Mortal Orchestra Unknown: If I didn’t have children, I wouldn’t talk to you now

I I know there are things wrong with my music,” says Roban Nelson, singer and guitarist for the psych rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. “My mixing is bad, and my recording is unprofessional at times, but I try to focus on how to deliver something worth saying.” The New Zealand-Hawaiian singer calls Zoom in from his dimly lit basement studio in Portland, where it’s just starting to snow. For Nelson, perfection has always taken a backseat when it comes to the band’s signature DIY sound, which he finds impossible to sum up. He told me:” I always made up genre names,” making suggestions like “Dad-wave” and “trouble-gum.” “Depression funk” is another fan favorite.

If the latter is accurate, UMO can now be considered a master of mental health music. The band is on album number five. Last, Fifth, a double show, full of warm homemade instrumentals and vague future classics that could only have come from the sound creators they once made. Experts in alternative oxymoron, UMO are bittersweet innovators, often grouped with former touring partners, Foxygen. The band – primarily Nelson and guitarist Jake Portrett – got its start in 2010 in Auckland, when the former anonymously released a Soundcloud track in the wild. Since then, their energetic music has gained critical acclaim and helped them sell out world tours. Just last month, UMO celebrated 10 years since the release of their 2013 debut album. The Classic Now || It included country and reminiscent tracks like “So Good At Being In Trouble” – Now It’s Gold.

“I’ve never been able to hit that record again,” says Nelson. “It’s very particular about what I was going through at the time; all the limitations and despair of ‘Who am I? What do I do? “It’s all baked into the record itself. I can hear it.” || Created during a stormy time spent couch surfing and navigating a “very bad drug problem”. In the end, though, Nelson says, he had a realization. “At some point, I’m going to have to decide if I’m just going to change and move on to the next chapter in my life or if I’m going to die,” he recalls reflecting, explaining that many of his close friends “didn’t make it into their forties.” It was his children who pulled him “over the edge”. Nielsen looks at me truthfully through the camera, illuminated by his daughter’s selfie ring light. “I think if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t talk to you right now,” he admits. “I was okay with sacrificing myself. I was not okay with sacrificing others.”

Nelson has learned a lot in the past decade. He’s learned that the band’s lifestyle can lead to one becoming “self-obsessed” – and he’s learned that family is not only the reason he’s alive, but really living. “I’d throw away any amount of glory just to get my kids’ approval,” he laughs, a bit self-conscious. Nelson, his wife Jenny, and their two children divide their time across Portland, Palm Springs, and Hawaii, where Nelson’s mother lives. Until recently, he was on a hiatus from music, choosing instead to invest the time in being a good son and father. However, the epidemic led to a series of “tragedies” for his relatives that reminded Nelson why he entered the profession in the first place. Making music is how he “cope with life”.

That’s when UMO’s new album Fifth child. Music and family collided, the latter unintentionally becoming central to the songs, recorded in Palm Springs with his brother, father, and longtime bandmate Portrait. “We didn’t come out of that period the same way,” he told me. In fact, Nelson thinks they got better out of it. “We thought, if we don’t come out of this as stronger, less selfish people, then this is just another big tragedy for our family.”

Tragedies were considered, and Nelson felt it was important for the album to continue to rise. “I didn’t want to make a sad record because it’s a very sad time,” he says. “We wanted to ease the pain and shed light on the situation.” It traces lyrically teleporting listeners to the silent swings of palm trees, shimmering seas, and sandy skin. Having said that, as with most of UMO’s work, Those in the Sunshine is overshadowed by a bit of darkness, as heard in the nostalgic nuances of “That Life.” “When is life not like this?” Nilsson says of the bitter sweetness inherent in his music. “How can you be truly happy if you don’t acknowledge these dark things?” Due to the circumstances surrounding the album, death inevitably became a theme for Fifth. But rather than weigh him down, she gave him a carpe diem approach to life and creation. “I think the foundation I work from is constantly thinking about death, always using it as an excuse for recklessness,” he laughs.

The singer has always had a sense of impending doom about the world around us. “UMO started under Obama, and everyone was just awestruck. At the time, everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, life is so wonderful—but I was already so exhausted.’” As Nelson got older, he felt a shift. “The bottom line now is that Everyone’s feeling pessimistic,” he chuckles at the grimness of the situation. “You know, politically disillusioned, constantly aware of death and things like that.”

Paradoxically, then, Nelson now feels less bothered than before. The veil of pretense has been removed and he is relieved. “This ambient feeling that we’re heading off a cliff is now kind of real,” he suggests. “This is when you can start to really get to know things and fix things.” Nelson believes it is time to live life to the fullest. “If we’re all going to die, we should make it count. We should celebrate, we should take care of the people we love, we should tell our mothers, We love them! If it’s really over, it’s not the time to be depressed.”

Nelson (second from right) didn’t learn the true meaning of his songs until a few years after he wrote them

(Juan Ortiz)

Although there are clues, Nelson isn’t sure about the songs Fifth About to date. In fact, it always takes a year or two to learn the true meaning of his music. “I think the reason I’m really addicted to making music is because it’s such a strange and mysterious process.” He began to think of the writing process as a kind of “religion”. “It’s a cliche, but it’s kind of like you’re channeling something,” he says. “Like what you’re making comes from your subconscious mind or a higher power. Sometimes when I write, I think, ‘How did you even do that?’ I don’t feel 100 percent author of it. I feel like I was there and did it by accident.” He wonders if that means his songs belong to others, and recalls anecdotes from shows in which fans described acute situations in their own lives that his music perfectly captures. He asks himself, “What if the song was actually about them? What if I was just the one handing it?”

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I like the idea of ​​becoming a successful musician, but I don’t like the idea of ​​people discussing me

Robin Nelson

One particular album, though, was written about something very specific in Nelson’s life. Register in 2015 multi love It centers around Nelson’s polyamorous relationship with his wife and another woman. Details are detailed later in a pitchfork Article that somewhat sparked the relationship. The subject matter was greater than the music, and the women involved felt aggrieved by the revelation. “I had to learn that the hard way [my life] Not entirely for me to talk about,” he says. “I didn’t think anyone would care enough to be an issue.” I asked Nelson if the experience was lyrically stifling. “I realized I had to be more adept at giving as much of myself as possible. …without dragging others in ways they never were,” he admits. “I like the idea of ​​being a successful musician, but I don’t like the idea of ​​people discussing me; That’s not the reason I got involved in this. It always seems like you’re trying to negotiate something: how much success do you want for the price? “

He may not have a desire for the spotlight, but the stage is a special place for Nelson. “I walk in there and then another part of me takes over,” he says. “I don’t have a single idea; I am the pure version of myself.” This is an addictive feeling. “It’s like you’re a different person – you have to run away from yourself and from yourself.” Escape is imminent for Nelson. Soon UMO will hit the road for its mega tour across the US and Europe. In September, the band will end up headlining at the End of the Road Festival.

But the tour is not without its concerns. A few months ago, nerve compression in Nelson’s left hand left him unable to move it. He had to attend physical therapy just to play his guitar. Always finding the silver lining, Nelson says the injury has shifted his focus from achieving perfection to just being able to play the parts. Now, without stress, he can focus on communicating something meaningful. That’s all he wanted.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new album “V” is now out via Jagjaguwar

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