Unknown Mortal Orchestra will be releasing their third album Multi-Love on May 26. Here’s what Ruban Nielson has to say about this. It seems like we will be listening a different Unknown Mortal Orchestra this year…
Interview by Busen Dostgül, Illustration by Naz Tansel
When you were growing up, what records did you listened most? You are playing Otis Redding in some of your live sets. Did your parents force you to listen any music when you and your brother were young?
No they never forced us to listen but my dad used to supplement my listening. I would find a Frank Zappa record or a Hendrix record in his music boxes. I listened to a lot of hip hop in high school and a lot of what my dad was into was source material for that hip hop sample-wise. Dad would have to practice for hours on end every day. I learned the sound of scales from hearing him practice trumpet all day every day. My mom would dance and sing to records. She would always improvise harmonies to songs on the radio. never sing the main melody. She used to sing professionally with her brothers in a hawaiian music group so harmonies are in her blood. I used to think it was freaky magic the way she’d seem to make up new parts to these songs that sounded right. She’d make pop songs sound better with her harmonies. My mom could read my mind too. She’s no joke.
We are just curious about your old band “Mint Chicks”? You were playing with your brother. How did you decide to join the UMO? It should have been hard to leave that kind of a band.
It just kind of flared up and burned out. Timing is everything you know. I don’t have trouble leaving things behind sometimes because killing a project can sometimes be the most respectful thing you can do. It’s like a relationship. Better to break up and preserve the good times rather than overshadow them with a long period of stagnation. I can’t stand stagnation and decline. My life was moving in a different direction and UMO was the result.
While you were talking about the new album, you told that you were inspired from Daft Punk. Random Access Memories is really one of a kind Daft Punk album, but especially what draws you to Daft Punk and which record do you find inspiring?
It was just a bunch of articles I’d read about the album before I’d even heard it. The idea they were making a 70’s hifi record was really interesting to me.
Since 2013, you have been sharing instrumental mixtape like recordings. It says “Unknown Mortal Orchestra”, but these records were recorded by others who are not in the band including your brother. What’s the story of the “SB” series? For sure, they have different characters from other records of UMO.
They are like orphaned ideas or something. My brother played some drums on II and he played on Multi-Love too so it’s not so uncommon for him to appear in the normal UMO material. The SB material slowly builds up in a folder on my computer and when I feel like there’s enough I’ll put it out for free. Riley played drums on part of the SB stuff as well. If an idea doesn’t get to become a song, sometimes I’ll keep working on it as an instrumental and save it to the SB folder. It’s just fun. It keeps music fun for me.
How do you elaborate between music with lyrics and without? What do you look for in instrumental pieces of music? Is there going to be any instrumental songs in the new album?
No instrumental songs, but there are instrumental parts of songs, like miniature classical passages or something. It’s all the same to me, but songs with vocals are more extraverted and appeal to more people. People like to focus on a voice for some reason. It’s just the way we’re wired I suppose.
I am also curious about your famous “basement”? Is it like a studio or a small place that you go and leave everything behind?
I guess you could call it a studio. It has everything essential for a studio. These days a laptop can be a studio though. People makes hit songs on airplanes or in hotel rooms now. I just have a basement with all my recording stuff that I can go to and do whatever I want. It’s not really a small space. There’s room to expand a bit.
You are going to play at Primavera Sound, the day after your album is out. I will be there and I am very excited to see UMO playing live. This will be a first time for me (except the videos I watched on Youtube). Is there going to be any surprises for the audience?
Yeah I think so. It’s going to be so much fun. We never know exactly what our show will be so every show is different.
When I first listened “MultiLove”, I played it like 45 times. It is absolutely different from your first two recordings. For one week, every morning I woke up and listened the song. I am very sure that it has something magical. Lyrics are telling a story about a connection between some people. What’s the story behind the song?
I don’t want to tell the story just yet, but I agree there’s some magic in the song. When I finished the chorus I got so excited I was jumping around the room.
Is there any collaborations on the new album? It is obvious that your work is different from other albums. Are there any musicians or people that you were with in the studio?
My brother was with me for about a month and helped me quite a bit. I had ambitions to make quite a big leap and felt that I’d need a little help along the way or I’d go crazy. He played most of the drums you hear on the record. I also went to new york for 5 days and my bass player Jake Portrait produced my singing parts on two of the songs. Apart from that it was basically 8 months alone in my basement mixing and recording.
With the increasing love towards psychedelic sounds, it’s like going back to the 70s in the 2010s and maybe sometimes this can be overwhelming. What do you find inspiring among the new formation of psychedelic sounds? And is there any new bands you love to listen?
I’ve been listening to Vinyl Williams and Morgan Delt quite a bit. I always love what John Dwyer does. The Tame Impala and Pond crew are always solid. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. There’s a lot of good stuff going around at the moment.