By: Lisa Disinger
A leading name in electroacoustic performance and West Coast downtempo, Random Rab is enjoying a flourishing 2013 season filled with the premiere of his upcoming collaborative album Release, a hectic festival tour that leads into the fall, and even a new co-creative documentary. Although a ubiquitious headliner and up-all-night-until-the-sunrise partier, this musician is a family man who prefers to spend weekdays at home, where he joins us for this intimate and exclusive interview days before he takes the stage at the inaugural ARISE Music Festival, taking place August 14-18th at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.
Bring us into the world of your curent physical and psychic space; where do you find yourself right now, and what projects are taking up the bulk of your efforts at attention?
Right now we just released the documentary film Vissureality, so that's sort of been the thing of thing of the week.
Yeah, I was just watching watching it as I was waiting for you to call and I was like 'Well, I feel like this already addresses so many of the things I was going to ask!'"
Yeah, totally, watch the film and then follow up, right? There is a lot of current information in there about basically what happened in 2012. It'd be pretty fun just to put it out there and see what happens.
That's based on your most recent album, Vissureal, right?
Well, it's kind of based at least a bit on Vissureal, and a bit on the end of 2011, beginning of 2012. Basically, Charles Shaw documented a bunch of key shows with me around the world, so it's kind of like the year of that album, leading up to now. Of course, a lot of the songs in the film are actually from the new album-- it's kind of a mix of everything.
Okay, so where did you inspiration come from to drive that project? What inspired you to do it?
Actually, it was Charles Shaw, the director; he had already been documenting my shows just for personal archive, and then he came to me to do a project, a film that's coming out pretty soon here. He's doing all the festivals this season for his film called The Plastic People, which is a film about, basically, people who are born in Mexico, raised in the United States, get busted for some petty crime, get deported back to Mexico as nationless people. So, he's doing this film and he wanted to use my music for this film, and so it's kind of a trade; he complied all of the footage of this documentary for me and I gave him all of my music for the film. So, it's more like his project that I didn't realize was already in the works. At the end of the day, it was pretty effortless, just giving him the green flag to go ahead and doing a couple more interviews.
That's actually a really nice trade! Something meaniningful both artists can share with each other, really cool.
Really cool! It's nice also for us since it was free for both of us, and ended up being pretty easy.
Back to Vissureality, what messages, thoughts, or feelings are you hoping you can transmit to the audience through that film?
I think it's a combination of giving people who are interested in my music a way to dive deeper into the story behind some of the songs, and to travel to some of these shows. Kind of a lens inside the world behind the music and also maybe to inspire some other artists to continue along their path, to see that it's possible for anybody to do what they want to do, and if they want it, just keep doing it. You know, I'm not like some super-huge-mega-thing, so I think hopefully it will inspire other people. As long as you do what you love, you can at least make a living and continue to do the things you love.
I've noticed that lately there has been a lot of organizations throughout the transformational festival community that are starting to put out these documentaries, The Bloom Series obviously being a big one right now, and as a fan I am really enjoying it.
So, you have a new album coming out called Release that will be released this fall, how does it compare and contrast to your last album?
I would say it's got a little bit more of a "live" feel to it, and that comes from a lot of the live percussive elements, so there's a lot more microphones involved, a lot more recording of things and sampling them, editing them and stuff. There's an overall feeling of "aliveness," I would think is the biggest shift... I think all in all, it's kind of heavier hitting... Slightly... But for me, compared to what other people do, that's not really saying a whole lot.
But, as far as your own personal sound palette goes, it's something with a little more "umpf" in it?
It's got a little more umpf in it, but my music used to be really heavy many years ago, so it's not really a huge change for me, but just the particular direction of this album. At the same time, it's really all over the place; there's sounds from all over. I did a lot of what I call "micro recordings," where I record really small objects using high sensitivity microphones, and then amplify them. So, a lot of the sounds are really tiny sounds that add a certain flavor to the songs. You know, it's just a different approach for me.
A lot of you live performances and recordings feature a lot of collaborative musicians, so what collaborative musicians will be on your next album?
On this album there are the main collaborators Cedar Miller, and Ilya Goldberg. Cedar is a percussionist who is trained in mostly African percussion and a lot of traditional stuff. And then Ilya Goldberg is the violin player with Emancipator. Those are the two main collaborators. I am also working with D.V.S*, Jamie Janover, and there are a few others in there, but those are the main ones.
Wow, that's actually quite a few people! Another thing that I've noticed since I'm a flow toy artist is that you always have a lot of dancers and sometimes hoopers on stage. What do you think that adds to the performance?
I think it adds a lot to my show because generally I'm focusing on the music instead of dressing up in costumes and shooting lasers everywhere and stuff like that. I like to keep it really organic, and simple, and sort of approachable. Something that feels natural for people. Having dancers has really added a lot to the simplicity of the sounds; it enhances the vibe in way. I've done crazy projection stuff alot in the past and I still want to keep doing that, but I really like people a lot. I have also found that when you get a lot of dancers, they bring their friends and they all get into the show; it creates more of a community feel around a show, the more dancers you have. So, instead of keeping it your own thing, when you open it up it creates this vibe, and then after the show you have all of these people who have performed with you and it's just more fun.
In your documentary I noticed this one specific guy, so I looked in the credits and saw Anthony Ward. At first I thought he was just someone in the audience and I was like, "Whoa, he goes to a lot of your shows!" But then I noticed he was actually on stage. He was really enjoyable to watch, he looks like he's got a nice personality, for sure.
He's amazing! He's one of my favorite performers of all time. He's just so into it, and for him it's all about the flowers he works with. He's very connected to the plants, and the flowers, and it adds so much, especially when we go to some dark club and Anthony shows up with all of his beautiful flowers and it smells good, it looks good, and it just feels nice to bring an organic element into the show. And then when the show's done we just pass out the flowers to everyone.
I'm also interested in knowing about this new percussionist that you have... He's new to your entourage, yes?
We actually started playing together over 10 years ago when I was first getting started. We were old friends and then we kind of didn't really see much of each other about 10 years, and then I saw him at Lightning in a Bottle a couple of years ago and was like, "We need to make some music together!" So, over the last two years we've been developing our live show and now when I have any kind of big live show, Cedar is there. We've co-written a few songs, sometimes he'll sing with me and play a few instruments... Plus he's not really playing a standard drum kit, he's plaing a percussive kit. So, it helps because I generally program a lot of the basic drum patterns, like snare and the kick drum, and he does all the other stuff. It's a good way to keep that electronic groove, you know, heavy hitting and to also have this other organic element to make it feel more alive.
When you get all of your hardware up there, and all of these different instrumentalists with all of their set-up, what does it look like on stage for you? What is going on up there?
There's a lot of cables. Everywhere. It can get a little crazy, haha, because I'm doing all of the mixing myself. A lot of the time when you have a band, you mic up the sound guy who's doing all of the mixing of everything, but with our set-up everything is coming to me. I have a big mixer, and I'm mixing everything together live so it has a slightly different feel to it beause I'm really in control of where we're going. It gives me a lot of freedom because I know when certain instruments will want to be featured and I can turn them up. It's kind of impossible for a sound guy to do that. Our live show can look like there's enough stuff up there for 10 people, but it's usually just a couple of us, 2 or 3 of us playing all of the instruments...
So, what festivals do you have left on your route this season?
Well, I'm doing Arise Festival out in Colorado, Burning Man, Symbiosis. In October we'll be doing a little tour to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago for the new album that is coming out in the beginning of September/end of October.
I've noticed that there's alot of hype around Arise festival, which you brought special attention to, also. It's being heavily promoted online, and there's handbills everywhere, and there's fliers all over the port-a-potties; what do you think is so special about this festival? Why are you excited to be there?
Colorado, to me, has one of the most thriving music scenes in the country, and it's not just limited to one genre; from jam bands to electronic music, Colorado is really holding it down. And I feel like there hasn't been a lot of really good, big family style festivals to really bring people together... I think Arise really hit the nail on the head with the line-up, and the location, and the timing of the festival. It's kind of what everybody needed, and what everybody has been wanting. I think the buzz is well deserved and that it's going to be a successful event for everyone. Having Michael Franti headline brings a mainstream feel to it, and I'm just going off of what everybody elese is excited about, too, everybody is super pumped on it.
Random Rab is a legendary name on the West Coast music scene, especially at Burning Man, but the music act has really expanded to find itself at transformational festival bills across the world; how do you feel that your music contributes to that social scene that really focuses on radical expression and liberal humanitarianism?
You know, I think that there are a couple of people in my little niche of music, which is music that is really based on accessibility. That usually involves a lot of melody, and it's not so about the grind. We're providing a place for people to get their melodies and harmonies; just something that's more accessible to a broader audience, not necessarily more popular to a broader audience, but it's really just all about feeling good. That's my biggest offering: here is a place that you can come to hear music, and it's all about feeling really good.
A couple of more questions about the new Release album that's coming out: Do you have one specific track from the album that you're really excited about? One that you think will be a defining track, or one that you listen to and you're like "Oh yeah, I made that and it sounds good!"
Yeah, actually, there's a track called "Release." That track is the one that influenced it, and I feel really, really strongly about that song. I love the song, so I decided to name an album after that. I've never done that before. That seems to be the song of the album.
Have you been playing it for audiences this summer?
Yes, we've been playing it live. Started playing it, and actually wrote it for the eclipse that happened last year at Symbiosis. So, the lyrical content is based on that, and I've been playing it live ever since, and it's been powerful. It's gone through different phases of how it sounds, but then finally we recorded it recently, and I'm pretty happy with the recording.
I've notice that a lot of your performances have been centered around sun events, even in your documentary there was a lot of footage of that eclipse performance. Also, your sunrise performances are becoming really coveted in the festival scene, how did that happen?
It kind of started to take hold at Burning Man, almost 15 years ago I started doing sunrise sets out there, and other festivals, but for me it was always just the fact that I was the last man standing, because I generally don't need to sleep as much as other people (laughs)! Or I just don't. So, I was always looking for different opportunities to play, and sunrise was a time when everything was shutting down, and I would pick it up and start playing. Now it's kind of become a thing that I'm getting booked for, but it used to always be a renegade thing for fun. Now it's actually become more offical and it's been really cool to watch it happen over the last 10 years now. I just did Gratifly festival out in South Carolina, and they flew me out there specifically to do a sunrise set.
I think that Gratifly Festival is really the first thing like that for that specific area of the country.
Yeah, definitely. Everybody there was telling me that if they even had been to a festival before, they had been to, like, Bonnaroo. They hadn't really been to a small festival, and stayed out until sunrise before. They were all glowing. They were so happy, and so were we. It felt really special.
What is it like to play for that crowd? What is their energy like and is it s difficult thing to prepare for?
No, I don't necessarily prepare so much for sets, I try and remain really open to what the audience is feeling. I have some ideas, and then I just go. Sometimes you get to a place and they really want something darker, and you can't predict that. Or they want something lighter, you just never know. So, I went there and they were just there ready to go wherever I wanted to go with them. It was really special, just felt really easy for everyone.
Don't you take special naps during the day? You're not like "Maaan, I've gotta play another one of these things at 4:30am I better make sure I get to sleep!"
Definitely. When it comes to that kind of thing I have to prepare, because I ended up having to play sunrise in South Carolina and then I had a sunrise the very next sunrise at What The Festival in Oregon.
And a long plane ride in between that?
Yup. And driving, and all sorts of other stuff. There was no way I was going to be getting more than an hour of sleep in between those two, so I slept as much as I could right before that sunrise set the morning before and just layed in bed for a while like, "I'm not getting out of bed. I'm not getting out of bed," and then just hit it hard for the rest of the weekend, and sure enough, I was totally done by the end of it. Yeah, I've definitely gotten better at preparing my sleep schedule. That has probably been the most important thing these days, just figuring out when I'm going to sleep.
Well, I just have one last question for you: What seeds are you uplanting for the future? What can we expect to sprout in 2014? What are your longer visions?
Gosh, I wish I really had a clear answer, but I guess I can only say that I just I want to continue to record and make new music that inspires me and other people. And continue to play for audiences that are open to what I have to offer. Just to be present in the moment, you know? I have certain strategic plans that revolve around the business, but more than anything I just want to go where I feel is the most natural step. So, 2014 is a big question mark right now and I'm just looking forward to seeing what happens next... As far as I'm concerned, I have already succeded because I am doing what I love. I have reached the point that I have always wanted to reach, which is making a living and providing for my family doing what I love. From here on out, it's all just bonus.
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