It’s a known fact that Dirty Projectors are sexy as hell. Tender, acoustic psych-rock can also be pretty sexy, depending on your taste in musical hotness. So when this cover of “Swing Lo Magellan” dropped in September, my reaction was something along the lines of “Hot damn, I wanna drape this track in a colorful poncho, lay it down on a cozy bearskin rug, and degrade its sound using ridiculously low-quality recording mechanisms.”
The man behind the music is Ruban Nielson, guitarist, songwriter, and frontman of the increasingly popular psychedelic outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which also includes drummer Riley Geare and bassist Jake Portrait. A New Zealand native, Nielson made his debut on the indie music blog circuit in 2010 when he anonymously released the song “Ffunny Ffriends” via Bandcamp. Since revealing their secret identity, UMO have gone on to release two sufficiently fuzzy albums to wide critical acclaim and an expanding fan base.
The aforementioned Dirty Projectors cover will be one of five tracks on Nielson’s latest and lowest-fidelity recording yet, an upcoming EP titled Blue Record and available for digital download at the end of this month. Blue Record includes acoustic versions of album cuts “So Good at Being in Trouble,” “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark),” and “Faded in the Morning” off the band’s darker and deeper sophomore effort ii.
If you sent me an e-mail asking whether I’d be down to interview Nielson about UMO’s current tour, my inner thought process might be something like “Wait, what is this person talking about? Did ze just confuse me with some other Roxie Pell who talks to cool bands all the time?”
But would my actual response be “Um…yes?”
What followed was a short phone conversation with Nielson, shoddily pieced together here through a painful process of laborious transcription. Apparently, I didn’t get the memo that the service in Hi-rise is virtually nonexistent. (Note to self: lo-fi is only an effective recording technique for actual music. Low-fidelity garageband interviews are markedly less fun to listen to.)
UMO will be performing at Brighton Music Hall tonight at 9 if any of y’all feel like shipping up to Boston approximately right now. Rumor has it it’s only two hours away from Middletown.
You’ve been touring for a while now. Tired yet?
Yeah. [Laughs.] Really tired.
Somewhat ironically, you’re extending the tour for an album about overextending yourself.
Yeah. Somehow that happened. The album was kind of, like, a way of describing the state of mind of continuing to be nothing.
How has the tour lifestyle been treating you this time around?
A little better. It’s a little bit easier. We haven’t really toured any less. We’ve been kind of touring for three years now. We pretty much—well, compared to what the last few years have been—have kind of a year off. We’ll tour a little bit but mostly spend time making the next record.
Blue Record is scheduled for release later this month. What made you decide to go acoustic on this EP?
Well, you know, labels will create the Deluxe Edition of an album to kind of reinvigorate the album and try get people to buy more copies. So when that idea came up…I didn’t really care about it, so I thought, “Well, maybe if I do kind of a record on its own, maybe that will be interesting.” And I thought acoustic would be good because I could re-record some of the songs in a style that I’d already been doing them in. ‘Cause I started doing stuff like that, and that was unused. We didn’t have any definitive recordings of the acoustic versions. So, I don’t know. It seemed like an organic thing to do.
And you recorded the whole thing from your basement?
Do you have any kind of routine or method that dictates your songwriting?
I usually just gather a bunch of ideas on my phone. [Laughs.] I’ll combine them later when I get home.
That’s very modern. So the songs on Blue Record are all covers or acoustic versions of music you’ve already written. Would you consider writing new songs in this style?
I have been. I’ve always worked on acoustic guitar. [Unintelligible]
Can you repeat that? Phone service is not great.
Oh, is my accent weird as well?
No, not at all!
Well, all of the new songs are acoustic right now because I’ve been writing them on acoustic.
Can you talk a little about the next full-length album you’ve been working on?
Yeah. I think next year is gonna be mostly taken up by recording that, and I think I’ll be collaborating with different people and producers and traveling to a few different countries to do the recording. And then also recording in my basement to keep it kind of…to make sure everything sounds like a UMO record.
Any ideas for a title?
At the moment, it’s just iii. [Laughs.] It’s the working title, but it might change, I don’t know.
Pretty logical though. So I keep hearing all this hubbub about your Twitter. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tweeted?
The weirdest thing I’ve ever tweeted? I don’t know. I think I have like 15,000 tweets or something.
Yeah! Such an achievement, right? I’m just saying that because I tweet so much I can’t even remember. I think the tweet I’m most proud of, though, is “I want Drake to destroy his vagina.”