, but very definitely drawing upon my inner feelings.  I’ve found it quite liberating and I think it’s something I’ve needed to do as I’ve tended to be the sort of person who hides their feelings away.

So far, I’ve had a chance to listen to the first single from your new album, “Dance with the Daffodils.” I love its retro feel and can imagine hearing it on the radio in 1967 alongside “Strawberry Fields Forever.” What inspired that one?

I was first inspired to write this song after reading Wordsworth’s poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud” during a trip to his homeland in the Lake District in England with my Mum a few years ago.   The poem describes golden daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze and how his heart danced with them.  It took me several years to finish writing the song though – I kept putting it to one side as it didn’t seem to fit with the darker feel of many of the other songs I was writing at the time.  I love it’s retro feel too!  That’s all thanks to Mike Raine who I’ve been working with for several years now and who brings my songs to life with his wonderful productions.

Regarding the album, is there a thread that brings all the songs together?

No, there isn’t a thematic thread, but there is definitely an overall uplifting feel to the album which is a transition for me from the more sombre, dark feel of my first two albums.  I’m not sure after the past few years I could bring myself to channel the dark anymore  – I needed this one to feel more uplifting!

You worked with Mike Raine on Racka Shacka, and I think you worked with him on all of your previous recordings. Why do you like working with him, and what does he bring to the process?

Oh, where do I start?  Yes, I’ve worked with Mike on all my albums.   He is amazing to work with.  Not only is he an incredible multi-instrumentalist, but he has an amazing vision for how a song should sound in terms of it’s production.  Over the years, I’ve learnt that the best way for me to work with him is by not being too prescriptive about how I hear a song sounding, but rather let him explore it creatively first and present it to me as he hears it.  This is the first time we’ve collaborated remotely though, and I think it’s speeded the process up as he hasn’t had me peering over his shoulder putting in my tuppence worth as he’s been building up the instrumental arrangement, and he hasn’t had to patiently sit through all my vocal re-takes, LOL.   So, the process has been, I’ve sent him a basic piano or guitar track and a vocal track, together with the chord structure.  Mike’s put together a basic instrumental arrangement over it (often, very wisely, omitting my piano or guitar) and sent it back to me to see what I think, and then, if I’m happy, has refined if from there.  Whilst he’s been doing that, I’ve worked at home on final vocals and any vocal harmonies to send him.  He’s then mixed and mastered and voila – a finished song!

What keeps you going as a songwriter and musician?

I’m actually not sure – I just have to do it, even if I try not to!

Any plans for the future?

Well, in the immediate future, I’ll be putting out a couple more singles from the album and then releasing the whole album.  Perhaps a few videos along the way too.  Once that’s done, I’m looking forward to writing more and continuing to try to improve my piano playing skills.  In the meantime though,  I’m immersing myself in a couple of other musical projects.  The first one is with the local amateur theatrical group who are putting on a musical in which I’m playing a loud and blousy 1920s cockney landlady of a pub LOL – great fun!  We’re in rehearsal stage at the moment, with performances in July.  Then in September I’ve a three-to-four song performance slot in a jazz concert at one of the local wineries, so I’ve a few songs to rehearse for that.  I’m enjoying having a bit of musical variety.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Laini! Good luck with the new album!

Thank you for the interview, Marc.  As always, I enjoy answering your questions, even though they make me think hard, LOL!