Interview: Unknown Mortal Orchestra
By: Kayleen Fulton
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
28 September, 2013
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is made up of bassist Jake Portrait, drummer Riley Geare, and Ruban Nielsen, former member of the Mint Chicks, a popular kiwi punk rock band. The very first UMO song published on the web, “Ffunny Ffriends,” was such a success, and the demand for more from the artist was so high, that the unclaimed song spawned a furious search for its artist.
They’ve been touring the States for three years now, released a new album this year, and have been tagged as “neo-psychedelia”, “lo-fi”, “funk rock” and “progressive dreamfunk” to give you an idea of genres that they’ve been helping pioneer.
Question: Where are you from?
Ruban Nielsen: New Zealand.
Q: All of you?
RN: No, the other guys are from Oregon.
Q: So how did you guys meet?
RN: I met Jake while I was in another band [The Mint Chicks], I was in a band with my brother actually, we’re from New Zealand and we toured the states and we went to Portland. My uncle lives there and we really liked it so we moved to Portland. My mom’s from Hawaii so I have dual-citizenship, so I thought I’d go and live in the States for a while, that’d be cool. I met Jake [Portrait], he’s a guy who records bands around town, he heard about us and he was really interested in the band so he got in touch with us and we made a record with him.
This is kind of long-winded but that band broke up and they all stayed in New Zealand – The Mint Chicks, we were called, we were like a punk band – and I moved back to Portland, gave up music and started working for Jake’s brother doing illustration stuff.
I started making an album for fun, for a hobby, and that turned into the first UMO album. I posted a song on Bandcamp, I guess the song went viral and all these labels contacted me and said, “What else have you got?”
I sent them a bunch of other stuff, I had a few other songs, and they liked the songs. But then they started saying, “When’s the band playing again?” but I hadn’t told anyone that I was making music so I didn’t have a band – I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell my old bandmates or my family or anything. So I told Jake because he was coming into work every day and hanging out and stuff and we were talking about music and I told him “Well, you know, here’s the thing, there are like labels bidding for this thing I made and I need a live band.” I thought it’d be cool to go on tour… so I got together with Jake and we found a drummer and we rehearsed like nine times… we got a booking agent before we’d even played live. We were just really lucky at the beginning. Because we felt kind of guilty about how lucky we’d been, we thought ‘let’s work really hard’ and now we’ve been on the road for like three years. And that’s how we met. Basically, it happened really quickly.
Q: Anything new in the works?
RN: We have an EP that we just put out, it’s just acoustic versions of some of the songs and a couple of other people’s songs. A Dirty Projectors songs and a Beck Hansen song called “Puttin’ It Down”, it’s my favorite Beck song. It’s on “Stereopathic Soulmanure”. I just always liked it since I was a kid because it’s really funny but it’s also really sad. I thought it’d be a good UMO song. Next year I think we’re going to make a new record, but for this one I think we’ll spend some money and take some time and try to make it better.
Their new EP with acoustic songs and covers can be found on iTunes.
But while you wait for your download, here are a few links to a couple of favorites to tide you over:
“So Good at Being in Trouble” and “Thought Ballune”