ABOVE: PRINCE RAMA. PHOTOS COURTESY OF RAY STOCKWELL AND SHAWN LACHAPELLE.
Prince Rama, heir apparent to the art-rock throne, has undergone a schizophrenic evolution thanks to a few near-death experiences and a renewed understanding of time travel. Next year, the dance-pop outfit comprised of sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson will release Xtreme Now via Carpark Records (their first release with the label), a much anticipated follow up to 2012’s Top Ten Hits of the End of the World. The lead single “Bahia,” premiering below, is buoyant and electrifying, propelled by a pounding beat and Taraka’s voice. She’s both male and female on the track, using her dulcet voice and a pitch-shift effect to achieve two different characters.
“Don’t ask me what the lyrics mean,” Taraka says. “A male cyborg character came to me to sing some of the parts, and I heard the verses to be almost like a duet between two robot nymphs…Like most of the songs on the record, I just watched a bunch of Go-Pro extreme sports videos on mute and tried to figure out what the score should be .”
For Xtreme Now, Prince Rama’s reported influences include Monster Energy Drink, living in a black metal commune on the island Vormsi off the coast of Estonia, the past, the present, the not-too-distant future, Scandinavian folklore, near-death experiences, ancient ruins, and Vikings. And here’s what these seemingly disparate elements have in common: Each emphasizes an artistic preoccupation with mysticism and altered states, whether induced or internalized. “Every day, we were steeped in the wooded womb of Scandinavian mysticism, pastoral community, and pagan lore whose same spirit gave birth to the black metal music scene,” Taraka recalls. Despite having shared roots, however, Prince Rama’s music bears little similarity to Scandinavian black metal. Instead, it sounds a lot more like a postmodern interpretation of glam rock, blending visual art (the sisters’ art has been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art; visuals have long been an important part of their live show, from glitzy makeup to bright flashing lights), the written word (Taraka wrote a manifesto entitled Now Age detailing Prince Rama’s aesthetic principles and providing a framework for the new album), and, of course, a strong bass.Taraka says her “time-schizophrenia,” or recurring sense of existing in multiple historical eras at once, is the product of these influences. When living on Vormsi, she experienced a sudden dissociative episode while listening to Estonian pop in the back seat of a van. Recalling the sensation returning to reality, when she stumbled upon ancient ruins while biking around the island the following morning, she says she saw “ancient tapestries stretched across half-pipes and people base-jumping off planes with the Mona Lisa smiling up from their parachutes.”
Left with a lingering sensation of a “future where art museums are sponsored by energy drink beverages and beauty is determined by speed,” Taraka became engrossed with extreme sports. Fascinated by time, velocity, and death, Taraka then attempted as many extreme sports (including motorbiking and skiing) as possible upon her return from Vormsi. “Real time travel can occur spontaneously once you realize that time is only an illusory record of events manifesting on a physical plane,” she says.
“Like any good magician, time has its tricks to keep people believing in it,” she adds. “The biggest trick of them all is death.” So death-defying acts exemplified in extreme sports first permitted her ascent to this plane of understanding, and from there, Xtreme Now was born. It’s not so different from the effect good music has on the listener: a feeling of an eternal present, a sensation that defies bodily interpretation.