INTERVIEW: Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson

INTERVIEW: Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Ruban Nielson

Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ One Eyed Jacks - 10/10/11 - Photo by Wesley Hodges

Recent Fat Possum Records signee Unknown Mortal Orchestra swang through town earlier this week for one of the shows of 2011 in the Big Easy as part of their tour alongside and Bass Drum of Death. The garage-psych project of New Zealand native has appreciated a great bit of critical acclaim this year since releasing their self-titled debut and signing on with the major indie imprint that boasts a lengthy roster of grassroots success stories like The Black Keys, Walkmen and Felice Brothers. Attempts to fittingly describe the trio are lost on me, but I can say that there aren’t any other bands out there making this kind of music. Frontman Ruban Nielson answered a few questions about this year’s grueling touring schedule and the recent stop-through in the Big Easy. If you wanna hear a sampling of UMO’s live sound, check out their recent Daytrotter session here.

(1) Please describe Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s music for me. Ever since checking out the LP last week I’ve had difficulty really describing it. It has such a distinct, raw quality you don’t hear on most modern records.

To me it’s just a psych record. I made a record I’d want to discover.

(2) Have you played in/visited New Orleans before?

I visited Nola quite soon after Katrina. It was a crushing experience because I grew up in New Zealand and my dad is a musician and he would tell me these crazy stories about touring in New Orleans in the 80s. When I got there it seemed like the stuff he’d told me about had just been devastated. It’s good to see it gradually come back from that time.

Where did you visit while in town?

I’m still learning about Nola. We spent the night getting drunk at the Saint.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ One Eyed Jacks - 10/10//11

(3) How did you guys end up getting signed on with Fat Possum?

They really wanted the record. The deal they offered blew the other labels out of the water. I held off and held off until I’d completely run out of money on tour and then signed a napkin at 3 in the morning at a bar in manhattan.

(4) Who are three New Zealand bands that more Americans should know about?

Fetus Productions, the Skeptics and Connan Mockasin

Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ One Eyed Jacks - 10/10/11 - Photo by Wesley Hodges

(5) Have you seen the show Portlandia? (If so, is that a semi-accurate depiction of the city?)

I think it is actually. Fred Armison and Carrie Brownstein know their subject well. The place is ridiculous. I like that though.

(6) How has it been touring with Chaz and Toro Y Moi? Have there been any collaborations on-stage? I feel like your band’s have very different sounds, what have you learned from watching them perform on a nightly basis?

I love touring with them. No collaborations onstage yet. We talked about it but we’re so busy it’s hard. With Chaz I feel like I notice the similarities more than the differences. I feel like we might have similar ideas about song arrangement. His songs twist and turn in very interesting ways. They’re not predictable.

(7) Three favorite albums of 2011 thus far.

I listen to Ty Segall new one quite a lot. Chaz’s latest full length is cool. Thundercats album is really interesting and he pays tribute to George Duke who is one of my favorite musicians.

(8) Favorite New Orleans musician.

Can’t go past Louis. More recently I’ve had some fun with Big Freedia.

Big Freedia - NOLA Bounce Legend

(9) What has helped get you through this year? Seems to have been a very intense and successful year for your new band.

It seems weird to say but sex, drugs and rock n roll are what get me through and keep me from going completely insane. No joke. That’s a very literal thing.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ One Eyed Jacks - 10/10/11

(10) What’s next for UMO?

We start our first headline tour straight after our tour with Toro. Then we go to the UK to tour with Foster the People and then play some dates in Spain and France, then straight to Australia and New Zealand for festivals. That will take us to February when I’ll record my second album. After that we’ll get back on the road.

October 15, 2011 |  by  |  Artist of the Month, Interviews
About the author

Wesley grew up in coastal Georgia and is a former resident of The Music City and The Big Easy where he helped get LMB NOLA off-the-ground after launching in January 2011. Over the past few years, he has also contributed steadily to JamBase and Relix Magazine. Recently, Hodges moved on to L.A. where Abita Beer is hard to find, costs about $6 if located and impromptu parading in the streets will most likely get you arrested on the spot.

 
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