Radar Band Of The Week – No.46 – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – the new project by indie hero Ruban Nielson

There comes a time in every former C86-inspired darling’s life when he feels compelled to jack it all in, give up, go off and earn an honest living that doesn’t involve telling interviewers that “we just make music for ourselves and if anyone else likes it then it’s a bonus”. That, at least, was Ruban Nielson’s plan.

“I tried to become a more productive member of society,” he says. After New Zealand’s Flying Nun-signed twee power-punks The Mint Chicks finally folded in March 2010, guitarist Ruban retired to his adoptive home of Portland, Oregon, in the grip of this attack of conscience, and tried to get on with doing something which seemed less like dicking around. He built a portfolio of his illustrations, and started shopping it to potential employers.

But job-hunting is stress city, so “just to try and make myself a happier human being”, he started crafting little blobs of lava-lamp psych-melody in his bedroom. Big mistake. Three weeks into his first appearance on Bandcamp, the emails from bloggers started arriving. Six months down the line, he’s back out on the road, with the Smith Westerns, no less. He’s cursed. Cursed with a Midas melodic touch that means that no matter how much he tries to outrun it, he’s always being hailed as the slightly-more-concise-and-hard-hitting lovechild of Ariel Pink, the Avalanches-filtered bedroom-disco spawn of No Age.

So keen was he to get on with other stuff in his life that initially he didn’t even put his name on his music – which ultimately only added to the anti-hype. “One of the bloggers who originally posted about UMO told me I should keep my identity a secret and so I just did what he told me… Basically the reason for coming out of the woods is that it’s a live band now, and people will know who I am when they come to a show.” Now, with an album on US underground stalwarts Fat Possum due out at the end of June, it looks like Ruban is “making music for himself, everyone else = a bonus”, all over again. Poor sod.

Need To Know

• The Mint Chicks were Big News in New Zealand. In 2007, they took home Best Album, Video, Cover Art and Group at the Kiwi Grammys equivalent

• In 2009, Ruban was hospitalised due to ‘acute renal colic’, a form of kidney stones that causes pain worse than childbirth or broken bones. Ouch

• Portland’s doctors wouldn’t give him anaesthetic until they knew whether he could pay his bills. Assholes