Prince Rama: Interview
“We need gushes of blood, we need zombies on motorcycles, 12 Abercrombie models, muscle men with glitter sweat.”
On the day we interviewed Prince Rama, the San Francisco Bay Area suffered a structural meltdown when the unions representing Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the region’s hybrid commuter rail/subway system, went on strike, shutting down the system. In addition, the possibility that AC Transit, the bus system that serves the cities of Oakland and Berkeley among others in the East Bay, would also impose a work stoppage for its union loomed over everyone’s heads, potentially turning the situation into a surreal nightmare. Combined with a sudden call into San Francisco at a far earlier time than anticipated (which removed the possibility of at least getting into the city by a ride with elzee), it required sheer deduction and luck to be able to slip into the city without tension or conflict. The matter of getting to the New York-based duo, who were located in the Mission District at the time, was further exacerbated by riding the Muni, an already terrible transit system that had to be burdened with the additional would-be BART riders.
But, in a way, it fits the context of Prince Rama’s own recent forays. The Lawson sisters released the incredible Top Ten Hits at The End of the World last year, just prior to the uneventful Mayan calendar extravaganza. Channeling 10 bands in a possible future playing their last hit single before the end of everything, Prince Rama also examined the notion of time and change, seeing the very notion of apocalypse as more a shift than a conclusion. Instrumentalist Taraka had further expounded upon these notions in the Now Age Manifesto. Chatting with them in a cafe near the Chapel, which they would play later that night, Taraka (who primarily spoke, unless noted) and percussionist Nimai discussed the manifesto and elaborated on their new short film, Never Forever, before the latter sister left midway through to settle issues involving screening said film.
Let’s first talk about Never Forever. What ultimately inspired that film?
A lot of things. What in particular about it?
The aesthetics and the vision of it, I suppose, since I haven’t seen it yet.
Taraka: Hopefully, if we’re able to find the right cable, you’ll be able to screen it tonight! [laughs] I don’t know. I guess a lot of it was just sort of… this friend of ours approached us first. It wasn’t really us behind the idea to make this movie. This friend listened to our album, and she got really into it. Then she said, “I really want to make this movie. If you could do anything to make the movie, what would you have in it?” We were all, “Really? You really wanna know?” So, we just started going down the laundry list of all of the crazy things we see in our music: “We need gushes of blood, we need zombies on motorcycles, 12 Abercrombie models, muscle men with glitter sweat.” She was just writing things down, going, “Uh huh, uh huh.” And we said, “Dude, I don’t know if this is really going to happen.” Even up until the first day of shooting, we didn’t really know if this was going to happen. Then we got there on the set, and we thought “Holy shit…”
Nimai: It’s really happening.
Taraka: It’s really happening. Every single thing we just said is, like, whoa. A lot of it is just, you get inspired by listening to things, and seeing what images come to you. There’s a lot of obvious listening to the songs, and seeing what spontaneously arose from this stuff, and just creating a world from that.
Would you say this is an extension of the album?
Taraka: In a way.
Nimai: We don’t know we are going to do this, whenever we record a new album. But it’s all a visual representation of the songs.
So, as said, it’s very much a laundry list in terms of stuff you wanted in there…
Taraka: Kind of, and we also have this overall theme. It’s a pretty loose narrative structure, pretty abstract. Loosely, we’re all interested in this idea of forever, how it can be contained, and how apocalyptic events transpire in everyday life, in a lot of ways. I wouldn’t even say that this movie is set in a distant future. I mean, it is, but it’s also set in no time at all. It’s looking at our own time and making something really surreal out of it. Black holes, infinity, pop stars, beaches, uh…
Taraka: Yeah, yeah, attaining immortality through perfection of the body. It’s different ways of seeking immortality and perfection of self and, ultimately, through the destruction of self reaching the perfection of self.
It’s good that you mention that, because my next point would be about some of these things that you expounded upon in the Now Age manifesto. I actually skimmed through some of that today, though I didn’t read it carefully…
Don’t read it carefully. It’s better to just get an impression, and make it up as you go along.
That works. Just so that we’re kind of on the same page, I understand the Now Age as having this ever-permanent, ever-present state of affairs and state of mind, while having no past, no future, and no general place. Am I correct in this?
No, that sounds great. It’s simultaneously having a past-present-future, and no past-present-future. It’s having all of them contained in the same now, but not looking at them as these separate things. You reach out to them at one point or another.
Sounds about right. So, I got a few questions that came out of that. The first thing that came to mind: You talk about the use of triangles, and how it is devolved into kitsch. And yet, when you created these sort of Venn Diagrams, you used triangles. Why continue using them, then?
Well, that was the whole point: To take and reclaim these symbols, and resurrect them from their devolution into kitsch, into a symbol that is meaningful again. Or something that can convey your own personalized engagement with this world. For me, it was like taking these triangles, that had been — and I’m not critical of it, but it’s interesting to me that we have the triangle, and this idea of threes and the Trinity is this ancient, sacred notion. Now, we just see these hipsters with triangles everywhere as this whole visual thing, this visual aesthetic fluffness. What triangles symbolize is a sort of code: That’s all that symbols are. They are these portals that you can link up this world with more abstract realms. So, by putting the triangles together, it’s creating this diamond realm in between the two worlds, where terrestrial forces meet heavenly forces and link up. But you can put anything there. It’s an open shell. I’m just interested in using them as a map, or even a Venn Diagram. It’s like a code from which you can translate anything into them.
But this idea of originality, that you are creating something entirely new, and that no one else has ever done this before, I don’t think that exists. I think that’s a misconception of what originality really is. It’s a really self-centered way of looking at originality.
This may be inadvertent, but the overlap of the triangles, as you display them, resemble an hourglass as well.
Yeah, there’s definitely that.
In terms of that fusion of time, would you say it relates to the concept of history ending, as pertained by Fukuyama?
You know, I skimmed over that essay a few years ago. Could you just refresh me on what exactly he was referring to?
Umm, yeah, I guess. I’m probably wrong on this and someone will…
No, no, there’s no right or wrong. If it’s what you remember, then that’s what you took from it.
Okay then. From my understanding, with the fall of communism and the Soviet Union in the late 80s, history had reached a critical endpoint in which there was no sense of rivalry or competition, no dialectic battle to speak of, because everything had basically converted to this sort of capitalistic aspect. I feel like this concept could be relatable to what you are discussing, with the Now Age, of there being this endpoint, where there is nothing to expect, and no enemy to face. With much of history being built on conflict, there is nothing left to say, because there is no conflict left.
But it’s always that way. I think that conflict’s always there. I think that this idea of having an endpoint, with the struggle ending all that is true. But it’s obviously not the end of history itself, because it’s continuing, and there’s other things going on outside that. I mean, we were just in Russia, and there is obviously a lot going on there. There’s still plenty of conflict and struggle. It’s not like that had ended at any point.
But I like this idea of apocalypse now, the idea of time ending and losing that struggle between past and future. That creates this now portal. The apocalypse and the idea of the end of time is this idea of the end of struggle, or even the idea of presentness where things are in limbo or floating about. I would disagree that things are in any sort of limbo or floating about. Things are always moving, things are always changing. It’s like consciousness: It’s shifting. That space is always there… It’s almost every year where there’s some date where the world’s predicted to end. If you look back on timelines of apocalypses throughout the history of the world, it just seems like every year. It’s not just a Communist thing.
People project their own mortality or their own inner struggles on a macro scale, because they’re looking at these ideas of political struggles and historical struggles. But really, it’s just these macro projections of their inner selves. So, every generation needs to have some ending or some way to grapple with their own mortality on a more a collective scale. I don’t even know if this is even answering your question.
It gets to the idea. It just reminds me of that guy who predicted two apocalypses in the same year…
Taraka: Harold Camping. After the first one failed, he had to recalculate really quick.
Nimai: That guy’s an idiot. [laughs]
What’s funny is that he lives across the bay, in Alameda.
Not surprising. Didn’t he die?
I don’t know.
Nimai: Maybe he committed suicide.
Taraka: No, I think he had a stroke or something right after his second one because he was so stressed out. So, the world did end for him.
In this context of apocalyptic vision, did channeling that through Top Ten Hits At the End of the World relate to this vision?
Yeah, definitely. We were already channeling so many apocalypses, just on a micro scale in our lives. A lot of shit went down in our personal lives during the making of this album: Relationships ending, moving out of houses, people dying. So there were so many micro-endings which were channeled. In that, there is a clarity that comes out of that, or this idea of what an apocalyptic vision is. It becomes this idea of foreverness.
The thing that is so interesting about a lot of apocalyptic visions is that it is not all chaos and destruction. I feel like the apocalypse is this frame to enter into perfection. This is why pop music appealed so much to me about this. When thinking about what an apocalyptic vision would be, it would be pop music, because for me, pop music is this ultimate framework [onto] which people can project their own inner endings. On so many levels, if you just look lyrically at a lot of pop songs, they talk a lot about loving someone forever, or, “I’ll be with you forever,” this idea of infinity existing within things. That message goes on after these people die. So then people will be singing Elvis karaoke 50 years after he’s passed away channel that sentiment of him, and still embody that message of infinity every time you sing or listen to it.
What triangles symbolize is a sort of code: That’s all that symbols are. They are these portals that you can link up this world with more abstract realms. So, by putting the triangles together, it’s creating this diamond realm in between the two worlds, where terrestrial forces meet heavenly forces and link up.
In a lot of ways, too, pop music encourages the ending of human beings, but in this way that’s not destructive. It’s actually this advancement towards the perfection of the human being. Especially now, in 2013, we have all this technology for recording and making things so hi-fi that they don’t sound like they’re even made by humans anymore. You can make things so perfect, that it’s taken the human element out of it completely. So it becomes this vehicle for perfection that actually transcends human. And these pop stars have to be superhuman people, for we project so much on them, they become these supernatural beings. That’s a really big part of being a pop star: Having a supernatural element. You can’t be human and be a pop star. You’ll die. People who were pop stars and committed suicide did it because of that struggle between being human and supernatural. It’s like Kurt Cobain couldn’t reach that state of being supernatural, he was all, “I wanna be human, this is not human enough.”
I think a big part of that was he was still very much a twee kid at heart, and that has that humanistic element of reversion to it.
Though in that context, I understand that you see apocalypse not as an end, but a change.
It is just a change! Apocalypse literally translates from Greek as “lifting of the veil” or “revelation.” So that’s what it is: Taking this veil you have over reality and just lifting it.
It’s a good point. In that respect, from your piece, you have said that originality is dead. Would you say that you reject the overall concept?
I don’t reject the concept. It’s a misdirected or misinterpreted concept. When I think about originality, I think of being in touch with the origin, and in that sense, I definitely believe in originality. But this idea of originality, that you are creating something entirely new, and that no one else has ever done this before, I don’t think that exists. I think that’s a misconception of what originality really is. It’s a really self-centered way of looking at originality.
Speaking of which, I’ve found that a lot of pop culture has this very specific self-centered element to it in recent years. Do you think that, in order for change to be acquired, that has to be dismantled?
Yeah. To me, when you have a veil over your eyes, and all you can see is yourself, it’s a very myopic vision. So yeah, when that veil is lifted up, that sense of isolation is taken out.
Speaking of that self-reflection, the aesthetics that you point out in this is very much scaled on reflecting light. Under McLuhan’s interpretation that light is considered pure information, would you consider your aesthetics a deflection or evasion of information?
Well, just as much as light is considered information, you’re not going to see that information without darkness. So that contrast is really important. You could have a room of pure light, and yet you’re not going to get any information from that in the sense of discerning things from other things. You need both.
So it’s more of a way to shape things.
I think it’s just participating. It’s a matter of being engaged. With the light from your environment, a lot of times you’re not as aware. You’re taking a lot of information, obviously, and you’re creating a scheme of your surroundings from that. But you’re not necessarily participating in that. Whereas if you…[examines herself] Well, I’m not actually doing a good job of wearing reflective materials right now. But it’s more of the idea of taking light in and then just reflecting it out, and it creates light patterns. All of a sudden, you’re very aware of these light patterns, and all of a sudden you’re very aware of the light of the light that’s coming in, whereas you might not have been before. It’s actually more of a game of just trying make yourself more aware. I’m not necessarily saying people should wear more sequins and stuff. It’s just more that anything you can do to make yourself more aware of how you’re engaging or participating in your environment.
She was just writing things down, going, “Uh huh, uh huh.” And we said, “Dude, I don’t know if this is really going to happen.” Even up until the first day of shooting, we didn’t really know if this was going to happen. Then we got there on the set, and we thought “Holy shit…”
Speaking of awareness, I noticed that, in your manifesto, you separated consciousness and awareness as two separate elements. Isn’t consciousness a form of awareness?
I use the word awareness because there’s not a better word to use. But what I’m actually interested in is conscious unconsciousness, or unconscious consciousness, if that makes sense. It’s not that they’re mutually exclusive, rather they come together at this one point to become unconscious consciousness. Because when you’re too conscious, then you just become one of those people that’s very aware of yourself in this way that’s maybe selfish and rude. You’re still thinking too much. However, in a concert, that moment when you’re at your favorite band’s concert, you’re dancing, and the lights and fog are all going, you’re totally in the zone, you’re aware of everything that is going on around you, but you’re not thinking about it. That’s what I’m interested in. It’s almost like trance. It’s like in meditation, if you’re too conscious or aware of being conscious, you’re missing the point, because you are thinking about it too much.
Well, I got a couple more questions, but they seem kind of silly, like how the Hyparctic Song could work in the vacuum of space…
That’s a cool question. The thing is, the Hyparctic Song isn’t actually based on any song. It’s that idea that resonates. Your ears are producing frequencies every time there’s a frequency coming in, and what you’re actually hearing is that resonance between what your brain is producing and the informations that’s taken in.
So it’s a reverse sound, as it were…
It’s more of a resonance, this sound that you’re producing just by your own vibration, and what’s being produced in your external environment. Like that moment when you hear something, and you think, “Oh my God, YES,” that epiphany moment. That’s the Hyparctic Song. It could be anything. It’s different for everyone. So, maybe in a vacuum… I don’t know. But the thing is, the Hyparctic Song isn’t necessarily sound. Light is just sound sped up, for example. So, the Hyparctic Song can be something that you see that really strikes you, and you feel that moment. So, as I said, in a vacuum… I’m not sure. I’ve never been in a vacuum. I’m curious. I’m sure it’s possible somehow.
Now, I feel you may have inadvertently answered this, but couldn’t the Hyparctic Song, by nature of its apotheosis/deification, be considered an icon?
Well, no, because the Hyparctic Song isn’t concentrated. It isn’t this [grabs and bangs a water bottle] this water bottle, it’s the way this water bottle makes me feel. It’s the reaction of me responding to this. It’s not the statue of Buddha, it’s me reacting to it. So it’s not the icon in and of itself. It’s more of this effect it produces and the affect that it produces.
[Photo: Michael Collins]