Q+A: Nimai Larson Of Prince Rama
Taraka and Nimai Larson can’t wait to meet you. Most artists will hide behind a shield of press contacts and merchandise movers, but Taraka and Nimai do everything themselves. In setting up Thought Catalog’s interview with the two sisters, everything is handled via text messages. No trying game of email or phone tag; no bureaucracy.
It is this kind of transparency that makes Prince Rama so compelling; when asked what happened to Michael Collins, their now-absent third band member, they opt for brutal honesty no matter how it may sound. “It was just bad vibes,” Nimai tells us. “It stopped working.”
Devotees attend Prince Rama not for the spectacle, but for the sincerity. Where a “15-minute-exorcise” routine should be at the very least unnerving, it is a lighthearted, raucous affair. As drumsticks twirl and glitter shines down upon a dazzled Chicago audience, Prince Rama directs viewers through a series of emotions. In under five minutes, they channel the pain of losing bandmate Collins, the eeriness of the supernatural and the joy of dancing as though it were disco night in 1986.
Shortly after the performance, Nimai and Taraka are nearly impossible to get ahold of. This is not because they are avoiding the press; it is because they are busy embracing each and every fan willing to talk to them in the venue. Before they sold out shows and released records on Animal Collective-owned label Paw Tracks, Prince Rama were “f-cking broke,” Nimai says.
The love, between artist and fan, is mutual: as we speak to Nimai about Prince Rama’s newest record, post-Michael
Thought Catalog: You’re missing a band member! Where is Michael?
Nimai Larson: It was just bad vibes. It stopped working. We all came to this realization. We went on a three month long tour. One was with Light Pollution. One was with Deakin from Animal Collective, and on the last one we were touring by ourselves. It was three months straight. And after that it was breakdown central, and we were like, “This is not working.” The vibes just got bad. The energy was dark. It just wasn’t working anymore. It was super obvious. He moved to Florida. And we were like, “If you’re moving to Florida, we just don’t want to continue with you.”
Anyways, [Taraka] and I continued on our own. And it was a really scary thing. Can we do it? Are we going to sound empty? Are we going to be okay? And the first show we did, just the two of us, happened to be this crazy festival in Italy. I think that that was the first time the aestheticism of The Now Age came to play in our set. Our aesthetics became more clarified. Our vision became so much more clarified. Our sound became clarified. Everything we did.
And I feel because this is our first album with [just] the two of us, a lot of thought, I think I has gotten put into this, in turn, because of dropping a member. And I think that’s how [Taraka] sharpened up her thoughts into writing this manifesto. Because all of a sudden, it became very clear what we’re doing. She wrote the manifesto after we recorded [Trust Now].
TC: Tell me more about the album art for Trust Now. What is that between the two of you?
NL: [Taraka] was like, “Is this invisible Michael?” I said, “No. No. We don’t want to get into that territory.” I don’t think so. I think this is us. [Points at the album art] And the thing is, with this layout, we did a few different takes of this, and this one was the strongest. My cousin had chickens. We were holding chickens at one point. It didn’t work. [Laughs] We were facing each other. It didn’t work. We were standing. It didn’t work. Look at this crazy Photoshop we did.
He made us completely symmetrical. These are my hands, and he Photoshopped it to be [Taraka]‘s as well. That’s amazing. We’re wearing different jewelry, and everything’s slouching differently. Anyways, this whole cover is f-cking scary. I read some reviews, and they were like, “This album is f-cking scary.” And I was like, “Cool.” We’ve been through some scary sh-t.
TC: I can’t shake the impression that this new material feels darker than your previous efforts.
NL: The energy on this album is dark. This is a dark album. It’s darker because a lot of the songs are about holding back. There’s a lot of dishonesty in [Trust Now]. To me, the skull is very honest. It’s like, “Hello, we’re all gonna die.” Do you know what I mean? But right now, let’s joke with it and put some f-cking Wal-Mart jewels on it. We’re all gonna die, who gives a sh-t? Let’s have fun.
I’m not trying to say, “Life is sh-t.” I’m trying to say, “Death is coming. We’re all gonna die.” But isn’t it kind of funner [sic] to put glitter on, and some lipstick? And have fun? I mean, this album’s dark, but [Taraka] and I have the tendency to laugh at ourselves. This album seems scary, but it’s kind of fun to me. It’s hilarious to me. All these jewels.
TC: The energy that you mentioned. Are these dangerous forces?
NL: Could be. It’s different for everyone. Sometimes stress brings out the dangerous forces. “Materials should engage with the realm of light and shadow.” This is how I feel. This is a whole different idea. Sound can create forms — semantics — like, if you put a flat speaker underneath like a flat surface, and put some sand on it, it makes a sound. The glitter is like having a mutual reciprocity with your environment.
Not just dressing in a way that isolates you. But dressing in a way that invites your environment to interact with you and you to interact with your environment. It captures the life in the room and reflects it back. There’s a feedback loop that’s created. It just keeps you connected, you know?
TC: Speaking of connection, you had the audience in a trance when you chanted “Trust,” over and over again. What was that all about?
NL: Kind of like reminding us to trust, reminding everyone [to] remember trust. Again, I feel like its this reciprocity that needs to happen. Trusting people making the music; trusting the people listening. It’s breaking a boundary. You forget that we’re all in this survivalist community. And there needs to be this element of danger. For me, too. I’ve done that before and almost got dropped. I can get seriously injured doing that.
TC: I read that your relationship with Animal Collective actually began at a concert.
NL: [David Porter] came to some of our shows, and he was like, “I really want to put some of your stuff out on Paw Tracks. How do you feel about that?” And we were like, “DUH!”
This was our fourth album. We had put out the first three by ourselves. We needed help. We were f-cking broke. Doing it all ourselves was really hard. But yeah. That was amazing that they stepped in. That whole process of making Shadow Temple was amazing. We got to tour with Deakin/ Josh. They’re all so sweet. They’re such nice people.
And, I’m a forever to the grave Panda Bear fan. I love Tomboy!
TC: What’s your favorite song on that Panda Bear record?
NL: He played [“You Can Count On Me”] on Jimmy Fallon recently. You should YouTube that. It’s kind of funny, because there’s this sweeping camera movement that pans the audience. It’s Jimmy Fallon! Like, weird right?
For Tomboy, the first four or five songs are all my favorite. They go together so well. There’s not many live shows that I cry at, but definitely the last time I saw him, he performed Tomboy start to finish and I was just [in tears]. I was watching other people in the audience, like closing their eyes. It was just totally a spiritual experience for a lot of people. And I think that is so amazing, when bands can do that. It’s not very often that I get moved to tears during a live set.
TC: Top 40 makes it easy to forget how powerful music can be, sometimes.
NL: There’s some rap that I think is pretty up there for me, though. “John (If I Die Today).”
I go the gym with that. That song gets me to another level. It’s definitely a different level than I would get to by listening to Panda Bear or Liturgy. Still, there’s something about that raw emotion that’s still there, and super triumphant beats and lines that are just like, “BAM!” And I don’t know if it’s making me angry, or if it’s making me triumphant, or what it’s doing. There’s some rap music that just takes me away.
TC: I feel like the new Drake album does that for me.
NL: There’s a new Drake album? What the sh-t! I love Drake. Alright, I gotta check this out.
TC: Great as it is, you probably can’t take the new Drake record to the gym.
NL: What about Girl Talk? In Night Ripper, they blend Britney Spears with Yo La Tengo! Do you remember that song? I think it’s track number eight. I got to it and was like, “Are you kidding me?”
TC: Girl Talk is definitely on something when he plays live shows. I have no idea how you guys perform sober.
NL: I don’t need any more chemicals in my body. Because our music is so complex. I mean, there are musicians who do things so much more complex than [what we do] and they do tons of drugs. But that’s just not me. I get super paranoid if I do drink before I play.
TC: You don’t drink? You smoke cigarettes, right?
NL: I do, but not on tour. I don’t drink on the job. I don’t smoke cigarettes on the job. This is our career. So whenever we’re on tour, I take it very seriously. I know [Taraka] does too. This is our day job. We don’t have any other jobs. I know that a lot of people love to smoke during our sets, and that’s awesome. I don’t really give a sh-t. But we don’t really do any drugs.
TC: It helps to cut back. There are so many chemicals in modern food anyway.
NL: I know. My mom got cancer last year. I mean, she’s fine now. It coincided when [Taraka] and I moved to New York. We were broke, my mom got cancer, we both broke up with our boyfriends, our car broke down. All this crazy stuff.
My mom is the healthiest person. And totally lives such a clean lifestyle. We were like, “How did you get cancer?” I think what’s going on is that if you’ve ever eaten anything from the frozen section of a grocery store, then it’s “Welcome to cancerland.” You’re susceptible, because you’ve had sodium benzoate. [Pauses] I don’t know how I know that.
But I used to do this thing, back when I was really serious about my diet before I started touring, because it’s really hard to be food conscious on tour. It’s like, I just want to go to Whole Foods salad bar. But I have gotten food poisoning from the Whole Foods salad bar. This last time that I got it was a few weeks ago in Minneapolis right before our last Chicago show, and I threw up 14 times that night. It’s hilarious, like how close to dying I was. From Whole Foods salad bar.
I called them the next day, really f-cked up, and I was like, “Dude. You have to check the timing of your salad bar.” They were like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “I practically died last night!” And they didn’t care at all, and I’m still kind of fostering this weird sort of anger towards Whole Foods, because they didn’t seem to care. And I kind of want to write them a letter [saying], “Switch out your salad bar toppings. Because, I got really sick.”
It’s hard, because the local fair trade stuff, is like, $3.90 more, and it’s like, “I’m already broke. Sh-t.” I used to do this thing where, if anything I’m buying has more than 10 ingredients, or if I can’t pronounce something, I’m not buying it. Which is really great, but hard. Think about it. Like Wheat Thins. Sounds like a really great idea. But there’s like 32 ingredients. And you’re like, “What is this…?” I don’t think I need any of that extra stuff. It can’t be good for you.
So, thinking about that, and then my mom got cancer. She doesn’t smoke or drink. It’s like, “Sh-t. I’m screwed.” Do you know what I mean? I have cigarettes in the car right now.
It’s like, “I tried to be vegan for six months, but I still drank all the time.” [Laughs] Good one. In all reality, I’m sure there’s Doritos that are vegan. French fries are vegan, too. So are onion rings. There’s a lot of crap that’s vegan, but it’s still crap. But I’ve been vegetarian my whole life, so I hope that helps? Maybe I won’t get cancer.
TC: Being a vegetarian isn’t easy.
NL: There was this time I got orange juice — it was in college. I got Tropicana orange juice, and it had added Omega-3s. I was like, “Cool. Because I don’t get enough. I’m a vegetarian.” I was drinking my glass of orange juice, spacing out, looking at the back of the carton, and it was like, “Ingredients: Orange juice. Fish oil. Water.” I was like, “Fish oil? Since when do I have to check the ingredients on my orange juice?” I was so pissed. I wrote Tropicana. I was like, ‘”You gotta be kidding me.” And they sent me a coupon for four dollars.
TC: Did you use the coupon to buy another carton of Tropicana orange juice?
NL: At first I was like, “F-ck you! Why would I want your f-cking orange juice?” And then my friend was like, “Nimai. You drink orange juice. Just buy the kind that doesn’t have fish oil in it.”
My boyfriend is also vegetarian, but he has completely different reasons for being vegetarian than I do. He’s like, “This doesn’t add up. Why is there always ‘Fresh Meat’ in the meat section of the grocery store? It does not add up. Fast food does not add up. This does not make sense.” And if it does not make sense to him, he’s not going to eat it.
But if it’s like, “Farm Fresh. Local,” and how often does that happen, then he might eat meat. But for me, I’m just like, “The animals.”
I did a huge project on being vegetarian in 9th grade, in high school. It’s not only about “Boo-hoo, the animals.” It’s like, “Boo-hoo, the environment!” And the politics behind it. It’s outrageous. It’s really scary how much of the earth’s resources we’re depleting to keep cattle grazing going. Oh, my God. And all the trucks that move meat. And all the oil. It’s a sick cycle. And that’s a lot of people.
[Taraka’s] boyfriend — all our people are vegetarians — her boyfriend has that kind of vibe. He’s like, “Man. The politics behind this, it’s depleting the environment. I’m not gonna support this.”
We were raised vegetarian. Obviously, I had the choice, whenever I moved out of my parent’s house [to] eat meat. And I actually did eat meat. I went on a week long [vacation] in California, and I was like, “F-ck it. I’m gonna do it.” I had everything. I tried everything, except for cow. First eggs. Then chicken. Then bacon. Then crab.
TC: Did you feel guilty eating seafood? I meet a lot of Pescetarians.
NL: They have eyes. I did it all. I ate it all! It wasn’t even tasty. It just didn’t really vibe with me — I just know too much. Once you see the light, you can’t go back. I already did this project, I was already raised this way. Heard, seen, and read about this stuff. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I tried it. It just wasn’t for me.
TC: You sound passionate about food ethics. What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
NL: I would be a nutcase if I wasn’t making songs. [Laughs] I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t doing this. I don’t think I would be better off. I think this is good. I would probably still be in Texas. I would probably be trying to pursue some bullsh-t art career, hating my life. I think I would be trying to start a printmaking company. Or starting a gym. It was a toss up. I remember that. I was like, “[Taraka], I’m going to major in Kinesthesiology! I want to be a personal trainer for the [Dallas] Stars.”
Prince Rama will be playing at Glasslands in Brooklyn on the 23rd of this month. For more information about their tour, check out this write-up.
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