Unknown Mortal Orchestra Talks About Touring, New Album, and Weed

Easy one of our favorite bands of all time with only two albums out, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (appearing in Portland at the Aladdin Theater) are something of Portland legend around these parts. Bass player Jake Portrait has worked with The Dandy Warhols and variety of other bands as a producer, and plays in the incredibly hip Blouse. Lead-singer Ruban Nielson's first group, Mint Chicks, was the envy of every band in town while still together. 

It's not out of the question to call us super-fans. So be it. 

Following our interviews with The Thermals and Portugal. The Man, we reached out to the group, and Nielson was kind enough to answer some questions that we hoped to get placed on a site larger than ours. But, as that fell through, we were excited to repurpose the content here, figuring any fans of Banana Stand would love to get some greater insight into one of the city's most popular, yet one of the more elusive bands.

How is the new album similar or different from your debut?

The second album is kind of heavier and more ambitious. It's very similar in terms of themes and production, but it goes further. The first album was written at home in Portland, Oregon but the second was written during a year when I was touring like a mad man. Both records draw on psychedelic rock and soul. The new record goes deeper into it.

Is there any significance to the album's title, II?

It's just the second album, that's all. I like having that kind of blankness to the record when you first encounter it. The first album is untitled and has this strange, mysterious building called Petrova Gora on the cover. This one is just called 'II' and has this strange, mysterious witch called Janet Farrar.

What's the recording process like for you and the rest of the band?

I do most of the recording and mixing at home by myself. I turned my basement into a little studio. It's really fun for me to come off tour and just hang out in the basement for hours on end. I recorded my brother Kody playing a bunch of drums and Jake played bass on a song. I like recording all night and at about 4 in the morning some cool stuff starts happening to my brain haha.

You've talked about wanting the music to speak for itself, and even tried to stay somewhat anonymous when first leaking material. Are you uncomfortable with all of the critical praise the band has been getting for such a new group?

It's exciting when people like the music.

There seems to be a lot of marijuana references in your songs, and there are some rumors of fruit-related festivities at a couple of shows in Portland in the past. Is weed an important part of your creative process or it just a lifestyle thing that comes out in the writing? 

There aren't any weed references, but there are drug references. Truth be told weed isn't really one of my drugs of choice. It's nice sometimes, though. It's true that I smoked a whole audience out two nights in a row using melons and pomegranates and all kinda of fruits. I'd love to do that every night, but apart from the legality of that its kind of a logistical issue haha.


Portland, OR seems to be a place that fosters a lot of critically acclaimed bands these days, do you feel any special connection to the city?

Yeah. My uncle has lived here for about 20 years and so that's how I came to discover it. I grew up in New Zealand but I could only have invented the UMO thing here in Portland.

Having been on tour for the large part of the last two years, how are you holding up? Does that sort of schedule start to wear on a person?

It does if you don't adjust your habits. I'm pretty good at it now. It's hard because partying super hard doesn't work, but also cleaning up your act doesn't really work either. Some people are built for this and some people aren't. I am I think.

What are some of your favorite comforts when on the road?

I just like laughing. I need to be around funny people. Also, I like to eat crazy good food.

What are some of your favorite bands to listen to these days?

I'm always looking for new music but most of the stuff I like is from the past. Some of my new favorites are Los Brincos, Blossom Toes, White Fence, Skip Bifferty. There's a band called Art Bears that I've been getting into lately, they're this weird art rock band from Germany in the late 70's. 

Any big plans for 2013? 

Yeah I suppose you could say that.

Big thanks to Ruban for answering questions! Be sure to get II, out now from Jagjaguar Records. Find out more about Unknown Mortal Orchest on their website unknownmortalorchestra.com.