Almost out of nowhere UMO became one of the most critically revered bands on the alternative circuit, selling out shows across the world and writing with artists like the celebrated recluse Frank Ocean & Toro Y Moi. But it was 2015 when it all fell into place, releasing the watershed single Multi-Love which brought his trademark brand of psychedelic funk/disco and rock onto center stage.
None of this was part of a larger thought out plan but Ruban is taking it day by day playing the game the only way he knows how with that charming Kiwi honesty. Now at almost 40, distancing himself from a former life of narcotics through a bi-polar music industry, Ruban increasingly values a life outside of music, his love of philosophy is clear which is how this offbeat discussion spirals into a candid exchange around Nietzche, neo-Naziís & brotherly tensions
Maybe a good place to start is your Kiwi upbringing. I know you live in Portland now but how does New Zealand fit into your world?
Both of my parents were musicians and I grew up poor I guess. Itís probably not as bad to be super poor in New Zealand as it would be here, just because of health care and stuff like that. I grew up around a lot of musicians but I didnít really make music myself. I went to art school at a place called Elam. Itís kind of famous in New Zealand. Then I started a band with my brother. It was a punk band and we started playing at peopleís houses and punk parties and stuff like that, and eventually, we got signed to Flying Nun which was our only ambition really. At that time it was my whole list of musical ambitions.
My Dad was more of a Jazz musician and when he was young he used to hang out with people who went to Elam. So when I went to Elam I was already pretty deep in that art school thing. My Dad had told me about how he used to go and hang out with people from Elam and make bonfires. He said the students were so poor theyíd be roasting rats and taking acid. It sounds pretty gnarly but I thought that was really cool. By the time I got to Elam people werenít roasting rats but it was still pretty fun.
Anyway, we put our record out on Flying Nun and we did that for seven years. I grew up around those people like Shayne Carter, Chris Knox and the Gordons, all these people I loved. The members of those bands Ė I would put them on the same level as Iggy Pop.
Flying Nun had such a strong bond with Australia and also England. It still today has such a significance.
Yeah itís so inspiring. Itís one of those stories of a situation where nobody handed any of those people a music career, they were all working or middle-class people whose parents had probably envisaged a career for them as a mailman or something. Then they thought, ďI donít want to do that, Iím going to go and make music.Ē They had no training and no business knowledge.
The last record you did seems like it was a bit of a struggle for you. You were touring endlessly and then you poured your heart out on an interview that you wish you probably never did. Are you ready to open your heart again or is this an example of a lesson learned kind of thing?
Open my heart in what way?
You talked about this polyamorous relationship you had and it seems like it traumatised you. You also opened your heart a lot about the kind of problems you were going through on the record and that was reflected lyrically. So how do you feel now?
No, itís not traumatic. Itís funny, I think that article presents this really heavy picture of the whole thing. Going into this album I wanted to present all of the heaviness and weight of life in general, the things that happen to people. But I also wanted show that as a duality . . . because that year of touring was a lot of fun. Most of it was very joyful. It wasnít a whole year of really heavy, torturous emotions. I suppose I was a little gloomy at the time I gave that interview but I didnít like the album being presented as a sad album because I donít think it is a sad album. The stuff that I write about is often about extremes and I do gravitate lyrically to darker ideas. That probably ends up sounding angsty.
"I do enjoy philosophy a lot but I often have to hide that when Iím talking to music press."
Yeah, thatís certainly the way that the press has portrayed you. But Iíve become very disillusioned about music press. And to be totally honest with you I donít always find musicians as interesting as their music.
Yeah me neither. I totally agree and I feel like Iím saying that all the time. The thing that theyíre focusing on is the least interesting aspect of it. Obviously, with most musicians, the most interesting thing is the sounds that they create. There is such a thing as an interesting musician but I think the friends that I made in the art world are often more interesting to have a conversation with because musicians spend a lot of time with technical things. Theyíre concentrating on making sounds, so when it comes to talking about something else a lot of the time musicians donít have much to say. They havenít been doing much except getting drunk and playing music.