An interview at the end of the world

Prince Rama, From Left to Right: Taraka Larson, Christopher Burke, Nimai Larson

Brooklyn's Prince Rama are traveling around the world singing the songs of ghosts. Their recent album Top Ten Hits of the End of the World is a phantasmagoric collection of songs inspired by the apocalypse and features a wash of dreamy, occasionally frightening sounds that transcend time and geographic boarders. They're bringing their unique post-apocalypse performance art to the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art this Sunday December, 16.

I caught up with Taraka Larson via e-mail (how else?) and we discussed Philip K. Dick, her manifesto and her various artistic influences.

So tell me about the new record Top Ten Hits of the End of the World. I understand that the concept behind it is that you essentially take on the identity of ten different pop groups who died in the apocalypse and cover their songs. How did this idea come about and what were you hoping to accomplish?

Taraka Larson: For some reason, I started becoming really obsessed with looking up what the #1 hit single was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on various dates the world's been predicted to end. I don't know why exactly. It was like a game to decode. Soon, I started seeing eerie correlations between some of the apocalypses and their corresponding #1 hits. For instance on Harold Camping's Rapture on May 21st, 2011 the hit song was "Til the World Ends" by Britney Spears.

I'm really fascinated by how pop music becomes this vehicle for mass consciousness to encode messages of mass destruction. It's the perfect disguise. So I thought, wow if the world ended this year, what would the #1 hit singles be? What would the "NOW That's What I Call Music" comp sound like that would come out post-apocalypse? I wanted to make that album. I wanted to be possessed by the ghosts of those bands. The record is all about possession. The present being possessed by the past. The past being haunted by the future. The future being eclipsed by present nostalgia. The way I see it, the world ritually ends itself time and time again, on both microcosmic and macrocosmic levels, leaving us with a landscape littered by ghosts. On a macrocosmic level, I think we've reached an end of history and pop culture is doomed to be possessed and re-possessed by past ghosts. The serpent eats its tail until there is no tail left. This is the dawn of the ghost modern era. And this is the ghost modern record.

What can people expect from an average Prince Rama show? I've heard that you and Nimai get quite involved with your performance art.

TL: There's no such thing as an average Prince Rama show. Better to not expect anything.

How important is the performance aspect of your band? Do you see your albums and live shows as separate entities? Essentially, how vital is live performance to understanding Prince Rama?

TL: It's all performance.

You've recently been commissioned to contribute music to the exhibit "The Empire Never Ended." How did this come about and are you or your sister fans of Philip K. Dick?

TL: Good question. Shauta from IMOCA just emailed us out of the blue and we couldn't be more thrilled by the concept. It was pretty coincidental really, because she was talking about an exhibit dealing with Philip K. Dick, simulated utopias and imaginary apocalypses and meanwhile we were living on a simulated utopian commune off the coast of Estonia mixing Top Ten Hits of The End of the World. To top it off, me and Philip K. Dick share a birthday, December 16th, which also happens to be the day we're playing.

You wrote a manifesto entitled "The Now Age" which deals quite a bit with aesthetics and what you call the "harmonic alignment of essence and form." How do the ideas you put forth in "The Now Age" affect the way you approach music?

TL: I would say it pretty much is the way I approach music. At the heart of the Now Age philosophy is this idea that somewhere down the line contemporary culture has lost touch with the essence of the present and continues to recapitulate the phantom gestures of the past in the form of Kitsch and Nostalgia. It is a very haunted way of living. The Now Age aims to resurrect the present through getting in touch with symbolic power which underlies it all, that which is TIME-LESS, PLACE-LESS, FORM-LESS. Music is a means to organize sound, which is essentially timeless, placeless and formless, thus making it a useful tool of accessing this symbolic power. The most powerful music to me is that which makes you feel the most present.

What are your dominant artistic influences at the moment?

TL: Minimalism. Stadium Rock. Zombie Aesthetics. Kitsch. Fame. Celebration, Florida. Dubai. Speeding things up. Slowing things down. Black holes. Black Sabbath. Rainforest Cafe. Taoism. Aerobic videos. Band photos. Paul Laffoley. Utopic Space Cartography. Remembering things. Forgetting things. Cymatics. Gas station interior design.

Name the top three books you read this year.

TL: "Invisible Cities"-- Italo Calvino,

"The Illusion of the End"--Jean Baudrillard,

"The Philosophy of Andy Warhol"--Andy Warhol