Catching Up With: Prince Rama

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Currently between labels, and fresh off of a string of visual and performance art exhibitions at CULT Gallery in San Francisco based on its last album, Top Ten Hits Of The End Of The World, Prince Rama is wrapping up an extreme tour of its new record, themed on the “duplicitous strength of extreme sports mixed with the concept of high art.”

Like any topic that catches the attention of sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson, they turn it inside-out and explore every facet of it, and their extreme, accelerated numbers inspired by the X Games are no exception. In preparation, they watched a lot of sports videos, and they have challenged themselves, as well as their audiences, to practice extreme living, putting your life on the line with their art—or as Nimai says, “Being in the now. Being present. Because if you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re pissing on the now.”

We spoke with Taraka about Prince Rama’s current aesthetic and stage personas, as well as what multimedia artwork listeners can expect based on this new album, since the band is known for going to great lengths to carry along the unique narrative of each record (case in point: their 17-minute long psychedelic film Never Forever).

Paste : Your installations and events go so far beyond simply creating music and sharing it on a record or in a one-to-one exchange/experience at a show—it’s a full-fledged multimedia project you guys have going on, and you’ve just wrapped up exhibits and events based on the last album [at CULT in San Francisco]. What do you have in mind art-wise for this new album you’re touring?
Taraka Larson: We’ve got a lot brewing, but can’t really reveal anything just yet! It’s an Xtreme Secret!

Paste : The extreme theme you told me a little about for this current album, it encompasses some really interesting larger, outside concepts. How does it relate to your personal journeys over the past couple of years? Are there any things you feel comfortable speaking to that have happened in your life recently that have inspired this call to extreme art and living?
Larson: What fascinates us most about Xtreme sports isn’t the actions themselves, but the “Xtreme State of Now” it takes to get you from point A to point B without totally dying. Of constantly pummeling yourself across the spiked canyon of “near death,” knowing that if you get distracted and your mind wanders even if just for a second, it could send you over the edge of no return. It is like Now-Age on speed, or the most intense meditation exercise you could possibly ever perform—it is like “BE HERE NOW OR DIE,” literally—a slow beyond speed, a calm beyond chaos, an aesthetic beyond thinking…a hyper-version of now that relies on complete trust and mystical participation in the universe. That spirit is how we aspire to live our lives, even when applied to super boring mundane day to day activities…Xtreme Walking, Xtreme Gas Pumping, Xtreme Showering, Xtreme Breathing. I don’t think this fascination can be traced back to any one specific event, but perhaps a larger response to the gradual Un-Xtreming of the world due to digital flattening, zombie aesthetics, and an erosion of the Now via distraction and social-media time dislocation.

Paste : What’s the Cliffs Notes version of where you’ve been post-childhood in Wimberley and Florida?
Larson: Cliffs Notes presents Prince Rama’s Post-Childhood Journey: “BEEN HERE NOW—From Austin to Boston, Broke to Brooklyn, and Back Again.”

Paste : And how has each place shaped your art?
Larson: “Art” to us is just a fancy way to describe that synergy between inner and outer space, so wherever we are we try to find that frequency that harmonizes with it. The outer and inner landscapes are like on two sides of the same dance floor, even if sometimes it feels like one of those awkward junior high dance floors where the girls are all clumped on one side and the dudes are all shyly quarantined on the other side. Making art is like writing that perfect song to galvanize both sides to grow some balls and dance with each other and restore the balance. I think our interest is less shaped by “place” and more by that invisible “space between” internal and external environments, less site-specific and more sight-specific if that makes any sense (in a third eye context).

Paste : Legend has it that you guys were first discovered by Avey Tare of Animal Collective in an Austin dive bar. How exactly did that interaction go down?
Larson: Totally by chance—we were both serendipitously at this dive bar on the east side watching a pre-SXSW show our friends from Georgia put on and some band canceled so our friends were like, “Hey, y’all wanna play?” And we were like “Yeah, why the hell not?” So we set up quick and thrashed the place. Afterwards this dude came up to me and was asking all sorts of questions and somehow the subject of Animal Collective came up and I was like, “Oh yeah, I saw that band back in high school before they were, you know, [large theatrical hand gestures] ANIMAL COLLECTIVE.” Then he just looked around and scratched the back of his neck and softly murmured, “Yeah, I’m, uh in that band.” I felt like such an idiot I could have died! I was a huge Animal Collective fan but not the stalkerish kind that knows what they all look like and all their alter ego names. I just loved their music and loved the intimacy of some of their earlier shows. But now we’re all really good friends and the whole story is pretty funny in retrospect.

Paste : Your costuming, both in videos and for live performances, is so detailed and eccentric. How did you develop the Prince Rama aesthetic?
Larson: It has developed largely unconsciously over the years. We had a sleepless night and we needed something quick to cover up the dark bags under our eyes so we caked some glitter on and bam! Suddenly, five years later, here we are still wearing the damn stuff. We’ve recently become xtremely fascinated with xtreme sports, but neither one of us has really any connection with that world outside of just embracing the spirit of it, so we’ve been trying to create our own bastardized versions of Monster Energy jumpsuits or NASCAR towels or whatever, mixed with our interest in medieval warrior attire and Soviet sci-fi films, and God knows what else. I think in general we just are extremely honest and uncensored with ourselves and whatever we’re connecting with at the moment mentally we try to bring into physical manifestation, even if it’s totally tasteless and dumb.

For instance, I found this Dale Jr. towel in an Alabama gas station on tour recently that I’m totally obsessed with and have converted into a pseudo-Shamanic ritual cloak. For us, fashion is nothing more than a shameless expression of some inner abstract landscape made tangible. It should create a whole new ENVIRONMENT, a whole new prismatic WORLD to lose yourself inside where multiple eras can exist simultaneously and holographic realities can be superimposed on top of each other (like what I mentioned earlier with combining medieval samurai with Monster Energy jumpsuits, ‘80s glam, Nickelodeon slime and NASCAR towels) to create an amnesiac divine shitshow map of NOW. We’ve also been blessed with super talented fashion-designer friends to collaborate with like Messqueen, Steffy Yar Yar, Candy Drip, and Konane, to name a few.

Paste : On that note, where do your personalities as Nimai and Taraka Larson end and your stage personas as Prince Rama begin? Would you say the onstage version is just a magnified version of your everyday selves?
Larson: Interesting question! Honestly, I personally have a hard time making distinctions like that. There is no ending to normal-Nimai and Taraka when we’re onstage, it’s just a different kind of normal. There is no beginning or ending, just a continuing thread in an ever expanding tapestry of what’s possible. I think the most beautiful part about being onstage is making yourself completely empty and hollow so that the songs can move through you pure and unadulterated, sans ego. It doesn’t stop there though because the music doesn’t stop there. It is going on forever all the time all around you, so to keep yourself open to the song and keep in the rhythm of its dance, I’ve found you must practice making yourself completely hollow 24 hours a day, not just on stage. A Prince Rama show starts when I first wake up in the morning. If I waited for the curtain to go up, then it would feel forced and unnatural. I mean at the end of the day, what is a stage really? The whole damn world’s a stage right? The only distinction for us is maybe putting a little more glitter on for some stages than others.

Paste : Even the most extreme athletes make rest and relaxation a priority in their training so as to not overstrain themselves. How do the two of you find your sense of calm and familiarity in the midst of the chaos and constant motion of touring and performing?
Larson: Ha! If we ever find it, we’ll let you know.