Interview: Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)

Interview: Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)

In between touring the world and playing gigs with international acts like Grizzly Bear and Wavves, Ruban Nielson has returned to New Zealand to tour with Nielsonís current band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Loulou Callister-Baker had a brief and appropriately abstract conversation with Nielson to work out how to float.

Youíve just returned to New Zealand from a hugely successful international tour Ė what kinds of things run through your mind when you come back here to tour?

Itís pretty heavy actually. A lot is weighing on me when I come home. When Iím out in the world I donít really interact with anyone Iíve known longer than a couple of years. The subject of the Mint Chicks doesnít really come up and itís very much a new life. When I come home, thereís all the weight of home Ė everything good and everything bad that comes with that. But I need to come home once a year or I get really sad. Thereís something in the attitude of Kiwis that isnít anywhere else. I miss the humour mostly I think.

Do you have any history with Dunedin?

Yeah Ė mostly through the Mint Chicks. Just playing shows at Re:Fuel and student radio and Flying Nun connections. Dunedin was always a favourite gig of ours. I havenít played there in ages.

Making music and performing it is beyond any reality the average person could comprehend. What keeps you from floating away when youíre not performing?

Itís okay to float away on stage. It looks like itís part of the show. Itís the floating away off stage that you have to look out for. Itís a much weirder look.

You once sang that you slept during the day to stay awake at night Ė is this your coping mechanism? Or is this your routine as a musician?

Itís always been the way. I used to do it as a kid. My body clock doesnít like the sun I suppose. I used to stress out about it but instead I just built my life around it. Itís like floating away while youíre on stage: it works in this particular context.

Before music, you had a strong affiliation with the art world and investing time in making visual art. How do you maintain your interest in visual art? Is your psychedelic Instagram one way of this?

The Instagram is just for when Iím bored in the van. I still design record covers and draw and paint. Itís not really something I have to maintain; itís like music Ė I canít stop doing it.

Does your conscious effort to follow a musical journey in II elevate it to what you view as a ďreal albumĒ? What are you listening to right now?

It was put together as a ďreal album.Ē I knew people were going to hear it. Iím listening to Caetano Veloso.

You have said that Ffunny Ffrends came from making music out of passion rather than the pressure of a dominating label Ė does the success of this come from creating out of enjoyment or the current popularity of distorted sound matched with falsetto vocals?

At what point in popular music was distortion and falsetto not popular? Pretty sure that was big from the 1920s onward. Thatís like saying the success of the croissant comes from the current popularity of butter and flour.

What role has ruthlessness had in your evolving success?

Unless weíre talking about ruthlessly kicking out the jams Iím not really sure how to answer that one.
This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2013.
Posted 3:59pm Sunday 21st July 2013 by Loulou Callister-Baker.