Q&A with singer-songwriter Erik Rabasca from Light Warriors

1. You liberated yourself from the corporate grind in favor of mindful, spiritual, music making. What was that process like? For example, what type of corporate work were you doing and for how long.

With the exception of my first job as a stockbroker, I’ve been in media and marketing on and off for 25 years, working in media research initially before moving into strategy and planning as a social media expert at media agencies. My last job was SVP, Digital Media at an IPG agency.

I didn’t begin creating original music until my mid-20s. The music I love the most always channels a feeling of deep connection to the world around you. It’s healing and empowering. When I felt this consistently from seeing live music and meeting like-minded people who were passionate about music in the same way, I began to pursue it more seriously.

The process to self-actualization, musical or otherwise, has been and continues to be life-long. I’m getting better at finding the balance in becoming who I am meant to be while sharing and surviving life. Music is beyond challenging as an independent, self-funded artist. Professionally, in music or corporate, every advancement has fueled the next stage of growth spiritually. There are key lessons that occur after a professional or musical plateau. I’m still making mistakes and learning. The mistakes are less devastating and more easily correctable. This paves the path for more joy, love and fulfillment.

With every advancement, selflessness has been the guiding realization. Giving selflessly, whether it’s time, attention or effort, brings greater joy and fulfillment to all relationships. When I fail at this, it’s because I’m so invested in belief that what I’m doing will result in something positive and for the benefit of others, that I sometimes lose sight of those closest to me. It’s not intentional, but I am sometimes blinded by ideals. My altruistic need to create is not the most important thing in the world. Love is.

In regards to “liberation”, the corporate grind wasn’t necessarily oppressive all of the time. While it’s an extremely challenging environment spiritually, my daily choices made the experience positive or negative. On the positive, I worked with amazing, talented, extremely smart and forward-thinking people who were also fun, funny, kind, and caring. We did great work for the benefit of the clients, the team and the company. On the negative, there are also egos, politics and stressful emotions to navigate that are often amplified by sometimes-impossible deadlines. Over the last 10-12 years, corporate life challenged me to work harder, be a better person, and give more, especially as I grew into management. I learned about fortitude, compromise, collaboration and perseverance in ways that my previous creative pursuits never could have taught me.

But, it is exhausting when you’re simply feeding quarterly profit for profit’s sake. That’s always the end result and there’s ultimately not room for creativity. In the 2000s, I had trained and became attuned as a Reiki practitioner but had never gotten good at guarding against absorbing other’s energy. This contributed to any exhaustion I felt. It was amplified after the 2008 crash, when work forces were cut and the fear of losing your job and not being able to find another one dominated everyone’s mindset. Corporate practices weren’t at their best. Suddenly, you had to do the job of two, sometimes three people. So 40-50 hour weeks become 60-70+ hour weeks. And collective stress mounts.

At this same time, social media marketing was on the rise, which I got involved in, early in 2006. It was an energetic lift because I was advocating for online community building and teaching the benefits of listening to what people were saying to inform insights that should better engage audiences and fans. As the demand for best practice solutions increased, monetization quickly became the focus. At a time when marketing budgets for innovation should have increased with the rapid evolution of technology, brand marketers were constrained by the larger market forces at work by having to demonstrating ROI for the quarterly financial reports in a marketing discipline that was in its infancy. We couldn’t immediately prove profit because the human side of social media was about building customer relationships, which takes time. Today, “influencers” are buying engagement. It’s not about personal connection like it was in the beginning. Budgets were cut because CMOs have to explain costs to CFOs and the cycles and institutional gears of profit continued…

The stock market pressures were felt in the day-to-day. It made work all-consuming and, despite my best efforts and intentions, I got sucked into the exact opposite of mindful and creative living. As a result, I went through several phases of burnout over the last decade.

I’m hopefully getting closer to balance now. Maybe one day I will master it.

And, then how did you manage the financial, practical, and psychological challenges of switching careers?

There were two prior attempts at music that weren’t well planned out. My mentality was more “let’s just go for this!” with the belief that the hard work will pay off.
None of what I’ve done musically could have happened without the love and support of my wife, Moira. We started talking about this current phase seven years ago. We worked hard to save money. We found a much more affordable place to live. And I did some consulting in the first year after leaving my last job. Moira’s encouragement gave me a sense of “yes, even in my 40s, I can try and do this one more time.” So, having a strong support system is the necessary foundation to any creative effort.

For the most part, we are making that work. Music is still not profitable but it is manageable. This time around, the vision is solely mine. I’m responsible for every aspect of what my project, Light Warriors, is about. There has been a positive response from the music industry press and I’m slowly building an engaged fan base. My songwriting was even compared to Bob Dylan in how he has tackled the power elite, corruption and social issues. I’m still processing that comparison (laughs). With this type of validation, I’m now seeking opportunities to take Light Warriors to the next level both financially and creatively. I’d like it to become self-sustaining for the next album.

For good karma, before I left my last job, I wanted to make sure I hired someone who could handle the day-to-day client and team needs and also grow into the SVP role I had. After that hire, my intention was to mentor my hire and continue to grow my team for another year or two but I was spent. I lasted another six months. I gave six weeks notice to ensure a smooth transition. Then my calendar, which had been full from 8a-6p, Monday through Friday, for the last decade, started to empty.

This actually gave me some anxiety for a short bit because I was conditioned for over a decade to have a full calendar. With time to breathe and think, I questioned every choice, my relevancy and explored all of my fears. But after a couple of months of decompression with yard work, exercise and rest, I felt connected, energized and human again. After several months, I did a couple of short-term consulting gigs while I worked on and finished the Light Warriors debut album, Survival of Joy. Those jobs helped to fund the creative period until now.

2. When you were working a corporate job, how did you balance doing that and still finding time to work on your music?

It’s was extremely challenging to be great at both a full time job and strive to make the highest level of music. Playing music was mostly relegated to vacation time and family gatherings. I’d pick up the guitar a lot after work but was just relieving stress instead of creating and growing. In the 2000s, I didn’t have the right balance. I tend to put everything into what I’m pursuing. When I was touring from 03-05, it was tough on my relationship. I had racked up some debt, which resulted in pressure.

When I went back to work, I worked hard to rise through the job ranks to make more money to pay off the debt and then to pay all of the bills, cover the cost of seeing family and having a vacation here or there. I tried to work on my mindfulness practice by listening to Thich Nhat Hanh books and guided meditations. That worked for a bit. I’d lose the practice and come back to it again. I’m always working on the daily discipline that mindfulness requires.

I did manage to record one album while I was working, but it took over a year to make and I didn’t have the energy to promote it. Music by itself requires all you have to play, write and record. Then to promote, you need to do everything brand marketers do with the creative, PR and media buying teams they hire. My work experience has certainly helped in managing this latest transition. I’m as busy as ever but more in control of they cycles.

3. Are you working full time now as a musician? If so, what is that like for you now? Or, are you balancing your work as a musician with other streams of income?

It’s challenging to make money the first few years of a new project while you’re building your audience. So, it’s definitely the latter still. I have done some management coaching, operations consulting for a small agency and some strategy work at a larger agency in the last year. I’ve only focused on the making and promotion of the new Light Warriors album, Raise The Frequency, since October 2016. After the last nine months of only music, I do need to spend some time replenishing the bank account. Over the summer and into the fall, I’ll be looking for some short-term consulting projects and also do some crowdfunding in the fall to cover expenses for the next album cycle.

4. What advice would you have for aspiring musicians who are not making enough money right now to become a full time musician?

Don’t do it. (Laughing) Seriously though, be clear about your intentions and know why you are creating music. Do you love writing, recording, creating? Do you want to be a pop star? Do you have the fortitude to push forward through lean years? Why do you create? What does music mean to you? When you figure that out, then you need to determine if you can create a sustainable living. For me, music is art and spirit. It’s about channeling what the world feeds us and translating that into something positive to be felt, heard and understood. Perhaps that will translate into a sustainable living at some point. But, if not, I will still create.

What kind of artist do you want to be? There is always a struggle between creating art or communicating a vision and art as commerce. When art becomes a product, it creates challenges. For example, with my Light Warriors project, I’m tackling social issues, human rights issue, and politics translated by and delivered from channeling spiritual energy. Ideally, this will motivate some type of positive reaction and even action, whether that be investigating a topic of a song deeper, like gun violence from Rise Above or sharing a positive thought with the Universe after listening to Raise The Frequency. My choice to be independent gives me freedom to pursue my creative vision. That wouldn’t necessarily fly at a major label trying to sell a crafted persona and image to tweens and teens. It might work at a small label that allows for artistic freedom. Understand your motivations.

Be realistic. At the end of the day it’s still music, a form of entertainment. If I can reach 1/10th of Bob Dylan’s audience or build an audience like Michael Franti’s, I’ll be able to create that self-sustaining living for my family, my band and my team. Given today’s media consumption and ease of distraction, artists have to be brutally honest that attaining that kind of audience is challenging. There’s help needed in getting to the next level. So, if the independent route is preferable, you have to also learn the business.

Define what success means to you and put a plan in place to achieve it. Last year, for me, it was being able to create the best music possible without compromise and rediscover the joy of music. This year it’s been about making an even better album and getting noticed. I was unrealistic in thinking I could build an audience that will support this music while paying the bills from solely music. In the next year we’ll continue to work toward that goal with a combination of seeking a manager, continuing to build out my team, exploring sync licensing, crowdfunding and sponsorship and possibly doing some tours.

Ultimately, while I’m already successful in having made and produced five albums, an EP, a few remixes, singles and soundtracks in the last two years, the next level success is to have music cover the expenses. Because music is life, I’m thankful for the personal growth experienced from its pursuit.

5. You create mindful and spiritual music. Who are some other musicians who make that music who have inspired you and/or how did you get interested in that type of music?

In the 80s when I was coming of age, pop metal was ruling the charts. But, I thankfully had friends who explored underground music and shared our discoveries. We analyzed every aspect of every album. Fishbone’s Truth And Soul album and Living Colour were on constant rotation. They were singing about social issues. I was introduced to the Allman brothers whose group energy is undeniable. Of course, Pink Floyd’s political and social commentary was undeniable. George Harrison’s Within You Without You is monumental. When I first heard John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, it was otherworldly. I stepped into another dimension. The same thing happened to me when I first heard the Allmans do the 33-minute Mountain Jam on “Eat A Peach.” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album also has that transcendent emotion. This was the foundation.

In the mid-90s, I would go see shows almost every night in NYC. This was where I discovered the motivation to create. There were so many great scenes for live music… what hit me spiritually was free jazz. There were artists like Other Dimensions In Music, Matthew Shipp and all John Zorn’s projects that just went for it with every note. These artists are all deep listeners. There were so many performances I saw where I felt elevated and connected to everyone. People feel this at arena or stadium shows sometimes when everyone is singing the same note. That feeling is the same feeling of a powerful meditation that connects you to the humanity and the earth. After many of these experiences, I started to write, and then perform.

Today, I know when I’m onto something creative when I feel warmth in my heart and a tingling sensation in my crown. It’s when I know a song is written, a mix is done, an album is complete and a performance is complete.

6. Can you tell us a little bit about your most recent positive-vibes-only album “Raise the Frequency“. What type of music do you have on that album and what are the songs about?

Musically, I blend a lot of styles. Lyrically, I tend to tackle issues from an observational perspective and choose to find something to be positive about. The lead single, Rise Above, talks about gun violence over a funk-rock groove. New Breed has a hip-hop beat over a rock progression with a reggae bridge. It’s about speaking truth and connecting on a collective, energetic level. The lead album track, No More Division, is soca-rock and call for unity. There’s some groovy yacht rock vibes in Love In The Swing, about capturing the moment, and Everything which is about mindful living. There’s ambient and space music in the title track which talks about environmental destruction and communal anxiety and there’s classic rock and soul with free improvisation in The Sounding Of The Trumpets, about awakening.

The entire album is a about the current state of humanity, asking us to lift up out of our collective adolescence and literally “Raise The Frequency” to attain, as the lyric says, “Higher spirit” by “bringing love into action.” In these ridiculous and embarrassing times, we cannot sit on the sidelines any longer and be involved solely in self-healing and personal growth. We have to engage in uncomfortable truths to overcome systemic racism, the strangle-hold of military industrial complex on the national budget, the global war profiteers who feel that power is demonstrated through military might, the neglect of the education system, and so on. This is a spiritual war that can only be overcome with energetic intention. We know music is a vibration that can be used for good. Coltrane said he wanted “to be a force for good.” That’s what Light Warriors is about and this album is a small contribution to the larger effort of light workers, spiritual activists and musical activists.

7. Anything else

How about “please buy the music and come to the shows?” Is that too shamelessly self-promotional? (laughter)

More seriously, there are books of lessons I’ve learned in this musically spiritual pursuit. What remains consistent is that growth is continual to the end of this life. The deeper I listen, the more grateful I am to be alive, the more love I feel for my wife, family and friends and the more determination I have to never give up in choosing to be positive, even in the face of extreme negativity. I’m also painfully aware that my life is not a struggle at all when compared with people around the world living in extreme and oppressed situations. I just hope that the music I create and the topics and issues I sing about have some kind positive impact. I’m just doing the best I can.

Thank you for theses wonderful questions and providing a platform to share my experience. I hope we can talk again.

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