Nimai and Taraka Larson are the sisters behind the New Age “psych-dance” band Prince Rama, and BOY are they busy! Seriously, they never stop moving — they’re always on tour, creating art, dancing around, collaborating with other musicians we love and cooking up a storm. What fuels them? As you may have surmised from the headline, energy drinks are involved.
We sat down for vegan pho (it’s a thing and it’s delicious) and coconut matcha smoothies in NYC’s Koreatown, and I proceeded to develop a strong desire to wear spandex, overcaffeinate myself and GO OUT THERE AND MAKE SOMETHING AWESOME! The fact that I simply went home and listened to their new album, Xtreme Now, on repeat proves that I probably have too much self-control to be a effective artist, let alone smuggle assault rifles into museums. Vegan much? Check out Nimai’s online cookbook, and grab a can of their proprietary, cruelty-free carbonated magic when they hit the road on tour next week.
Is there a great story behind how your band was discovered?
Nimai: We were going to SXSW, and it was a really rough time for us. Our mom had just gotten cancer, we had to replace the transmission in our van and all of our stuff had just gotten stolen in Philly.
Taraka: Me and my boyfriend had just broken up.
Nimai: Her boyfriend was in the band. Me and my boyfriend had just broken up, too, but thankfully he was not in the band. We had also just gotten kicked out of our first apartment in Brooklyn. We were like, “Should we even go to SXSW? We are broke and we are so emotionally taxed right now.” But we went, got there a day early and played at this dive bar called Club 1808. We weren’t even supposed to play this show; we just rolled in a day early to go hang out with our friends and support their show. The guys at the bar said, “A band just dropped out, can you guys play right now?” We were like, “Yeah, why not?” So we played this hilarious set. We weren’t really prepared, but it was really fun. There was this dude in the front with his hood up watching the whole time, and after we finished our set, he came up to the merch table that Taraka was working.
Taraka: He asked if we had any albums, and I was like, “We haven’t set up merch yet. We weren’t even supposed to play!” So I was just talking to him a little while I was trying to get my shit together and set up the merch table. Then we got into this weird conversation and he was like, “You guys kind of remind me of Gang Gang Dance from back in the day.” And I said, “Yeah! I saw Gang Gang Dance years ago, like 2005 in Gainesville [Florida]. They were opening for Animal Collective.” Then he put his hood up a little bit more and was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m in that band.” Like, Avey Tare was just totally playing it off.
Nimai: We’re huge Animal Collective fans, so we hung out with him, and he came to a couple of our other shows. At the end of SXSW, he texted us, “Would you guys want to put your upcoming album out on Paw Tracks [Animal Collective’s label]?” And we were like, “Yes! Help us!” Up until this point, we had been doing everything ourselves, which was fun, but we needed help. They offered to re-record our new album, so we had two weeks where we recorded everything with them and got to know them really well. We put our next three albums out on Paw Tracks.
Tell me about your relationship with Monster Energy drink.
Taraka: We sponsor them. Some bands get sponsored by different brands; we decided to sponsor them. That way, we can take control of the creative over how we advertise them and how we want to place their product.
Nimai: Yeah, they don’t know about us, but we love their product. [laughs]
What does an art project have to do with an energy drink?
Taraka: It came about when we were asked by the Whitney [Museum of American Art] to do this installation a couple years back. We decided to do our own Whitney Biennial with all fake artists that we made up, and we made all the art. It was “Whitney Biennial 2067.” The way we pictured it was that in the future, art museums will probably lose a lot of their funding and patrons, so they would turn to extreme sports and the two would merge together. Art museums would turn into sports arenas, sponsored by energy drinks. So we did the Whitney Biennial 2067, sponsored by Monster Energy drink.
Nimai: We got really into it. We all started drinking Monster.
Taraka: Cracked out for three days. Three days of just installing and drinking.
Nimai: It honestly makes us feel superhuman.
Taraka: So we just kept going with the running joke that we sponsor Monster, but now with our upcoming album, we’ve even designed our own energy drink called Xtreme Now Energy. We’ll be selling that at all of our upcoming shows.
Taraka: The way that we’re sponsoring it, it’s not a product endorsement; it’s playing off the idea. We tried to get them to sponsor our Whitney Biennial and they were like “What’s the Whitney?” They have no idea who we are, they don’t know about art. This is our own anti-corporate thing. It was pretty wild. We snuck two motorcycles and an AK-47 in there, totally illegally.
Where did you get all that stuff?
Both: Our boyfriends.
Awesome. What’s this I heard about “Cake Basel”?
Nimai: This is sort of subversive. Art Basel’s official convention hall show is expensive to get into. Art Basel itself is kind of exclusive. Tark and I believe that art should not be exclusive whatsoever. We believe that food should not be exclusive, either. When both of those things are exclusive, it upsets me on a core level because I just feel like that culture and nourishment, that’s something that shouldn’t be taken away from anyone.
We’d been asked to do an installation and performance in Wynwood [in Miami] and had the idea to take our favorite works of art from that present year’s catalog from Art Basel, print them onto photo cakes and serve them for free. People could pick whichever piece of art they liked the most and we’d just cut them a slice. We got to eat cake and art.
Taraka: We made a kind of mini Art Basel within Art Basel. We made it look like a gallery, we put the cakes on pedestals and lit them. We just enlisted the local Publix to make them. We were trying to get local bakeries and stuff, but literally no one makes photo cakes except the trashiest places, which means a Florida grocery chain.
Nimai: We must have printed out 25 pieces of art and just narrowed it down to eight or 12. We narrowed it down quite a bit. We wanted the ones that were the most Instagrammable, first of all; we wanted the ones most shocking and memorable.
Taraka: The butt cake.
Niima: There was one of a photo of a butt. That was the year Taraka went into one of the galleries and there was a roll of toilet paper selling for $1,800. She was asking, “Is it because the artist fabricated the paper?” And they were like, “No, he got it from his hotel room upstairs.” It was a concept, blah, blah, blah. I don’t like being made to feel stupid. I feel the exact same way about food. I want to be able to serve people, not make people feel bad about their choices. This Cake Basel thing was “We’re going to serve everyone, no matter what. It’s cake, it’ll make you happy.”
Do you bake?
Nimai: I bake; I cook; I make tons of smoothies. Before we were over here, we were reading a magazine at a magazine store, and I was reading all about smoothie ingredients that I know were good for me, but now I know what nutrients are in all of the different add-ins. Chia seeds, sunflower seeds, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, cacao. All of those things. I love knowing more about that stuff.
What’s the last great smoothie you made?
Nimai: It was during the blizzard. I made one on Saturday for the day it was snowing, and I made one on Sunday on the day the snow was melting. The snow-falling smoothie was peanut butter, cacao nibs, soy milk, protein, cinnamon, frozen banana, ice, water. When I was taking the picture, lots of snowflakes got into it, so snowflakes too. That’s my go-to.
I suck at vegan baking. What am I probably doing wrong? Like, I’ve tried the egg substitute.
Nimai: What egg substitute are you using?
I don’t know.
Nimai: Let me give you a suggestion. That’s, in my opinion, the first mistake. You know when you’re in grade school and you do that science experiment with the volcano? It’s baking soda and vinegar and all of a sudden, it explodes. Well, baking is like a science experiment, and using an egg substitute is definitely like a science experiment. If you add baking soda to your dry ingredients and add apple cider vinegar to your wet ingredients, when you blend the two together, a chemical reaction takes place. That starts to expand, just like an egg expands when it’s heated. So you get the same fluffiness that you’re going for with an egg, but you get it with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.
Another one that I just started to use is soaking chia seeds and flax seeds. You can put chia seeds in your water and you drink it and it’s fun. But you can use it as an egg substitute, too. What I do is I get a 1/8-cup measure and I put in a teaspoon of chia and a teaspoon of ground flax, then I fill the rest of the cup with hot water, let it sit while I’m doing the rest of my ingredients. Over the time that it sits in the water, it expands and becomes gelatinous, the exact same texture as a raw egg. Also, I’d use coconut milk because it’s so much richer.
Where have you found the most inspiration for your online cookbook?
Nimai: When I started my online cookbook, I started recognizing that my plating was subpar and it wasn’t doing the amazing things I was making justice. At about that time, I discovered hashtags. I didn’t understand how to use Instagram to promote yourself so I didn’t know about hashtags. The first time I ever hashtagged something “#vegan,” I somehow got 20 more likes. So I looked at that hashtag and learned so much about food photography, plating, the art of taking photos of food and how to make it look good. You got to honor the food by taking the time to make it into a masterpiece, otherwise no one is going to know how amazing it is unless you take the time to get the lighting right, take a million photos. You just have to put time into it.
Why a vegan cookbook?
I don’t want to put mystery into my body anymore, which I think that when I wasn’t paying attention I think I would let a lot things slide. I used to always pick up those bottled Frappuccinos from Starbucks, because we’re on the road a lot, so I would always pick those up or Rice Krispie Treats, all of this weird garbage. I don’t know what all the ingredients are, but I wasn’t thinking. It was totally unconscious.
What’s it like when you go on tour? What’s on your tour rider? What helps you get through it?
Nimai: Hummus — not Sabra, any brand but Sabra. Corn chips, fresh vegetables to dip, fresh fruit, crunchy peanut butter that’s organic, dark chocolate, yerba mate, Monster Energy, different teas, coffee, soy milk, Fireball for Taraka. And local favorites. We just say “whatever your local special is.”
Taraka: Whatever people want to throw in. If we’re in New Zealand, throw in the weird New Zealand gummies that everyone loves. We’ve had some weird fucking candy. We get the weirdest candy. Most people bring us weird candies from their countries that they’re obsessed with, but there’s this one, it was called Ploop. This was in the Netherlands. It looked like what it sounded like.
Nimai: It was disgusting.
Taraka: It was a licorice syrup–filled chocolate bar.
Which festival has the best food? Best in your terms.
Nimai: There’ve been so many great ones, especially in Europe. I’ve never been to Asia. Europe was [kissing noise].
Taraka: How about Tasmania? Tasmania was amazing. Their raw honey was totally out of control. Also notable — this isn’t notable for the quality of the catering, but the uniqueness of it, I think — we played this skateboarding festival recently in D.C., Finding a Line. It was picture-perfect “skater food,” literally just Domino’s pizza, Doritos, Hawaiian Punch, Hi-C, Capri Sun, Twizzlers.
Nimai: We just did the Day for Night Festival in Houston, and it was amazing.
Taraka: The catering backstage was like “eh,” but we went outside where the food trucks were and found a Hare Krishna truck. We were like “No way, this can’t be” because we grew up Hare Krishna. We were there with our parents, and it turns out the guy who owned the food truck, my mom cooked for him when he was 17 and had just joined.
What’s a band that you’ve either recorded with or toured with that is also very into food?
Nimai: Brian DeGraw from Gang Gang Dance. He’s very health-conscious. We actually stayed at his house during a snowstorm in upstate New York and all cooked. It was amazing. It was him and his roommate, Tark and I, Tim and Julian. It was so fun. Brian’s an amazing chef.
Speaking of Brians, that band Lightning Bolt: Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson. We were on tour with them in Australia, staying at this beach house, and we all made something. It was the first time I’d made fried avocado guacamole, too.
Nimai: I never thought an avocado could be heated. I was wondering what would that taste like as a guacamole. So I put a whole garlic head in the oven, fried avocado on a cast-iron, still had the tomato, cilantro, onions, lime, those things were still raw. The garlic comes out super mushy and charred, so good. You squeeze all of that into the avocado, turn the heat off, add all the fresh ingredients and mix it all around. The guacamole took on the flavor of the fried avocado taco— it was amazing.
What was one of the weirdest food experiences that you’ve had on tour?
Taraka: There was this one weird one in Iceland where we didn’t end up eating what she showed us — our friend who used to be in this awesome band. She was driving us out like, “I’m going to show you the best stingray in Iceland!” We kept telling her that we’re vegetarian, but she just didn’t understand. We’re driving forever across these lava fields in her old rickety 1950s car. All of a sudden the fields are empty, empty, empty, then suddenly, stingrays everywhere. Miles and miles of stingrays just hanging up on these drying lines. You know clothes lines? Imagine thousands of stingrays drying out on these clothes lines as far as the eye can see. They weren’t even dried; they were drying.
Could you smell it from inside the car?
Oh, yeah. You could smell it from miles away.
You just invented a sandwich called “Xtreme Now.” What’s in it?
Taraka: It definitely has to include Monster-flavored cheese.
Nimai: I was thinking we would dip the bread in Monster Energy—
Taraka: And batter it!
Nimai: If we make a bread pudding, the liquid would be Monster Energy. So, Monster-soaked bread, and I would probably pour sweetened condensed milk, because that would make it thick, and it would get congealed that way.
Taraka: But what’s inside? If we’re going the sweeter route, maybe we want caramelized…
Nimai: Wait, instead of condensed milk…
Both: Muscle Milk!
Nimai: I think Muscle Milk might even be vegan, so I would eat this. Dry, crusty ciabatta so it would really absorb, classic Monster Energy, none of that weird Rehab or whatever, Muscle Milk.
Taraka: Maybe a little bit of cinnamon.
Nimai: Then we would put a whole banana on top and drench the whole thing with cheap vodka and torch it!