Unknown Mortal Orchestra channeled pandemic productivity, but also tragedy, for the new record ‘V’

I’ve never known quite how to classify the music of Portland, Oregon by way of New Zealand band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Psychedelic? Sure. Pretty? A lot of the times. Introspective? Always.

Before the band started touring this fall, I caught up with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson to talk about their newest batch of songs, a double album called V. UMO plays Brooklyn Bowl Nashville on Monday, October 16 which will be their first Nashville tour date in almost a decade — they packed out EXIT/IN in 2016 — though Nielsen told me they keep up with friends here in Music City.

Time has flown since then, especially because of the pandemic (“I just don’t know how to place those three years”), and it was in that time Nielson pushed himself with different instruments. He wrote a lot, but in the last few years he also endured family turmoil and tragedy that would heavily influence the tunes and tones on V.

Nielson’s brother came to Palm Springs from New Zealand to help him sort through “piles of songs” and decide on the best stuff for the full-length release, making “space” for sonic textures between hooks. Nielson acknowledged that despite wanting to make a happy record this time, the subject matter is actually, and understandably, quite heavy. But when performing live, he believes the new work fits in seamlessly with their back catalog.

He hopes the music is relatable in the sense that the last few years have created hardship for many, and such hardship “forces you to either fold and become a worse person, or fight and become better.”