Prince Rama Shed the Past for ‘the Now Age’

Photo: Corey Towers

Listening to Prince Rama’s new album Trust Now is like loading up on a ton of hallucinogens, spinning around on a twilight-doused beach, and then collapsing into the sand to read a copy of some ancient text by Tiki torchlight. Read: intoxicating, intriguing and unknowable. The band uses made-up language songs on like “Summer of Love” and “Rest In Piece,” while their sound is otherworldly, coming from the same far-from-accessible-but-nevertheless-skillful realm inhabited by bands like Gang Gang Dance (who Prince Rama is currently touring with). And you get that same drunk, slightly dazzled feeling speaking with the band’s lead singer, Taraka Larson. She, along with her sister Nimai, comprise Prince Rama — they recently lost third member Michael Collins, who was also Taraka’s boyfriend. The sisters are members of a growing tribe of almost “feral child” musicians with unusual backgrounds, having spent a good portion of their formative years on a Hare Krishna farm in Florida following their parents’ post-9/11 freakout.

Hive gave Taraka a call while the band traveled between tour stops, and she dashed out of a restaurant near Joshua Tree National Park in California to talk about writing their new album, having boyfriends as band members and getting possessed by karaoke.

Prince Rama’s fourth album Trust Now is out now on Paw Tracks. Stream it here:

Prince Rama: Trust Now by alteredzones

What restaurant are you guys at?

It’s called Crawford’s Cafe.

Just like, roadside?

Yeah, just some weird biker cafe. There’s a big biker culture out here.

Have you guys seen a lot of bikes on the road?

Yeah, even at our show last night there was a lot of bikers.

Do you guys usually have a big biker fanbase? Or is this new for you?

No, this is a new thing, but I kind of like the direction it’s going.

How were they as an audience?

Pretty rowdy. They were skeptical at first, and then really rowdy toward the end of the set.

Were they dancing? What were they doing?

Kind of. Kind of more macho, pretending to not be interested, and then yelling a lot and bobbing their heads.

What was the venue?

It was Pappy and Harriet’s — a biker bar, I think, historically.

That’s interesting — your music at a biker bar.

I know! It was really weird! It was cool. I mean, there were a lot of locals there, but then there were a lot of people from L.A., too. We’re on tour with Gang Gang Dance right now, so we were opening up for them.

So you don’t have any shows today — any big plans for your day off?

Yeah, we’re just going to go and hike around Joshua Tree. I hear there’s this weird thing called Integratron. I don’t understand it exactly, but it’s apparently some weird sonic vortex in Joshua Tree where you can hear the earth hum and it’s magnified into these sound baths — healing things. It’s like a music gravity chamber or something. It sounds really strange. In general, this area is so strange.

I’ve read a lot of interviews with you where you guys talk about growing up on a Hare Krishna farm, but everyone just kind of mentions it and doesn’t really explain what that entails.

Yeah, totally, I feel it’s a popular question, but then people don’t really go far past [adopts stoned Valley Girl voice], ‘Whoa, that’s so weird and different and like cool.’

We grew up in Texas when we were kids — far away from any other religious community. We were out in the middle of nowhere. After 9/11, my parents freaked out and got kind of like, ‘What if the world’s going to end?’ Kind of apocalyptic feeling. We have to move out to a Hare Krishna community because they were Hare Krishnas. They met in a monastery essentially. They joined the Hare Krishnas back in the ‘60s. So they moved us out to Florida when we were in high school to a Krishna farm community where a lot of families live.

I think a lot of people think it’s a commune or a cult or something. It’s really not like that at all. It’s more like a community where some people do live on temple property, but most people just live nearby and just go to services and you can grow food there. My parents have a cow that they help with and get milk from it, butter and yogurt. It’s a communal vibe. That’s essentially what it was. We still went to public school and everything, but whenever we would come home it was this other environment.

That’s a big change to make right in the middle of high school.

It was such a change, especially because we didn’t grow up that way. My parents are Hare Krishnas, but other than that we didn’t have any contact with that culture. And then all of a sudden, in the middle of high school, it was like, “Boom!” We’re thrust right in the middle of it. And of course being in high school you’re just like, “Oh my God, I’m going to reject everything my parents try to make me do.”

Is that where you guys learned to sing? Because you guys definitely have a unique style of singing.

Yeah, I would say so. Our musical upbringing was a lot different than most people’s. Because we’ve always lived in such isolated towns we just mainly listened to what our parents were listening to. And that was almost all old Indian devotional music and the only films we were allowed to watch were old Bollywood films. So that was our first introduction to music. That was how I thought music was supposed to sound.

My sister really took to the traditional Indian style drumming, even though she didn’t necessarily know how to play the traditional Indian drums, she would just listen and apply that to normal drums. For me, too, I never took singing lessons or anything, but I would just hear the traditional Indian-style singing and I was like, “Oh, this is how you sing.”

Our family was a pretty musical family and we’d always be having these Bhajans — and a Bhajan is basically a song prayer — and then there’s a harmonium involved. There’s always this kind of call and response style and that dialogue that’s created is supposed to incite the inner dialogue — your inner spiritual dialogue. One person leads this Bhajan and then everyone else responds and then at some point it’s supposed to become a sort of a more internalized experience.

So you were always making music with your sister. Have you ever made music without her?

No, we’ve always been in bands together. In high school we had this really funny band — it was me, her, my boyfriend at the time. He actually used to be in Prince Rama, too. We had this, I don’t know, pop-punk band or something.

I heard it was like Blink-182.

Yeah, that’s definitely what we aspired to be like.

Yeah, your stuff sounds a lot like Neighborhoods.

Totally. Oh, thank God, that’s the compliment.

So what’s it like to be in band with your sister?

We definitely went through a period where we couldn’t really work together, because we’re very different people. But it’s one of those things where when we were little, we were each other’s best friends. Whatever venture we would do, we would collaborate. We were so close in age. We used to be really into dance. We did ballet for 12 years and we would always choreograph these dances together. So when we were in high school and starting to get into music, we were like, “OK, we’ll just be in this band together.”

We’re very different people, but I think that’s why it works so well. We got to a point where we could really appreciate each other’s differences. It’s fun. I feel we have this weird psychic connection that I haven’t really experienced with anyone else. It’s different. Playing music with anyone else — I’ve played music with a lot of other people and it’s never been whenever I play with her. It’s really intense.

What’s your songwriting process like?

I write all the songs, but she writes all her drum parts. I don’t understand how she does what she does. It’s totally another world to me. I can’t play drums very well, so it’s just another language. It’s crazy.

You mentioned Michael Collins before, who left the band. What’s it like now with just the two of you?

It’s really different. As soon as it happened it definitely took some getting used to. I don’t know … it’s been a lot funner, I think. That was just a long time coming that things weren’t really working out — energetically, the three of us. Our shows were getting to be kind of heavy. Since it’s been the two of us, there’s just this lightness that happened and things have become a lot more clear and focused. It’s just a lot easier to focus on channeling the shows.

It’s fun, we’ve been playing with a lot of other people, too. Like Tim Koh from Ariel Pink’s band, he just played bass with us this tour.

Has the lineup change had any effect on this album? The mood?

Yeah, definitely. For sure. It’s affected it in the sense that — I’m sure that a lot of the songs had to do with that whole transition. We were all so energetically linked — I mean, Michael was my boyfriend of seven years. That was a big thing — to stop playing music together. So the album got almost this sense of urgency to it because of that. It’s really looking at music as a way of going through the healing process with that whole thing.

So your last album was inspired by outsider art. What was this one inspired by — in addition to this breakup/lineup change?

“The relationship between music and death has always been there. Even in the sense of making a record — you record something, and as soon as you record it, that something is lost forever. You’re never going to recreate that song the way it was there. It’s a mummification process.”

I can’t really say if there was unifying thing that it was inspired by. In a lot of ways it was inspired by looking at this idea of — I’ve been studying pop music a lot more lately. More so than in the past. I’ve been doing some art projects looking at pop music and its relationship to channeling mass consciousness and looking at its relationship to apocalypse. I’m trying to see the ways that music can be this arbiter of these unconscious messages. How music can contain these apocalyptic messages of survival.

I’m doing this project right now where I’m looking at what the number one hits were on the different dates in the past 60 years when the world’s been predicted to end. Almost every year there’s been some predicted apocalypse. So I’ve been looking at those songs and there’s been some weird patterns or I noticed that some of these songs had these weird messages of survival. For instance, on Y2K, one of the survival messages was Faith Hill’s ‘Just Breathe.’ That was the number-one song. Or even during the Jonestown Massacre, it was the Bee Gees’ ‘Staying Alive.’

For me, this year was a lot about things coming to an end. Deaths in the family and this relationship ending — there’s been a lot of endings. So I’ve been interested in how music can contain these ends of time, but also bring about this sense of a new age beginning.

I kind of wrote a manifesto [The Now Age] to go along with the album, which is a first. I’ve never really done that before.

The relationship between music and death has always been there. Even in the sense of making a record — you record something, and as soon as you record it, that something is lost forever. You’re never going to recreate that song the way it was there. It’s a mummification process. It fossilizes your voice and it fossilizes the traces of your fingers playing these parts that will never be played again in the same way, and your voice will never sound the same ever again.

I’ve been listening to a lot of old Elvis records lately, I’ve been getting really into Elvis, and he’s dead, but he can be resurrected every time you put this record on. Music is this medium that can channel apparitions of other times. Even apparitions of feelings — like what you were feeling.

So I’m pretty conscious of all of that whenever I go to make music. So in the manifesto I’m talking about the state that music is in right now. Stuff I’ve observed with the way alternative music right now is through the Internet and all this other stuff — it’s so easy to reference all these other times. There’s so much out there that wasn’t available to us before. Right now we’re at the point where there’s this kind of decline of symbolic power because of it. Or the idea that the original gestures that everyone’s been replicating have been kind of lost. And I kind of coined the term for the time we’re in now as like “Ghost Modernism” — we’re just really haunted by this idea of the past, past musical gestures. A lot of contemporary music now is channeling these other genres without necessarily being as conscious about what they’re doing.

Do you have an example? Do you mean the ‘50s, ‘60s resurgence we’re seeing now?

More like ‘80s and ‘90s.

So we’re even channeling stuff that happened when we alive?

Yeah. I’m not critical of it necessarily. It’s just kind of an interesting thing to observe. These bands that seem to really embody the ‘80s aesthetic, ‘80s sound. What does that mean to kind of resurrect different times within this time period?

Yeah, you hear a lot about indie culture just being a melange of the past — without there being any “now” culture. Do you think that’s true? Or do you think there are people succeeding in making their own culture?

There are definitely people doing things in the present dialogue, for sure. But it’s getting more and more few and far between and I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if we’ve just reached this saturation point where I feel like all these different ideas have peaked in some way at a certain point and now we’re just sort of recapitulating the past. I’m not sure what it is. It makes me kind of sad in a way, because I feel like this dialogue with the present has become unclear, lost, in referencing the past always.

How does your own music fit in there? It doesn’t sound like it’s that influenced by modern music.

I kind of made up the term “Now Age” to sort of describe this state of being that I myself aspire to be living in. It’s just this idea of not trying to be part of any age, but just being hyper present — as much as possible. That’s not to say that the past isn’t embedded in the present. Our world is totally made up of relics of the past. It’s almost impossible to not reference other times. Look at the buildings we’re living in or the roads we walk on. Everything was made in the past. There’s no way to engage in the present without engaging in the past. But there’s a way of doing it in a conscious way. Not necessarily just embracing the forms of the past or the externalized manifestations of the past, but tapping into that sort of inner realm of the past. The inner essence of the past. More of a metaphysical connection with the past. I seek to engage in that realm more. Tapping into the inner essences of present reality.

Along those lines, what do you think of live performances?

That’s a totally different thing. I get really excited thinking about the potential of concert spaces as these temporary autonomous zones. These temporary Utopian environments. I like the idea of Utopia as a sort of umbrella to house these ideas, because Utopia is creating a new place.

In a concert space, there’s this potential to create this no-place, no-time type of experience, where within this externalized place, you’re in this venue, you’re in this biker bar out in the middle of Joshua Tree — even though you’re in all these places, the main goal of a concert is to reach this state where you forget your sense of place. You forget your sense of self. You forget your sense of time. You’re just in this moment. That is the essence of Now Age.

For this new album, I know you got a bunch of people to do karaoke covers of the songs. Where did that idea come from?

It was partially a reaction to the whole remix thing. I think record labels try to push people to remix your songs, and I want to do something different. So I was thinking about different ways that you can interpret songs and then I started getting really fascinated with karaoke. It’s the idea of what we were talking about, channeling the past through the present. Going to karaoke bars and seeing someone doing this cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and just really getting into it and really feeling it. I saw this guy doing this Elvis karaoke song and he just completely embodied him. Almost to the point where you hear about people being possessed by ghosts and channeling these other entities. It was almost like this divine form of possession.

So I said, ‘We should just do karaoke.’”

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