SAVAGE EXISTENCE’s DANIEL CLELAND Talks New Book, 12 Laws Of The Jungle

December 4, 2022, a month ago

By Greg Prato

feature heavy metal savage existence daniel cleland

SAVAGE EXISTENCE’s DANIEL CLELAND Talks New Book, 12 Laws Of The Jungle

Just by listening to the heavy-yet-melodic music of Savage Existence, it would be hard to be believe that a member of the group – guitarist Daniel Cleland – is also quite knowledgeable when it comes to business. So much so, that he has penned a book on the subject, 12 Laws Of The Jungle: How To Become A Lethal Entrepreneur, which was released on October 25, 2022 via Houndstooth Press.

As the book’s press release explains, “12 Laws Of The Jungle has been called ‘your must-have machete for the jungle of entrepreneurship.’ It guides readers through the 12 principles Cleland followed to shoot his ayahuasca retreat center, Soltara Healing Center, to the top 3 in the world and survive an unforgiving market after COVID-19 threatened to obliterate their revenues. These 12 principles also allowed Cleland to create the now internationally-acclaimed metal band Savage Existence whose lyrical themes resemble the book's: primal instincts, ruthless decision making, and a ‘be the predator, not the prey’ mentality.”

Cleland spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato shortly after the book’s arrival, to discuss how the idea to put pen to paper came about in the first place, how a Canadian native wound up in Costa Rica, and also his band, Savage Existence.

Click here for more info about the book and how to order 12 Laws of the Jungle.

BraveWords: For people who are not familiar with your work, what is your background?

Daniel Cleland: “Blue collar in sales pretty much. But following my career in sales, I moved into entrepreneurship about 12-13 years ago. I had a brief respite from my sales career and veered into tourism, so I spent about a year and a half leading group tours through South America, so I got this kind of experience in South America. So when I had the desire to start my own business it was related to tourism. I actually I got into plant medicine in 2010 and I combined that with my tourism experience and basically set up my first business in 2011. And that's where I'm at right now.”

BraveWords: How did the idea come up to do the 12 Laws Of The Jungle book?

Daniel Cleland: “Starting my current company, Soltara, in 2017, it was my second venture that was a large scale venture, and I scaled up from my first company and having built the second operation here in Latin America in Costa Rica, I really found that that there were a lot of patterns and rules or principles that kind of make or break companies. So as I got more experience in the field, I put together a methodology really and I felt capable this time around to share that methodology and put it in the book. And the funny thing was that when I started writing this book it was right at the very beginning of 2020. So we had built the second company, built Soltara Healing Center. It was successful, was firing on all cylinders…and then the pandemic happened. The lockdowns happened. So as the tourism business in Costa Rica, when the borders are closed for seven months and nobody's allowed in or out of the country, it was a very challenging time to be running a startup company. So while I had this methodology in my head before the pandemic lockdowns began the pandemic lockdowns where life or death kind of experiment for how the methodology actually works in real time. So as we wrote the book, it was throughout the journey of surviving the business apocalypse of 2020.”

BraveWords: What sets this book apart from other “self-help” or “how to become” style books?

Daniel Cleland: “Well it's real time wartime journaling of putting these twelve laws of the jungle, twelve principles of entrepreneurship into action. It's also got an interesting context and interest in theme. My first business, so right now we're in Costa Rica Soltara Healing Center, it’s on the beach, it's a beautiful luxury resort. My first business was a healing center in the actual Amazon jungle in Peru. So I lived in the Amazon jungle for three or four years. Spent a lot of time like in the midst of the natural setting there going out on jungle tours. One of my friends down there who helped me build the company was a jungle guy named Victor, and he had a certain lens of how life and human society reflects nature, and how they're very much intertwined so we put this theme on the concept of entrepreneurship. So I liken starting a business, starting a startup company to essentially setting your destination on the other side of the jungle, and you know you need to kind of assemble your war party or tribe, and get yourself and your tribe through that jungle to the to the peacetime on the other side. And in that jungle of course there's all kinds of risks. You need to plan your route, you need to manage your rations and all these things kind of just become metaphors for typical business terminology like budgeting, staff retention and things like that.”

BraveWords: Also, if you can just give a little bit more background just about where you're from originally, and how you ended up in your current location.

Daniel Cleland: “Sure. So I grew up in Canada in Ontario, in a small rural community. And pretty typical upbringing - largely blue collar, not so let's say, ambitious. Mostly the majority of the people in the community were pretty typical - you go to school, you go to college, you or university, you come back, you work at the local power plant, and that's life. Have a family, have kids and coach soccer. That was just largely unsatisfying for me, which prompted me to go expand my horizons. I didn't do very well in college or high school, which is why I got into sales afterwards because it was pretty much the easiest way to make money. But that sales career was fairly interesting for a time. I started in residential sales, then moved into commercial sales, then moved into industrial. And I was working for a startup company, and industrial sales in the electrical safety industry, and that job allowed me to expand that person's company out to the West. So I moved out to Calgary and lived there and worked and developed that area for that company for a couple of years. And that's when I veered off seeking adventure. I was about 25 years old and looking at a blue collar future. When you're younger and the parties are good and everybody's going out and every weekend's an adventure, that's all good but then kind of turning about 25 or so I found that that that was getting really repetitive. 

“And also people were just kind of falling off the map. So seeking adventure, I took a trip down to Brazil. Spent six weeks in Brazil on a self-guided journey. And that really changed my life. It really opened my eyes to the world beyond. And met a whole bunch of people from different countries and fell in love six times in the matter of six weeks. And then I came back to Canada to the same standard existence - the sales job in the middle of winter. And I realized that I wanted something different. So in in the pursuit of adventure, I took a job with a tour company to get back down to Brazil, and do it by working. So I started leading trips. I started in Costa Rica and Panama, did that for about 8 months or so, and then they transferred me to Venezuela. So I was running a trip from Caracas, Venezuela all the way down to Rio, Brazil over the span of 42 days - over land and water. And that kind of set my life in a different direction. I did that for about two years and then wanted to up my education and pursue something a little bit better paying - that tour job, I was making like $25 a day. But it was fun. And then I went back to Canada - studied for a year trying to get my marks up. I had to take a couple of high school courses over again to get into the university program and I ended up taking a field trip to Australia with that program again in the pursuit of adventure, which resulted in an accident that almost killed me. I went rock climbing in the middle of the night one night when I was half in the bag, and fell off a cliff, shattered my femur and my pelvis, and I was in the hospital for 40 days. And being in the hospital for 40 days basically in complete disaster, inspired me to search ayahuasca. Are you familiar with ayahuasca?”

BraveWords: I’ve heard of it, but please fill us in.

Daniel Cleland: “Ayahuasca is a psychedelic plant medicine. I'm sure some of your readers have heard of it - it's been in the media quite a bit recently. A lot of celebrities are doing it. It's been on Netflix, and it's a healing plant medicine. That's the nature of our business here at Soltara Healing Center in Costa Rica - we run ayahuasca retreats. So we serve people from all over the world who come to work with this plant medicine. Anyway, so following a near death experience in Australia, I sought out this medicine to help me recover and it was profound and life changing for me. So that's what I built my business on. I started going down to South America and working with these shamans indigenous healers, and with my previous experience in tourism, a little bit of experience in sales and business. and then the interest in working with ayahuasca I was able to build my first business with that concept, and spent about two years moonlighting and working a sales job in Vancouver, and building my business on the side, running a couple of trips per year. And then in 2014, I built my first retreat center in the Amazon. Ran that for a few years, sold it in 2017, and then moved up to Costa Rica. Scaled up, and built the healing center where I'm at right now. And we've since moved from one location to three locations, and we're working on another one developing another property right now in Costa Rica on the beach.”

BraveWords: You’re probably best known to BraveWords readers as a member of Savage Existence.

Daniel Cleland: “So, actually I met Logan Mader because he was interested in in doing ayahuasca. So he was interested in coming to my center and in Costa Rica. So we started talking, we became friends, and he invited me to a Machine Head show in 2020 - literally just before the pandemic started. And incidentally, right after their whole crew had COVID and recovered. They cancelled a couple of shows because everybody had a ‘mysterious flu.’ And they almost cancelled the show that I was heading to, but they executed it, so went to the show hung out with the Machine Head guys. I had a really good time and no idea that the world was about to be locked down, literally three weeks after that show the world was locked down. So it started this whole kind of business nightmare that was the lockdowns. But during the lockdowns, I guess one of the silver linings there is that me and my drummer, Jesse, who works with me at Soltara, we started jamming. Just to kill the time, we were hanging out and jamming at Soltara. We started picking up some of our kind of music we used to play back in the day - because we've been friends for so many years. 

“We used to live together in college - had a jam space there. We ended up getting eleven songs done as instrumentals. And everything flowed so well and we were so inspired, that it became more than a hobby at that point. It just felt so natural to be in the studio and making music and working with Logan. But our time in the studio was up, so Logan went back to Vegas. But he advised us on ‘next steps’ for the band. He said it was absolutely essential to get a vocalist, so we made some connections through the studio Calle Uno in Costa Rica. Made some connections there, they put us in touch with a guy named Anton Darusso - who became our vocalist. But I reached out to him, we had a chat, we connected on the on the vision and strategy for the band. He was excited to get with a band that has a budget behind it - because in the music industry as you're well aware you don't get very far without a budget. So Anton came into the fold, Logan came back down a week or two later, we took Anton into the studio, busted out all the vocals in like two days. The guy was like a beast - he recorded so fast.

“Logan said he's never seen anybody record so fast. Did like, seven songs in one day and four songs the next day - something like that. So anyways, that all flowed so well and that became our album, Animals - from which we launched with Blood Blast Distribution last November…actually just over a year ago. So that's been out and shortly thereafter we released that, we went on tour in Mexico. Anton found two other guys from his other band to play bass and lead guitar, so I'm on rhythm, Andres Castro is on lead, Daniel Ramos is on bass, and we got Jesse on the drums. Jesse Radford and Anton Darusso on the mic. So we went to Mexico and toured there and then we went up to Vegas and recorded the second album with Logan in December of last year. So that's coming out. We've put out two singles so far - ‘Dumpster Water’ and ‘Cull’ - which just went out a week or two ago. And we're going to be dropping singles every six or eight weeks until the full album goes out in April.”

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