Interview with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait

Robert McDonald

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra hit Dublin for the first time on May 2nd I nabbed Jacob Portait for a quick Q+A about bands success, ‘chicks’ and…. Ireland!

 

Ruban Nielsen began recording demos for fun in his basement after the collapse of his band The Mint Chicks. A demo of ‘FFunny FFriends’ went online and the Internet (music bloggers in particular) went crazy over the track but also from the mysterious anonymity of its creator. Nielsen eventually owned up to creating the acid-drenched pop that laced the unknown-mortal-orchestra.bandcamp.

 

Two albums of sonic bliss followed and UMO are firmly in the pop-psych elite. Debut self-titled LP landed in 2011 on Fat Possum records, which was almost universally lauded critically. Standout tracks were plentiful from the record, spearheaded by that demo ‘FFunny FFriends’ with its fuzzy splendor. It was all scuzzy pop psychedelia filled with hooks, samples and remarkably catchy melodies.

 

‘II’ followed early this year and by all accounts it was progression both lyrically and sonically. The quality of the bands promo videos from ‘II’ in a peculiar sense highlights they success they’ve had thus far. Notable mention to the video for ‘Swim and Sleep’, as it contains puppets doing things you’ve never seen do them before.

 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s line up was swiftly assembled. Jacob Portrait who mans the bass, produced Neilsen’s former band, was asked to join and accepted. Drummer Riley Geare joined UMO a little later but is now firmly in the trio. The band are based in Portland, Oregan.

UMO

UMO from left to right: Ruban, Riley and Jacob

Q. UMO play Dublin on 2nd May, Are you looking forward to it?

Jacob Portrait: very much looking forward to our first show in Dublin. I have family from Ireland, I’ve been wanting to go really badly. Really wanting to get an insta with the Phil Lynott statue.

 

Q. UMO strangely has a link with Ireland with Janet Farrar (An Irish ‘witch’/witchcraft expert) being on the cover of ‘II’, are there plans to get in touch with her? Will she be at the Dublin gig?

She told us she’s coming to the show and I’m hoping we can grab a bite with her and learn some spells.

'II' album cover
‘II’ album cover

 
Q. What bands if any do you like from Ireland?

My Bloody Valentine, The Pogues, Thin Lizzy, Stiff Little Fingers, The Cranberries. Am I Cliché??

 Q. Since the band has started it seems there has been an instant fan base/following, what was that like?

It was like pulling a slot machine lever and getting all 7’s?? 

Q. Have you came across any negatives from being a popular so quickly and being labeled a ‘buzz band’?

I don’t think we are a buzz band anymore. When we started we were labeled a buzz band – I actually prefer buzz band – and I’m not sure much negative came from it.

Q. UMO have toured extensively have you had any favourite places to play? Or favourites places you’ve been?

Tokyo! Can I say Scotland? Singapore, Tasmania. We really enjoy playing Texas, it has been so good to us.

Q. This European tour you’re playing lots of European countries, where are you looking seeing?

IRELAND!

Q. Do you enjoy touring and how do you pass time when on the road for so long?

I love touring. I love my bandmates. I love this band. And on the road; paint our nails, and talk about chicks? Listen to Ricky Gervais while doing tarot card readings. Yelp for restaurants and think of new and interesting career options for Riley (UMO’s drummer). 

Q. Being a producer as well; do you have a preference, producing music or being in a band playing music?

I like both equally. Honestly, I need them both to balance out the monotony of either; the ‘trapped in the studio’ feeling and the ‘new town everyday’ reality.

 Q. You just played at SXSW2013 and have played it previously how was that and do you like the festival?

I’m just speaking for myself here, but I do not like the festival. The festival has the wrong priorities and is pretty much the Walmart of music at this point. That being said, we did get to play with Solange Knowles, see our friends and spend time in a great city.

Q. Ruban has recorded the album pretty solitarily, would you like to join the songwriting process? Or are you happy as things stand?

I’m very supportive of Ruban doing things the way he wants. He’s playing guitar like no one else I’ve come across and writing songs with the quality of the greats. I want to be the Eiffel Tower of the band!! Not the city Paris, but a figure in the city that’s always there. 

Q. UMO’s promo videos for singles have been great, do you guys have any creative input into that or does the director sort it?

These videos have been the concepts of the directors. I’m really into the swim and sleep video at the moment.

Q. Personally have you had any personal highlights since being with the band?

Meredith festival in Australia, Pitchfork festival, playing in Tokyo, and surviving our first show in San Franciso, which had 2 people in the audience.

However, our greatest moment was finding our manager, Tom Wironen!

Unknown Mortal Orchestra play the Academy 2 on Thursday May 2

Check out UMO here:

http://unknownmortalorchestra.com/

or like Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/unknownmortalorchestra

or follow:

https://twitter.com/UMO

 

 

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Robert McDonald

@therobbyPOP