How A Trip To Vietnam Helped Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson Access His Inner Hendrix

Senior Music Writer

Neil Krug

The last two Unknown Mortal Orchestra albums were largely the product of the same process. Ruban Nielson, the band’s creative force, hunkering down inside of the basement of his home in Portland, tinkering around with ideas, melodies, pieces of equipment until something fuzzy, thought-provoking, and glorious came out. For the latest UMO project, however, Nielson wanted to break free of that cycle. He packed his bags and spent the last year and a half in a variety of different locales like Mexico and Vietnam, trying desperately to draw inspiration from the exotic environments which he found himself.

The endeavor was largely a success. The latest UMO album, Sex & Food, is a sonically expansive, endlessly funky, and, of course, psychedelic project, that touches on a wide range of different ideas and themes like capitalism, drugs, fatherhood, and God himself. “I feel like it’s a lot of pressure to have big opinions about the way the world should be,” he told me. “The problem with that, personally, is that I don’t really feel like I have the answers and I haven’t actually seen a wealth of people that do. So, to me, it makes me want to focus back on the things that are important and that make me feel human.”

Recently, I had the chance to talk to Ruban about Sex & Food, his travels around the globe, and why he doesn’t want you to think about him when you hear his new music.

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