Change is a funny thing. Sometimes change occurs without design and happens gradually. Yet sometimes, a change occurs that's so drastic, it can only be the result of one contributing factor. For Taraka Larson, art school provided the inspiration for the radical alteration not only in the style of music she wrote, but also her outlook on life.
Before attending art school Larson didn't the write the kind of expansive, genre-bending music that Prince Rama is known for. Instead, Larson and her bandmates were playing in what she's described in the past as a "Blink 182 rip off band," though she admits now that, "Calling us a Blink-182 rip-off band would have been very generous. If we would've heard that, we would have been very proud."
Whatever the case, Larson and Prince Rama could now not sound further from a catchy pop-punk outfit. Instead, the moody and atmospheric songs they write are more akin to entire movie scores than two minute numbers. Reached on the phone somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon, she refuses to understate the importance which art school had on her.
"In a lot of ways, just the break from music had a big impact on us. We were in high school, spending too much time on our music. But once we started art school, there was a total shift in focus towards visual art. We took all that energy we put into writing songs and put it into something visual. It was a very different way of processing information or expression. Taking what we did and re-translating it was an interesting process too. I got really involved in 8-mm film classes, which had a huge impression on me. The way sound was used. Even silent films; they were so musical to me, even though there was no sound being used. I started to think about editing and the way time is structured. We thought about the psychological impact of songs and began to treat each song as part of a montage. I guess I began to think about music in a more cinematic way and less verse-chorus-verse."
Now operating free of constraints and in a sense, free of genres, Prince Rama have evolved into an unpredictable act, laden with intent and possibility. Over the course of Trust Now, their latest six song effort, tracks like Summer Of Love and Portaling weave together tribal chanting, intense hypnotic percussion and a stark sense of self-awareness. With heavy use of synthesizers to boot, Trust Now is not for the light-hearted. Serious music has serious consequences, and Larson doesn't approach the song-writing process lightly. When asked if she has an idea of how her songs will turn out or if she dives into a song with the plan to take it as far as she can, Larson offers a different take.
"For me, it's all about free associative therapy. Each song starts out as a problem. And then it becomes a matter of working through that dilemma. The songs aren't really done until that problem has transformed. I look at it as a chemical process: turning shit into gold. I go in my room, shut my door and it becomes this hermetically sealed environment. I stay in there until I feel like the song has been put through the ringer. You know the song is finished when the song has changed you."
In listening to Larson, who speaks with a pensive and slightly curious tone, it becomes clear that Prince Rama as an entity aren't hung up on the future. If Trust Now is any indication, the band will continue to grow in an unpredictable but seemingly organic fashion.
"I like the idea of not having an end goal in mind. Instead, we're just trying to respond to the present moment. Right now, we have no idea what our next album is going to sound like. It's strange; at what point can you stop taking things in? At what point can you stop being influenced? How do you think about the ending point of anything? You don't really go into a relationship with someone thinking about how it's going to end. Or you don't get a job and start to think about when you're going to quit. So we just sort of take it day by day. We joke around about the day when we're post-career artists and how much we'd love to embark on the casino tour path."
While it's highly unlikely that Trust Now will turn the heads of the casino-going crowd, the issue of playing an album that's as textured as Trust Now is one that had to be brought up. Although her days playing easy pop-punk songs may be behind her, Larson insists the challenges of bringing Trust Now to life onstage aren't as overwhelming as one may imagine.
"This album was conceived live. By touring with them, they took on their own form and shape. By the time we were ready to record them, we were so used to playing them live. It might come as a surprise, but this is one of the more stripped-down records I've ever recorded. Most of what you hear can be reproduced live. It just means I've got to act like an octopus for 45 minutes."
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
Prince Rama will play The Forum Theatre as part of Sugar Mountain Festival on Saturday, January 14.