Prince Rama break through the kitsch barrier

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Nimai and Taraka Larson of Prince Rama. Photo by Derrick Belcham

How many bands have their own manifesto?

Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson (along with their stagemate Ryan Sciaino) are Prince Rama, a Brooklyn-based band who’ve released eight records since 2008, and penned the Now Age Manifesto back in 2012. Where other bands have issued so-called manifestos as glorified band bios that die after one album cycle, this is something else: it’s a philosophy based in cultural criticism that informs their creative techniques from the root up. They even cite “Now Age” as their musical style.

“It came from this feeling that there’s this potential in New Age that’s not being reached,” Taraka explains. “New Age is so focused on transcending this world, but there needs to be a philosophy that puts you more in touch with your surroundings and more in touch with the present moment, rather than reaching for this paradise outside yourself.”
Inherent in Prince Rama’s Now Age philosophy is criticism of the prevalence of nostalgia in culture, as well “the
kitsch barrier,” a concept borrowed from an artist friend/onetime employer of theirs, the late Paul Laffoley.
“Not to say that kitsch and nostalgia don’t play very crucial roles in culture-making, but there’s a barrier that
kitsch creates, a barrier to levels of understanding — if you can move past it, a lot of rewarding insights can be
found.

Prince Rama on the cover of Cult MTL, April 2016

Prince Rama on the cover of Cult MTL, April 2016

“With pop music, there’s a huge kitsch barrier there. Elvis was the first pop artist to really break the kitsch barrier,” Taraka explains, alluding to Laffoley’s series of paintings depicting Elvis’s more esoteric side. “There’s a moment in Elvis’s life where he had this postmodern realization of himself, that he had devolved into this kitsch figure. A lot of people look at Elvis and don’t think there’s anything really deep going on with him, and I think that’s true of a lot of pop music — it’s easily dismissable ’cause it comes in this clean, shiny package. But sometimes that’s a mask. I’m interested in employing kitsch and subverting that mask.”

Having grown up isolated in Gainesville, FLA — at a time when ska music dominated, and playing Blink 182 covers (as the Larson sisters did) was the most rebellious act their teenage imaginations could fathom — leaving home to attend art school altered the Larsons and their music forever. The conceptual side of music became huge, to the point where they look at concerts as “ephemeral utopian communities” and songwriting as genre exercises. Like Elvis, though, they’re conscious of their kitsch appeal. “We are a pretty kitschy band,” Taraka admits. “ A lot of the songs start out trying to replicate kitschy ’80s hits, but we like to play with people’s expectations. If you can give them a shiny package, they’re a lot more curious about it and then you can slip this other thing in underneath it — maybe some people catch it, maybe some people don’t. Some people just get caught up in the glitter kitsch barrier, and that’s fine. It’s important to operate on a lot of different levels.”

Prince Rama’s look, and the glitter in the “glitter kitsch barrier,” came from a much simpler place than their social/spiritual criticism, philosophical musings and conceptual art suggests. A few years ago, the Larsons found themselves on tour in broken-hearted, jilted ex-girlfriend mode — they’d both experienced recent break-ups — wearing sweatpants and tracks of mascara tears. They were hours away from playing a festival in Bologna, Italy, and had to psych themselves into show mode.

Stockwe_Stockwe-R1-E011“That’s how we started wearing crazy make-up,” Taraka says. “We were thinking, ‘How do we own this look?’ I remember putting glitter under my eyes so it looked like I’d been crying glitter tears, and it suddenly became more magical. We were smearing colours all over our faces and it immediately shifted our energy. And that made us want to wear the shiniest outfits ever.

“It’s been really therapeutic playing shows and getting into that other zone where it felt like we could own the stage and take on other personas. It’s exciting — it allows more freedom to be honest in a lot of ways that you couldn’t be when you’re just being yourself.

“I really hate stage banter, so recently I found this pitch-shifter that makes my voice sound like a dude — it’s really convincing, to the point where people in the crowd are confused. It’s made me a lot sassier, and I sometimes catch myself saying things that I normally would not have the balls to say.” 

Prince Rama headlines, with openers Doldrums and Technical Kidman, at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent)
on Wednesday, April 13, 9 p.m., $10/$13

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