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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?

I’ve just sound checked in Minneapolis at the Cedar Cultural Centre.

Are you in the middle of your US tour?

We’re 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?

Sorry…hang on. I’m just trying to get somewhere quieter I’m in the street at the moment and it’s loud…

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 – and we sold out a show earlier in the year – and then I heard that the second show had sold out like three months in advance and I thought “that’s cool”. 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 didn’t 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. It’s 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 cool…somebody just yelled out my name which was very weird because I don’t know if I’m supposed to know him or not…what was I talking about...Oh yeah, I cut certain things out of my life. I mean I’m still working really hard but I’m not partying in the same way, so that’s really good. I couldn’t 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 that’s been really good. I’m still touring the exact same amount…hold on this guy wants to take a picture of me, that’s so weird…hold on…that was so weird!

I’ve been looking after myself a little bit better but it’s just touring you know, so it’s hard to be super healthy. I wouldn’t call my lifestyle healthy but I’m 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 that’s what I’m talking about: I haven’t stopped partying. It’s like changing a few things has really made a big difference. To be really honest, I don’t do cocaine anymore. I’m still drinking every day and I’m 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 didn’t really stop doing anything else because I didn’t have to.

The other thing is that I have days off now which I didn’t really have before – there was no such thing as that.

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

I’m writing a new record and I’ve started to meet with people about it. There’s a few things going on. I did an EP that’s going to come out with a special edition of the album this year. It’s 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 “hey man, try this guitar out!” It was awesome because I hadn’t met him before but within five minutes of meeting him I had a guitar in my hands and I was trying out amps and stuff…oh man the cabs aren’t stopping for me. I’m in a Somalian neighbourhood and there are cabs everywhere but they’re not stopping, because they’re not on duty.

How’s 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. I’m not changing what I’m 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 I’ve been working on: I don’t want to change the sound but I want to tweak it and make it better.

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

Yeah I think so. I kind of hope it’s going to be better, and I don’t 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 I’ve been doing it.


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