It’s been a longtime coming, but the Brooklyn-based band Prima has finally started to coalesce after a few years of what vocalist/guitarist Rose Blanshei described as “banging on things and pouring our hearts out in this concrete box in Williamsburg– just pure, visceral, catharsis nonsense.” With their first EP on the horizon– birthed from a clamorous, chaotic echo-chamber of noise rock and operatic prog influences– the band has begun releasing a series of singles, including “Samba,” premiering here at B+B.
On first listen, I noted a deep nod to the meditative distortion loops of Sonic Youth and an almost Karen-O-ish cackle beneath the chattier vocals. But as the song builds, it takes a more defined shape with mathy guitar picking and an epic falsetto range fitting of prog. I’m a sucker for songs with a trajectory like “Samba,” ones that build up from darkness, winding up faster and faster with increasingly turbulent feeling, before pulling the plug, cutting off the storm’s power source and confining all that energy to a standstill. Throughout “Samba,” you’re almost sure that the band is going to break out into some sort of chorus or verse or something fitting of traditional rock music structure, but it never happens. Instead the song builds to nowhere, capsizing just before the break. And the dark-dwelling moodiness of “Samba” only adds to this invocation of an extended moment in purgatory, so that when the song comes to an abrupt end, there’s a sense that Prima has arrived at a moment of purity, but only after a painful exorcism.
I spoke with Blanshei about the band and the making of the new EP to get a feel for what’s happening in “Samba.” She and her bandmates (lead guitarist Jessica Ackerley and drummer Butch Merigoni) recorded it at The Black Strap, a studio/venue that their friend Torey Cates runs out of his home in Borough Park. The band released their demo back in 2013, which has a much more lo-fi DIY quality and even a sort of No Wave vibe, but this time around the recording process was a much more taxing one. “We put down the drum track and used that as a scratch track to build and layer all the other parts on top of it, and then fine-tuned from there,” Rose explained. “It was really my first time recording in this way, and it definitely took longer than I thought it would, but the result is developing such a familiarity with all of the layers and all of the parts, and really arriving at a place that you’ve grown and you’ve cultivated.”
Lyrically, the track “Samba” formed from an experience Rose had while lounging in Fort Greene Park. “There were these teenage girls doing a dance routine at the top of the park, and as the girls were practicing, their mothers kept screaming out, in affirmation, ‘I see you!’ and ‘I believe you!'” she recalled. “I was overwhelmed, I couldn’t believe how beautiful of a supportive expression that was.” She wrestled with the idea of what it means to really make a connection like that, especially in a city where anonymity and chaos rule. “All of this shit that we’re sifting through, if we can find one another in this big fuckin’ mess, and acknowledge, address, confront, and support one another– that’s what I want us to do, that’s what I want this music to do.”
I was impressed to find out that Rose, who moonlights at the Wythe Hotel while juggling various other “cash jobs,” only started playing music five years ago. “It took me a long time to come to terms with my ambitions to be a musician, I sort of harbored it as a secret dream for a long time,” she recalled. “And it took me until graduating from university and having a big crisis of faith, when I was like ‘Fuck it, it’s time.'” She admitted this might not be a unique experience, but we agreed that it is one that’s shared by more women musicians than men, it seems. “It does’t really feel like you have permission, or the right to follow your dreams against any expectations that you’ve grown up with or received from the world,” Rose said. “There comes a time when you just have to take the reigns and say, ‘This is my life, I’m going to live it the way I want to.’ When you dive into that reality it’s like, ‘Oh my god, why was I ever operating any other way?'”
Since their formation, Prima have developed a close relationship with other area bands loosely based around the Bushwick DIY scene. “The Yin Yangs have been one of my favorite bands I’ve discovered in Brooklyn,” Rose said. Others include Bodega Bay and Ludlow Ejacula. “We’ve all become good friends– we hang out and work on things together. It’s a really colorful community full of diverse and interesting people. ”
And it seems that you can’t have a conversation with artists in New York City these days without talking about, well, the precarious position of artists in New York. “It’s certainly a love-hate relationship, it’s been so challenging and rewarding, in so many different ways,” Rose explained. “And because of that it’s been such an inspiration, I’m sure there’s a subconscious influence on the music. Sometimes when I listen to the music and we start to conceptualize music videos, it’s important to affirm that it sprang out of an urban context.” This came up in the context of visual associations, too, when Prima was recently setting up a band photo shoot. “When we worked with this photographer at one point for band portraits, he suggested settings in nature, and I was like, ‘No!'” Rose laughed. “That’s not the sound– the sound was born in the city.”
Once Prima became a bit more fully-fledged, performances became a harnessed version of that initial “heart pouring” energy Rose and Butch channeled at practice sessions .”At our live shows, it feels like we’re really projecting something straight out of the heart,” she said. “It’s always been really important for me, when we play, that we’re always doing something super bold and super honest.” I was surprised to hear Rose name Nina Simone as one of her biggest influences as a performer, rather than another rock band or pioneering punk front-woman. “I feel like I’m constantly trying to take in music and filter it out through my own lens,” she said. And Prima is certainly on to something different, managing to sound improvisational and ecstatic while precisely layered and timed all at once. It’s almost like they’re dabbling in the reverse logic of the void.
Tonight’s your chance to catch Prima live– they’re performing Friday, April 8, 8:30 pm at Idio Gallery in East Williamsburg. Entrance is free, donations accepted.