The secret is out there, if you look hard enough. Ever since the mysterious Portland-based project Unknown Mortal Orchestra debuted last year with the rousing (and oddly spelled) pysch-pop gem "Ffunny Ffrends," the blog-world has been clamoring to put a name and face behind one of the most promising Portland acts to appear in a long time. There has been all sorts of speculation (The band is from New Zealand! It's really the Mint Chicks! It's Beck!) about Unknown Mortal Orchestra's origins, but until now, nothing has been confirmed besides the fact that all 300 copies of the group's debut EP have sold out. With UMO set to start a tour opening for Smith Westerns next week, the man behind the EP's four amazing songs, Ruban Nielsen of the Mint Chicks, has decided to share his identity with us in an exclusive email interview.
WW: How did the UMO project come about?
Nielsen: I gave up doing music for a living at the beginning of 2010, broke up my band and just tried to figure out a better way of living my life and try my best to continue to make music as a hobby without having to run it by a label or any bandmates. While I was looking for work I recorded some stuff in my apartment and in friend's basements here in Portland when they would go on tour or go away for a week or something. At first it was just tape loops and random instrumental noises and messing around with different tape machines. After I felt comfortable that I was getting the right kinds of sounds I started recording songs and thought I would try and make a psych record for myself. Just do it as a hobby while I tried to become a more productive member of society. I felt like I could be happier that way and also my music would be better because there was no compromising or outside pressure.
One day I started a Bandcamp to upload one of the songs because I started thinking there might be some kind of homemade psych record community out there or something and maybe I could connect up with other people around the world who might be doing was I was doing. I was thinking about a name that would describe what I felt the music was: pretty much the pointless but overblown musical world of an anonymous loser. Unknown and Mortal seemed to be exactly the words that described it and I think I called it Orchestra just to give it some confidence, because I didn't want to call my music "Ignore This Bullshit" because that seemed like too much of a bummer. Anyway, more people than I thought possible got interested in it.
Why did you want to keep it a secret for so long? And why come out of the woods now?
It wasn't a total secret at first but people seemed to get off on the fact that they didn't know who made it. One of the bloggers who originally posted about it told me I should keep my identity a secret and so I just did what he told me. Seemed like a good idea. I played up to it because people liked it and because I wanted people to think entirely about the music and how it sounds and not clog up their brains with useless extra information about "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 so I don't care if people know now. We're touring with the Smith Westerns and then with Starfucker and we're going all over the place so there's not much point being so obscure anymore. Still, it's just a name and a face. That doesn't mean that much. It really doesn't matter who makes a song. You just listen to it if it sounds good. Musicians are all pretty much the same.
What's the state of the Mint Chicks? Is this a side project or kinda your main thing going on right now?
I don't know!