Ruban Nielson

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Ruban Nielson
Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ Sir Stewart Bovell Park (8 1 12) (6693050513).jpg
Background information
Birth nameRuban Nielson
Born (1980-02-20) February 20, 1980 (age 38)
New Zealand
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, musician
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums, percussion, cello
Years active2001–present
Associated acts

Ruban Nielson (born February 20, 1980) is a New Zealand-American musician and the frontman of the American and New Zealand rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Nielson is a former member of The Mint Chicks, a band he started with his brother Kody Nielson, Paul Roper, and Michael Logie. The four members met at Orewa College in Orewa, New Zealand, although the band started moving between Portland, Oregon and Auckland. The band broke up following Ruban's departure.


Early life[edit]

Nielson was born in New Zealand on February 20, 1980. His mother is an American hula dancer from Hawaii and his father is a New Zealand trumpet player. The two met on tour.[1]

The Mint Chicks (2001–10)[edit]

Ruban Nielson and his brother Kody Nielson formed the band in high school in 2001, and began by playing punk house parties and low profile shows before being discovered by acclaimed New Zealand independent record label Flying Nun Records. They released two EPs and three albums under the Flying Nun Records banner: Octagon, Octagon, Octagon EP (2003), Anti-Tiger EP (2004), Fuck the Golden Youth (2005), Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! (2006) and Screens (2009), as well as one EP on a minor label, Bad Buzz (2010). All were produced and recorded by the band's core members Ruban and Kody Nielson, with the exception of Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! which was produced by the Nielson brothers and their father Chris Nielson at two different home studios.

All four original band members met at Orewa College in Orewa, New Zealand, although the band starting moving between Portland, Oregon and Auckland, as the Nielson brothers have dual citizenship in New Zealand and the U.S.

In 2006, the band played support for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The volume of the show was reportedly so loud that part of the St James theater complex fell down, injuring two concert goers.[2] They have also played support slots for The White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, TV on the Radio, The Blood Brothers, The Black Lips, and The Bronx. They were also part of the New Zealand line-up for Big Day Out 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. In 2005, it was notable that Kody Nielson wielded a chainsaw on stage and destroyed a corporate sponsor's overly prominent sign with it.[3]

At the 2007 New Zealand Music Awards the band won five Tui awards including best rock group, best album, best rock album[4] as well as winning best album cover and best music video for the single "Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!".[5]

On 24 October 2007, it was announced on the band's website that their bassist Michael Logie would leave the band when they relocated to Portland.[6] The group continued as a trio, with Logie relocating to London, England. The band played a free show in Portland on 29 June 2008, in which they played their then-upcoming third album from beginning to end live. The band later supported Shihad on the July 2008 Beautiful Machine Tour and tested their new songs in front of a home audience. As a result of their bass player having left the band, the Mint Chicks weren't able to play hits from earlier songs, angering some fans. To counter this Shihad's bass player, Karl Kippenberger, filled in for several more popular songs.

On 25 December 2008, The Mint Chicks released the Mintunes EP consisting of "8-bit versions" of both previously released songs and tracks from the upcoming album. The band also released an iTunes-only single during 2008, "Life Will Get Better Some Day", a teaser for the album "Screens", which was released in New Zealand on 16 March 2009 after having been recorded sporadically over the preceding two years.

In October 2009 the Mint Chicks performed a rendition of Ray Columbus and the Invaders' classic hit She's a Mod at the New Zealand Music awards as a four-piece band, later released as a standalone single. Shortly afterwards on 16 October 2009, it was announced Michael Logie would be rejoining the band in a post on the band's Twitter. The band joined with New Zealand music website to promote their next record, the Bad Buzz EP, released in February 2010.

Shortly after the release of the EP, the band played their final show on 12 March 2010. The show, originally a fundraiser for, ended in chaos after Kody Nielson destroyed the two drumkits and equipment, imploring the crowd to 'start your own fucking band'.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra[edit]

Inception and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2010–2012)[edit]

Nielson left The Mint Chicks in the beginning of 2010, citing a loss of interest in the group's music. Following an incident during one of the band's live performances and Nielson's subsequent departure, The Mint Chicks broke up. Nielson had already returned to Portland, Oregon, where he began working at a film production company as an illustrator. He quickly found himself wanting to write and record music again and began searching for "psychedelic records with lost tunes" for inspiration. Nielson had become very specific about what type of record he wanted to find for inspiration and, with that specificity, began making that record himself instead.[7] Once he had finished writing and recording the first song, Nielson uploaded it anonymously on May 17, 2010 onto Bandcamp under the name "Ffunny Ffrends".[8] Within a day, the song had received significant coverage from independent music blogs such as Pitchfork.[7][9][10]

Nielson maintained the band's anonymity as he was not sure what he wanted the band to be and did not want to "face up to Mint Chicks fans and to people who were looking forward to a new Mint Chicks record."[7] Nielson eventually claimed the track under the band name Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

The band's debut self-titled album was released June 21, 2011 on Fat Possum Records. The album quickly received critical acclaim. Pitchfork gave the album an 8.1, describing that with "an expert use of space rare for such a lo-fi record, UMO manages a unique immersive and psychedelic quality without relying on the usual array of bong-ripping effects."[11]

In the spring of 2012, the band won the Taite Music Prize for the album.[12] Although the nominated Unknown Mortal Orchestra did not win Best Alternative Album, Nielson took home the title of Best Male Artist at the 47th annual Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

II (2012–2013)[edit]

In September 2012, Unknown Mortal Orchestra announced that they had signed to Jagjaguwar and were working on their second full-length album. Unknown Mortal Orchestra's second album, II, was released on February 5, 2013.[13] The first single from the album, entitled "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)", was first available as a 7" on their tour with Grizzly Bear.

II has received widespread critical acclaim. In November 2013 it won Best Alternative Album at the New Zealand Music Awards. II was nominated for the Taite Music Prize 2014, an annual music prize awarded for the best album from New Zealand. Clash Music gave the album a 9 out of 10, saying "from opener 'From The Sun', which recalls George Harrison-psychedelia, to the tender Family Stone shuffle of the closing of 'Secret Xtians', 'II' displays both a glowing warmth in its production and a deft use of space that illuminate Nielson's superbly crafted compositions."[14] Paste Magazine called the album "a modern, beat-heavy take on '60s psych, with plenty of hooks and fuzz to get you hooked and feeling fuzzy."[15] NME praised Ruban's ability to turn his songs into "works of warm, fuzzy beauty."[16]

During the winter of 2012, Unknown Mortal Orchestra capitalized on the success of II and embarked on a world tour.[17] The tour started off with shows in Australia, and hometown shows in New Zealand, followed by several stops in Europe. The band then toured extensively throughout North America with opener Foxygen. In March 2013, Unknown Mortal Orchestra was named one of Fuse TV's 30 must-see artists at SXSW.[18] Unknown Mortal Orchestra consistently sold out shows in both the UK/Europe and in North America, and as a result of their success on the road they announced in early April that they would extend their tour through the end of 2013. That summer the band performed at a number of major European festivals, including Roskilde Festival, Pukkelpop and Lowlands.

On February 25, 2013, Unknown Mortal Orchestra made their American television debut, performing "So Good At Being In Trouble" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.[15]

On October 29, 2013, the band released an EP titled Blue Record.[19] It included three acoustic versions of songs taken from their previous album.

Multi-Love (2015–2017)[edit]

Ruban Nielson performing with Unknown Mortal Orchestra in Paris (2018)

On February 5, 2015, the band announced their third studio album, Multi-Love. Soon after, they released the title track as the first single, which was designated "Best New Track" by Pitchfork.[20] Multi-Love was released on May 26, 2015. It was well received by critics. Rolling Stone commented that "Multi-Love sees Nielson coloring outside the lines for a vibrant vision of connection" [21] and Pitchfork praised Nielson's ear for how something should sound and referred to the album as his "most accomplished".[22] Singles "Multi-Love" and "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" were both A-listed at BBC's 6 Music.[23]

Following the release, UMO embarked on a tour through the UK, Europe, the US and Canada, with many sold out dates. They are currently back touring in Europe through November, before heading to Australia and New Zealand for a string of headline shows in December. On August 12, UMO performed Multi-Love on Late Night with Seth Meyers.[24] On August 25 they performed "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" on Conan. On February 16, 2016 the band performed on Last Call with Carson Daly. "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" also appears in the association football video game FIFA 16.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Nielson is married to Jenny Nielson. The couple have two children, Moe and Iris.[26] The couple had a polyamorous relationship with a younger woman from Tokyo, Japan for a year, before her visa expired and the relationship ended. The topic is a prevalent theme in Multi-Love's lyrics.[27]


with Unknown Mortal Orchestra

with The Mint Chicks


  1. ^ Cook, Christine (2012-05-05). "Exclusive Interview: Unknown Mortal Orchestra". The Owl Mag. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  2. ^ Trevett, Claire (18 July 2006). "Volume of band brings house down at St James". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
  3. ^ "Is The Really Sunburnt Guy Here?". Critic. 25 February 2005. Retrieved 29 October 2007.
  4. ^ "Mint Chicks prepare to take on the world". One News. 19 October 2007. Retrieved 2 January 2008.
  5. ^ "The Mint Chicks nab major awards at NZ Music Awards". The New Zealand Herald. APN. 18 October 2007. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  6. ^ the mint chicks
  7. ^ a b c Sanders, Courtney (2011-06-13). "Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Interview". Under the Radar. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  8. ^ "Ffunny Ffrends by Unknown Mortal Orchestra". Bandcamp. 2010-05-17. Archived from the original on June 9, 2010. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  9. ^ Ryan, Catbird (2010-05-18). "Unknown Mortal Orchestra – "Ffunny Ffrends"". MBVMusic.Com. The Catbirdseat. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  10. ^ Fitzmaurice, Larry (2010-05-18). "Ffunny Ffrends". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  11. ^ Cohen, Ian, (June 22, 2011). Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Pitchfork. Retrieved on December 7, 2012
  12. ^ "UMO Wins Tate Music Prize". April 20, 2012.
  13. ^ Young, Alex (November 28, 2012). Unknown Mortal Orchestra announces 2013 tour dates. Consequence of Sound. Retrieved on December 7, 2012
  14. ^ "Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II | Reviews | Clash Magazine". 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  15. ^ a b "Watch Unknown Mortal Orchestra Play Fallon". Stereogum. 2013-02-26. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  16. ^ "NME Album Reviews - Unknown Mortal Orchestra - 'II'". Nme.Com. 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  17. ^ "Unknown Mortal Orchestra Plot Tour". Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  18. ^ "30 Must-See Acts at SXSW 2013 - Photos - South by Southwest - Festivals - Fuse". 2013-02-28. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
  19. ^ "ALBUM ANNOUNCE // Unknown Mortal Orchestra Announces Acoustic 'Blue Record' EP, Out 10/29 Blog :: JAGJAUWAR". Jagjaguwar. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  20. ^
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  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Jenkin, Lydia (2015-05-31). "The Kiwi muso making it big in the States". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  27. ^ Hutchinson, Kate (2015-06-09). "Unknown Mortal Orchestra: 'I can't tell what I'm supposed to keep private now'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-04-19.

External links[edit]