Extensive Interview w/ NYC Positive Rockers Light Warriors
Bringing to you today an interview featuring NYC based positive minded rockers Light Warriors. You may have caught wind of the feature I did on them a few weeks back highlighting their recent SoFar Sounds performance in NYC that chronicles the band's reggae influenced vibe along with their positive minded lyrics that will bring a great deal of light and meaning to people's everyday lives. Frontman Erik Rabasca and drummer Alex Kaufman were rad enough to sit down and do a thorough interview as we go back and trace the band's origins, their creative process, what it was like to put together their new album "Raise The Frequency", and where they see themselves moving forward. Here is the transcript from our chat:
Give us the names and roles in the band? Erik Rabasca: I’m Erik Rabasca on vocals and guitar. I write the songs and to date have played most of the instruments on the albums, bass, keys, percussion and drums on Survival Of Joy. For Raise The Frequency, we have Alex Kaufman on drums. We’re also adding Cameron MacIntosh on drums for the two-drum attack. Hopefully we’ll debut that lineup by the fall. Out of necessity in fulfilling everyone’s creative schedules, we’re operating a bit more like a collective for the time being. There are lots of other players who fill bass, keys and guitar. We’re close to solidifying the rest of the lineup. When available, I’ve often worked with Greg Coffey on bass, Alan Ware on keyboards and Ryan Camenzuli on guitar and Kyle Conlon on percussion and drums. They all make up the band Zuli. Great, talented guys and family. Greg is my nephew. I gave those guys an Akron/Family album when they were in high school and they started their first band. They’re killer! They joined me for a Sofar Sounds show to make a live video of Third Eye Sees from the new album. It captured a really wonderful moment of thankfulness and elevation. How did Light Warriors originate and how did you all meet? ER: Light Warriors is the sum of my musical influences and experiences. I’ve been in bands that only do free improvisation and noise. I’ve been in jam funk bands. I toured in a progressive dub reggae band. And started out as a singer-songwriter. I’m a huge free jazz fan, love classic rock, metal, and experimental instrumental music. I wanted to make music that fused all of this together, that would create artistic recordings that made a statement and when played live, lifts people up. Coming out of a long stint working in media, I decompressed, got connected spiritually and recorded the first album, Survival Of Joy. That led to doing shows to promote it. So, I called my nephew and the Zuli guys rocked some shows with me. Alex Kaufman: I met Erik through Greg Coffey, bassist of Zuli. Greg and I played in a prior band together called Wild International. I was like HEY MAN! Erik asked me to play which is always a fun thing to do! ER: Yeah, “hey man, you want to rock?” Greg is my nephew and Alex’s dad mastered Survival Of Joy. So I asked him to help record for Raise The Frequency and he’s been doing shows with me since. Within the last two months, Cameron and I connected at a Sofar Sounds show in NYC. He approached me and commented on the lyrics. I saw him play with a soulful singer and he joined me for a few shows Alex couldn’t make. Now he’s all in. The rest will be written soon enough. What music inspired you when you were growing up and does that influence the shape of the band as a whole? AK: I was the most inspired by Red Hot Chili Peppers growing up. John Frusciante had the biggest influence me with how he expressed himself on the guitar. Every solo was improvised when it came to performing live. The emotions, heart, and love for music that came out of his improvisations still gives me goosebumps to this day. Frusciante expresses a lot of courage, and love through his playing which is what I aspire to do my entire life! ER: There’s nothing you can’t love about what Frusciante does. He embodies everything I love most about music and he’s a healer, channeling sound from the Universe. What feeds my soul most is music that uplifts, that gives you a sense of weightlessness and serves a feeling of being a part of something greater than yourself. I found this in free jazz, from late period Coltrane and Sun Ra to mid-90s downtown NYC experimental scenes with William Parker and John Zorn. I found the free musical dialogue in the Allman Brothers, Hendrix, in the experimentalism of TV On The Radio, in vibrational energy of reggae and in the poetic songwriting of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Paul Simon and Marvin Gaye. The feeling, more than style of all of these artists, shapes Light Warriors music. So does light energy work… reiki, harmonyum, cranio-sacral therapy and so on…because this healing work connects us to the universe where we can channel what flows through our higher selves into this realm, translating healing energy into something positive the people can feel. Live, we strive to achieve lift off or as the Allmans said, “hit the note”. Where do you draw the so called "positive" aspect from your music and how do you learn to parlay your life experiences into it? ER: It’s part choice and part channelling. The choice is in being mindful enough every day to combat the negativity we’re continually assaulted by. It’s in the choice to not let anger and fear lead creation, but to allow love and selflessness flow through us and serve the songs instead of the ego. We all learn differently. For me, it’s a combination of life experience, mindfulness and deep listening. I learned meditation in a sociology course in college, which has given me the foundation to survive and grow in adulthood. I knew I always wanted to make music that’s uplifting. There are decades of first-person perspective songs and songs about broken hearts. Perhaps it comes from the mediation studies, but I always wanted to take myself out of the equation when writing…trying to connect at an observational level and look for how this impacts us instead me. Studies are showing that people feel more lonely and disconnected than ever despite being more digitally connected. So, these songs and the energy put into them are an attempt to make a connection and help us feel good that life will be ok if we just stop getting sucked into the endless negativity of media, politics. I’ve certainly gotten sucked into negativeland on occasion, especially this last election. I’m trying to get better at managing it. Give us a sense of the energy and intensity of your live show and how well the songs come together live? ER: We use the song templates of the album, but the recordings are dense with sound and layers. Live there’s a lot more space, room for purposeful group conversations, room for melody in between the lyrics, room for magic. I love it when band members take their moment and shine, elevating the collective. In those moments, we feed off the energy of the audience and then give it back. And then together, we sometimes transcend and tap into the collective soul. It’s really powerful when that happens. It can be truly ecstatic. How big of a role does your drummer Alex Kaufman play in your live set and how did you come across him? ER: Alex plays a huge role. He drives the mood, tempo and dynamics. Sometimes he will push the tempo and sometimes pull us back. But what Alex does best is lock in the pocket and push the dynamics of each tune. Further, Alex is a spiritual soul who is supportive, kind and all about making the best music possible for the sake of the song, not the ego. As a result, he makes the band flow. Now, we’re adding Cameron MacIntosh, who comes out of the Juilliard program. He has complimentary abilities to Alex that will add more color and deeper dynamics. Like Alex, he’s tuned into the higher spirit of the project. We had a great show with Cameron on percussion, but I’m beyond psyched to launch the double drummer attack this fall. Take us behind the recording process for "Raise The Frequency" and what it was like to put the effort together? ER: I had the songs written. Some were older tunes that I updated and some were written from fragments and shaped last summer. I was originally going to tackle the entire album myself, playing all the parts, doing the mix and just getting help on the master like I did for Survival Of Joy. But after listening to a Tedeschi Trucks album and the clarity of instrumentation, on a whim, I reached out to Jim Scott of PLYRZ Studios via his management. It turned out that he either engineered, mixed or produced some of my favorite albums, including Chili’s Californication, solo John Frusciante, late period Johnny Cash, Tom Morello and more. I thought, “no way he’s interested in an indie artist”. But he was. He was the only person I reached out to at that level and he said yes. What gives me chills was Jim genuinely being excited about finding a way to work together. He ended up doing the mix and we set the date for November. He’s a true master. I learned a ton working with him. And hope to do so again. There was a little more motivation to push the limits of my abilities. But I was finishing up some collaborations and some side work through September. October rolls around I haven’t been able to focus and record a single note. I asked my friend Ish Allen who I toured and recorded an album with in the 00s to be my co-producer. I began recording guitars and scratch vocals. Ish was essential to confirming the feel and tempo of a song. And then I handed off to Alex with scratch drum references and various degrees of direction, sometimes very specific and other times open to his interpretation. We’d go back and forth for the next few weeks. I put Alex through his paces and he more than delivered. AK: With very short notice, I was asked to record 10 songs in a matter of a couple of weeks. I would FaceTime with Erik going over the feel, groove, arrangement, and notes for each track. I would start learning them the next day while writing out transcriptions along with the arrangement. After practicing the groove and the arrangement for a couple of hours, I would start tracking. It was the fastest, most diligent process I've been a part of so far. I had to go with what I had in a very short amount of time, and let it be. ER: Then I asked Kyle Conlon of Zuli to help out with percussion on a handful of tracks and, because I didn’t quite communicate effectively to Alex what I needed for Third Eye Sees and Love In The Swing, I asked Kyle to record drums for those two songs as well. He came to my place and, in one day, just laid it down. As drums came in, I’d do keyboards, bass and lead guitars. I got some help with backing vocals and ad lib from a couple of wonderful artists… Ruff Scott of Easy Star All Stars and Inojah Band, who I’ve known and toured with in the early 00s, and Miss Olithea, who I met at a Sofar Sounds NYC show we did together. Another friend, Chris Caman, added some backing harmonies. And, also from Zuli, Alan Ware (keys) and Greg Coffey (bass) added parts to a couple of tracks. I was recording guitars up to the day I went to mix with Jim and his engineer, Kevin Dean. When the mix started, I realized I needed to do some vocals over. I heard some things I would have liked to have changed had their been more time. But, because we were going through a Neve board from the 70s, there was no way to get that sound again. So, this mix was old-school… making decisions in real-time, doing one song after another. It was scary and exciting because there was no time reflect other than 30 or so minutes listening a couple of times and making some tweaks. The energy of the process contributed to the magic of it. After a week the mix was done. We did the mastering in January and February with Alex’s dad, Howie Kaufman. Ish, Jim and I listened and loved the final output. Howie has ears of gold and just understands intuitively the importance of warmth in sound. My friend Matt Chambliss, a great artists and spiritual soul, contributed the cover art for the lead single and album. By the time May rolled around, I was more than ready to have at least a single out in Rise Above. I trust Matt’s creative intuition and pretty much give him free reign to translate visually what he hears in the recordings. The album release on June 2, was a day after the 50th Anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and a day before the 40th anniversary of Marley’s Exodus. For some in numerology, the number 40 is significant for some because it symbolizes death and spiritual rebirth, achieving the completion of a world cycle, while the number 50 is both joy and the spiritual ascension of intuition. That was kind of trippy to think about… because this entire process was intuitive. What is your favorite song off the new effort that you're most proud of? ER: Oh man, I don’t think I can pick a favorite… each tune has deep meaning for me. No More Division and Rise Above are what people like first. Others are telling me they like the edginess of New Breed and Industry Soul Killer. The title track is special and otherworldly. I guess if there’s one or two tracks that might get overlooked, it’s Everything and Maybe Some Day. They are the deep cuts. AK: I agree with Erik. Those last two are actually my top favorite on the whole record. Everything has this nice, polished, fresh production with calming layers. Maybe Some Day is this epic jam that has its valleys and peaks dynamically, and is really a lot of fun to play! What do you like to do for fun in your spare time when not making music? AK: I love to go to the park, shoot some hoops, ride my bike, throw the frisbee. Walk on the boardwalk at Jones Beach. Anything outdoors related to clear my mind. ER: I love to hike with my wife. We love to travel overseas, exploring the Egypt and Morocco. We hiked Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I’d like to spend some time in Southeast Asia. I’ve been to Thailand but mostly in Bangkok. Exercise is essential… running and biking. I’m into epic movies and a huge fan of HBO and AMC shows. Game of Thrones, Walking Dead. I begrudgingly read the news almost every day. The Economist and The NY Times. I do try to read right-wing op eds, but there’s only so much I can take. The WSJ provides a sane perspective even if I often disagree with it. I do need to create more time for meditation and get into a regular yoga practice. Some day… it’s all about balance. Where can people find more info about you online and when can we see you in Boston sometime soon? ER: I’m hoping to book and afford a small tour this coming fall. We’ll definitely let you know when we come to town. We are pretty much everywhere online except Pandora at this time. Bandcamp is where music fans can best support artists. On Soundcloud, I share my side projects Ecstatcia, Other Planes of There, cuebrane and various remixes I do for other artists. We’re also on Spotify and iTunes. On Facebook, I’ll share more than just music…I was a media analyst and strategist in a former professional life, so I like to share information. Sometimes I’ll put a lyric, sometimes a short point of view. I love Instagram and sometimes love Twitter. Lastly, how has being in this band shape the person you are now? ER: I’ve been a part of and led bands for a long time. I’ve had jobs and achieved success by societal standards. The last job I had was leading a digital media team of 20+ people at an agency. I’ve seen good and bad management and leadership in all creative and professional situations. With Light Warriors, I get to draw from all of those experiences and hopefully not make as many mistakes as I did in the past. I’m ultimately just trying to serve the songs, the players and audience with everything I can give. Hopefully this gives us opportunities to continue to grow.
Thanks once again to Erik and Alex for being so rad in doing this interview! It was astounding to hear them talk about this project extensively and what it means to them to be playing together and making a difference by exposing the audience to something that they didn't know they wanted. Please check out Light Warriors at the aforementioned links above.