It takes courage to leave a full-time job in pursuit of a musical career. But the heart wants what it wants.
As a child, Seymour resident Laini Marenick took piano lessons at the Trumbull Music Studio. She started writing songs at 12. In college, she planned to study music.
Before auditioning for a spot in the classical piano program at Western Connecticut State University, however, she went through a bad breakup. She bombed.
"I just couldn't get myself together," Marenick says. "I didn't put any effort into it. They had every reason not to admit me at that point. I wasn't doing well as a person."
Marenick, now 33, took a more practical route: a bachelor's degree in psychology, a master's degree in social work. She landed a position at the Parent Child Resource Center in Derby, an intensive outpatient program for kids with serious behaviorial and emotional issues.
She ran group sessions. The job was taxing. On the side, she taught piano lessons.
As a musician, Laini had talent and original material. She watched Mark, her husband, and drummer Rob Siraco perform in a band called Tragically Said. She feared future regret.
"I was already 30," she says. "Time is ticking."
Laini and Mark, who comes from a musical family, performed at their own wedding; it was the first time Laini sang in front of other people. Soon after, with Siraco, the Marenicks formed Laini and the Wildfire and started playing shows at area clubs, including the Pacific Standard Tavern in New Haven and the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden.
The band plays anthemic, piano-centered rock songs: ballads and bangers with strong melodies, limber grooves and mercurial chord changes. The Fiona Apple outsider-vibe is strong, and the absence of guitar is refreshing. You sense they stumbled onto a group persona and a formula that works for them and for their audience; now, they seem to want to bear down on it, to refine it with each new song.
In May of 2016, the band released a five-song EP.
"People seemed to really like it," Laini says. "Our social media presence was growing. We'd gotten some endorsements [from Westone Audio, GMS Drums and Moniker Guitars]. It's been pretty cool."
This past August, after six years at the Parent Child Resource Center, Laini quit her job.
"I loved that job. I did really well and was a really good therapist. They were sad to see me go. I had been there for six years."
Ultimately, therapy and music weren't compatible. (Music therapy, of course, is a legit career path.)
"With jobs like [therapy], you have to put your all into it," Laini says. "It was always stressful and I was always able to manage it pretty well, but now I was trying to do music on the side and there was no creative energy left to do that."
The trio's self-titled, first full-length album came out in November. The band plays an album release show at the Ballroom in Hamden on Dec. 2, with Tyrone Shoelaces and The Penthouse opening.
The Marenicks recorded the new album at home. Laini writes about being one thing (a therapist) and wanting another (a life in music): "Lovers who fear love," she sings on "Wandering," the first single, "live life lost betting on luck / If only all the rhythms I'm tied to / were worth devoting my entire life to."
"It was written as I was leaving my job," she says.
With Laini not working, the Marenicks have had to recalibrate. Mark works in IT.
"He supports us that way," Laini says. Whenever possible, Laini plays solo shows and has retained some piano students.
"I'm trying to grow our audience," Laini says. "Us as a band is a big thing. It's a lot of sound."
The band also wants to put out as much new music as possible.
"People want new stuff all the time, and we have the ability to do it with our home studio. Whether it's going to be a new album or a new single, I'm not really sure yet. I know we're going to start writing again right after the release show."
LAINI AND THE WILDFIRE perform at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden on Dec. 2 at 8 p.m., with Tyrone Shoelaces and The Penthouse opening. Tickets are $10 to $12. theouterspace.net