A glance at Riley Geare's wrist will tell you he hasn't been home for a few weeks. He was, until recently, on the road, playing drums with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and his forearm is a rainbow of plastic wristbands, collected from the various clubs and festivals the group passed through. In May, the band released Multi-Love, its third and best-received album yet, taking it across the country, up to Canada and over to Europe, and taking the 31-year-old Geare away from his children—that is, the equipment filling his Northeast Portland basement recording space.
"I don't have any desire to buy a car. I don't need any fancy clothes. I just want more gear," he says, waxing ecstatic about the compressors and preamps he and his roommate, Radiation City's Randy Bemrose, have lining the walls of their home studio. "If it wasn't for this stuff, I'd probably just check out of capitalism entirely."
While UMO on record is entirely the project of singer-guitarist Ruban Nielson, Geare—who, with his long brown hair and chest-length beard, could score the lead role in either a Passion play or a Rob Zombie biopic—was the missing link in the band's live iteration. After going through two drummers in three years, Geare joined shortly after 2013's II, and his looseness behind the kit opened up the trio's distinctively funky psychedelic pop.
Between tours, though, Geare lives increasingly in his basement. Though he's still in the early stages of establishing himself as a producer in Portland, the native of Ketchikan, Alaska, is a longtime studio rat, cutting his teeth as an engineer in L.A., then working a jury-rigged setup out of his father's instrument shop in St. Johns. About two years ago, after he and Bemrose built out their studio, Geare put an ad on Craiglist, looking for artists to work with, which brought him into contact with songwriter Jackson Boone. "I wasn't expecting to be impressed in any way," Geare says. But the record they ended up making together, Starlit, turned out to be a sleeper gem of 2014, due in no small part to the immersive production. It showcased Geare's ability to conjure a billowing cosmos of sound by layering guitars, vintage synths and strings into a levitating, stargazing brand of psychedelia. It's a sound he's also imbued to the upcoming debut EP by singer Cat Hoch, which should be one of the local standouts of this year. According to Geare, though, he is not beholden to any particular approach. He just does what's best for the material. "I want to take somebody's songs," he says, "and see them through to the best I could possibly make them."
Geare has a full slate ahead of him, with projects from Seance Crasher, Bike Thief and Sinless—not to mention, eventually, his own solo album. (He also just completed work on Boone's second album, Natural Changes, which is slated for release in September.) And there is more touring yet to do with UMO: After its homecoming gig this week, the band—now a four-piece with the addition of keyboardist Quincy McCrary, an acquaintance of Geare's from their days backing soul singer Mayer Hawthorne—will be gone, with fleeting breaks, through early November. It's a tiring schedule. But for Geare, it's worth all the exhaustion.
âThe response has been good,â he says, âso that far overshadows sleep.â
SEE IT: Unknown Mortal Orchestra plays Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., with Vinyl Williams, on Thursday, July 23. 9 pm. Sold out. Under 21 permitted with legal guardian.