Here’s What I Learned from Being in a Band with My Sister

Nimai Larson (Prince Rama) reflects on sharing everything with her sister Taraka.

“Girl, you are my marigold, my marigold, my marigold!” goes the chorus of one of our early songs. When my sister, Taraka, told me she had written that part about me, I was flattered — but also dumbfounded. After being in a band and collaborating artistically for ten years, touring and living together for eight years and being related since birth, I kinda figured my older sister and band mate would be over me.

Most people can’t believe that we’re able to work creatively side by side and not be at each other’s throats like most siblings. We share so much intimately: a wall in our apartment, a bed on tour, a stage when we’re performing, a mirror when we’re putting on makeup, a microphone when we’re being interviewed, a camera when we’re being photographed, affection when we’re supporting each other, heated words when we’re arguing, an energy drink before walking on stage, and treats when we’re PMSing and need girl talk. “Do they ever fight?” one may wonder…

‘Do they ever fight?’ one may wonder…

“We don’t have time for this shit!!” Taraka yells at me in a crowded mall.

“You fucking picked this Starbucks, dude! Not my fault it’s in this dipshit island mall!” I snap back.

Our guitarist and only male band member, Ryan, trails behind us, calmly tapping at his phone.

It’s 9 a.m. in the suburbs of Nowhere, Indiana, and a typical dumb tour fight is brewing: the perfect storm resulting from a late-show night, no sleep, early morning, lack of caffeine and a desperate chase to find a coffee shop en route to the next show.

Once at the obscure Starbucks kiosk (located in a Barnes and Noble at the far end of a shopping mall) — Taraka with her tall dirty soy chai, Ryan with his tall Americano and me with my triple grande coconut milk latte — the mood lifts. Like magic, as each sip of caffeine hits my bloodstream and gobs of raw honey (that we superstitiously stir into every drink) trickle down my throat, I start to remember that I am blessed to be part of a musical project with my sister that we love and believe in — one that pays the bills while allowing us to travel the world together and meet new people. Whether we are running late to our next show or not, I remember that I love my sister with all of my heart.

We strapped those silly under-the-pants money packs to our waists, said a prayer with our parents and boarded the plane across the sea.

Since we started a band together back in high school, we’ve been rambunctious and eager to play in any “venue” — from an underground sewer to an anarchist record store to a DIY ball pit to our friends’ basements. In our teenage angst, I figured Prince Rama was just a fun, dumb, rebellious rock band. But in the summer of 2008, just before my third year of college in Austin, Texas, my lackadaisical attitude toward playing music changed; our band was offered the chance to record a new album and tour in England. We had never left the country before. We strapped those silly under-the-pants money packs to our waists, said a prayer with our parents and boarded the plane across the sea.

The month we spent abroad changed our musical careers forever. We landed in London vulnerable, jet-lagged and naïve. But after recording in the studio, laughing with joy while listening to our hard work aurally come to life, courageously performing new music in clubs and festivals all over England and graciously making new fans and friends while embarking on our first tour, we headed back to America new, empowered women. We had this sense of urgency, pride and conviction that making music was what we were put on earth to do.

“Give yourself, lose yourself,” Taraka sings. It took a lot of faith for us both to commit to Prince Rama without a backup plan. But upon returning to college in Austin, the reality of sitting in a classroom paled in comparison to touring and playing in Prince Rama, so I left school to be a full-time member of the band and embarked on a journey into the unknown, saturated, wilderness of the Brooklyn music scene — my sister by my side.

In the eight years since that first eye-opening trip to England, we have played thousands of shows, gone to more than forty countries, been on hundreds of flights, spent countless hours in a van together, released a dozen records and collaborated on multiple large-scale art installations and videos.

There have been many painful moments…

There have been many painful moments: an installation at Art Basel in Miami that made us want to quit the band due to creative differences. An accusation about our physical moves on stage being too similar, resulting in a vow of silence that lasted two days on tour. Coming home from an excruciating European tour only to find that our bank account had -$86. Seeing one of our band members arrested during a sound check just before our album release show. The discovery of unfaithfulness in a romantic relationship while in touring Australia. The rejection from our dream label coming just moments before going on stage. Having our van broken into and all of our gear, merch and laptops stolen. Miscommunication while being interviewed live on camera leading to an uncomfortable re-evaluation of our relationship.

Taraka sings, “Contemplating hopelessness, excavating emptiness/Agony, ecstasy, confusion, jealousy/Now is the time of emotion, now is the time of emotion.”

But there have also been so many magical moments: rolling down a cement wheelchair ramp outside the venue in Adelaide, Australia, with Taraka wrapped up in my arms laughing about what a fun show we had just played. Taraka’s contagious excitement while shrieking, “We’re going on tour with Animal Collective in Europe!!!” Marveling at the enormous mirror ball suspended in glistening silver tinsel at the entrance of our venue in Moscow. The hours spent sweating in a sauna in Estonia that led to the writing of our album Xtreme Now. Being surrounded by our family and friends as we held hands watching the video we worked on for a year, “Never Forever,” premiere at the MoMA Dome in the Rockaways. Playing on the edge of a gigantic half-pipe while pro skaters whizzed past us. Fighting with flaming swords and skydiving for upcoming music videos. The most magical thing of all is that I am sharing these experiences with the person I share my blood with.

Taraka sings, “FUN to find, believe in something FUN to find, believe in something…”

This is what I’ve learned about Taraka as a band member…

How lucky I am to be collaborating with a woman who strives to live presently in her self-declared ‘Now Age.’

Her mind makes connections in ways mine never has, making her ideas valuable, unique and conceptually unprecedented. I’ve read her manifestos correlating with each album we put out and sat in the audience while she’s zealously lectured on them. How lucky I am to be collaborating with a woman who strives to live presently in her self-declared “Now Age” and progressively sees music as an inclusive context for life to take place in. The bravery she exudes being our fearless lead singer — whether she’s trust-falling into the arms of unsuspecting audience members or swinging around a flaming sword — gives me the chills. Her ability to write such magnificent, poetic, honest songs while staying humble takes an impressive level of maturity that I am still working toward possessing. Her heart is operating from a place of spiritual strength that one can easily recognize from the handwritten sticker on her keyboard reading “THIS IS A GIFT.” She is naturally a determined fighter and leader. Even when we lost our apartment, all of our savings while fixing our van, and found out our mom had cancer, she remained focused on sensitively guiding our band through a successful American tour. I’m lucky to have her to look up to in our band.

This is what I’ve learned about Taraka as my big sister…

Her patience floors me. Before I quit drinking a couple years ago, I was frequently hung over, puking in the back of our van, missing shows because I stubbornly continued to chain smoke even with strep throat — and would embarrass myself with inappropriate behavior towards those we professionally worked with. Yet, she’s never stopped believing in me, loving me and encouraging me to toil toward being the best version of myself. She has a pure, generous heart. If there’s only one cookie left, she’ll always let me have it. If I’m having a problem, she’ll always try to help me by offering her insight. If I feel like giving up, she has the strength to carry us both through the storms of uncertainty.

The faith she has in Prince Rama is unwavering, putting my shaky, quivering heart at ease.

“Don’t let go of your dream, even if now it is not as it seems, your time will come to feel it again,” she sings.

The faith she has in Prince Rama is unwavering, putting my shaky, quivering heart at ease. We’ve seen each other through relationships falling apart, on and off of tour, yet she still maintains an inspiring sense of humor about breakups.

She sings, “I will wear myself out/Say yeah! Say yeah!/Tears corner from my eyes/Say yeah! Say yeah!/I’ll claw my insides out/Say yeah! Say yeah!”

That lighthearted song put a skip in my step and accelerated the mending of my broken heart.  She treats people with respect: her friends, those who are homeless, fans, the folks working the graveyard shift at grocery stores and gas stations, our musical peers, everyone. I’m lucky to have her to look up to as my sister.

As we hold hands and stage-dive together during our energetic performances, I think of how therapeutic playing shows together is for me. The two of us being on stage as Prince Rama shines a light on the hard work we’ve put into our band and our relationship. The love that we’ve nurtured over the years serves as a platform for an attitude of gratitude. I am grateful that we are very different people, on and off stage, and that being in a band together gives us the unique opportunity to work on accepting and appreciating each other’s strengths and lending a hand while compassionately observing each other’s hard times.

In one of our songs, Taraka sings, “Those who live for love, they won’t lose, they will live forever.” I love tending to the growing garden of our band and watching our sisterhood blossom into rich, full, vibrant, marigolds.

(Photo credit: Ebru Yildiz)

Nimai Larson, one half of the Brooklyn dance band Prince Rama, loves to write about her passions: music, food and love.

(photo credit: Photo Pink)