Random Rab at Envision Festival [Interview]
Featured image: Andrew Jorgensen
As our Envision after-glow starts to subside and summer festival mentality kicks in, we ruminate on the fundamental inspirations that have shaped this festival’s other-worldly presence in Costa Rica. Beyond its sustainable principles, invigorating workshops and innovative programming, Envision integrates the more enigmatic tradition of sunrise sets. Over time, these early morning musical journeys have proliferated at Burning Man and festivals all over the world; their special status is evident. The permeating enthusiasm and careful musical curation is undeniable, yet their power remains ineffable. Envision, with its tropical outdoor environment and emphasis on world-class yoga activities, perhaps gives it a proclivity for all things solar. The Sun Salutation, one of the most common and unifying yoga sequences, focuses concentration on the sun.
No one musically emulates our solar appreciation more than Random Rab. His tranquil, calming, yet intellectually challenging genre-defying music and has become the lifeblood of this developing culture. He’s played the sunrise at the last six Envision Festivals and is approaching 20 years of sunrise sets at Burning Man. In his own words, “I feel like it’s when people are most emotionally raw and open to anything happening, versus the middle of the night where there’s a craving for a more edgy, party vibe. During the sunrise everyone’s also in alignment with this celestial body and are recognizing that we’re on this giant ball floating through space—no matter what you do you can’t stop it.” (Interview with Thump.) Towards the end of his set, in a gesture that symbolizes the festival’s and its attendee’s love and appreciation for this artist, the crowd merged into a giant group hug, a touching moment to behold.
We were lucky enough to have a conversation with Random Rab. Read below and learn more about Rab in his excellent documentary, Visurreality. He’ll surely be back next year so head over to the Envision Festival website to purchase your tickets for 2017!
SR: Can you describe your relationship with Envision Festival? How did you first start playing here? How has the sunrise set become your staple? Why do you think this festival stands out from others?
Rab: I first played Envision Festival when it was in downtown Dominical and have been back every year since. Deciding on going to Costa Rica for a festival was pretty easy. I suppose the hard part was leaving. I had never seen nature quite like it is down there, so the setting is majestic and superb. All the folks who actually build and operate the festival work so hard and it shows. I have a lot of respect for everyone who puts their heart and soul into the Envision experience. It feels like home for so many others and for me.
SR: How has your son impacted your musical career since the Visurreality documentary? How do you balance work, family, and relationships, and what lessons gave you learned that have helped you become the Random Rab of 2016?
Rab: Random Rab is an expression of my creativity and my life’s work. Being a father and the extremely lucky partner of an amazing woman is truly what defines me as a whole person. It has not always been easy to balance being a father, partner, and musician but it has somehow always just worked out and has been fantastically rewarding. My music supports my family and my family supports my music. What more could I ever want in life? I feel incredibly blessed and am grateful.
SR: I read in a previous interview that your name originated with a fellow named Trippy Nick. Can you expand on this a little. Who is Trippy Nick? Any other anecdotes regarding the origin of the name Random Rab?
Rab: My first musical project on the west coast was Trippy Nick meets Random Rab. We made an album called “Never Trust an Alien” and it was an exploration of abstract thought, consciousness expanding substances, lucid dreaming, humor, shamanism, and of course aliens. We got a cabin in the woods and wrote the album out there in solitude on reel-to-reel tape. Nick now makes beautiful handmade 24k gold rings and wine; a classy guy with equally classy musical sensibility. Back in the day, Nick had a black box sensory deprivation cube in his small room that he rented. There was just enough room in there for the box, a drumset, and a small futon. We locked ourselves in the box until we emerged with our names and that was that. I have been Random Rab ever since.
SR: I know you have used many exotic instruments in your recordings, do you have any current favorites? Which instruments did you particularly love that you used on Awoke?
Rab: I have a nice collection of exotic instruments, but it’s one of my indulgences so I always want more. Last year I was thrown a very surprise birthday party and was given a beautiful tambura. My friends all went in on it, so it was a truly special gift. That same night Ilya Goldberg and I stayed up until the next afternoon making the track “39 Circles.” The tambura and I fell in love. I also had a lot of fun on the album with my guzheng, duduk, banjo, and several other stringed instruments and lots of fun percussion.
SR: How was recording Awoke different than your previous albums? What do you think this album represents for you as an artist? Any specific anecdotes or challenges during the recording process?
Rab: Awoke for me was a journey into new territory in some ways, yet also like going home. I knew from the beginning I wanted something with a planetary sensibility. Something equally appreciated on moons like Io or planets like Neptune, Earth, or even Mars. My vision was to crystallize the moment in energy more so than brooding or in rumination. I also did a lot more work in the production aspect as far as mixing and mastering, as well as using many more pieces of analogue and outboard gear in the recording process.
SR: What artists are you currently listening to? Is there any new talent you think is deserving of a shout out? We love promoting new talent here at Sensible Reason so we’d love to hear more about what new music interests you.
Rab: I just went on tour with 3 outstanding producers. Lapa (Ilya Goldberg) is one of my most prolific collaborators. His music is gorgeous and we had an awesome 2 weeks together playing shows. I then had a week with French producer CloZee. Wow. Stunning work. Then we had the last week with Cloudchord who makes some of the most fun and uplifting remixes I’ve ever heard. On my upcoming album I have some exciting collaborations with Peia, Kyrstyn Pixton, and Dave Mellish of Birdseye. They each make some beautiful music.
SR: Please describe a formative moment in your life. It can be single moment or series of moments. Something specific that has happened to you that you believe had a great impact on who you are today.
Rab: Probably the greatest formative experiences in my life have come from nature and that includes the birth of my son. I was fortunate to have some substantial deep wilderness experiences in my late teens and early 20s. These have significantly impacted what I place importance on in life and I feel my music is somehow an expression of nature and hopefully of truth. Nature is the perfect amalgamation of spirituality, art, philosophy, architecture, death, and birth all wrapped up in a wet leafy mossy moldy package that surrounds us in love. Being in touch with our own true human nature means being in touch with the great flow of nature that creates us and repurposes our life energy when we expire. My deep desire to connect with the river of life has inspired me to seek the great mysteries and let them lead me deeper into my art. This is the place where I can celebrate the truly precious jewel of life.