Roskilde 2013: Interview med Unknown Mortal Orchestra

12 jul 2013 by Søren Lund Korsgaard, No Comments »


Et par timer før Unk­nown Mor­tal Orche­stras kon­cert på Roskil­de Festi­val, fik jeg mig en snak med for­san­ger, gui­ta­rist og sangskri­ver Ruban Niel­son om bl.a. hans for­kær­lig­hed for varm lo-fi æste­tik, melan­kolsk musiks helen­de evner, UMO’s gen­nem­brud onli­ne og deres kon­cert på Roskil­de Festival.

MMB: To start with I just want to intro­du­ce myself real­ly qui­ck­ly. My name is Søren and I run this music blog by myself that I call “Musik Mig Blidt” which roug­hly trans­la­tes to “Music Me Soft­ly”. It focu­ses main­ly on upco­m­ing and alter­na­ti­ve music – Danish as well as inter­na­tio­nal­ly. Most­ly drea­my, mel­low and melan­cho­lic music.

Ruban: Cool, that’s awesome!

MMB: You were in DK not long ago in May whe­re you play­ed at Vega. How was that?

Ruban: It was gre­at! I’d never been to Den­mark befo­re but my grand­fat­her was Danish. So it was kin­da weird, befo­re playing I was wal­king aro­und trying to see if I could noti­ce any Danis­h­ness insi­de myself.

MMB: So were you able to con­nect with your Danish inheritance?

Ruban: I think we weren’t real­ly here long enough. But some­ti­mes I see some peop­le here and I think like: “That guy looks like my grandfather!”

MMB: Let’s talk about your music. How would you descri­be your music?

Ruban: On my twit­ter acco­unt I call it psy­che­de­lic maxi­mum R&B. I don’t just think of it as pure Rock And Roll. I think it has a lot of soul influ­en­ce and even funk and motown influ­en­ce and thin­gs like that.

MMB: To me your music has a very strong sen­se of melo­dy. It’s very hum­mab­le. Is that somet­hing that is important to you?

Ruban: Thanks! Yeah I think melo­dy is real­ly the most important part for me. I listen to a lot of clas­si­cal music to try to absorb more melo­dy and counterpoint.

MMB: It also has a distin­cti­ve warm lo-fi and retro sound. Are you guys like stuck in a time cap­su­le or somet­hing? Why do have the need to have this lo-fi sound?

Ruban: I guess I don’t real­ly think about it too much. It’s just the way I hear it in my head and I just end up making it sound like that. The more I work the more I like wor­king in ana­log, so I work betwe­en tape recor­ders and ana­log and then digi­tal, like mixing in Pro Tools. It’s just the sound I like and the stuff I listen to as well. I’ve spent a lot of time liste­ning to psy­che­de­lic rock and thin­gs on vinyl.

MMB: So you listen to a lot of stuff from that era?

Ruban: Yeah, almost exclu­si­ve­ly. But also the way I got into this kind of music was through hip hop, liste­ning to arti­sts like Nas and Wutang and stuff like that. I would listen MF Doom and hear a samp­le and then find out whe­re that samp­le came from and find out it was from a Frank Zap­pa record and then I would listen to the Frank Zap­pa record and rea­li­se — oh I real­ly like this! I got into that kind of music through hip hop.

MMB: Does your pre­fe­ren­ce for this warm lo-fi sound also shine through in your live-sound or is it most­ly somet­hing that is pre­sent in your recor­ded music?

Ruban: We spend a lot of time trying to per­fect the sounds. We try to get the right equip­ment to make it sound right.

MMB I noti­ced that you recent­ly posted a cover of a Lind­strøm tra­ck onli­ne that I real­ly like! (Rà-àkõ-st, red.) How did that hap­pen? Why did you choo­se to cover that track?

Ruban: I heard that record, Smal­hans I think it’s cal­led, and I real­ly liked it. I heard it in Euro­pe for the first time and I men­tio­ned to my mana­ger that I had been liste­ning to that record, and it wasn’t the usu­al stuff I listen to. I didn’t real­ly know much about spa­ce disco but I was like “I real­ly like the songs!” I think it’s got a lot of melo­dy and I like the com­po­si­tions in it. My mana­ger was like, “oh yeah, I love Lind­strøm, let’s get in touch with them and get them to do a remix!”

And we got in touch with him (Lind­trøm, red.) and he did a remix and then went: “Do you wan­na remix one of my songs?” I was like: “How would I do that?” And then I thought, well this song (Rà-àkõ-st, red.) is good, I could just make an instru­men­tal ver­sion, it could be the same song but in “UMO” sty­le. Inste­ad of remixing I kind of demixed it, you know cove­red it with a dif­fe­rent style.

I think the ori­gi­nal sounds very cool. When the melo­dy and the chord chan­ges are strong it can trans­la­te to any gen­re. So it felt very natu­ral to cover. And It’s just more fun and more inte­r­e­sting to me to do somet­hing une­xpected like that.

MMB:  I have read that you got pick­ed up by blogs after posting Ffun­ny Ffri­ends on Bandcamp? Do you think you would have been able to make a care­er and make a living of making and playing music wit­hout the inter­net and the opportu­ni­ties it provides?

Ruban: I think I would have taken it a lot slo­wer. Real­ly my who­le plan was to just make music and not real­ly make a big fuzz out of it. The way thin­gs hap­pe­ned was got out of con­trol real­ly qui­ck­ly. If it hadn’t hap­pe­ned like that so fast I would have just con­ti­nu­ed doing what I was doing, which was just recor­ding in my spa­re time and making records that way.

MMB: My blog main­ly focu­ses on music with a melan­cho­lic fee­ling. It just real­ly reso­na­tes with me, I’m not sure why. I have often won­de­red why. For some rea­son I find it relaxing and soo­t­hing and it doesn’t make me sad but hap­py, actu­al­ly. Do you ever have that expe­ri­en­ce when liste­ning to melan­cho­lic music?

Ruban: Yeah, total­ly! I think that’s the point of melan­cho­lic music, I think, is sup­po­sed to have the oppo­si­te effect – the oppo­si­te effect than may­be inten­ded. I think even the blu­es is like that. The blu­es is sup­po­sed to be this sty­le of music that you listen to, and it’s tal­king about awful thin­gs and some­how it’s sup­po­sed to free you from them – from that fee­ling, and you give it a name that iden­ti­fies it and let you put it in a box somewhe­re, and that helps a lot. So yeah, I feel that way about it.

Actu­al­ly what you are tal­king about, I think that’s may­be the thing that I have recog­nized in Scan­di­navi­an cul­tu­re ‑the melan­cho­lic art.

MMB: Yeah, I won­der why that is. Do you have any theory?

Ruban: Not yet.

MMB: I don’t know if it has somet­hing to do with the weat­her we have.

Ruban: Yeah it must have, may­be it’s the result of cen­turi­es and cen­turi­es of winters.

MMB: Yeah that reminds of somet­hing very Danish. I was in Spain last year and when it’s sun­ny Spa­nish peop­le go to the sha­dow, but in Den­mark it’s the oppo­si­te. We rush out in the sun like flies aro­und a turt!

Ruban: (Laug­hing) That’s cool, I like that. Port­land (whe­re the band resi­des, red.) is a litt­le bit like that too. Long depres­sing win­ters and then when the sun comes out peop­le go nuts! I kind of like that!

MMB: Do you have favo­ri­te melan­cho­lic song or songs?

Ruban: I was thin­king about this song by The Smit­hs. What’s the name of it – it goes like: “I was look­ing for a job and then I found a job… And hea­ven knows I’m mise­rab­le now” (hum­m­ing). (The Smit­hs — Hea­ven Knows I’m Mise­rab­le Now, red.) Other than that, Bil­lie Holi­day and the Miles Davis’ album Kind Of Blue.

MMB: Any song in particular?

Ruban: Ah man, that’s hard. May­be the song So What. There’s somet­hing about that one, it’s like a her­o­in jam.

MMB: (laug­hing) Let’s talk a bit about Roskil­de. It’s the first time you are playing here right? What’s you impres­sion so far?

Ruban: Yeah, it’s real­ly cool! I read that it was star­ted in 1971 by a coup­le of high school kids. I like the way it’s sche­du­led, it seems like eve­ry­o­ne get to see eve­ryt­hing they want to see. I don’t think I’ve real­ly seen that befo­re. Eve­ry festi­val seems to have clas­hes, except this one.

And it’s eclectic – like real­ly eclectic! They have, wor­ld music, hip hop, like Joey Bada$$ and then Kris Kri­stof­fer­son (coun­try musi­ci­an and famous actor) and Goatwho­re (death and tras­h­me­tal band, red). All the­se dif­fe­rent thin­gs! We never see that in Ame­ri­ca, it’s real­ly different.

MMB: What are your expecta­tions for your show later?

Ruban: we’re just gon­na do our thing. We’ve been touring all year. We’ve only taken like one month and a half off in the who­le year so we have our thing kind of dia­led. We do play our set a litt­le bit dif­fe­rent eve­ry night. Usu­al­ly we don’t have a set list, we use our intu­i­tion a lot. We kin­da feel our way through the set, real­ly. We try to make it feel like some magic is going on.

MMB: Do you then use small sig­nals to each other?

Ruban: More musi­cal sig­nals, but a lot of the time we try to take a risk and do somet­hing dif­fe­rent that we’ve never done befo­re and that gives us a thrill, you know?

MMB: I guess that’s also neces­sary when you tour so much in order to not get tired of it or even bored?

Ruban: Yeah Yeah, defi­ni­te­ly. It’s somet­hing to look forward to eve­ry day. We also wan­na be the kind of band that peop­le will come and watch again and again and never see the same show. I think the rea­son I got in to that..when I was youn­ger, you know two bands that real­ly made an impa­ct on me were Fuga­zi and Led Zep­pe­lin. I felt tho­se two bands had that thing whe­re they could do somet­hing they had never done befo­re eve­ry night.

You can down­lo­ad eve­ry show and they are all real­ly dif­fe­rent. I’ve wat­ched a lot of foo­ta­ge of them playing and they never made a set list, they would always just start playing the rough tone of the songs and then the rest of the band would jump in. It’s cool, I like that!

MMB: Ok, that’s cool! Well, I’ve run out of questions so thanks a lot for your time and have a nice show!

Ruban: Thanks man, nice to meet you! I think it’s gon­na be fun, it’s gon­na be good (the show, red)!

MMB: Nice mee­ting you too!



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