Prince Rama rise from Boston's underground

Spiritual guidance
By LIZ PELLY  |  October 5, 2011

princesses rama
OUR HAUS “It was about making the shows as intimate and amazing of an exchange between people as possible,” says Taraka Larson (left, with sister Nimai) of Boston’s underground scene. 

Before Animal Collective's Avey Tare discovered their bouncy, Bollywood-inspired psychedelia at SXSW 2010, the group Prince Rama channeled "Now Age" chants and sang Sanskrit in Jamaica Plain houses and DIY art spaces. Even as sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson tour the country this fall with Gang Gang Dance in support of their forthcoming Trust Now (Rama's fifth full-length, and their second for AnCo's Paw Tracks label, out this week), the influence of Boston's experimental underground still hangs over every performance.

"It was so participatory," says 24-year-old Taraka, who moved to Boston in 2005 to study visual art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, eventually relocating to Brooklyn in 2010. She plays guitar, synth, bass, and sings in three languages, while her sister Nimai, 23, plays drums. "It was so much of this kind of group or team consciousness. It was about making the shows as intimate and amazing of an exchange between people as possible. I'm still yearning for that wherever we play."

Prince Rama formed in 2007 and began playing heavily around Boston in 2008. It was a time that Taraka describes as an inspiring, definitive "golden age" at Whitehaus, the JP art and music house venue they frequented. And it was a time when local acts like Many Mansions, Manners, Peace Loving, and Needy Visions all flocked together for open-door hoots and house shows.

My conversation with Taraka covers eccentric-yet-radically inspired territory: from her interest in Shakers and transcendentalist utopian communes (she visited seven around New England in 2009, collecting water [!], film, and field recordings for a school project) as well as her experiences filming at a Hare Krishna temple in Boston with former bandmate Michael Collins. (Collins played synth in the band until earlier this year; in their formative stages, the band were known for having been raised in a Krishna-heavy Florida farm community.)

prince rama
Like Prince Rama's four previous records, Trust Now — six long jams, heavy with deep synths, gamelan, prayer bells, and tribal drums — takes clear inspiration from the devotional call-and-response of Krishna mantras. "I kind of invented my own language in the process of making this record," Taraka explains over the phone from outside a Cracker Barrel in Virginia. The previous evening, the Larson sisters played a "bonkers" show until 4 am in Charlottesville. "On [2010's] Shadow Temple I was really psyched to be singing in Sanskrit. But even with Sanskrit I started filling in words I didn't know with this other language. I'd start experimenting with just letting syllables come out and seeing what happened." The second cut from Trust Now, "Summer of Love" (for which the official video was shot at a Hare Krishna temple on Comm Ave) starts out in Sanskrit, moves to English, and then into her invented language.

Taraka was conscious of "channeling" on this record, whereas on previous records she sculpted sounds like visual art, inspired by film classes at SMFA. "I looked into music as a medium, in a real sort of spiritualist sense of the word, as this intermediary between realms and what kind of communication can happen there. Because of that, the songs feel a lot more personal, and yet I almost can't take credit for writing them. They're like this offering."

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