Fake It Till You Make It: A Conversation with Quizboy

Quizboy is a fascinating character—and I don’t use the word “character” lightly. There’s something mysterious about him. Part noirish superhero and part snarky gadfly, he’s wearing a pair of steam-punk goggles and a skeleton facemask in his Twitter profile picture, and the cover of his 2020 album Rest in Pain depicts a young boy—possibly Quizboy himself—in a red cape, to all appearances ready to take on the world. And his music is pretty awesome, too. Grungy in places and cinematic in others, Quizboy’s tunes have a strong 90s vibe reminiscent of Nirvana.

I’m curious about your identity, if that’s something you’re comfortable talking about. I see on your Bandcamp page that the primary contributor to all of Quizboy’s music is Ben Dayho. Are they one-and-the-same?

If I’m being quite honest, “identity” has always been uncomfortable for me, regardless of whether it’s the alter-ego or the wage slave that would be considered the “real” person. I appreciate that you are taking the time to be mindful about what I am or am not comfortable with though, thank you for that. Ben Dayho is indeed one and the same and is in fact a word play on the Spanish word for “stupid person” or “stupid asshole” in some context. I also go by Bennito Malcooster, a character that was dreamed up for me in my friends’ project “Weed N Stiff” – a comedy band. In their universe, I’m the band’s company secretary.

That said, the bio for Quizboy begins with “Billy was born Hydrocephalic.” Where does Billy fit in?

Hahaha. It’s a bit of an inside joke. There’s a cartoon called “Venture Bros” and in that show there’s a character named “Billy Quizboy,” which is where the music project name comes from. I chose that character because I liked him the most. The “Billy was born Hydrocphalic” bio is actually his backstory in the cartoon, and I just top it off with “oh yeah but the band…” part at the end. Of all the characters in that show that have very elaborate backstories, I was particularly connected to Billy Quizboy’s because he is this odd duck, that has a medical condition, he’s not quite “good” enough to be a higher tier of superhero (the whole thing in the show is a satirical take on “good guys” vs. “villains” and their respective unions and bureaucracies that govern them).  Quizboy, the character, tends to be taken advantage of because of his short comings and social awkwardness. Yet, at the same time he’s called upon to bear huge responsibilities like perform illegal open-heart surgeries (multiple times) because he’s actually smart enough to do them, but was never dealt a hand in life that put him in a position to go to M.I.T. like he dreamed of (a running joke in the show). I just have an affinity for that character, so that’s basically where all that comes from.

Your Bandcamp page is a funhouse of snark and intentional misdirection. I’m thinking specifically about your “Bandcamper” offer: $2000 for access to all the new music you release plus bonus items and access to supporter-exclusive messages, followed quickly by an all-caps warning: !!! DON’T DO IT!!! What’s going on there?

I’m flabbergasted and flattered that you poked around enough to notice that stuff, haha. In short, I used the “subscriber” feature in Bandcamp to house some old demos and stuff I don’t intend on putting out publicly. I put the warning up to tell people not to subscribe, set the price point at something absurd, so that no one takes it seriously. What’s REALLY housed in there, are some recordings of me with an acoustic guitar, strumming and singing songs to my daughter during bath time. Whenever it’s my turn to do bath time with the little one, I sing her songs and she requests certain ones and it’s a nice bonding experience. I guess my overall intention is that one day when I die, I want her to have some recordings to re-visit of us hanging out together. I call the demos “Bath Salts”

I’m also fascinated by your merch. There’s the pig poster, which depicts an anthropomorphic pig standing in front of a nuclear reactor, and there’s the “Nuke a whale for Jesus” mug. Plus the Follow Your Leader line of apparel, which depicts Adolf Hitler blowing his brains out. It calls to mind a blend of Pink Floyd (at least as far as the pig is concerned) and a lot of the punk iconography of the 1980s. How does the imagery on your merchandise reflect your values?

If me suggesting that Nazis blowing their heads off can be categorized as a value, then I’m gonna go with yes, haha. I am steadfastly opposed to bigotry of all kinds. I don’t like to get lost in the weeds of arguing semantics about each type of bigotry, that to me is noise. Everything to me comes down to being humanist. I have been subject to racism, abuse, and some of the few people that are the most important to me in my life are homosexual and/or non-binary. So to me those topics that we like to debate about are not just topics, they are very real people, with very real lives. And they matter to me. Am I an idiot that says foolish things or not the right things at times? Yup. I am a sore thumb in just about every way you can be, so conversely, I also never expect everyone to be perfect and always be keen to everybody’s specific sensitivities all the time, I get that too, but I always humble myself enough to listen to perspective and learn. If we can humble ourselves enough to say, “I’m sorry” when we need to, actually mean it, and treat each other as humans, you can’t really go wrong. Only thing I would hope and ask for is that people can grant me patience for my flaws and ignorance and help me grow as a person, just as I would do for anyone else. Don’t know if that answers the question, haha, I doubt the basic imagery could reflect all that, but that’s what it is.

The pig art was painted by my wife. She’s an awesome spray paint artist, most of the art used by my radio station was painted by her. The “nuke a whale for Jesus” phrase is a slight on organized religion and its interference with political ideology. It was a saying my friend came up with in high school and we used to holler it at each other from time to time, so why not put it on a coffee mug, I says to myself.

There’s definitely something political going on, and I particularly appreciate that your Linktree page includes an option to support Anti-Racism. How do you view the relationship between politics and art?

I can’t deny that, even though I don’t think I intentionally try to be overtly political. And when I say political, I mean in the sense of talking about “politics” as it’s presented in the news. That stuff is really off-putting to me. I get overwhelmed and burned out really fast on the “hot takes,” statements made in absolution, propaganda, slogans, etc. I think most of that stuff is theater, we reduce complex situations too much in order to sway influence one way or another. However, I do hold true to some principals and ideals, and that’s mostly based on personal experience. So, it’s not so much as I’m trying to be political, as it is that we’ve politicized things that I have been affected by.

To add context to that, my father was (is) an abusive narcissist. When we were young, we were not allowed to know of any other kinds of music other than the “real” music he deemed we (and by we, I mean including my mother) were allowed to listen to. Coming from an impoverished neighborhood and school system, my only other exposure to music, was on the schoolyard. So, up until I was well into adolescence and distanced enough to be more of my own person, I only thought there were two types of music in the world. Stuff like Johnny Cash (before it was “cool”); Merle Haggard, George Jones, Lynn Anderson, on and on. The only other music the world had to offer was that “N-word” music at my school. Gangsta Rap was the hugest coolest thing at the time. I knew about the Beatles, because of my mom, but we had to listen to that when Dad wasn’t around because they were “F-slurs.” Imagine the identify crisis of being a person of color at school and having to secretly like “N-word” music because it was not allowed at home, which based on the demographics of where I lived, was a contradiction to the homes of my peers at the time. So, if I’m political because I harbor resentment towards experiences like that, yeah I guess I’m political.

In terms of music, I’m hearing a heavy Nirvana influence. Do you feel like being from the Pacific Northwest has anything to do with that?

Absolutely. Well, I’m not from the PNW. I’ve lived in the Portland area for 8 years now. However, the sounds of Sub Pop, Grunge, and PNW hardcore were so huge for me at such an important age. So, while not being from here, it’s certainly a place I gravitated to. I’m from a hardcore lovin’ town. Reno, Nevada. In that town, you were either a lounge, slick, “finger gun” type of cover musician or band, that get paid well albeit, in the Casino circuit, or you were a hardcore band. I mean, I hate to speak in absolute, nothing is definitively absolute, but that’s where most of the activity tended to be. So, a lot of my band and gigging experience was in metalcore type of bands, I was never cool enough or accepted enough to be one of the cooler kids in the scene or in some of the more hardcore punk bands that I actually appreciated more musically. A lot of the projects I was involved in were machismo, beefy, metal type of “fuck yeah” projects. Which don’t get me wrong, there were fun experiences in all of it. And I love heavy music so much. I played in a band that got to open for Horse the Band once, I thought that was amazing. I had a good friend that had a band that got to open for Hatebreed and Unearth and The Bled, so I was able to get into a lot of shows. I’ll always look back at that fondly. I got to meet Every Time I Die a couple times when they came through town and that was so cool.

At the same time I gravitated to places like the PNW that were a bit more eccentric? I guess you could say, centered more around creatives. I discovered “Alternative” music in 8th grade. It was revolutionary to me. I was the weird kid that was into weirdo music. There’s such a rich history of punk music and beyond here in Portland when you think about bands like Poison Idea, the Wipers, Red Fang, The Decemberists…and it’s kind of insane. I think MDC, Green Jello, and The Dandy Warhols are based out of here too now. So many insanely talented artists that want nothing to do with the commercial aspirations’ aspect of it. It’s refreshing and kind of off-putting at the same time. I never fit in anywhere. Really is different than where I was from.

I’d describe your lyrics as nonnarrative and impressionistic—again, reminiscent of Nirvana. What’s your approach to writing lyrics?

Yeah, Kurt Cobain is indubitably my primary inspiration for most everything I dabble with. It’s hard to explain just how much impact that had on me at the time I found it. I don’t personally attempt to write lyrics too literal. I don’t think I do that well. In long form, like a blog? I think I’m better at getting my point across. Twitter? I am a sore thumb and weird. My mind is always racing, and I must constantly remind myself, “hey stupid, THEY don’t know what’s going on in your head, show some restraint.” In my approach to lyric writing, I try to do it in a way that uses fervid words that get a point across about how I’m feeling, but consciously try not to be too literal. Even though, in my own head sometimes what I’m writing is about something very literal.  

And your approach to writing and recording music?

Fake it till you make it. Haha. I got to a point where I had so many songs written and been in so many projects where my own artistic sensibilities weren’t cultivated or really accepted that I figured, “well, I better figure some shit out or this will just die with me.” That’s basically it. I gave up, haha. I literally just learned basics, hit record, and tinkered with things over and over. Eventually, the tinkering got good enough to where I could understand tutorials and apply some fundamentals. Today I feel like I have a good foundation, I feel like the next two records will really be something that I’ve been meaning to do the whole time but just didn’t know how to do before. As far as writing, it usually comes out when I’m just rifting at my rehearsal space. I’ll usually start with a riff on a loop or a couple layers of loops and just kind of go nuts on it, then eventually structure it at some point later. I have a combination of tracks that are live drummers and programmed drums. I’ve worked with Nick Schlesinger who’s a hired gun, really nice guy and drum instructor, and I’ve solicited help from my friend Toby Lugo, who is I think is in what must be one thousand bands now in the Portland area, hahaha. So I’ll plug what I can remember from the top of my head….Othrys, Henry’s Child, Seven Second Circle, Val Bauer…. Toxic Zombie. The guy is insane. But yeah, that’s the closest thing Quizboy has to an actual drummer.

You also run an internet radio station—AMS Radio. How did you get that started, and what’s involved in keeping it going? You do all of the programming yourself, am I right about that?

Yeah man, that to me is my labor of love. I have no friends man, hahaha, I do it all myself.

It started in… I want to say…. 2019 ish? It was one of those exercises in tinkering and rabbit holes I burrowed into. I got into Music Publishing and all the industry BS that goes with that and I started out with a station where I was paying all the PRO licenses myself. I wanted to be legit. I wanted to make sure if I spin artist, I wanted them to get paid performance royalties. Then the vendor I had, had a server crash, and wiped out all my stuff. Not so much as an “I’m sorry” or anything and to have to keep paying the licenses to ASCAP, BMI and SEASAC the frustration boiled over and that’s when I found Live365 in 2021 which is a place that handles all the license stuff for you and does the “advertising” thing. So, all I have to do is curate and as long as the stuff I spin is published correctly, people earn royalties through their PROs. That is an important thing to me, as much as I have no qualms about pirate radio and the other punk rock stuff out there, I do kind of take it as a personal mission to advocate for artists and learn the business side, as gross as it is sometimes, properly.

In line with the station and the blog you maintain alongside it, you do a lot to promote independent musicians. What’s the draw for you?

I do try to behave when it’s the AMS brand. Quizboy is allowed to be crude, clumsy, and stupid because that’s what I am at my core. With AMS I really am trying to build a culture and brand of independent music appreciation.

I have such an affinity for independent artists, some might say it’s unhealthy, I probably should go over this with my therapist. Is there a lot of “trash” out there? Yeah, but there’s a lot of trash out in mainstream music too, the only difference is money backs one and the other gets up goes to work, and still figures out how to squeeze in creativity somehow. That to me comes through when I hear independent music I like, that makes it all the more brilliant. There’s an authenticity that is just there… I’d rather focus on that. I’d rather discover and focus on all the good things that I feel like people are missing out on. Maybe that’s the little bit of value I can add. Other people’s time is important, mine isn’t, so I don’t mind sifting through the trash to find the things that are unjustifiably underappreciated. If I can show somebody, anybody, something and make them go, “oh my god, I love this” and carry that forward for … forever, right? You hang on to your favorite songs forever. That’s kind of my bizarre and inexplicable motivation for all that. I don’t even entirely understand my own motives. I just love music.

Like the Star Crumbles! I love it. Even though you duped me into pushing cold lies and propaganda. I don’t care though. I’ll keep doubling down. I will still tell everyone I encounter that you opened for Dead Milkmen. Did you happen to listen to Native Tongue in the piece I wrote though? You really should, I think you’d dig it.

I will definitely do that! Anything else going on right now? Anything on the horizon?

I have an EP that is right there, I can almost taste it. I just need a quiet day to myself to put down vocals. I’m really excited for that one, like I was saying before I was able to apply a lot of fundamentals I didn’t have before to it. There’s a cover of The Decemberists on it, a song I wrote on piano, and a song that is pretty personal to me about some pretty heavy stuff, but we’ll see how literal that translates.

And I have a full-length album that I’m putting guitar work on right now. Talk about disappointment, yay! That one will be nice and heavy and angry. Almost, not quite, but almost a complete abandonment from the EP coming out next.

Other than those two things I’m focused on, I’d oddly enough like to maybe put a band together to rehearse this stuff. Or even if it’s just a backing track, I’d like to do more live stuff, and largely I mean virtually, like Bandcamp live and stuff.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Constantly and Beautifully Evolving: An Interview with Darrin Lee of Janglepop Hub

Janglepop Hub—along with Eclectic Music Lover and a handful of others—is one of go-to music blogs. Offering interviews with artists and reviews of singles, EPs, and albums, editor Darrin Lee works tirelessly to share the indie music he loves with the world at large. No surprise, perhaps that I’ve discovered many of the artists I’ve interviewed on this blog by way of Darrin’s finely-tuned ears: The Smashing Times, Eric Linden, and Brian Lambert (among others) have all made appearances there! So when he recently suggested (in jest) that he was waiting for someone to drop by the Janglepop Hub offices to interview him on musical matters, I couldn’t resist…

How would you define Janglepop, and what do you love about the genre?

The two parts of the question, a) the definition and b) what I like, undoubtedly merge into one answer.

“Lucid, jangly guitars with minimal effects and distortion, layered with pop hooks and melodies” is probably what many would say.

However, the people using such a definition would probably look at you aghast if you dared to suggest that jangle-pop did not begin and end with The Byrds / The Beatles and would demand you be institutionalized should you try and point out that we are now living in the absolute golden age of the jangle-pop genre…

But we are. The influences of the genre can be found in all manner of other genres, from the burgeoning bedroom / lo-fi pop genre, through indie/twee/surf/slacker/sunshine pop at the more sedate end, all the way up to the more raucous stylistics of modern day post-punk, jangle rock and jangle-punk.

Nothing really is off limits anymore and because of this the genre is constantly and beautifully evolving. The recent movements (last 2-3 years) towards dreamy jangle gaze, melodic fuzz pop, the new San Francisco scene and the whole Melbourne dolewave thing, just shows how new scenes are emanating from the genre so very quickly. My love for the genre emanates from the fact it never stands still and is easily incorporated into other genres.

Yes, The Byrds were good, but the whole “now” of it all is better in terms of eclecticism and our blog tries to uncover the best of it. Of course my words above could be seen as a criticism of those who revel in 60s sounds. It is really not meant to be…it is more of a sadness that so much good modern music can be missed out upon of you just dwell on the familiar.

You write a lot of reviews. Where do you find the time? And how do you avoid burnout?

Is it a lot? I have ADHD so I cannot really concentrate enough to get through a lot TV series, films, books etc. Therefore, music has always been perfect for me. It’s like a new story is starting with every different track. It resets the brain for me somewhat.

Therefore, it has always been my chosen form of relaxation. I listen to music on my lengthy commute into work , I also have my own office and the type of job (total solitude) which means I can listen to music all day everyday…so I do (and love it).

Two reviews every three days, especially when they are only a handful of paragraphs long, is not that many really? Is it?

I suppose it’s all relative! I know that you accept submissions through SubmitHub. How many do submissions do you get a day? How much time do you spend sifting through them all? How long do you listen to each submission?

With all the submissions I get through the various e-mails and via Submithub, I get over a 1000 a week. This quadruples on Bandcamp Friday week when many acts and labels wants to sell you that ‘must have’ re-issue of a 2012 demo of a cover of an Oasis or Yazoo track.

People distrust Submithub; however I did not really have much option to use it as it represented my best chance of actually hearing good music, as it tends to separate by relevance in terms of genre.

I listen to each submission for 90 seconds, unless it is obvious that it is completely the wrong genre, which tends to happen a lot as people tend to use the automated submit function. This was the reason why I had to stop offering the free submission option recently, as I was just receiving hundreds of Albanian techno type submissions rather than anything remotely relevant to the jangle-pop genre.

I spend 30-60 minutes a day selecting music.

Is there anything in particular that you’re listening for? What makes for a successful submission?

It needs to have some sort of relevance the jangle-pop genre for a start. Beyond that it needs to appeal to me in some way. It could be anything from a single dominant riff all the way through to lyrical context.

Does anyone really know why music appeals to them? It just does…

It is far easier to state what will not. Effects on vocals (especially vocoder), anything too old fashioned (tends to be the middle-aged and their power-pop), too polished in terms of production, are all things that tend to have me reaching for the delete button.

You often review singles in your “Beat the Delete” and “Singled Out” posts, but you also review EPs and albums. I know that SumbitHub really only lets artists submit singles to bloggers—though they do allow artists to provide links to their albums. How do you decide to review a full EP or album?

Submithub is not the only place where I hear music. I follow many acts and especially my favourite labels to hear new releases. Submithub tends to be more for self-released music, although some labels do submit through it.

In terms of the selection of what EPs and albums to review, I am not one of these bloggers who need everything to be perfect and absolute total quality before I will put it on the blog. I know some bloggers who feel that unless a release is totally amazing then they do not want to be associated with it. This is just silly, as it makes the reviewing process more about them, as opposed to the artist, genre or reader.

For me, if a release from an upcoming/new act has a few decent tracks on it that are linked to the genre, I am likely to review it as I feel that promoting new acts, helps promote the genre itself.  This is why we have so many self-released acts on the blog.

With the more established acts the album needs to be of a more consistent quality. They already have a fanbase and need less of my love to support them.

Is there anything artists should avoid when pitching music to you for review? Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to the artist-reviewer relationship? Or, to put it more positively, is there anything artists should know about pitching their music?

  • Be cognizant of how the reviewer wants the submission. If they specifically ask for it via certain medium (i.e. Submithub) do not naturally assume you are the exception and submit by another medium.
  • Have emotional intelligence. If a reviewer does not feature your submission, do not keep e-mailing them or send them rude messages. One regular submitter spends all his time being sarcastic about blogs/radio etc who reject his music on his social media pages, but then still submits on a weekly basis.
  • As mentioned previously, take the time to find out what music the blog covers. Sending Rap to a jangle-pop blog is just a waste of everyone’s time.
  • Timing is massive – I receive submissions 2/3 months before the actual release date. Bloggers get untold submissions and the chances of them remembering your track are slim. Do it a few days before release date for better results.

Great advice! I know that you also run the Subjangle music label. What’s involved in that endeavor?

It is a beautiful labour of love. Me and my mate James ‘Shoey” Shoesmith started it in Feb 2019, purely out of a mutual love for an band called Lost Ships (who have released with us several times since then) whose debut EP we wanted in our CD collections, but it was only offered digitally.

We contacted them and offered to release it. It was only supposed to be a once off, but 36 releases later we are still going, still losing money hand over fist (especially since Brexit ruined postal charges from the UK), still spending mental amounts of time of the admin/promo…but most importantly still loving it !!!

We have been extremely fortunate to get a loyal band of followers for the label and has been great to see certain acts get snapped up by vinyl labels…not bad for a CD label (remember them?).

Most importantly we get acts we love a little bit more well known, which is really the only mission statement of the label.

How do you find artists to work with?

Initially, when the label was in its infancy we would contact bands (we always concentrate on relatively new acts who hitherto had no physical format) who were jangly and we liked, just to see if they would be interested in collaborating with us.

We still do this, but as we have become a little more established, they often come to us these days. Which is an honour.

How is the work divided? In other words, what’s expected of the artists, and what does the label do for the artists?

The label does everything other than the artwork. We pay the artist a small amount or give them stock of the CDs to sell at gigs, whatever is their preference. The artist pays for nothing.

It is really the promo that is worth the association with Subjangle for the artiste. We have done quite well on that over the years.

And, because the question is inevitable, who was your breakthrough act of 2022?

Field School (out of the Small Craft Advisory label). Usually you can reel off several acts from the genre and it’s numerous variants, that would be contenders and of course I could go through that process again.

However, the three EPs from this act that were released in 2022 are just so immense that it would seem churlish to really mention the others. They have now been picked up by the Spanish, Bobo Integral label, whose big jangly indie heart will ensure they move from strength to strength when they release next years’ album.

Also, although you did not ask me, but I will tell you anyway. Look out for Maripool in 2023. She offers something extra to the whole lo-fi, jangly chanteuse aesthetic and could well take things by storm next year,

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

My absolute pleasure Marc…it’s been fun and I can cross the whole ‘be interviewed’ thing off my musical bucket list.

Glad to oblige!

A small sample of Janglepop Hub’s offerings!

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!