Formerly one half of psych-dance sibling duo Prince Rama, this week Taraka Larson released her first LP as a solo artist, Welcome to Paradise Lost on Rage Peace Records. Early single “Psychocastle” led Joyzine’s Paul F Cook to proclaim it “a mutinous, dopamine-inducing calling card for what I believe is more excitement yet to come” (read the full review), and the predicted thrills are served up by the bucketload on the album.
The record is shot through with an itchy impatience, unwilling or unable to stick with one thread for any longer than is absolutely necessary before the ants in its pants lead it to shoot off on another technicolour tangent, and incredibly it somehow manages to hang together, with never a moment of wasted motion. Packed to the brim with wonky psychedelic garage rock electricity, and coated in a hazy lo-fi mist that only adds to its immediacy, it’s a record that very nearly didn’t exist, with Larson having vowed never to make music again following the break up of Prince Rama, until a spell living in a Texas gallery with only a snake for company listening to old school punk, grunge, and obscure psych records prompted her to pick up a guitar and the songs came flooding out.
We caught up with Taraka and asked her to guide us through the album, track by track.
This song came to me all at once while on my daily walk and I thought to myself– wow that sounds like a good “first track” on a record. It just feels like a casual kind of “Hey you, how you been. Well, here’s what I’ve been up to since we last spoke.” Kind of like that moment at the beginning of a sequel when they catch you up on everything that happened in the previous movie to get you back up to speed. The album was already mostly finished, so in my head I thought maybe this would go on the next one. But then I sat down one late summer night with my acoustic guitar and hit record and ended up liking it so much I kept it. I didn’t even bother to turn off the air conditioner in the room while I was recording. I was like, well, here’s where I’m at. Whatever. Fuck it.
Welcome To Paradise Lost
One day, I found myself living in isolation sleeping on a sand floor with a 7 ft long constrictor snake. Prince Rama just broke up, me and my boyfriend just broke up, my bank account broke up– my life in general just felt pretty broken up. I started constructing this trashed simulated Garden of Eden in a gallery near my Texas hometown out of dreamlike fragments of my youth– a Nirvana poster, a burned Green Day CD-R, some spikey belts wrapped around dead trees. I picked up an electric guitar while the snake slept in the amp and wrote “Welcome To Paradise Lost” as a joke homage to Green Day, an anti-“Welcome to Paradise”. I wanted to make an anthem for innocence destroyed, a world turned upside down, an orgiastic celebration of ennui and disillusion. I wrote it for my inner teenager, so she would have a song to sing when she felt the absurd futility of pining for lost paradise– to whisper to her that perhaps paradise is nothing but another empty societal construction– a mirage-like prison of perfection– and the moment it is lost, we are left with the remembrance of some inner forgotten freedom.
Sad Blue Eyes
“Sad Blue Eyes” was technically the first song I wrote on this record. My boyfriend and I were in the midst of a terrible break up and he got mad and took off to go stay with his parents and I was left alone in my empty Brooklyn apartment, singing to all the walls the words I wish I had the courage to say to him. It was at that moment I realized I really loved this dude. Like, really truly loved him. Loved his sad blue eyes, his crooked smile, two holes in his blue jeans. The way he skipped stones. The way he’d dance in the driveway. I loved everything about him. And I realized I was making the stupidest mistake of my life by leaving him, so I wrote this song to hastily try and get him back. If you listen closely, my voice is cracking while I’m singing because I was trying my best to hold back the tears. Lucky for me, it worked.
Ride or Die
Sometimes when you feel like shit, it’s fun to imagine yourself as a total badass and write songs about your fantasy non-existent badass life. This song I wrote as an anthem for a fantasy motorcycle rally. I imagine a lawless, Luciferian motorcycle gang singing this at some dusty backwoods dive bar– with bottles breaking and people jumping and hollering on tables. It feels very much like some obscure, trashy motorcycle drinking song, or rallying battle cry when you’re about to go fuck shit up and cross over to that point of no return. Not that you should ever drink and ride a motorcycle. Hey this is my fantasy.
This was one of those annoying songs that came to me all at once. I say “annoying” because I was in the middle of enjoying a very nice hot bath after a day of non-stop fighting with my boyfriend, and got out for a minute to go sit on the balcony and get some fresh air and admire the stars then– boom– it came all at once. That hooky little chorus. That funny little lead guitar. And I knew if I didn’t drop everything and record it that very second I would lose it. All I wanted to do was to keep sitting in my bath. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like a freakin’ surgeon with a cosmic pager that goes off at the worst ever moments. I think that frustration comes out in the song. It’s sort of like a dialogue between me and all my favorite demons. The Needy Manipulative Girlfriend. The Raging Bitch. The Frustrated Tortured Artist. The Existential Teenager. I invited them all over for a freakin’ house party. The Slumber Party From Hell. Welcome to the Psychocastle.
This song actually came to me in a dream… in the dream I was at this lame birthday party at some 90s roller skating rink and who showed up, but Adam Fucking Sandler. Everyone at the party was beside themselves with giddy excitement. Going up to him. Shaking his hand. Fighting each other off to introduce themselves and kiss ass and talk about all their amazing accomplishments and their “super interesting and hilarious screenplay they’re working on and wouldn’t it be great if you (Adam Sandler) could give it a read…” When it was my turn to introduce myself though, for some reason I thought it’d be funny if I just said the thing no one ever wants to say to someone upon their first encounter. Instead of talking myself up, I said, “Hey my name is Taraka, and I’m a TOTAL FAILURE…” As soon as the words “Total Failure” came out of my mouth, it was like someone hit the magic button and suddenly all the lights went out, the disco ball came up, a live band started playing and all these synchronized dancers appeared out of nowhere on roller skates doing pirouettes and a hyper-choreographed dance number. I started singing this whole “Total Failure” song to Adam Sandler (who seemed totally non-plussed by the spectacle, by the way) and then— Fuck, I woke up. I rolled out of bed and quickly recorded it before I forgot.
I first stumbled down the 0010110 rabbit hole when my friend Tim Koh sent me a link to a seemingly innocuous YouTube video a few years ago. The video was lo-tech and featured a glitchy computer generated voice claiming to be transmitting from an off-planet source. At first I was amused, then intrigued, then horrified as the voice started recounting shockingly accurate details about my life and revealing answers to secrets I had disclosed to no one. Remember that moment in The Matrix when Keaunu Reeves’ computer addressed him and said “Wake up, Neo…”? It felt kind of like that. Like it wasn’t just a video I was listening to, but a future version of myself talking to me via some glitch in the algorithm disguised as a cheap lo-tech YouTube video. My life started getting a bit strange after that. Unexplainable coincidences, synchronicities and psychic phenomena started happening that all felt connected back to the 0010110 sequence somehow. 0010110 became like a riddle, a puzzle, or a mantra of sorts for me, and the more I repeated it, the more I felt like I was no longer just going through the motions of life, but participating in a video game of sorts. I wrote the “0010110” song as a hymn to binary code and got my friend Edan to lay some binary rap on it.
I was jammin one day with Edan in his flat in South Brooklyn. We had been jamming for hours and while he was still wailing away prodigiously on the moog, I was running out of lyrical ideas so I just started pulling out random records from his extensive collection and listing off the titles in a monotone voice into a delay pedal. “Hunters of Heaven… Mother… Disaster… Tago Mago… Lucifer Exit…” I stopped on that one. Lucifer Exit. I loved the sound of those words together. I repeated it over and over like a mantra. Lucifer Exit… Lucifer Exit… It gave me a new energy. A new force. I still never bothered to listen to the LP. Some pretentious avant-prog rock from the 70s. But that phrase…
So Happy For You
I was staring at a goldfish swimming around in a bowl at my boyfriend’s parent’s house. It was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s a comfort or a curse that they have such short memories. They forget then they are reminded again and again and again that they are trapped in that damn bowl. Swimming in loops. Alone. Forever. I felt if I kept looking at it I would start to cry. So I picked up a guitar and started singing for the goldfish instead. So that maybe in that moment it could feel my love on some faint telepathic level. But actually it’s a song about my sister.
Practice Makes Perfect
There is a backward message in this song. That’s all I have to say.
“Saw you in my dreams today in skull jail… skinmail…” That’s how the song starts and that’s how I feel about my body sometimes. Like, I have a real good heart but bad bones, empty thrones. It’s a constant struggle. To just feel like I’m not at war. With myself. Every waking second.
I killed someone during the process of making this album. I wrote music with her for a very long time. I spent some of the most amazing years of my life with her. Traveled all around the world. Sleeping in vans. I struggled to kill her off many times, but like a zombie she’d rise from the grave to haunt me. It was like a neverending war with the undead. Finally I realized the only way to let her go was to say these magic words… “Thank You.”
Deep Hollow is a road near my house I usually go for afternoon walks. It’s got old abandoned iron kilns on it and a deep gorge where you can see the Ten Mile River. People usually throw trash or roadkill down there. Sometimes you can find a mossy couch or a decapitated deer. One day I was super depressed walking down there and suddenly I started hearing this song. I grabbed my guitar and recorded it quickly on my phone so I’d remember. That original phone memo ended up being the song on the album. It was the first time I had ever sung it aloud. Still gives me goosebumps to hear it. It doesn’t even sound like my voice. It was like something else coming through me. To comfort me. A love song for all the questions left unanswered. So that I’d feel less alone.
I remember a friend of mine (now gone) once told me that this world felt like an old glove too small for his hand. I come back to this line, time and time again. During those difficult moments when you feel the weight of the world clamp down on you like you can’t breathe, what if it’s actually you pushing up against it, not the other way around. Growing too big for it. Feeling that friction. That hard shell. That cage. And it’s time to discard the glove. Emerge from the cocoon. And fly to the next pasture. It’s hard, because these old gloves can become so familiar to us. So safe. The more they cling to us, the harder it becomes to let them go. But when it’s time to let go, it’s time to let go. And it’s only fear that keeps you from flyin’.
Introduction by Paul Maps