Unknown Mortal Orchestra out of Seattle have long since established their indierock credentials in the US, and are making heavy inroads into Europe. They’re playing in Berghain Kantine on the 26th May and I strongly recommend you check them out. Our man James Rippon caught up with singer Ruban Nielson for a chat last week.
indieberlin: So, Ruban, welcome to Berlin. Have you had a chance to check the place out?
Ruban Nielson: We only arrived this morning, and we leave early again tomorrow, so not this time around. I’ve been here a few times before but never long enough to get a real feel for it. Maybe when we come in the spring we might get to look around a bit more.
“Compared to most New Zealanders I’m not really an outdoorsy type of guy”.
indieberlin:Your from New Zealand, but you now live in Portland. How does a miserable Berlin winter compare to Portland winter?
Ruban Nielson: At the moment it seems pretty much the same; cold and wet, which doesn’t bother me too much. I spend a fair bit of time at home anyway so it just means I can hide away in my basement and play music. Compared to most New Zealanders I’m not really an outdoorsy type of guy.
“Portland felt a bit like Brooklyn did before it became crazy busy; cheap, lots of warehouses and lots of artists.”
indieberlin:Of all cities, how did you end up in Portland?
Ruban Nielson: I’ve got dual US/NZ citizenship because my mum’s from Hawaii. I came to the states with my old band The Mint Chicks in 2007 and we were meant to just pass through, but we ended up staying a while because we got such a good feel from it; not too busy, or expensive. Then the following year we all moved over. Since then The Mint Chicks have obviously broken up and I’m doing UMO now. The guys moved back to Auckland but I stayed on, and found the other 2 guys who now make up UMO. When we moved over, Portland felt a bit like Brooklyn did before it became crazy busy; cheap, lots of warehouses and lots of artists. Now it’s become expensive because its kind’ve gone the same way Brooklyn has, which is a bit of a shame but fuck it, artists don’t need abandoned warehouses and cheap rent to get stuff done.
“We moved over to the States but it didnt really work out.”
indieberlin:Speaking of The Mint Chicks, I used to be a huge fan. What happened to you guys?
Ruban Nielson: We felt like we’d reached our peak in NZ , so we moved over to the States but it didnt really work out. If we kept on playing we would’ve been forcing it, which wasn’t at all why we started. At the time I kind of wanted out of the music industry anyway, then later on UMO kind of just happened.
indieberlin:What is the response to UMO when you play back in Auckland?
Ruban Nielson: Not that huge, to be honest. Australia has always been good to us, but not so much in NZ. We seem to be most popular here in Europe, and we’re growing more and more in the States; it’s very much a long road
“I guess I was in a pretty bad place mentally”
indieberlin:So UMO have a new album due out in May called Multi-Love. I’ve heard
the title track and it’s rad by the way. It’s a lot more upbeat than anything UMO have done before. What changed?
Ruban Nielson: I guess I was in a pretty bad place mentally when I wrote II a few years ago, but since then I’ve got myself out of that. My kids are getting older now and I wanted them to think their dad was cool; because they’re fucking cool, and I didn’t want them to think I was some depressed, music-obsessed guy. Things change a lot when you have kids.
“My brother also played drums on most of the new tracks too.”
indieberlin:Speaking of family, I heard your dad plays on the new album. Tell
us a bit about that.
Ruban Nielson: Yeah he does. He has always played music, and still plays professionally. I think this new UMO album is the only music of mine he’s genuinely enjoyed. I think he liked the passion and energy of old bands and albums but maybe not so much the sound. He was just listening to early recordings of one of the new songs and said “there could be a horn section in that” and I was like “do you wanna play on it?” and he was up for it. My brother also played drums on most of the new tracks too, which is cool.
“I jumped a fence during a set once in Auckland and security wouldn’t let me back in without a pass.”
indieberlin:So I have to ask you. Some of my mates saw The Mint Chicks play in
Brisbane in maybe 2003 or 2004 and you and your bro were swinging off the roof and apparently one of you got kicked out of your own show.
Can you remember that night? What could someone expect from a UMO show?
Ruban Nielson: Haha, yeah I think I can remember that night? Was in it a tiny venue?
Yeah I do remember it! We were swinging on the beams above the bar and security didn’t like that. I dunno if Kody got kicked out or not, but that wouldn’t surprise me. Stuff like that used to happen all the time. I jumped a fence during a set once in Auckland and security wouldn’t let me back in without a pass; he mustn’t have seen me bail off stage. But yeah UMO shows are much more chilled. We were pretty young then.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new album Multi-Love will be out on May 25 via Jagjaguwar Records, and will play Berghain Kantine on May 26.
Interview with Ruban Nielson by James Rippon.
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaries, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site. Noel is currently completing his second novel. As well as running indieBerlin, Noel is also active as web designer, chatbot creator and business communication coach.