How many end of year LP lists have you already trawled thus far this still quite active 2012? Too many, is most likely the answer there. Though one omitted by many, if not most this way came just last month, unleashed from Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks in the amorphous form of Prince Rama’s Top 10 Hits Of The End Of The World. A fairly radical (to be read rad) conceptualisation of a post-apocalypse pop chart on which Brooklyn-based sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson set about channelling the departed, if still musically industrious spirits of ten fictitious pairings, it’s pretty out there. Of course, as such it would be preposterously easy to dispel the whole project as self-indulgent baloney, were its pop sensibilities not quite so well attuned to the world around us; to the now as it were. This is a record that sounds distinctly contemporary, if an album may sound like any present-day. I guess if it can purportedly typify a time nobody could ever even hope to experience – one in which there would consequently be no audience whatsoever – then it can sound like any given Sunday, Monday, or indeed Friday.
That’s the given day our respective channels tune into one another as we chat right on the cusp of winter. Its spindly fingers twiddling with our terrestrial fabrics, it’s digit-numbingly gelid on both this side and that of La Manche, if anything Taraka comes out with is to be believed. Midway through an extensive European tour supporting AnCo on/ off (Takara’s been estranged in the EU “since, like, October 23rd”) and here hooked up to Parisian wifi ahead of further jaunts in Utrecht, where they are to play our beloved Le Guess Who? that following eve and, perhaps a little more enviably, Brazil, our wires cross. Bet it’s warmer in Brazil… Though they’ve been urged to “keep the bathing suits on hold.” Can’t be this cold, at any rate.
Nonetheless, immediately affable and a heartwarmingly engaging chatterer Larson eschews the pretentiousness one perhaps expects from such zany conceptualisation, in favour of a genuinely endearing personability. And so we begin, ten questions before us of course. As with the record, these aren’t to be ranked according to any form of superiority – neither subjective, nor objective – nor are they necessarily the Top 10 interrogations ever to have been put to the pair. But yeah, without further pleonastic ado:
1. I guess you’ve fielded endless questions re: the concept behind Top 10 Hits Of The End Of The World, so apologies first and foremost. Some may deem the concept behind the record to be somewhat outlandish. It’s certainly more inspiring than the usual ‘well, we’ve got this record ready, so let’s put it out there’ approach, and maybe that makes it seem that way? It challenges preconceptions at the very least, I suppose…
“That’s cool – I like talking about it! That’s how I feel too. You know, it’s our sixth album, and you just kind of get bored of making albums sometimes. ‘Here’s another thing we made; here are some more songs we’ll sing.’ You know, I dunno – change it up. Honestly? I was doing this other art project, in which we were making these kind of slowdown karaoke videos for this artist residency that we’re a part of in New York, and the videos were supposed to be of various songs that were the number one hits on the Billboard charts on the various dates on which the world’s been predicted to end over the past fifty years. So I got really into researching them – it became, like, this obsession, or something – and it was really eerie ’cause I would look up these different predicted apocalypses (none of which happened obviously), and the songs that would be the number ones would have these weird correlations. Like for this one that was predicted for last year, I don’t know if it was known about in Britain but in America there were billboards everywhere citing May 21st, 2011 and there was this big rapture. And Britney Spears’ Till the World Ends was number one at the time. I mean that one was the most blatant, but there have been more subtle ones. For 9/11, when the Twin Towers fell down, it was, like, Alicia Keys’ Fallin’. Which was kinda weird.
“But yeah, anyway, I just kinda started asking myself these questions about what pop music’s role is in carrying these mass messages; these unconscious messages of mass destruction. Or mass salvation? It just depended on the song. For one of them, we were looking to channel the ‘Jonestown Massacre by way of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive, and that’s almost this message, you know, of survival. And I was like: ‘Well, if the world were to end this year, I wanna write the Top 10 singles album documenting whatever it was that was the number one hit at that particular time.’ I guess that’s kinda how it turned out.”
So with the dawn of December 21st almost upon us, you’ve no grand designs to make it to that all-important pre-apocalypse numero uno?
“Well, I mean we still have a couple weeks…”
2. And so to the backstories, then: whereas many artists adopt a nom de plume you two have assumed ten monikers, each of which seems to sound quite fully-formed. And indeed these ten different bands combined to put together a surprisingly cohesive album, given the concept. But did it take an immoderate amount of time to piece it together as such, so that it could be experienced as this wholly coherent entity?
“No – not at all. And that’s another thing that was so eerie about it: I kinda felt as though I’d come up with this idea a little late in the game. The whole album kinda came about pretty late in the game, actually, as we only left ourselves about two months before we were gonna record everything and I hadn’t written a single song. I just thought: ‘Oh my God! What the hell are we gonna do?’ But, you know, the idea just came about really spontaneously and since it came about, I dunno, it was just this really eerie thing. It just kinda happened, and I didn’t even mean for it to. I really feel like there were other forces involved, outside of me, that were the ones writing these songs. ‘Cause I know how long it takes me to write songs, and it usually takes for fucking ages though this time it was kinda just like: ‘Bam!‘ I’d be, like, riding my bike and would turn around and there’d be a song right there, you know?
I think it’s interesting that you so conscientiously opted to employ the term channel… Were you put on the spot, and ten questions were then fired at you, could you respond to each individual one in the guise of one of each of your premeditated alter egos?
“Maybe… Yeah, I mean, I guess if I’m feeling connected enough then that’s the idea! You definitely do need to get yourself in the zone for these sorts of things – it’s definitely a certain kind of transcendent state of mind that makes you more open to receiving that. And obviously it’s not some complex ordeal, whereby I sit with a circle of white candles lit around me, you know what I mean? There’s no ceremony to it – you can practise a state of mind just walking to the grocery store, or whatever. I’m looking to find myself in a transcendent state wherever I go and people might think I’m weird, but you know what? That’s how you channel the most artistic ideas – you have to have that crack in your brain opened up that little bit, though not at all times. For me, that’s the state I wanna be in, and that comes into the live show, too. I don’t think the live show is about me – I don’t wanna be, like: ‘Yo! I’m Taraka from Prince Rama. Here’s me.’ For me it’s not really an ego thing; I just see myself as the deliverer of these songs – that’s my role. I’m like the mailman, or something.”
3. So these songs were popping up all over the shop, even in various shops. Once you’d concretised as it were the concept behind the record, did you find it easier to compile this Top 10 having distanced yourselves from the work itself? Cloaking yourselves in these metaphysical figments of imagination surely wedges open a gap between artist and album…
“Yes! Definitely! It’s funny that you used the word distanced there, ’cause that’s actually how I felt: I felt a lot more detachment. Especially during the mixing process, and stuff. You don’t have those niggling issues with how your voice sounds, ’cause you just think to yourself: ‘Well, that’s not my voice; that’s Kim’s voice.’ Something like that.”
That said though, are there songs on there that you feel better represent the essence, or spirit perhaps of Prince Rama as a band?
“That’s a really good question, because I don’t think I could really put my finger on exactly what is the spirit of Prince Rama as a band. It changes so much… Yeah, I don’t know. There are definitely some songs that we have more fun playing than others. Yeah…”
4. It’s a loaded term in itself, is the concept album…
“It’s weird because to me, it’s so much easier to make a concept album than it is to make a real album, because I’m coming from a conceptual art background and so before we had Prince Rama, I was going to school and making conceptual art. I mean that’s also a really loaded term, where people are like: ‘Oh. God.‘ Myself included – I totally roll my eyes at it. But I dunno – it comes real natural to me. I’ve never really thought of this as a conceptual album; to me, it’s just about making an object, or a statement that doesn’t just have this one form. It doesn’t exist purely in this object form, but it also exists in a language form as there’s so much language that you have to evolve around an idea to support it fully. And so the piece isn’t just an album; its meaning expands out into the realm of language too, and that structure that you create out of the words you choose to use in talking about it is a part of that sculpture, too. And that, for me, is really exciting, and it seems to become this more cohesive entity that encompasses conversation, and becomes an in some ways more holistic work. If you don’t say a lot of words about an album, then critics are just gonna go and throw some others at it anyway. Just fill it up with as many words as possible!”
5. I guess were you to agree with this one it may be deemed a somewhat contradictory statement, given that you’ve as we’ve already confirmed distanced yourselves from it, but is this the record that you’re most proud of as a pair, or that which you feel best represents you? Or sums you up, maybe?
“Oh I wouldn’t ever want to make something that’d sum me up – then I’d have to just die! Every record we make we feel very connected to at that time. So whatever record it is that we’re putting out at whatever point in time best sums up that particular point in time. It’s a record! It’s a record, of the time. It’s an archeological fossil!”
But this one goes beyond that, in that it portends a period in time that we’ve yet to experience. It’s one that nobody yet knows, and debatably never will…
“But can you ever really know a time? I mean you may think you know it…”
6. I suppose… So to return to the known now, there appears to be an increasing impetus placed upon independent labels, despite the ominous overall look of the contemporary music industry. Being so heavily affiliated with Paw Tracks, do you view that to have had an overwhelmingly positive effect on your creative output thus far?
“You mean in the sense that we can make a release, and be like: ‘Oh hey! We wanna release this’ and they’re not like: ‘OK, well, we can’t really release this until spring 2014’? Yeah, it’s great working with Paw Tracks because, I mean us, Dent May, and Panda Bear are the main active acts, so it’s not really a huge roster. So we’re able to just crank it out as and when – they’ve given us a lot of artistic freedom, for which we’re really thankful. And so when I hear other people talking about limits that labels put on their releases – ‘maybe you should release the songs in this order’, or ‘choose this artwork’ – I’m like really? Why would they ever do that?”
7. Indeed. Coming from a strictly artistic background, has the artwork adorning each record been something that has remained of utmost importance to you?
“For sure! I mean again, I look at the album with every piece being an important part of it. It’s not just the music, and it really needs to be treated as a whole. That’s pretty necessary. It’s a topic people like to shy away from, but band photos and other images are really significant. To me, it makes it a lot more interesting for bands to have this aesthetic role. I mean band pictures are just such a strange concept to me, and by that I mean that there are definitely some archetypes that go on: ‘Oh, we’re just gonna be standing in this field, with this unplugged guitar, staring off into space, wearing this black t-shirt.’ I don’t know – it’s, like, super interesting to me, and we do a lot of research into coming up with the band photos. Just looking at tons and tons of band photos…”
8. And I think that old spiritual keyword plays a fundamental role within those of yours that I’ve seen. It’s a word that’s pretty well inextricable from the essence of Prince Rama, whatever that may be. You must be bored of discussing the Hare Krishna thing by now though, right..?
“I guess other people aren’t bored!”
Well no, I mean it’s unorthodox to say the least! But does that backdrop aid you in finding a spiritual connection with others, and indeed to really kindle that more personal, and more pertinently artistic connection with your sister?
“I think myself and my sister are pretty spiritually connected. Obviously. Anyone who has a sibling can vouch for that, but yeah! It is one side of the coin that people tend to focus on – that we came from this kind of unusual background – but to me, it was something that we grew up within, this reclusive religious setting, but it was something that we never really felt fully integrated into. I think music therefore became this way for us to construct this spiritual language, or spiritual interface to, like, interact with the world at large. Other people, and ourselves, really!”
9. The world at large is probably a little overrated anyway – polluted by streams of endless list, amongst other probably more noxious things. The song says it’s the season to be jolly, but it also appears to be the time of the season for the compiling of these interminable inventories of whatever – the end of years concluded come the turn of November. Has there been anything released this year – the year which may or may not turn out to be the end of everything – that you guys have been particularly taken by?
“See, it’s not really the time for lists for me – I’d be the worst person to make a list! I’ve got no idea as to what’s come out this year. What came out this year? I mean I know a couple albums my friends put out like the Ariel Pink album, or the Animal Collective album but I’m really trying to think of anything else! I dunno, man! I mean, like, I haven’t really been keeping up with music lately.”
10. Is there any relevance to keeping yourselves as well informed as possible?
“If you’re influenced by your peers, then yeah! You really need to try and keep up with them! If you’re worried about keeping up with trends and stuff, you totally should. You should be checking Pitchfork every single day. I, personally, haven’t been on that website in three years, so I’m not the one worth asking! It’s not like I’m anti learning about new bands; I just feel as though I go about doing it in a more organic way. I mean I don’t go through the internet, but obviously we play a lot of shows and we hear a lot of bands play so I do listen to a lot of what’s going on right now. But I listen to it in real life – I haven’t listened to the MP3s on Facebook…”
More IRL than URL, then…
“Call me old-fashioned, but I’m more of an IRL kinda girl!”
Top 10 Hits Of The End Of The World is out now on Paw Tracks.