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In the Studio

Unknown Mortal Orchestra ‘Nerd Out’ On Sophomore LP

Photo courtesy Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Since the release last year of his Unknown Mortal Orchestra project’s self-titled debut, former Mint Chick Ruban Nielson has lived on the road, providing opening support for Girls, Liars, and most recently, Grizzly Bear. But in January, the newly minted Jagjaguwar signee began earnest work on that album’s sophomore follow-up, an effort he describes as a much more “expanded and ambitious”  offering, his debut’s “big brother.”

Written and recorded between tours, the record, due early next year, is “about being on the road,” Nielson said recently, by phone from Joe Lambert’s (Deerhunter, Sharon Van Etten) South Brooklyn mastering studio. “There is a lot of weird shit that starts going through your head when you don’t get enough sleep, when you start indulging in stuff. There are a lot of weird ideas in there that, when I actually got my head together afterward, I was shocked: I didn’t realize how dark some of the lyrics had become.”

Said lyrics, Nielson says, touch on existential dread and crumbling relationships, each in their way a byproduct of “moving around a lot,” of “living at night, without much sun.” “New Zealand is quite secular,” he says of his birthplace, “but traveling around America and having to deal with people with such strong religious beliefs was a weird thing for me.”

Sonically, though, Nielson promises a richer experience. “I’ve definitely gotten better at getting the sound I want,” he says of a writing process that found him up most nights in his Portland basement, “nerding out” among “ten or 12 tape recorders with different widths and brands of tape,” snippets of which he’d carefully transfer over to his computer for piecing together. UMO touring members were brought in to help flesh out his rhythm section, but “apart from that,” he says, “it was just me, locked up, sleeping during the day and making the record at night.”

Upon it’s release, Nielson is hoping to book a night at Portland’s Aladdin Theater, a former vaudeville house from the 1920 (and host to shows by Nielson’s Hawaii-based, reggae-playing uncle) he says he’d like to fill with huge floral arrangements. “Not like a party,” he explains “but a wedding reception.”  

Photo courtesy Unknown Mortal Orchestra Photo courtesy Unknown Mortal Orchestra