Interview with Prince Rama

Mesmerising Brooklyn based two-piece Prince Rama produce sound like no one else around. The work of two sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson, their music is ritualistic quasi-spiritual experimental noise, where psychedelic washes of melody and stripped back tribal percussion collide with near operatic vocals that veer between Kate Bush style pitches and bizarre chanting.  Raised on a Hare Krishna commune in Florida, before going to art school in Boston, the sisters eventually settled in Brooklyn where they caught the eye of the Animal Collective who subsequently signed them to their Paw Tracks label and produced their first two albums. Everything about this duo is strange yet slightly beautiful. From the bizarre imagery used on their releases to the odd musical structures at play in their music to what the sisters are doing to create these sounds. All the reference points are murky.

“You’ll probably be surprised that its coming from some pretty standard instruments,” laughs a slightly delirious, Taraka Larson who confesses that she’s in a desperate need for human interaction after travelling in the car for the past eight hours. In her eyes it’s quite simple. “I just play two keyboards and guitar and my sister plays drum set.”

Yet the results are anything but. To begin with there’s the vocals. Whilst there are elements of English hidden in her words there are also bizarre unintelligible heartfelt chants and wails, drawing upon positively operatic connections, it’s clear that Taraka is keen to push the boundaries of what is vocally accepted.

“There’s a few different languages on the record,” she offers. “There’s some English obviously, there’s some Sanskrit, and some channel language I guess. I got really interested in using language as a medium of communication between experiences. Kind’ve breaking down the barriers of what traditional language forms can be, getting more in touch with primal relationships between meaning.

“I feel like the syllables I’m saying don’t necessarily have an individualised meaning that we assign for words, but it’s more like a general meaning, a full collection of those syllables strung together. I feel like it’s liberating the voice really from only speaking recognisable languages of having all these meanings attributed to it.”

It’s this interest in channelling music from the ether and using it to communicate themes, concepts and emotions that words cannot adequately express that continues to interest Taraka.

“I’m definitely a believer in art as the language of the future,” she laughs.  “Art is an abject form, a way of bridging the communication between internal and external worlds. “

“It’s hard to put into words,” she continues, attempting to explain how to put the theory into practice. “You have to be open to it is the main thing. But the idea of being aware of that relationship number one, that it can exist and acknowledging the potential for it to exist within you and then opening yourself up to that and seeing what happens really. “

“It’s not something that you can go ‘ok I’m going to sit here and I’m going to write a song.’ It’s not about writing a song, it’s about a song being delivered to you and you putting your hands up and asking to receive the song you know. “

This is particularly relevant to their live show, where the idea of touring new places means opening the music up to new experiences. Yet it also means taking a risk as you can’t guarantee that the energy will be there every night.

“It’s a challenge. Every night is a challenge,” Larson reveals. “A new space, a new set of faces, new sets of distractions. I mean travelling on the road you get into some strange headspaces. It’s a constant challenge, but I kind’ve like that challenge.”

“A concert space has concentrated energy,” she continues enthusiastically, “and you can just tap into it and it can be this really intense magical experience. We’ve been on the West Coast for nearly a week now and the vibe in southern California is completely different to up here in Oregon. It’s completely different set of energy that you’re up against. If you’re not tapped into that energy, then you’re closing yourself down. If you’re just focussing on ‘ok I’ve got these songs and I’m going to play them every night,’ if you’re not opening yourself up for that kind of variation in places then you might as well be playing in the same city or something. What’s really the point of going on tour?

In recent times though the energy within Prince Rama hasn’t necessarily been as centred as they would like. The result is that their third and original founding member Michael Collins is, according to their press release taking a hiatus from the band.

“We were a three piece but I don’t know, it got a little bit like Prince Drama,” she laughs.

Collins played synth in the band and there’s no doubt his absence has impacted considerably upon the Prince Rama’s sound.

“I think the sound has become a lot more minimal and focussed,” suggests Larson. “I feel like it’s been a lot more stripped down. He added mostly a lot of texture. Now we’re down to the bare essence of drums and melody. It definitely forced us to step our game in a lot of ways. The more people you have in a band the less you have to work because everyone’s playing different parts. But now me and my sister have felt pressure to step up our games. Just get a lot tighter, more experimental in our instruments and just push ourselves more really.

She pauses for a second considering the situation.

“There’s nowhere to hide now,” she laughs.

“Our performances too have got a lot more intense and confrontational for some reason. A lot has changed. It’s shifted the entire energy, being a two piece. I mean there’s something too about just being me and my sister, there’s something very special about that. We’ve got this psychic family connection with each other. I feel like that’s a lot more apparent now than it was before.”

Their new album Trust Now is the duos 5th, and second for Paw Tracks. It was recorded in Seattle in a 19th Century Church by Scott Coburn (Sun City Girls, Animal Collective, Arcade Fire) and surprisingly, despite Collins departure it’s as twisted, psychedelic and powerful as its predecessor. Interestingly the music is quit rhythmic with Larson’s extraordinary vocals often the sole melodic element in the music.

“A lot of time the vocal melody is what comes to me in a song,” Larson reveals. “I’ll hear a vocal melody first and build the song around that. I feel like it’s a primal way of songwriting because it’s on a very basic human level, the voice, the breath, the human anatomy and then it goes out from there. But I’ve never really thought about that.”

What Larson is conscious of though is the energy, of making music that means something, music that transcends your daily life and connects you to another realm.

“Something metaphysical is something I really conscious of in the music,” she offers, “I feel like music should be in service of the metaphysical realm as much as the physical realm. Sound is so ephemeral or abstract unto itself that I think it’s a really important conduit to eliciting these kind of metaphysical experiences. I think it lends itself to that, so I definitely try to invite that.”

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