When I catch Teraka Larson with a morning phone call, she is drinking the herbal tea equivalent of four shots of espresso in her Brooklyn home having just woken up after playing the first of four CMJ shows with her band, Prince Rama. Before that, she was filming the equivalent of a rock opera and soon after, she would be packing her bags to head out on a European tour with Animal Collective. So you can see why she needed the morning boost.
This interview appears in edited form in Totally Dublin Issue #98.
So are you in the middle of CMJ right now? How is it going?
It’s been crazy because we’ve been filming for the past week, waking up at six in the morning and not ending until two in the morning and then it was full throttle into CMJ, it was like, OK, switch gears! We’re playing about four and I don’t plan on going to any other shows but ours, I kind of just want to stay at home for as much as I can. We played one yesterday that was really fun. It was in Manhattan at this place called Cake Shop. It was fun. That place is a clusterfuck, it’s so small and there are so many people. It was so much fun.
Do you know many of the other bands playing this year?
It’s weird, this CMJ, I don’t know if I’ve just fallen off a boat or something but I haven’t heard of the majority of bands playing. There were like twelve other bands playing yesterday and I only knew Travis [Egedy, of Pictureplane].
We’re working on like an opera to go with this album. Basically it’s like we took five songs off the album and we stitched together a… Well, “rock opera” is such a weird word to use but I don’t really have a reference for anything else! We’ve got tons of dancers and costumes and sets and exotic animals.
You funded it through Kickstarter, right? Why did you decide to go that route?
The thing is, we just knew we wanted to make this big epic and we definitely don’t have a big, epic budget and we couldn’t think of any other way to raise money. Although after we did the Kickstarter, people were like why didn’t you use this program or this program and I was like, ‘I don’t know, I just didn’t know about it’. But it seemed to work out well.
I saw somebody gave you like $2000 or something, do you know who that was?
It’s crazy! Some crazy kid in Kuwait giving us like $2500. I have no idea who it is, he’s like some 23 year old, maybe he’s like a prince or something.
So how are you planning on releasing the film? And do you know when?
We’re definitely going to submit it around to a few film festivals. We’re talking to a couple of galleries in New York to have a sort of premiere. We want to make an installation and have a show. The directors are trying to have it done by SXSW this year but we’ll see. I’ve made a few films myself and I know editing can take forever.
I saw your new age-y exercise video and I thought it was great. It was so much fun.
Thank you, have you tried doing it? You might not think it’s as fun, you’ll be sweating bullets!
I haven’t tried it! What made you decide to make a video like that?
We had like an artist residency at this gallery in town, Issue Project Room. Basically we had three different projects that all tied in together, under some loose theme, like three different videos and installations and stuff. That was the one that kind of kicked off the whole thing. The loose theme was looking at dissecting utopia in different shapes and forms. So we had the classical definition of utopia, like utopia equals no place like Thomas Moore defined it, then we expanded it to be like no place, no person, no time. So with those three categories we built these three installations around them. Utopia equals no person was the first one and that’s just looking at the body as this vehicle of utopian experimentation.
I mean, exercising is a really strange process. I never go to the gym personally, my sister does and you can probably tell from the video where I’m, like, flailing and she’s killing it. I’ve always been really fascinated with gym culture and the different ways we create these rituals for self-destruction and self-perfection and I feel like the gym is a place where both of those sides of the spectrum come together. It is about destroying yourself in this one way. We talked to a lot of people that work out to think about this video and we watched a lot of work out videos – and I actually did go to the gym for a little bit just to “research” – and it’s about losing yourself, shedding this part of yourself. Some people work out to turn over a new leaf, to lose weight, to lose flesh and that’s almost like this very shamanic process of skeletonisation and then taking that idea of the destruction of the body and using it in this sort of positive way, most of the time. Obviously there are all these extremes you could go into.
So you were playing up the mystical side of all these things.
It seems like a lot of exercise videos, if you look at the words that they use in like Jane Fonda videos and stuff, it’s very mystical, very zen. It’s like ‘let yourself go!’ and ‘Don’t think about anyone else, it’s just you here!’. It’s like while you’re exercising your body, you’re syncing with this usually very cheesy, rhythmically simple exercise music so you’re syncing your own bodily rhythms up with these external time patterns and syncing your thoughts up with these sorts of mantras. We wanted to make an exercise routine that really exaggerated these more mystical aspects of it. And looking at exercising as this process of exorcising and exorcising your demons and there is this sort of mind, body, spirit thing going on. My sister got into exercising because she broke up with her boyfriend and she was like, ‘Dude, I need to get these old tapes out of my head’. A lot of people do stuff like that so it is a process of trying to exorcise this past voice or past self out and we sort of just took that and ran with it.
It’s interesting that in other cultures, the trance state is sought through experiences over time, like a gamelan ceremony that takes two days and nights or something. With the gym, it’s so compressed, the emphasis is all on speed and efficiency.
Yeah totally. That’s what’s interesting to me too, how condensed it is because I feel like in other cultures the trance exercise can take hours or days and this is all about speed, it’s all about the fifteen minute workout, fitting it into our busy lifestyles. So it’s these little condensed portals. But when we did it at the gallery, we actually performed it for eight hours straight so it didn’t really feel like a little fifteen-minute glimpse! It was long!
And then you have the gym instructor, the one leading this experience.
They really are, they’re kind of like the guide. They’re helping you to visualise, they’re like a shamanic guide. I’ve been to plenty of yoga classes and I think a lot of the dialogue in the movie is also drawn from yoga classes I’ve been to because that is kind of similar; it’s a slowed down version of exercise routines. They’re constantly making metaphors between what your movements are and all these other cosmic acts you could be re-enacting, it’s like ‘making the tree pose’ or ‘draw the arrow back and release’, that kind of thing.
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