New Zealand-born Ruban Nielson recently revealed how a polyamorous relationship spurred UMO’s latest album Multi-Love – and landed him in hot water – but the LP is much more than the sum of its body parts.
here’s a scene in the second season of Girls where Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath says she needs to ‘experience things for the story’ in order to write the book for ‘her generation’. She goes on to takes a face full of drugs and dances in a club without a bra. I’m reminded of this scene when talking to Ruban Nielson- linchpin of Portland psych-funk band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. He’s gained something of a reputation for chasing adventures. His first and second albums positioned him as an acid-tinged gear freak who didn’t sleep and liked to party hard – with songs inspired by insomnia and self-medication. ‘Jake [Portrait, the band’s long-standing bassist] and I would get into town and would immediately find the people that were getting up to mischief’ he says of that time. There’s a reason why – in the early days at least – the band got through three tour managers and just as many drummers.
Their third album Multi-Love however – has been defined by a different kind of journey altogether – one that was dissected in eyebrow-raising detail in a recent Pitchfork interview. At first it sounds like a storyline from a indie-world soap opera. Not long ago New Zealand-born Nielson embarked on a three-way relationship between himself – his wife Jenny and a young woman whom the music website dubbed ‘Laura’. The couple and their two children had moved out of a yurt and into a permanent residence and invited Laura to stay with them after a period of exchanging increasingly romantic emails. The three had a polyamorous love-in for the next year – until visa issues prevented Laura from extending her stay. As provocative break-up album fodder goes – it’s surely up there with Rumours.