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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