A MULTI PURPOSE
New Zealand band Unknown Mortal Orchestra are breaking the alternative genre mould, and the evidence is in their new record, Multi-Love
This year there have been two epics for the epoch of self doubt, Tame Impala’s Let It Happen is one, where Kevin Parker does as he pleases for eight minutes without seeming to lift a finger and then Unknown Mortal Orchestra came at us with Multi-Love, a song that goes for half the time but achieves a similar state of nirvana, tracing back to The White Album via The Animals and Metronomy.
“That was the first song I started for the album … and the last one I finished. The vocal took eight months to get right,” says eccentric Kiwi Ruban Nielson, lead singer and brains trust behind the Portlandbased band.
Multi-Love is the title track to their third record, after UMO’s 2011 self-titled debut where Nielson pretended he was “a character in a cartoon band”, and solid follow-up II.
Nielson was formerly in NZ’s noiseniks The Mint Chicks with his brother Kody (now finding success with his Silicon project) and it got brohemian in the studio for UMO’s third album.
“We were in New Zealand and my brother started playing this gospel chord change he was working on and then started playing it on piano and I started hearing this melody for Multi-Love and I wanted to make this melody based on the chord change I had,” he says, getting right into the polyamorous ode.
“We messed around with it then I decided I’d fly him out to Portland where I live and the first thing we worked on was Multi-Love. I was singing and trying to find the perfect melodies. He was messing around with melodies and arpeggiating the piano and I was like ‘Oh my god! That’s crazy, let’s do that!’ ” he says, breaking out of his mellow fellow vibe.
“I wanted it to be a modular love song, does that make sense? A love song that you could rearrange in your head to suit your own situation. Whether you were straight or gay or whatever, it was a love song that could be moulded into your life. I wanted to get the lyrics right. Also I wanted to make something that would break people’s expectations about what the band was supposed to sound like. A song that sounds like UMO but also strangely futuristic.
It works on multi-levels. “We didn’t want Multi-Love to be very ‘of-our-time’ like other bands ... but something that sounds like it could only be made in 2015,” he laughs at his preciousness.
“It was pretty ambitious. I also wanted it to be a jam you could throw on when you’re having your coffee in the morning and getting psyched to go to work. It was a big deal to make all those things come together for me. I couldn’t have done it without my brother.”
Interestingly, Multi-Love’s themes are based around Nielson meeting a mysterious girl in Tokyo who then moved to Portland to live (!) with Ruban, his wife and two kids. An article in Pitchfork laid the polyamorous situation bare.
“She’s gone to China now; limbo. It taught me a lesson about turning my life into art.”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra will perform at The Triffid, Brisbane, Sunday.