[photos by Coley Brown]
By Ric Leichtung
Prince Rama is a band that's widely respected in the underground for their high energy performances and inimitable sound. But even after being in the band for more than five years, songwriter and keys player Taraka Larson still feels that "people [...] often misunderstand us." One respected but in this case hilariously off-base critic called them the harbingers of "the real witch house sound" on the grounds that they actually sounded like witches (rly?). Taking a look at their artwork and press photos, you'll notice a few reoccurring motifs that would make a blog troll's mouth water: occult imagery, clearly staged photos, and maybe my personal least favorite thing ever, glitter (editor's tangent: have you ever hosted a glitter orgy and had to clean it up? Shit's impossible get rid of). There are tons of lol-worthy videos that've inspired legions of Tumblrs dedicated to making fun of things with similar imagery. Take that strong aesthetic and add lyrics delivered in an abstract, self-created language, and then pile it even higher with a self-made, epistemological philosophy called "now age." There's a lot of room for ridicule here; their idiosyncrasies walk a fine line between radically insightful and completely detached from reality. But trust me when I say that this band should not be overlooked. The key to understanding Prince Rama is faith; they will not enlighten the close-minded.
AZ: Your music has a lot of Eastern elements in it-- is this a conscious choice, or more an intuitive one?
Taraka: I feel like it's more like inner landscapes. To me, music is a very visual thing, and I visualize landscapes and environments for sounds to live in, and I feel that the regions that come out through the music are places that I have internalized in some way. The Eastern music even, it's like "Yes, I can see how that can be seen as like, Eastern music," but for me, it was the music I grew up with.
Nimai: Growing up, our parents loved a lot of super-psychedelic stuff. We listened to a bunch of Hare Krishna music. But in Texas, we were living in such a conservative, Christian town that it wasn't conducive to psychedelic, '60s rock at all. And so my parents-- they used to be hardcore hippies-- would play that kind of stuff in the car for us and we would just think it was normal music. Eventually, we were in junior high and we decided to love Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and whatever was popular at the time.
Taraka: It's weird looking back on it now; it was like these two extremes that I totally embrace now. It's like extreme Eastern/spiritual/psychedelic music and extreme pop on the other end of the spectrum and neither one discounted the other. I was really into both.
Nimai: But even the pop that we were listening to still had a higher message... "MMMBop" is like a way of measuring time. In an "MMMBop," you're gone; in an "MMMBop," you're not there.
Taraka: That's so mystical!! [snickers]
AZ: [Laughs] Pop's always found a way like that. With 2012 around the corner, I’ve noticed how many pop songs revolve around the idea of the last chance, which sort of alludes to an apocalypse approaching. Britney Spears’ “’Til The World Ends,” Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling In Love Again”…
Taraka: It's always been there… I'm really into apocalypses. I looked up eleven different ends-of-the-world within the past 50 years, and the number-one hit songs that corresponded with each of those-- they're strangely connected. This was almost too good to be true: the number-one hit for this last one, May 21st, 2011 [the date of Harold Camping's predicted Judgement Day], was ''Til The World Ends." And some have these weird survival messages; on Y2K, the number-one was Faith Hill's "Just Breathe." Pop is a dispenser of mass consciousness.
Nimai: I was just thinking about pop lyrics-- they can really be molded to fit any kind of person's emotions. It's like the themes of pop music are this umbrella.
Taraka: It creates structures for people to live in-- a social sculpture.
AZ: You've done some cool installations for your artist residency at Issue Project Room.
Nimai: Our latest one, Utopia = No Place, was a performance art installation, combining the urban wild with music and creating a "no place." We transported 400 pounds of dirt into this space and 20 yards of mosquito netting, hung countless yards of Mylar, suspended branches from a fallen tree, set up a fake fire...
Taraka: I was really interested in the idea of the jam session as this point of origins and using this strange language of landscape as a kitsch structure for a lot of bands. A lot of bands want to have this timeless identity for themselves; that they exist in this primeval place. We took some pictures out in nature, and were like, "This is such a typical band picture move to do." [Laughs]. It's almost kitsch of bands to take their band pictures out in nature.
Nimai: Standing in the vines, not looking at the camera, trying to be candid in the moment.
Taraka: We're pretty serious about the way we look! [Laughs with Nimai]
AZ: It's kind of daring for a musician to pay so much attention to their image-- it can imply style over substance.
Taraka: Style is substance... Our jewelry, for instance: that's a very conscious decision because our grandma passed away in February, and she collected so much of it. These necklaces have substance for us. Wearing these reflective materials is a poetic statement; in wearing this, I'm constantly engaging with their environment. Reflective materials are always situated in the now, because they're making you conscious of the way light is interacting-- maybe they'll cast patterns on the wall. One of my favorite things ever is just walking down the street while sun captures my shirt in some way and there are these light patterns following me. It's like having an exchange with these other realms.
Nimai: I look at pictures from previous tours and think about what my closet used to consist of. It was just a bunch of cotton shirts, cotton skirts… we're a reflection of our music, and I don't think our music sounds like cotton sweatpants and a t-shirt, or running shorts with my hair pulled back. Finding that fusion, that correctness, that fit-- it's an entire vision. An entire experience.
Taraka: The idea of music as a social sculpture: we are a part of that sculpture and we sculpt ourselves with it too. It's a cohesive entity.
AZ: What are some common misconceptions people have about you?
Nimai: If you read anything about us, the first thing said is that we grew up in a Hare Krishna commune, which isn't the whole story. A lot of people stop right there and just say, "I get it."
Taraka: “You're just hipsters trying to grasp at some thread of authenticity. Maybe you were on a Hare Krishna farm but you just live in Brooklyn."
Nimai: We're pretty seasoned on what we're trying to say; it's not coming from nowhere. It all comes from a really deep place.
Taraka: I think that there's a reputation for hipsters to latch on to symbols, like a fascination with forms without knowing what they mean. I never use a form without internalizing it and knowing exactly what it is.
AZ: Tell me about "now age."
Taraka: The core concept of now age is we're living in “ghost-modernism.” It's not really like post-modernism; it's beyond that now. It's gotten to a point where the past is just recapitulating itself through kitsch and nostalgia. Every new gesture is just an imprint of an old gesture. We're haunted by so many other past styles and tastes in so many ways... I'm interested in the creation of a new relationship to time, where it's not being recapitulated, but instead looking into the present moment and really seeking out music, materials, structures, people, fashion, and whatever is within this lens of the present.
The concept of now is really complicated; it doesn't really exist. Once you name it, it's gone. Even me, writing this manifesto, I'm totally aware of how useless this is and how useless reading it is. It's totally just naming all of these things and it actually really isn't saying anything. Even when I break down what now age is, it's like now age equals no age-- no age at all, just an elemental quality of being. It's like Utopia = No Place: it's not referring to any place at all. It's when you get to that place that you are identifying with no place at all, truly existing in space, truly being. That is truly utopia. It's not an escapist thing, it's not transcendentalism. This is saying everything is here within this space. Hidden.
AZ: How did you come to realize the manifesto?
Taraka: This is the product of a lot of touring and a lot of writing in journals. I wrote this because I realized I had so many different, disparate ideas. I think a lot of it is experience-based-- finding my own philosophy. It's been such a personal process with my relationship to Krishna consciousness and how I was raised. I came to this point where I realized that I really appreciated it, but that it didn't really define everything or answer all of my questions. I realized that the only true path that I found was music-- finding it in architecture, finding it in relationships, finding it in everything-- and applying these principles. The idea that music is organized time, but is made out of sound, which has no material substance-- just the vibration of air particles, like nothing at all. It can fill an entire space but is no space. These different paradoxes and mysteries. My world has been presented in black and white. There's wrong and right, black and white, good and evil-- but I'm more interested in finding the space between two worlds, one where a true dimension can be found.
AZ: How does Trust Now interact with the now age idea?
Taraka: Well, trust is huge, because trust is putting faith in that mystery. It's the ultimate surrender, and it's also the ultimate empowerment because it's taking comfort in not having control, and finding power in that. It's the key to being receptive, which is the key to everything: it's not about finding the answers, it's about being receptive to all answers and all questions, and more questions, and those questions leading to other questions… Part of my "religion," if you want to call it that, is falling in love every day. When you're in love, what seems to be a boring day falls into this greater mythology. I want to be that way every day. I'm not saying that I succeed at it, but that's my goal.