Atika Chadha: I’ve been hearing about this near-death experience you had on an island off Estonia and how it left you with a certain power — Can you tell us about that and how it manifests in Xtreme Now?
Taraka Larson: It's difficult to say because it's definitely one of those experiences where once you start talking about it, you feel like you're doing a disservice to it. The whole situation that we were out there in Estonia was really magical to begin with. The island was pretty much deserted, so you are face-to-face with ruins and spirits that inhabit the ruins. There wasn't much interference from modern times.
I went inside one of the ruins and had this moment where I felt not inside my body anymore. I felt like I was experiencing everything at this place outside of time. Everything became very gooey. You could just reach out and touch one of the bricks and it was totally alive, and you were reaching that time period. There was no linear separation between between the future and the past, it was just simultaneously happening.
It was this really kinesthetic experience as well. I had these really incredible auditory hallucinations where I was just hearing symphonies from a place and instruments I couldn't really describe to you. They were not man made instruments. And everything was kind of interconnected. You hear something that changes the song. You hear a fox rustling outside — that changes the song. You walk from one area to the other, and that changes the song. Sort of interconnected in that way. And it just made me recognize how much music is really a sort of fabric that underlies everything else, not in some sort of a new age cheesy way, but this physical, tangible way. For whatever reason, that started giving me visions of extreme sports. I mean, I don't really do any sports, or had thought about extreme sports before. I tried out for every sport in high school and I sucked at it.
I kept seeing visions of the future, but in that space there is no future or past, it all is just happening at that moment. There were these people dropping out of planes wearing parachutes of Mona Lisa's face on them, and unicorn tapestries stretched across pastiches. I was able to sense that there was this progression in aesthetics moving towards this embrace of speed. And this embrace of hyperbolic look of kinetic movement with different ancient relics of the past. It was pretty far out. After that experience I was kinda like "Whoa." I had writer's block for a month afterwards. I thought, Why would I try to make music after I heard what music could be? It would just pale in comparison.
So I just started watching a lot of extreme sports videos like Go Pro Channel, Fortune Atlantic, Longslides...just fucking six hours of watching extreme sports. I realized that all the music for extreme sports didn't really make any sense with it, you know? I heard other music along with extreme sports and it was so epic. These people are putting their lives on the line and there's just this weird sort of dubstep or Jack Johnson thing going on. I don't know who made this decision but it didn't make any sense whatsoever. So, I realized there was a void in the extreme sports genre.
It became this challenge to make music that came from a place which was trying to recollect the shards of that memory of being inside that Viking ruin off Estonia. Hearing all these different things and realizing that you can't put all of that experience into music... But through the blends of pop, you can take some little puzzle pieces from it and then create these little vignettes that encapsulate the facets of the prism. So that was what I was trying to do.
AC: So almost like a soundtrack to extreme sports?
TL: Yeah! Totally.
AC: I went to your show in Charlottesville last April, and your stage presence seems to be so hypnotic. Especially with the repetition of the lyrics like in “Now is the Time of Emotion”. Are there any roles repetitions and mantras play in your music and in your life?
TL: Yeah, Definitely! I feel like anything that you repeat to yourself over and over has that hypnotic quality to it. Sound is just pure vibration of air particles, you keep putting that vibration out there and it changes the air particles. So you can physically change reality through sound. I think that's what mantras were all about, sacred syllables to put sacred sound vibrations out there to purify the atmosphere or purify the person who is chanting them. I think all music does that same thing, it totally is the modern day mantra. And there is something very powerful about that. I definitely am very aware of the lyrics I write, making sure there are positive vibrations being put out there.
AC: I’ve noticed the 80’s workout theme and pattern in music videos like “Bahia”. Does the way you present yourself, onstage or in music videos, reflect some of the themes of Prince Rama or Xtreme Now in any way?
TL: I think again there is this relationship with the body and the music that is going through it, so I think doing things like 80's workout videos and dance videos — it's all employing that same idea. When you're singing this music and doing things with your body it becomes one sculpture, one kinetic sculpture. I feel like for Xtreme Now, my dream is that actual extreme sports athletes could use this music as a sort of motivation. I feel that would be the ultimate workout video.
I actually have a friend that is a pro skier out in Squaw Valley. He streamed our album from the top of the mountain out there. He just blasted it while he was going down. That was the direction we want to go for sure. Out of the gym, into the mountains.
AC: You have said Xtreme Now symbolizes extreme honesty and being present in the moment. Do you ever find yourself not feeling that way?
TL: Yeah, all the time! I think that's why I'm so obsessed with it. Because it’s a daily struggle for me. It's a daily struggle for a lot of people, I think. And it's especially difficult in this day and age because there is so much to distract you. There’s just different things you can do, like I try different techniques to be in the now. I did a series of Now Age exercises over the course of these past two years. They were different exercises you can do to really put yourself face to face with the present moment and experience it on an intense level and not in a distracted way.
Just doing things on a daily basis that confront fear, that confront distractions. It can be something very simple, like when you're waiting for the subway, notice what the air smells like, notice how the air feels on your skin, and what the ground feels like underneath your feet. Just doing these very simple exercises, observing details. More often than not you're put back in that place. Music definitely helps too, but it's controversial listening to music. A lot of people think, "Oh, you put on your headphones and just tune out and you're not really present in your environment anymore,” but I think that's the way you feel when you're listening to the wrong music. Music should always be a service of putting you in that present moment. So it can be a help for that.
TL: I had such a late night in DC...This is like the pre-coffee rollin' outta bed interview.
AC: (Laughs) No worries. I actually wanted to go to that show last night but I've been violently ill, which is such a bummer.
TL: Oh no! Geez. Well, violently ill actually weirdly very much puts you in the present. I had some serious health problems writing this record, and I really appreciate how much it did. It doesn't put you in the present in a pleasant way, you're thinking, "I feel like I could be retching right now". But you know, it does put you in the present for sure and it creates a kind of awareness.
AC: Yeah, definitely makes you aware.
TL: (Laughs). Yeah, and that first day you feel better, you're like "Wow. This feels great".
AC: Still waiting on that to come around!