No New Age
We already knew that sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson were deft hands at music and art. Their latest album, Trust Now, the first without longtime member Michael Collins, is altogether more focused and rhythmic and lovely than any of their previous work, and their recently completed soundtrack to Exorcise (more on that below) is Trontastic dark-synth goodness. Meanwhile, they showed off their conceptual art chops during a stint as Artists-In-Residence at the Issue Project Room, and they've penned a manifesto that is a fellow traveler to Hunter Hunt-Hendricks' (Liturgy) infamous treatise on transcendental black metal. But far from being overly-serious and wonkish, during this chat with Ink 19, they're funny, sarcastic, and in possession of minds that race from one idea to the next. Let's start at the VERY beginning...
What was it that made each of you want to be a performer?
Taraka: We've been doing performance since we were...
Nimai: Very young.
Taraka: I can't even remember a time when we weren't performing.
Nimai: We started out with dance class, dance recitals when we were three. As soon as we could walk we had tap shoes. (laughter) And after dance we moved to... That was in the tiny town where we semi-grew up and then when I was four or five we moved to this other town in Texas where we got into acting and at the community playhouse we'd try out for all the plays, and we got into dance again and competed in dance. I mean we did dance for like, seven years, a long time. We'd choreograph our own dances for talent shows and things like that. That part, the performance aspect came pretty natural. As far as making a band though, we did that so we could win a high school Battle of the Bands and get $50. (laughter)
Taraka: We were like, "Fifty dollars! We can do that!"
Nimai: We watched one high school Battle of the Bands and it was all Sublime cover bands and we were like, "WE can do that!" None of us knew how to play instruments, but we were like, "Whatever!" (laughter)
Taraka: We recorded this one four-track demo. It was pretty funny.
Nimai: We lost man, we lost so bad.
Taraka: We came in last place.
Nimai It was so embarrassing! We had spray-painted t-shirts, we thought we were going to be the next hot, amazing thing. We totally blew it. (laughter) We were so horribly horrified from that experience that we regrouped in time for the next talent show, we all switched instruments. We're not good at those, let's switch around, we figured it out. And then we won. The next year! (laughter) So with that kind of confidence from winning the high school Battle of he Bands, with that under our belts, we could finally (laughter) break into the show circuit of Gainesville, FL. Playing at the Wayward Council, CMC...
Taraka: Common Grounds... The first shows at the Common Grounds were like...
Nimai: A dream come true! (laughter)
Taraka: "We're playing Common Grounds!" We thought that was the hottest shit...
Nimai: We thought everyone was going to ask for our autographs and shit. (laughter)
When Michael Collins left after Shadow Temple, did the band change?
Taraka: Definitely. This last record was without him.
Nimai: And it was scary because we both relied on him. A lot during our live sets. Because he had this massive wall of sound, electro-synth wash over everything. And suddenly without that, it's just us, man. We had to step up our game. I think our sound got a lot more focused.
Taraka: You can definitely hear that while listening to the album.
Nimai: I think it's just more clear.
Taraka:: More stripped-down.
Nimai: You keep saying more stripped-down, but I don't think it's stripped-down, I think it's...
Taraka: Not in a bad way!
Nimai: It's not like we're all of the sudden Cat Power, I'm just saying we're like....
Nimai: What? She's like an acoustic guitarist! I'm just saying that our sound has gotten boiled down to the essentials. Bach Flower Remedy of what we used to be.
Taraka: (laughter) We're the Bach Flower Remedy of what we used to be!? That's a New Age quote if I've ever heard one! (laughter) Look at this hippie band! We're never going to be goth, talking about flower essences and Rescue Remedy.
Nimai: Oops you can delete that part!
I wanted to ask about the karaoke videos you made to promote Trust Now.
Taraka: There were a few reasons behind it. The first was that I think the remix thing is played out. Kind of lame. I'm not saying everything is lame. I do remixes for people, whatever, it's kind of fun, I'll admit. But you just want to do something new and different. With how much time it takes to do a remix you have to really like someone to do this remix. And I don't want to just ask someone to do that for me because they're going to be sitting with this song for maybe 72 hours... it's like, hope you enjoy this! Get your name on that blog somewhere! Internet superstardom! I'm really interested in the mundane paranormalcy of karaoke. I feel like it's this weird, banal way of channeling. When someone gets up there and does this Elvis karaoke -- "You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog" -- and really nails it, that guy is channeling Elvis. He's tapped into his spirit. He's not the person he is for one moment in time...
Nimai: But it's also his rendition. He can own it and he can feel proud of it.
Taraka: He feels that song. It's his for that moment. I like the idea of this mystical participation and it's like fucking owning that, you know? So I thought, let's do it, that would be so fun. And it was. It was really fun. We had a lot of people back out that were really nervous and scared. It's funny, even musicians who do solo projects, they get really nervous. Because getting up there is... Doing karaoke is totally different than getting up there with a bunch of pedals and a loop station, bending down with your like jacket like this, you know what I mean? It's funny, the people who did ended up doing it were... this other side of them came out. It was cool.
Can you tell me about some of the work you're doing as artists in residence at the Issue Project Room (Brooklyn, NY)?
Nimai: We had a three-month installation at Issue Project Room. The first one being that exercise... I'm sure you saw the video in there on the merch table. It was designed around Utopia = No Person.
Taraka: The whole idea was to examine music's links to utopic space and how utopia is found in music, so we broke it down into three different categories: Utopia = No Person, Utopia = No Place, Utopia = No Time. Utopia in and of itself translates literally as "No place," so it's this negation of whatever's already there.
Nimai: So then, the first one was Utopia = No Person, which we explored the avenue of exercising, of working out your body, in order to exorcise your demons. So Taraka wrote this super-amazing, '80s vibe dark synth workout song, fifteen minutes, and we choreographed a fifteen-minute workout, exercise dance to it. And there's an exorcism, there's exercising, it's all about releasing the negativity, burning out your demons...
Taraka: The body is this utopic vehicle to access that state.
Nimai: I think everyone experiences that in gyms...
Taraka: Not everyone, I'm just like ugghhhhh.
Nimai: Okay, well, I have a gym membership (laughter) and I can tell you that I see people on those treadmills punching the air! It's so intense! (laughter) These people make these guttural screams when they're lifting up... It is so intense being in a gym. So I think we were channeling a lot of that energy, because it's actually pretty mystical what all of those dance instructors were talking about. Jane Fonda, all of them. They really have the psyche together of... "Don't sell yourself short." These key phrases like that. That really mess with your mind. Like, "Am I (pant)... working out (pant)... hard enough?" (laughter) So that was what the point of this dance was and we performed it... It was kind of like an endurance exercise, because we did it eight times in eight hours back to back for a rotating cast of characters who came in and worked out with us. So we were like the instructors with our wireless microphones and our visuals guy was doing these live visual feedbacks projected back behind us, just huge. His name is Julian Bozeman and he also made our Exorcise VHS, so those who want to do it at home in private...
Taraka: Can order it for $14.99...
Nimai: On imposemagazine.com! But anyway, that video is super-trippy and awesome. So we performed that live at Issue Project Room, and we just did it in Copenhagen again. Our second installation at Issue Project Room was Utopia = No Place, where we did an endurance jam session for four hours straight. We lugged in 400 pounds of dirt, set that on the ground, created this totally cool Disco Urban Natural -- was that what you called it? I don't know, we had some key phrase for it -- Environment where there was mylar, branches suspended from the ceiling, a makeshift campfire and all of these instruments around it in the soil. And everyone took their shoes off, and we just jammed. Whoever wanted to come in, it was free and open for four hours. So Taraka and I were over there like holding it down, and so as you could imagine I'm this total waterfall of sweat afterwards, it was so gross! (laughter) And we still had so much tearing down to do, 400 pounds of dirt! It was so fun! (laughter) Anyway, fast forward to the last one that we just did the day before this tour. On 11-11-11 we did the Apocalypse Through Karaoke...
Taraka: We recreated the end of the world through pop music.We looked at these old Billboard charts and looked at what the Number One hit singles were for each date that the world's been predicted to end.
Nimai: Like Helter Skelter, the Orthon Cult...
Taraka: Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, all this stuff. So we picked out what the Number One song was and made a karaoke video for it. So we had this directory of karaoke songs, eleven of them total, because it's 11-11-11, and people could just go in and pick the songs, and once they picked it, we'd get them to sing it, but it was slowed down, almost past the point of recognition. So a three-minute song would be like ten minutes. So they're up there for twelve minutes...
Nimai: On an octave pedal so they fit right in. "Ruahhh Rahhhhhh...." So it'd be like Faith Hill's "Breathe," they'd be like "Juuuust Brea... Oh shit it's still saying 'just' and I'm already at..." (laughter) It was so funny! And that Britney Spears song "Till the World Ends" actually was the Number One single on May 21, 2011!
Taraka: That whole weird Harold Camping Family Radio thing. It was weird looking at the songs. Some of them did correspond.... I mean the human psyche wants to make them correspond, but some of them were these weird messages of survival, like "Breathe" during Y2K or "Fallen" by Alicia Keys on 9/11! Or the Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" during the Jonestown Massacre! (laughter)
Nimai: So creepy! Or "Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles during the Orthon Cult, was that what it was? I mean, "You say goodbye and I say hello," and they're getting up on this spaceship. It's unbelievable how it coincided.
Taraka: Pop is like this funnel of mass consciousness. I feel like if there is to be any inter-dimensional messages, as these people are predicting with these apocalypses, they would use pop music, because it would be transmitted so broadly.
Nimai: So that was a lot of fun.
Were people getting freaked out?
Taraka: People were getting crazy.
Nimai: Yeah a lot of people were just getting really drunk...
Taraka: Really into it....
Nimai: Well, we set up a little bar inside the space like a karaoke bar. Apocalypse Karaoke, get your wine, get your beer! You know, I have to be drunk to do karaoke so I expected everyone else to be too. (laughter) We definitely made the Issue Project Room a lot of money that night.
What's next for you for the rest of the year?
Nimai: A lot of touring.
Taraka: We still have a lot of touring. We're going to Australia, we're going to SXSW, we're going to Europe again, but we're already working on a new album. Also Exorcise is going to be released on vinyl. Not Not Fun is going to put it out. (Editor's Note: Out now!) That will be fun. We also want to make a karaoke DVD of all that we described so you can kind of like take home this karaoke dvd with the booklet and everything.
Nimai: I didn't know that!
Taraka: I've been brainstorming some stuff on the road! (laughter) While we're driving....
Nimai: Stuff and things.
Taraka: Things and stuff. Stuff. Stuff. Stuff. With tons of F's at the end. Stufffffff-z-z-z Money Sign. (laughter) Smiley face. I hope you write down all those emoticons!