Robert Clinton AKA Random Rab has performed many different genres of music over the years. He sang for a heavy metal band, he played classical trumpet, played bass in a country music band, scratch DJ’d for a jazz fusion project, and sang with a rock band in Mexico.
But it it wasn’t until Burning Man that Rab found real success, leading to Rab’s 2001 debut double-album, Epicycle, which was a concept album inspired by a science-fiction novel called Second Earth.
Now he travels all over the world playing gigs at the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and composing music for the Princess of Abu Dhabi.
We spent a little time with Rab discussing his career and how he views adversity. Here’s our interview with Random Rab.
So Rab, for all the musicians trying to make it in music now, how did you get your first big break in the music industry? How were you able to set yourself on the road to success?
I am still waiting for my big break! Haha. I’m not sure I’d recognize it if it ever came though. The path to where I am today all seems like work and reward. For every step to success there was a long process of hard work and discovery.
I always felt that my listeners are very sophisticated and it was really up to me to create something worthy of their attention. I still always try to challenge myself and offer up something unique and hopefully beautiful. Only by respecting my craft and my audience can a fair exchange of energy take place.
You got hooked into the Neotribal art and music collective El Circo on the West Coast in the late 1990s. El Circo was a great influence on how the Burning Man Festival community evolved, both musically and fashion-wise.
When you first played at Burning Man, you were one of many but what made you stand out was taking a leap of faith in playing a sunrise set, which is the last performance at Burning Man which no one wants to do because it’s the end of the party, but you instead made it a highlight of Burning Man.
Can you talk about taking that leap of faith and what was going through your mind at the time?
Yes, being a part of El Circo was pivotal in my life and in our scene in general. It was like a dream, but also required a huge amount of dedication. I learned that the only way any of us could succeed in our vision was to be resolute in our commitment to art.
I was typically known as “the last man standing” when we would do our shows or events. This really was how I ended up doing sunrises. No one else was awake and I had the “keys” to the soundsystem. At first these mornings were very small, rowdy, and impromptu. As the years went by, it all evolved into a more organized and intentional experience. These days sunrise sets still retain that initial spark. Something about it is so raw. It’s pure exhilaration.
Now let’s talk about your second album, The Elucidation of Sorrow which established you in the electronic music scene. El Circo became very well known and everyone involved became very popular, including yourself but paradoxically as they became more popular you became more and more unhappy. So here you were a popular and successful music artist unhappy with his life. Can you share with us what happened, and how that led to the album?
I think that a lot of my personal issues had to do with my own ego. In our scene there was a lot of beauty, but also perhaps a lot of pressure to be beautiful and amazing. In a way it was frowned upon to be openly competitive, so a lot of us internalized these feelings as well.
I was in my early 20’s and just discovering psychedelics and also mind-expanding relationships with psychedelic people. I was pushing my concept of understanding reality and spirit a bit too hard. Having an existential crisis was inevitable. I still have an existential crisis every couple weeks, but have learned to channel that anxiety of the unknown into my art.
I never could find the great-and-final answer I was looking for. I now accept this instead of hating myself for not getting it. Life is profound… full stop. There is really not much more to know with certainty about oneself so let the art and ego just be as they are. It is all nature and this is all that must be fully known.
Some people might say, “how can you be unhappy when you have achieved what so many people can only dream about?” Looking back now, how would you respond to that?
Life is not a movie with you as the main character. Living out what you think you would want is pointless and may lead to self-destructive or self-numbing behaviors. It’s too easy to compare our own success to others.
I remember the days when Bassnectar would open for me. When he took off and became what he is today, would it not be easy for me to sink into jealousy? This is just an example, but there is always someone “bigger” or more famous than you.
One’s own happiness comes from the experience of joy, not success. Look for joy, not a story about yourself. Look for and create connection, beauty, love, and harmony. All else will fall into place.
What pulled you out of this downward spiral you were experiencing?
Every person has his or her own way of seeing the light. For me it was through music, nature, and a powerful experience with ayahuasca. These three forces pulled me from the darkness that I had cast upon the world with my own thoughts.
So you then experimented with the controversy all, hallucinogenic brew, called Ayahuasca.
Now before we get into this, we need to share with our readers that this can be a dangerous substance to play with four many people due to possible pre-existing medical conditions or other complications and people have died from experimenting with this, but for you it was a positive experience. Can you talk about that?
I sometimes have apprehension discussing ayahuasca, so I appreciate your disclaimer. It is very powerful and there is no guarantee it will help you find what you are looking for. It is medicine and I personally do not “recommend” anyone seek it out unless they are absolutely certain they are prepared to experience total ego death.
Ego death is quite similar to real death, but you get to come back to this world. I once heard a great word to describe the experience: alternity. It is an eternal place unlike this world that exists in parallel yet has its own eternal timeline completely separate from our own. It is the place you were before you were born and perhaps where you will go when this life is complete.
When I’m there I was always there, just like being here in this body. It’s quite familiar and can be as equally joyful as it is terrifying… just like life. As a musician, it can really help see sound in a new more precise way. Every detail is so important. I can also say with certainty that the same experiences that happen with aya, can also be experienced without it. It is more of a confirmation that these experiences are real and not just imagined.
And then in 2009, you released the shamanistic, aRose, in which you mixed tribal and spiritual music with electronic music, to great success. This was a celebration of you coming out of your dark period, wasn’t it?
aRose was simply my offering to the world at that time. I never really thought of it as something that represented where I was at personally or what I was feeling. It’s more like a transparent lens into what was coming through me. All of the non-commissioned music I create is like this. I try not to get in the way of what seems to already be written on the walls of my consciousness.
And now as you look back on your journey, what have you learned about overcoming adversity in life, as in our phrase, “fall down seven times, rise up eight”?
I wrote Master of Gyroscopes around the concept of fate and free will. As we are bound to our fate, yet we have free will, both exist. It’s comforting to know that there is a purpose in life but we are free to choose. You’ve chosen the path yourself. The difference between joy and happiness is important. I wanted to be happy and it took me a while to recognize that I’m just me, accepting myself, to embrace the events as the unfold, accepting and finding joy in the process.
The bad times come like waves, they are temporary but you have to become strongly persistent in finding joy. For instance, I don’t believe in The Secret. Believing in positivity is not enough. My belief is that we need to embrace the darkness and the light and see both as beautiful. When I was younger, I saw the darkness as cool and the light as cheesy, but they are both beautiful.
An image that stays with me is Carl Sagan’s quote, “there will be a last perfect day on earth”. Little things are not important. We need to embrace the moment and accept everything for what it is. To say no is where pain comes from. If you go with the flow, the pain will be nullified.
I spent some time as a wilderness guide and learned something powerful. When you are white water canoeing, you turn the boat towards the obstacle and let the current push you out of the way. It’s the opposite of your intuition to face obstacles head on. You have to lean into it, towards the obstacle to get around it when you are canoeing. You let the current carry you where you need to go. Rather than running away, face it. The flow is more powerful than your desire, so when we go with the flow, we are happier.
I have learned to simplify my life and also simplify my desires. It’s so easy to just want more and to be seen as more and to think we need more. There is always more stuff, more money, more sex, more parties, more experience.
Being in a state of want can propel you to do great things, but not allowing that moment of satisfaction to set in is what causes pain. We are always in the eternal moment of now and nothing else. Joy is here. Joy is possible at every moment.
This, to me, is the key: knowing the difference between joy and happiness as well as the difference between sorrow and sadness. To be happy is great, but no critical. To be sad sucks, but is not that bad. To be at peace is to be in a place of joy and this can happen without being happy.
To experience joy is to embrace the endless river of now and let it flow into your heart and through your thoughts and all that you create. It is also essential to embrace sorrow and recognize its sublime beauty as well. Sorrow is possibly one of the most effective creative tools. Being sad is not.
Thank you, I think your point about accepting the good with the bad is really the key. So what’s next for you?
I am excited to be doing a lot of festivals this summer with a west coast / west Canada tour this fall. Big highlights for my summer include Shambhala, Sonic Bloom, Global Eclipse, and Ozora Festival in Hungary. My new album, Formless Edge, is due out late May / early June.
We’d like to thank Rab for taking the time to speak with us and hope you’ve found this interview interesting. Please comment below.