Portlander by way of New Zealand, Ruban Nielson joins us to play stripped down versions of songs from Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s just-released and appropriately-titled II. We talked to him about the differences in recording the new record compared to the debut, his musical roots, and why UMO has been slower to catch on in his homeland.
Playlist: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at OPB
Entire session audio (performances + interview):
After beginning Unknown Mortal Orchestra in a Portland basement a few years back, it was a surprise to Ruban Nielson that anyone heard the music at all, let alone that they wanted to hear an entire album’s worth. He had returned to Portland intent on turning away from music following the dissolution of The Mint Chicks, the band he and his brother Kody fronted for nine years. But that’s not quite how things worked out.
“I came back here and I started making music as a hobby,” he told us. “I thought, ‘Oh, nobody’s gonna care,’ you know? I can just make it and I won’t have to tell anyone I’m doing it.” Nielson posted a lone track— “Pfunny Pfriends” to his bandcamp page in the spring of 2010 and— once the blogosphere got a hold of it— there were suddenly a lot more ears listening than he ever intended.
Skip to now and the release of UMO’s sophomore effort, II— it’s one thing to make a record in anonymity and another entirely to create and deliver while fans eagerly await your work. Nielson, for his part, doesn’t seem to have felt too much pressure for that shift, likening the process to cooking: “If you cook a meal for yourself you’ll enjoy it because you know what you like, but then if you’re making food for your family…then you’re always gonna put more effort into it so it’s gonna be a little bit better.” And a tasty spread it is, adding a subtle R&B tip and a bit more nuance to the debut’s groovy, bluesy, lo-fi vibe.
UMO hits the road this week with Foxygen and fellow Portlanders Wampire, swinging back around for a hometown date April 5th at the Aladdin Theater.
Audio engineer: Steven Kray with technical assistance from Randy Layton
Video production: Marjorie Deocampo / David Christensen / Jarratt Taylor
Interview: Jeremy Petersen
Photos: Nathan Quigley
Executive Producer: David Christensen