Racka Shacka! (An Interview with Laini Colman!)

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!      

Life Is Funny: All About Frankie Lumlit

Life is funny. I had my friend Tim Simmons over to my house to play some music a while back, and he made an offhand comment: “Dude, you have the jankiest drumkit!”

To be fair, he was right. I bought my drumkit a year ago from a guy on the edge of town. The morning I picked it up, he was sharpening knives in his basement and eagerly awaiting a shipment of AK-47 rounds. I know this because he told me so.

He also threw a bunch of additional drums I didn’t need into the deal, telling me that he had to make room in the basement. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I also didn’t want to ask, as I didn’t really want to know how many AK-47 rounds he was waiting on. Mainly, I just wanted to leave before the ammunition arrived.

All of this is to say that it’s a previously-owned drumkit. Or, to put it another way, a recycled drumkit. Which means I’ve also had to make a few adaptations to make it sound the way I want it to sound: mixing and matching the various drums that my knife-sharpening friend foisted upon me, employing a vast array of odds and ends (including but not limited to duct tape, tea towels, a circle of plastic sheeting I cut from a shelf liner, and a polishing cloth that came with a pair of glasses) to get the heads to sound just right, and a length of chain on my crash cymbal to give it some “sizzle.”

Also worth noting, the kit is wedged into a tight corner in a tiny room in my basement. To get situated behind the drums, I need to squeeze between the ride cymbal and a worktable while trying not to knock over a stack of milk crates loaded with old recording gear.

So, yeah, Tim was right. My drumkit is definitely janky.

But here’s the thing: Tim loves the way it sounds, so he wasn’t criticizing my kit so much as marveling at how I’ve managed to jerry-rig it.

In any case, we played music for a bit, laying down some tracks for the follow-up to the first Simmons and Schuster album, and I pretty much forgot about Tim’s comment—until a few days later when I sat down to play my drums.

It really is a janky drumkit, I thought. Maybe there’s a story there.

Stories about music were on my mind (again) because of Tim. He had written a children’s book called Serafine Learns to Sing a few years earlier and was now teaching a course on writing stories for young readers. I’d also done a little bit of writing in the past myself, so I had a basic understanding of things like plot, character, and setting. So why not?

Concept sketch for cover.

My original thought was to write a story called The Jankiest Drumkit. It would be told from the drumkit’s perspective and be about how the world’s jankiest drumkit was always being passed over until someone special discovered it and realized that it sounded amazing. The problem, though, was that I wasn’t sure how to tell the story from the perspective of an inanimate object. Also, if the drumkit were sentient, would there be ethical issues in terms of beating it with sticks?

So, no, the story wouldn’t be told from the drumkit’s perspective. Instead, I decided it would be about a child with a janky drumkit. And the child’s name would have to rhyme with “janky drumkit.” I’m not sure why. Maybe a hint of Dr. Seuss.

Curiously, it took me a while to come up with the name Frankie Lumlit. The Frankie part came pretty quickly. But the last name was the real mystery to me. I remember lying awake at night cycling through names: Gumbit? Humrit? Bumpit? Dumbwit? The list went on and on.

Once I settled on a name, I had an inkling that Frankie’s story shouldn’t be too close to my own. Something about buying a drumkit from a creepy survivalist sharpening knives in his basement while waiting for a shipment of AK-47 ammunition struck me as not quite right for a children’s book.

Also, if Frankie was supposed to be a child, how would he drive out to the edge of town to get the drumkit? It just didn’t make sense. That’s when I hit on the idea that Frankie might build his own drumkit. From there, it all came together very quickly—the story, anyway:

Frankie Lumlit leads a quiet life until he hears a song that changes everything for him (an experience that I imagine a lot of us have had). He’s so taken by the music that he wants to be a musician, too, but he can’t afford an instrument, so he builds a drumkit out of odds and ends he finds in the recycling bin (an echo of my own “recycled” drums). He’s proud of his drumkit until a friend of his laughs at it (shades of Tim Simmons!), but eventually his drumkit takes center stage at a big rock concert.

Once the story was written, I had to figure out how to illustrate it. I’d done some drawing and digital art in the past, so I knew I could start with some basic sketches on paper and then play with them in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. But I also wanted to make sure I came at it from the right angle, so I sketched out a bunch of possibilities for Frankie: a timid-looking kid with chubby cheeks, a round-headed Muppet, a pointy-eared gnome.

Early sketches.

Eventually I decided that I was overcomplicating things and decided to do a quick sketch without thinking too much about it. Whatever I drew, that would be Frankie, and the other characters would follow from there.

As for the rest of it, I spent the next few weeks taking pictures and figuring out how to turn them into illustrations. A lot of tracing was involved. And a lot of superimposing of images on top of each other.

I should note that I owe a debt to my friend and colleague Wayne Brew for the image of the theater where the story reaches its climax; with his blessing, I traced a photo of an abandoned movie theater that he had posted on Instagram. I also put myself into that illustration as the “man with a clipboard.”

Altogether, it took me about a month to illustrate the book. When I was finished, I queried a few agents but never heard back, which is fine. I’d had a lot of luck with publishing my book about the Beach Boys’ Holland album directly through Amazon, so I figured I’d try the same thing with this one.

I suppose at this point I should mention the title of the book: Frankie Lumlit’s Janky Drumkit. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s what people in the industry call an “early reader,” which is to say that it’s written with an audience of six-to-eight-year-olds in mind.

My goal, as you might guess, was to write a book about creativity—something that can get a child’s imagination going, particularly with respect to music. For some reason, I imagine aunts and uncles who are into music buying it for their nieces and nephews who live in quiet homes like Frankie does at the beginning of the story. With any luck, it will open up a world of possibilities and encourage the kind of do-it-yourself ethos that inspires so many of the musicians and artists that I’ve grown to admire over the years.

If you’re curious, I’d love for you to give it a read:

Available on AMAZON USA

Available on AMAZON UK

Loose and Free: An Interview with Brian Lambert

When I spoke to Brian Lambert back in December, he was well into his 52-week song challenge. Designed to showcase his skills as a songwriter, the challenge has also given Lambert a showcase for his ever-increasing skill as a music producer. Songs like “We Are OK” and the more recent “Heroes at the Dawn of Time,” “In Your Face,” “Kids,” “Hang Out with You,” and Lambert’s cover of the Replacements’ “Unsatisfied” reflect a wide range of influences while allowing his craftsmanship to shine. As he nears the finish line, I thought I’d drop him a line to see what the year-long experience has meant to him.

Fifty-two songs in fifty-two weeks! How does it feel?

Thank you, Marc, for this opportunity to talk about what was a pretty epic adventure in music making.   As you can imagine there is quite the range of emotions: relief, excitement, a bit of sadness.  Overall, I‘m very proud of climbing this mountain I set out to climb.  In some sense, though, I’m really still so close to it that it’s hard to really put into words what the whole experience means.  I don’t know if I can until it’s a bit further in the rear view mirror.

Yeah, I guess it’s hard to have perspective when you’re still so close… Were you ever tempted to give up? What kept you going?

I don’t know if I was ever tempted to give up per se.  There were some outside pressures with money that made me question whether finishing this was the right thing to do, but by that point I was almost at the end and people were cheering me on.  It didn’t make sense to stop then.  More than that was the question of whether I could get the music done in time to keep on the song-a-week schedule.  I took a fall and injured myself which caused me to get behind.  The music takes the amount of time it takes to make and it created some anxiety around being able to complete it in the time I had set out for myself. It  was important to finish though, and working on music is the one thing I can do regardless of my mood or disposition.

I’m curious as to whether the parameters or even the purpose of the challenge changed for you over the course of the year. Did you go in expecting one thing and getting another?

I was intentional at the beginning about being loose with the parameters. It was such a huge undertaking I wanted to give myself as much grace as possible.  The purpose was to realize my potential in terms of songwriting, performance on a recording, and my production/mixing mastering skills.  I knew I wanted to write new songs in new ways, I knew I wanted to do some cover tunes and write a couple of instrumentals, but besides that it was really get a song a week out to the world every week for 52 weeks straight.   I view things a bit differently now, but do feel confident about my ability to express myself in the studio.

What did you learn about yourself as a result of this challenge? 

One, I love music.  There were times where I had to sit down and play when I wasn’t feeling it but afterwards I was almost always glad I did.  I’m not tired of music and am ready to start working on new music. I suppose the biggest thing is that I don’t have to be perfect, that I’m perfectly alright just the way I am.  Not sure how I came about that realization in the process, but I do feel that way now.   The other part is becoming less cerebral about the whole process.  Thinking doesn’t make good music, it’s more of a feel thing.  I honestly don’t remember how I did much of the last part of the challenge. There was a lot of just hitting record and letting it rip.  I think that’s how you get the right feel, loose and free.

What about your evolution as a songwriter?

I’m definitely more of a melody/music first songwriter now than I was before.  There were lots of times during the process later on when I would have all the music but no vocals or lyrics and then come up with them listening to the track.  Before this I would need a fully composed song on the guitar before starting.  This has been freeing in a lot of ways and allows me to kind of compose lyrics to the overall vibe of the track as opposed to feeling like I have to be able to sit down with a guitar and play the whole thing out.

Listening to your most recent tracks, I’m struck by your exponential growth as a music producer. What are some ways you’ve evolved in that regard? Any tricks or tips you can share with readers? 

 I think that is a result of listening with the mindset of an objective listener. After doing so many tracks, it gets easier to notice when you start to get bored with the song.  Like a more passive than active listening where if I start to lose interest, I think about what I can do to keep my attention. So much is about what you take out at certain parts than what you put in.  Creating subtle dynamics with volume or eq is one way to do that, but I’ve found arrangement is probably the most effective way to keep listeners interested over the course of a song.

I’m also thinking about the sheer number of songs you’ve released. Do you think of them all as being of a single piece—like one massive album—or do different songs fit into different categories and represent different sides of who you are as an artist? 

I think of the project of going through some distinct phases.  Phase one was just getting a sense of things and experimenting, I’d say up to about up to “On Your Side,” which was song 16.  I really just kind of played around with different approaches and ways of doing things.  Phase two was definitely an indie pop/rock stage which is most encapsulated in the We Are Ok album that I released only on Bandcamp.  By that time I felt like I had a specific method and was going for more or less a unified sound with an album in mind.  Next I decided to explore one-mic recordings and getting a great performance without hiding behind production.  It seemed to me that was the element that was still lacking for me.  I had always been told I was way better live than on recordings and I wanted to finally get over that hump. So I basically just sang take after take until I got it right.  The last phase was the last 12 songs which to me make up an album and was really me taking everything I had learned and putting it all together.  There is a bit of a grungy aspect to some of the songs because I was just feeling that. The last 12 saw me do a collaboration, wink, a co-write, and three of the songs were inspired by Twitter friends.  I was really happy with how all of them came out and really feel like the best work was right there at the end.

What do you think about this body of work that didn’t exist a year ago?

I feel great about it and, ironically enough, about the work I released prior to it as well.  This process was about growth and learning to accept myself, and I accomplished that.   It’s still really a ton to process.  I wish I had some really great insight that I could share about the whole experience, but I think whenever you do something this big, the scale of what you’ve done won’t make sense until a little further down the road.  I guess in a rambling way I’m saying I’m still too close to it to have perspective.  I know that for the first time I listen to my own work and really enjoy it and for me that’s a huge win.

Definitely a huge win! What’s the plan now that you’ve met the challenge? 

Gosh, I need to figure out the whole how do I make a living thing.   I’m looking at ways to do it from art but the reality that I need to add some dollars to the bottom line is ever present, so figuring that out is a priority.   Artistically, I have a remix that I did for Scoopski coming out soon and then another collaboration with Marc Schuster* that I am super excited about.  I need to release some of the songs in album form.  I’d like to do more collaborations and just contribute to other projects and help people realize a bit more of their own visions, but nothing concrete as of the moment.

Do you think you’ll do it again?

No, not intentionally in any case.  I’ve proven what I need to myself in terms of my ability to write and produce quality work.  I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in time working with other people that I surpassed that output but as for creating challenges that have to do with a volume of work in a set amount of time that challenge has been met.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Brian! 

It was my pleasure Marc, thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the huge journey that I just completed.

*Hey! That’s me!