Primavera Sound: 15 Minutes with Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Ruban Nielson is bored. The 35-year old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and general mastermind behind the psych-rock band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra has grown tired of fielding questions about his love life. The band just released their third album, Multi-Love and the overriding topic of conversation surrounding the album thus far has mostly been around the unconventional polyamorous relationship that inspired it. Unfortunately, despite the musical merits that the album has (and it has many), juicy gossip tends to win out and many profiles of the singer have painted a picture of a hippy-dippy, peace-and-love-preaching Oregonian. Meeting Neilson and the band’s bassist, Jake Portrait, at their hotel before their set at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival, it’s striking just how normal he is. When I broach the subject of the new album and how strange it must be for such intimate details of his love life to be discussed so explicitly and almost certainly judged, he is quick to brush me off. “It’s kind of unavoidable. At first I wasn’t going to talk about it but then I felt a sense of responsibility to so then I just had to choose how it was going to be delivered,” he says. “It’s something that happened and at this point it’s just a normal thing. People just love to reduce everything into a clickable headline which is so boring.”

Conversation quickly moves to discuss the sound of the new album and what to expect from the live show. “As a live band, we kind of messed with the idea of jamming and improvisation and we went really far in that direction so now we have solos [built into the live show],” says Nielson. “[Musicians] are a little bit too against improvisation at the moment. If you think about what improvisation is actually about, it’s really essential to live music. There are a lot of feelings and spiritual things that can happen during an improvisation that you can’t get when you’re set to a click track.”

Both Nielson and Portrait come from a self-admitted punk rock background – more apparent in their live performance, adding a palpable electricity to their already catchy songs and making you realise that Nielson is completely right about the importance of improvisation to the experience of an audience. “Some people say it’s self-indulgent but that’s why we do it – to piss those people off,” Nielson says about the solos. The crowd in attendance certainly didn’t seem to mind when Riley Geare, the band’s drummer smashed a solo three songs into their set. “You’re trying to give something away in real time, in a live setting, that you don’t get from just listening to the album,” adds Portrait.

The band’s outstanding performance proves that there is so much more to them than just a good third album with a clickbait-y backstory. “Clickbait’s boring. Clickbait’s so 2014,” says Nielson. “Why be a tourist? Why not try it out yourself and see what it’s like?”


Multi-Love is out now.

For Unknown Mortal Orchestra tour dates and ticketing information, visit their website.

Image courtesy of Ashley Solomon.