An interview with Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

What started out as a lo-fi project is now an established name in indie rock music. Unknown Mortal Orchestra keep on evolving and on May 26 they’ll release their third album titled Multi-Love, which by the taste of the first two singles promises to be a summer hit. We had a chance to chat with Ruban Nielson, the main man of the band, and here is what he had to say about the upcoming release.

Judging from the first single Multi-Love, your new album steers even more away from lo-fi. What can we expect from this record?

I suppose it’s a natural thing as you get better and acquire superior equipment the sound will improve. It’s my most ambitious record by far. It’s quite a leap I think. There are a lot of textures in the record. Horns and cellos and old-sounding synthesizers, as well as the guitars. Very aggressive and funky drums and bass. My voice is much louder and more influenced by Stevie Wonder than ever before but still kind of strange and dreamy I suppose.

You’ve collaborated with your brother Kody and bandmate Jake on this album. How has that influenced the new sound?

Having Kody around cheered me up quite a bit, and we had a lot of fun working through the night. Usually I’m by myself and that has a certain effect on the songs. This time Kody spent a month with me recording drums and even helping with some of the songwriting and I think it made the foundation of the record more upbeat spending time with my brother. Jake produced the vocals on Ur Life One Night and The World is Crowded. I was having trouble recording them by myself. Sometimes it’s hard or impossible to be the singer and producer and engineer at the same time. You need another person to help you with the technical side and also to say if something’s good. I can trust Jake because I respect him really highly as a producer. If he says my singing was good, I trust him.

What kind of gear have you used to record the new album?

I got this amazing thing called the Kaimaitron, which is a custom four channel mixer made by this mad electronics genius called Ekadek who lives on a mountain range called the Kaimais in New Zealand (hence the name). My grandmother lived near the Kaimais so I drove through them a lot as a child. I recorded everything through this machine. It has a way to record everything from fat, hi-fi sound to this very Motown kind of distorted sound. The vocals on Acid Rain show this sound really well. I mixed through a Chandler Mini Mixer. It’s a really beautiful sounding piece. Another thing I used a lot was the Retro Instruments Powerstrip. That was really useful.

It’s said that the new album is about the complications of being together. How much of that is your personal experience?

It’s all my experience. All my songs have surreal elements but they all boil down something that really happened.

You’ve studied art. How involved are you in the visuals of your releases and videos?

I try not to interfere too much in the videos. I usually just choose the person I want to work with and let them do whatever they want. I figure that since there isn’t a lot of money in music videos the only thing that makes them appealing to a good director is a level of creative control they can’t get anywhere else. The design of the albums I like to be really involved in because I think continuity in record sleeve design is important. Multi-Love’s cover was shot by Marla Celeste, a photographer that was living in my house for about a year.

You’ve been reading about Biocentrism lately. Is that something that might inspire your fourth album?

Haha, maybe. I think the idea of consciousness as a key element in our universe has already started to influence me.

What kind of music are you listening to right now?

Lately I’ve been listening to Zappa, Bowie, Lindstrom, Bjorn Torske, Harmonia, Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Toro Y Moi, Soft Machine, Isotope, Vince Staples, D’Angelo.

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

I’d love to try and do something with Dam Funk.

On the album cover for Multi-Love you can spot album covers from your first two LPs. Was that on purpose?

It wasn’t planned but it was part of what made me love that image so much. It communicates so much about the mood and environment the album was made in.

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