Prince Rama is Dead — Long Live Prince Rama

Prince Rama is Dead — Long Live Prince Rama

A few days after I got married, a friend sent me a video: sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson holding hands with my new nephew, spinning and smiling as the wedding band played Everclear’s “I Will Buy You a New Life.” The song was strictly in violation of my “no new or corny music” edict, but it didn’t matter: the sisters who were once Prince Rama would forever go down in the history of my marriage, a spark of magic, a flame of good. And that’s what that band has always been.

Prince Rama officially announced their breakup this week with a final EP, Rage in Peace. The time has come for Nimai and Taraka to travel other paths: Nimai is working on a cookbook in Texas; Taraka is now making music under her own name. Although the band’s dissolution is sad, of course, it’s edifying to see these women shedding old skins, stepping into something new — making something new. As anyone with a favorite band knows, every act runs its course — except maybe the Rolling Stones. But separate or together, the sisters bring their unique, wonderful energy  to everything they do.

I first met the Larsons when I chatted with them for MTV about their 2011 album Trust Now — and went on to interview them in a sauna, book them for shows, enlist Nimai as a writer for my former employer, the Talkhouse, and eventually become friends with them. I saw them play what would be their last show in a tiny college theater and cried on stage with the rest of the audience as they finished their last song. Nimai had decided she no longer wanted to be a musician, and, after banging the drums in the grips of a very severe flu at that intimate show, she relocated across the country to find a new fortune.

“I couldn’t imagine myself as anything other than in Prince Rama, but I also couldn’t imagine continuing Prince Rama without Nimai,” Taraka tells me this week via email.  “And if I was being completely honest with myself, I think there was a part of me that started feeling trapped by the identity we had built around the band and felt excited by the prospect of exploring who I was outside of all the spandex, glitter and energy drinks as well.”

The Larsons had been playing in various bands together since high school, making indie art pop heavily influenced by their upbringing in a Florida Hare Krishna community. As Taraka says, their identity as a band was all about theatricality: costumes and props, elaborate narratives about the end of the world and other dimensions. It was art project as much as it was band.

I was honestly surprised when I got to know the women better and discovered Taraka’s affinity for Guns N’ Roses and Nimai’s unabashed love for Kid Rock. Nimai and I even once set out to have a “Basic Day,” in which we ate sushi, drank Starbucks and visited a Hollister store. I can see how being Prince Rama could be a bit tiring when all you want to do is blast “November Rain” in peace.

Taraka agrees. “There are many plus sides to creating a highly recognizable stage persona,” she says. “The danger of this is sometimes the mask can be so overpowering and convincing that you mistake it for yourself, and forget who you really are behind the wings.”

By the time Nimai decided to quit, Taraka was already chafing under the confines of image. “Right around the time Nimai told me she was leaving the band we played a Halloween show and saw two audience members dressed up as Prince Rama,” she says. “The likeness was so convincing that I was stunned. In that moment, I felt like they were more Prince Rama than we were.”

Rage in Peace represents Taraka’s goodbye to Prince Rama. She put it all together at an artist residency at the Wassaic Project up in the Catskills; she had been working on a solo album, but ended up hitting a wall. “It’s kind of like when you find yourself rebounding after a bad break up,” she says. “I realized as much as I was trying to grow and change, I was really just treading water trying to sidestep the dark forest of heartbreak I had to go through to get to the other side where the real growth and change lies.”

“I had written countless songs about death, and yet I spent most of my time in Prince Rama avoiding it,” she continues. “Here I was being given a rare and special opportunity to actually experience firsthand what all my songs were talking about. So one night when I was feeling rather desperate and exasperated I decided to sit down and have a long talk with the spirit of Prince Rama and asked… W.W.P.R.D. ? What Would Prince Rama Do? And the answer was clear: it would die with gusto! With enthusiasm! With joy! It wouldn’t just rest in peace… it would rage!”

The band had a few unfinished tracks meant for their last album, 2016’s Xtreme Now, so Taraka decided to finish them as a way of letting Prince Rama go. “I finished the songs on the day Jesus Christ was crucified,” she says. She then built a bonfire, which she circled wearing every show outfit the band had ever donned all at once, a quirky Russian doll. As she walked around the fire, she shed these clothes and burned them — along with other band paraphernalia. The ashes were pressed then into seven-inch editions of Rage in Peace.

“At the very end of the ritual, when all the records, flyers, reviews and layers had been burned, I was left naked and alone in an empty womb,” she says. “I dipped my hands into a bucket of white paint and painted my body white, like a blank canvas.”

As for the sisters themselves, Taraka says no longer being in a band together has done wonders for their relationship. They can be just that: sisters. And that’s what they were that day at my wedding; the band was broken up then even if it hadn’t been announced. They were free, they were dancing, and they were beautiful. Prince Rama is dead. Long live Prince Rama.

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