May 21, 2015 11:08AM

Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Frontman Ruban Nielson On Deciding To Make A Happy Record

And succeeding.

New Zealand born Ruban Nielson, the musical mind behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra, has gone from anonymous internet buzz boy, to down-and-out partier to romantic/happy/healthy human in the past few years, his music transforming along the way. UMO's third record Multi-love is a shiny soul- and synth-filled project with a title track about a confusing romantic addition to Ruban's marital relationship. The album is out this week and to celebrate, we sat down with the category-defying guy to talk about where his head is at these days.

Hi, how are you?
I'm great!

That's good, so I've just been listening to Multi-love, it has a way more uplifting feel than the last album. How did your headspace change in between the two?
Yeah, I guess my headspace is different — I decided the album would be happy before I started making it. I think even if I'd have been miserable, I was always going to try and make an album like this one. I've been much healthier, and I've been looking after myself.

Going jogging?
[Laughs] No, not really, but I used to be a little bit careless about my health so I guess I'm not as bad. When I was thinking about what the album should be, one thing I thought was that it's got to be happy, because I was a bit embarrassed about how sad II was.

It's good to try to balance it out.
Maybe the next one will be super depressing.

Who worked on making Multi-love, and what was that process like? 
I set myself about ten months to finish it. I thought spending ten months in the basement completely by myself would be a bit depressing so I flew my brother out to start the record with me. We spent a month doing drums, and he plays piano on the record as well. That was really cool, we were on my normal schedule basically: wake up in the afternoon, start working around six or seven, and then take a break at three or four in the morning. There's a diner by my house called Sherries, so we'd go there and have pie and coffee and then come back and work till seven or eight pm and go to sleep. We did that for like a month — it kind of drove us nuts, but we got a lot of work done.

Your style is pretty reminiscent of the past, stuff like 60s and 70s psych. Who are some people making music right now that you admire? 
There's a lot of people, I think this year has been really good for music. Last year…I didn't like last year, I thought it was really boring and cheesy. I like the Flying Lotus album that came out at the end of last year — it kind of broke the losing streak for me. Then, the D'Angelo album showed up out of nowhere and that was another hopeful thing. I'm really excited about a lot of this stuff, I like Kendrick's record, for a mainstream rap album to sound like that was really inspiring.

Were you listening to anything specific when you made Multi-love?
I've been listening to Station to Station for a few years. I've been listening to it at least once a day, obsessively trying to figure out what's going on on that album. So I think going into the record Station to Station was definitely one of the things that I was thinking about. I just had this idea that I wanted do everything a little bit wrong compared to what people might have been expecting me to do.

I've read some things about your tours being pretty hectic… 
It comes with being a musician sometimes, I guess I don't really want to talk about it as much. I'm trying to do something with my life that's a little bit less clichéd then that.

The experienced of being on tour came up on your last album, was that the case for Multi-love?
I didn't write about being on tour as much, for the last three years it was still a big part of my life. A lot of those problems and adventures I just got bored of talking about. The thing I was interested in writing about last time was how it was all getting on top of me and taking me down. It's just kind of boring to me now.

You're pretty active on Twitter, is that weird now you're getting bigger? 
As the band gets a little bit more popular, it gets to the point where randoms are looking at me. I think now I'm dealing with people who like my music and they're all really nice…I don't know if it's a dumb thing to think, but I have this idea that I should just be allowed to live my life and say what I want to say. I have this idea that I'm a good person and if I say something offensive it's because it didn't come out right.
Is 'Can't Keep Checking My Phone' about the negative effects of technology? 
Not really, I don't want it to be viewed as that. The album is not supposed to be about how the future is bad or whatever. There are obvious things about the times we are living in being bad but I thought it would be more effective to ignore that and make something really celebratory. The whole 'Can't Keep Checking My Phone' thing was about a personal relationship, about that thing where you've got to stop waiting for someone to get back to you after a while. I wanted to see someone really badly then I stated to freak out about not getting enough contact and it made me start ignoring them…I think the song's cooler if it's not trying to take the weight of "phones are bad".

Multi-love is out via Jagjaguwar on May 22, 2015.  

Photo: Courtesy

Lucy Jones