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Catch Up: Ruban Nielson/Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Catch Up: Ruban Nielson/Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Wednesday 10th July, 2013 9:13AM

Unknown Mortal Orchestra are heading to New Zealand next week on the back of sold-out European and American tours, in celebration of their album II. UnderTheRadar had a quick catch-up with Ruban Nielson (we interviewed him at the time II was released, over here) to discuss what he has been working on since II and how he's coping with the intensity of his touring schedule. Answer: he's stopped doing cocaine and feels much better.

Hey Ruban, how are you?

Iíve just sound checked in Minneapolis at the Cedar Cultural Centre.

Are you in the middle of your US tour?

Weíre sort of in the middle: we have about a week left of this leg.

And before that you were in Europe yes? How was that?

It was cool, it was awesome. Unbelievable actually.

Is there are show or place from the last couple of tours that stands out as being particularly special?

SorryÖhang on. Iím just trying to get somewhere quieter Iím in the street at the moment and itís loudÖ

The London show was the craziest. The first time Unknown Mortal Orchestra went to London we played this little club and it seemed like things have started to take off there. I knew that this show had sold out Ė and we sold out a show earlier in the year Ė and then I heard that the second show had sold out like three months in advance and I thought ďthatís coolĒ. But I thought it was just a little club, and when we got there and started setting up the gear and sound checking it was obvious that the venue was massive. When we walked out to the crowd it was really strange because the crowd was huge and it was a career-changing show. It was great that I didnít realise what it was going to be like ahead of time because I think I would have psyched myself out if I was concentrating too much on it: I just had to treat it like any other show.

Have you noticed a big difference in popularity over these last couple of tours, since the second album has been released?

Yeah there's been a really big difference. Itís been a really big leap and step up.

Last time I talked to you, you discussed how the intensity of your touring regime in the early days of Unknown Mortal Orchestra was killing you a little bit. Is touring still taking that kind of toll on you?

I cut certain things out of my life and that was really coolÖsomebody just yelled out my name which was very weird because I donít know if Iím supposed to know him or notÖwhat was I talking about...Oh yeah, I cut certain things out of my life. I mean Iím still working really hard but Iím not partying in the same way, so thatís really good. I couldnít do that anyway: I was killing myself. I was going a bit crazy as well and I felt like I was loosing it a little bit. Mostly it's been a case of cutting out certain drugs to be honest. So thatís been really good. Iím still touring the exact same amountÖhold on this guy wants to take a picture of me, thatís so weirdÖhold onÖthat was so weird!

Iíve been looking after myself a little bit better but itís just touring you know, so itís hard to be super healthy. I wouldnít call my lifestyle healthy but Iím doing be stupid, like I was before.

Cliched question time: does cutting out the partying and those experiences affect your ability to be creative? Your second album really was about the results of living in this extreme way, right?

Well I guess thatís what Iím talking about: I havenít stopped partying. Itís like changing a few things has really made a big difference. To be really honest, I donít do cocaine anymore. Iím still drinking every day and Iím still partying hard but by cutting that one chemical out of my diet I've been able to bounce back quite well. Because that alone seemed to work so well I didnít really stop doing anything else because I didnít have to.

The other thing is that I have days off now which I didnít really have before Ė there was no such thing as that.

Apart from touring what are you working on at the moment?

Iím writing a new record and Iíve started to meet with people about it. Thereís a few things going on. I did an EP thatís going to come out with a special edition of the album this year. Itís mostly mellow, acoustic-y stuff and I just recorded that when I had ten days off at home recently. I started writing the next album, working on the songs for it and starting to get in contact with different people who will potentially be part of the next record. I had a meeting with Mark Ronson the producer which was really cool. Basically I just went to his studio and got drunk. As soon as I got there he was like ďhey man, try this guitar out!Ē It was awesome because I hadnít met him before but within five minutes of meeting him I had a guitar in my hands and I was trying out amps and stuffÖoh man the cabs arenít stopping for me. Iím in a Somalian neighbourhood and there are cabs everywhere but theyíre not stopping, because theyíre not on duty.

Howís the new material sounding? Is it similar to II or have you gone in a new direction?

I want it to be kind of similar. I want to take the things that are working well and build on that. I like the idea of having the albums being quite logical and flow together in that way. Iím not changing what Iím doing that dramatically but I did just buy a piano and I might start writing songs on that which will change the sound subtly. It will probably sound a little bit better, too. Not different but a better version of that sound that Iíve been working on: I donít want to change the sound but I want to tweak it and make it better.

Does the fact that youíre working with producers like Mark Ronson suggest that youíre aiming to achieve something a little more polished?

Yeah I think so. I kind of hope itís going to be better, and I donít want to think about it as being polished but who knows. I think a lot of the people who want to work with me are OK with doing things the way that Iíve been doing it.

related gigs
Thu 18th Jul
Re:Fuel, Dunedin
Fri 19th Jul
Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland