Since you all have our DUMBO Summer Friday event — featuring Javelin, Prince Rama, Zambri, Bosco Delrey and a cadre of artists and developers — marked down on your calendars for August 17, we thought it wise to formally introduce you to all of our participants. First up is Prince Rama, a Brooklyn band who is currently obsessed with the end of the world.
Prince Rama comprises sisters Taraka Larson and Nimai Larson, who grew up on Hare Krishna farm in Florida. “We grew up in Texas when we were kids — far away from any other religious community,” Taraka told me last year, during an interview centered around the band’s fourth album, Trust Now. “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 had to move out to a Hare Krishna community because they were Hare Krishnas.”
This fixation on the end of the world is heredity, apparently. Exhibit A: The sisters’ new upcoming album, Top 10 Hits Of The End Of The World. The disc will feature Prince Rama performing as 10 fictional bands who released hits (and died) during various and sundry apocalypses.
All of the bands are pop acts, incidentally, which takes the sisters into new songwriting territory — Prince Rama’s previous albums are chanty, Krishna-esque affairs largely featuring the sisters’ madeup language. According to the official description, the band’s spin on a pop album mines “cosmic disco, motorcycle rock, new-wave, grunge, tribal goth, Arabic pop, and ghost-modern glam” — and the lyrics will be in English. The image above channels fictional band Nu Fighters, the duo’s favorite alter egos.
We spoke with the band about their new album (due to drop this fall) and, luckily for us, they plan to unleash some tracks at our show this week. Read on for our Q&A and listen to their first single “So Destroyed” hereabouts.
So, the last time I talked to you, you were talking about the end of the world a lot — the singles that were popular during various predicted apocalypses. And now you have an album based on that idea.
Taraka: Well, it’s something I think about all the time. It’s happening all the time. The idea of ‘Top 10 Hits of the End of the World’ was this idea I had for this karaoke piece that we ended up doing. It actually ended up being 11 hits, because it was on 11/11/11, so I was like, ‘Let’s just do 11!’ I looked up 11 dates that the world has been predicted to end throughout the 20th century and and then looked at the Billboard charts to see what the number-one hit was at that time. So we just kind of had these 11 pop songs and we slowed them way down and we had karaoke for them. It became this really fascinating project to me.
Some of these pop songs linked up really eerily with the idea of the end of the world — Britney Spears’ ‘Til The World Ends’ was actually one of them for Harold Campings’ whole [Rapture thing]… But some of them were a little bit less direct. Like for Brian Jamestown Massacre it was like ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees. I feel like with every song these weird little relationships were created and so I just got really interested in the idea of pop as this sort of transmission of mass apocalyptic sentiments.
Some of these apocalypses, some of them were kind of bigger. Like Y2K, which was something that a lot of people were focused on. But some of them were really small — one of them was this weird dude in Denmark who had aliens visit him and predict [the end of the world] and maybe had a 100 people believe him. But still, that song that was the hit of that day, it had something in it that seemed related.
Nimai: Two that were a little more direct were: during Y2K, the hit single was ‘Just Breathe,’ by Faith Hill. And then with the World Trade Centers falling and 9/11, it was Alicia Keys, ‘Fallin’.’ So those kind of direct correlations were like… it’s creepy. How did that happen?
Taraka: What’s interesting with those two songs, too, is that they’re both talking about breakups. So it’s like looking at these apocalypses that are happening on a microcosmic scale. When you break up with someone it’s like the world ends. A time ends. A part of yourself dies. So that is an apocalypse of some sort. But looking at how that little microcosm becomes this number-one hit, it becomes this macrocosmic apocalypse as well.
After doing that project I was kind of interested in doing our own album kind of like that. It would be all these pop songs, but it would be looking at the microcosmic. Not all the pop songs are like, ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it.’ I’m not really interested in making something super direct. What is the apocalypse really? What is the end of the world?
Nimai: It’s different for everyone.
Taraka: Yeah, it’s different for everyone and there’s not really one real definition of it. So it’s making pop songs that are big enough to encompass a lot of ideas. Plus it helped that I just happened to have a breakup, so a lot of these songs were kind of inspired by that. Looking at the microcosmic.
So they’re all actual pop songs? With real words?
Taraka: Yeah! It’s super weird for us!
Have you written songs like that before?
Taraka: No. What’s interesting is that it still kind of boils down to the same idea of channeling. When I write songs where it’s this other language coming through me, for me it’s not words that I write. It’s sounds that come through me. I don’t edit them and try to shape them into other words. With this, the whole idea was also channeling. It’s this idea that there’s going to be these 10 bands that died in the apocalypse and each one of them has this hit single that they’re transmitting to me. What’s interesting is that this album, I wrote it in such a short period of time. I’ve never written an album that quickly.
Yeah, it hasn’t been that long since your last one.
Taraka: Yeah, it all happened in a matter of a couple of weeks, really. The entire album.
Nimai: Actually, while we were recording Trust Now, she had already written two of the songs that are on this new album.
Taraka: I literally felt like there was these other beings… I would just be riding on my bike and be being like, ‘Doo, doo, doo. Oh, shit, that’s the song! I have to turn around!’ I don’t feel like I wrote these songs. This idea of just opening yourself up.
Writing in English is like really strange to me because it’s something I don’t do that often. I took a break from it for a while, because it seemed too direct. But I feel like it’s even more challenging to try to write [in English] — still keeping that mystery and indirectness but keeping words these sort of empty forms for other things to be channeled through. Keeping the writing open enough so that it doesn’t have to be so direct.
I feel like pop is a lot like mantras. That’s one thing I’ve really come to appreciate in writing pop songs for this album. You have this structure and it’s a very set structure; it’s not linear. It’s this very fluid thing — an interchanging of parts. The more something’s repeated, the most abstract it becomes. Some of my favorite pop songs are like the ones where you repeat it so much that it becomes abstract. Or it almost becomes gibberish.
Nimai: We were talking yesterday — I came over to practice and Taraka was listening to the Beatles — and she said, ‘Isn’t it amazing that even though I haven’t listened to these songs for like 10, 15, years, I still know every word?’ Something like that that’s so catchy and so powerful that you can relate to on some level, it’s like you don’t forget any of the lyrics.
So which mantras are the most catchy on your new album? Anything that people would put as their status on Facebook?
Nimai: My answer is ‘No way back.’ That’s been my Gmail status since she wrote that song.
Taraka: Really? That’s funny. Yeah, I kind of feel that way about a lot of songs — ‘No way back,’ ‘So destroyed,’ ‘Those who live for love will live forever.’ ‘The end is near and you will live forever.’
Nimai: ‘We will fall in love again.’
Taraka: Some of them are super simple. You listen to the Beatles and it’s like, ‘All you need is love.’ They’re so simple. They become so abstract in that way, because if you really take that you’re like, ‘What does that even mean? All you need is love? What is love?’
Nimai: What do I need?
Taraka: And that song, ‘What Is Love?’ You can almost make a mixtape of phrases.
So when does the album come out?
Nimai: It comes out November 6.
Oh! Are you guys recording now?
Nimai: We’re done. No, we wanted to have it out before December 21 [before the Mayan apocalypse]. There’s just a lot of stuff that still needs to happen.
Are you doing anything special with the release?
Taraka: Yeah, we’re doing some personalized stuff. Some blood-splattered limited editions. It’s gonna be fake blood. It’s kind of our vibe. We’re going to come out with a fanzine, too, because we took band pictures of all the different bands. We dressed up as all the different bands and have their bios and everything.
I’m kind of more excited about this album than other stuff we’ve written. It’s kind of better than Prince Rama.
Nimai: I mean, I never listen to our albums, but I feel like with this one, I’m definitely going to listen to it. With other albums it’s been such a process, but this album, because it happened so fast, because everything was written so fast, and when we were recording everything just fell into place — it’s still so fresh. A lot of the songs I can relate to so much, and I think a lot of people probably feel that way. You can sing along. You can relate the lyrics to your life. Isn’t that what everyone does with songs anyway?
Image courtesy of Samantha Casolari