Seven Questions with Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Ruben Nielson

WORDS and PHOTOS by TRAVIS GILLETT

I still remember the first time I heard UMO, which means quite a bit coming from the haze and fog that would come to be known as “The Summer of 2012.” I still remember the first time I saw UMO, again, one of the 4-5 memories that survived that year. Ruban Nielson’s staccato-classic guitar and overt psychedelia-sensual wiles really won me over. Grooves, dig? DHM had the chance to catch up with the soft spoken Kiwi outside of the El Korah Shrine in Idaho during Treefort Music Festival. Over the raucous passerby and muffled musicians inside, I was able to capture the answers to these seven probing questions. Journalism at it’s finest, folks.

If you had to make a personal license or vanity plate on your car what would it say?
It would be really cool to have a license plate that was just blank. There has to be one out there right? Or, like, “…”

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What keeps you up at night?
Anything. I’m just always awake at night. Last night, I was talking to a friend of mine, they were sexually assaulted last year sometime and she was talking about how she sent her dress to the police to try and get evidence or something and they didn’t get anything — Sorry this is so heavy but it kept me up last night. Then they sent the dress back, and it’s laying on her really badly — as it would you know? — and she was trying to get some closure, and she told me she hadn’t taken the dress out of the parcel, it just sits at the bottom of her closet. I told her, “you have something to base a ritual around now, like an exorcism,” and I gave her three ideas on how to do that ritual. The first one, most obviously, was to put the dress on and inflict some kind of violence on someone — on a man. The second was, put the dress on and have some extremely empowering sex in it, and reclaim the dress. And the third, was to put a man in the dress and then degrade him.

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What was the best aspect of growing up in New Zealand?
It was really kind of innocent. Isolated. I didn’t see much bad crime as a kid. There’s crime there, but it’s not as grown-up. Kids here, I think they’re told to grow up really quickly. In New Zealand, you’re allowed to just to your thing, not as much “media pressure.” I’m glad I had that.

How long would survive, alone, lost in the wilderness?
Not very long [laughs]. Two days maybe?

What was your first CD, tape, 8-track, whatever?
Like, MC Hammer. Either that or Tevin Campbell, you know. My Mom didn’t really like Public Enemy or NWA or anything like that… So, I had MC Hammer and Tevin Campbell.

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Recite Idaho’s state motto for us:
It’s … Umm.. Hang on, no, wait… It’s three things… Peril. Success. Change?

Wait, we don’t even know it, that’s embarrassing. What if you just had to make it up?
“Why can’t it stay green?”

What’s one of your childhood fears?
I’ve had dreams that a plane would fly in to a building. And things would fall, like pieces of building, and people would fall on me. When 9/11 happened, it really freaked me out. After that, I never had that dream again, it shook it out of my brain. I’m scared of planes flying into buildings, always have been.

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Ruben Nielson

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