For me, one of the pleasures of reading interviews with bands and musicians is discovering new things about the songs I love. One instance is on your song ‘Faded in the Morning Time’ we hear a child’s laughter, and I later learnt was your son delighting in his discovery of you still awake at 4am during an all-night recording session. Are there any other unexpected things that have made it onto your recordings?
I made this 22 minute song as a kind of Christmas present to our fans last year and part of it features a recording I made while we were waiting for my son to be born in Gisborne, New Zealand. It was in the country in this barn that a family member had converted into a living space and it was surrounded by olive trees and beyond that was native forest. In the summertime in the New Zealand countryside there is this incredible cacophony of cicadas and birds chirping and I went outside with my laptop and recorded that sound. It doesn’t sound like that in the states and I would listen to it when I got homesick but it ended up on the 22 minute track called SB-01 [listen to it here].
I’m curious about your passion for using tape in your recording process. What does tape offer that can’t be done digitally? Tell us about your favourite tape recorders and how you utilise their unique qualities and quirks.
Tape does a few things that I like: one is a distortion that’s pleasing to the ear. When you record too loudly into a digital device it usually sounds kind of unnatural and harsh (it’s always worth searching for exceptions with these things but generally that’s the rule). Tape usually has this blown out fuzzy distortion that sounds cool to me. Secondly it squashes the sound into a nice shape. What they call tape compression. It’ll kinda tame the sound in a way that is useful. Thirdly, it makes things fatter and bassier. In fact often it’s necessary to not record things like bass guitar or bass drum too loudly into a tape recorder because it adds bass. I’m reluctant to name my favorite tape recorders because if one of them breaks and I need to replace it I don’t want to go on eBay and find I made them twice as expensive by talking them up haha. I will have completely played myself.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s first release ‘Ffunny Ffrends’ was uploaded onto Bandcamp without any mention of who created it. At that point many curious music bloggers attempted to hunt down the track’s creator, before you finally claimed it. Are there any other ‘Ffunny Ffrends’ out in the wild that you haven’t ‘fessed up to?
Not yet. But maybe in the future.
Name one skill you recently acquired that you reckon will come in handy.
I bought this old broken analog synth online and have been completely rebuilding it. It was so wrecked. It had old spiderwebs and leaves inside it and the circuit boards were covered in actual dirt. I think somebody left it outside at some stage. So rebuilding it has been a painstaking process but I think fixing this thing will be amazing because if I can bring this piece back to life I’ll be able to fix almost any piece of analog equipment I think.
In 2011 you did a really wonderful mix for Fader [listen to it here] and included songs from Grayson Gilmour (who toured Taiwan last year with So So Modern), Brandy, Bones Thugs N Harmony, Neneh Cherry and Aaliyah. How did this come about, and why did you choose these particular songs?
I’m not sure. I think using 90s hip hop and r&b felt cool to me. They were songs that I liked when I was a kid and reinventing them was so much fun. Grayson’s song was a reinvention too. I just really wanted to change it enough so that he’d get a kick out of hearing what I’d done to it.
Which New Zealand bands or musicians have inspired you the most?
I remember seeing your previous band The Mint Chicks at a warehouse party in Auckland, NZ and you were swinging from the rafters and basically fucking shit up, and I wonder, where do you divert all that animal energy now?
I’m way more voracious in other ways I think. I read and drink and tour and work and build things and write a lot. I used to waste a lot of energy when I was younger haha
You grew up in a tiny town outside of Auckland, New Zealand but moved to the USA in 2007. How is life in Oregon, or specifically Portland(ia)?
I still like it there a lot even though it’s changed over the last six years. I think the TV show Portlandia kind of marked the end of an era in Portland. It’s been 'discovered' and that made it more touristy. I moved out of the middle and now spend a lot of time in my house working. The music scene has transformed and evolved. I think I was part of an amazing era in that town but we’re all touring the world now which means we can’t play each others house parties anymore and many of the important people in the scene have moved to New York and California as well. The scene graduated.
Best show you’ve ever played, and what made it so special?
I really don’t know. I get so upset when a show doesn’t feel like magic. My standards are pretty ridiculous. I want to feel like the best show was always the latest one.
What do you know about Taiwan, and what do you look forward to doing while you’re here?
I’m aware that there’s a long standing conflict about whether Taiwan should be part of mainland China or independent. I’ll be sure not to discuss this subject haha. I’ve heard Ang Lee the famous director is from there. I’ve also been told that the night markets are very special so I want to see that.
Quite possibly the best remedy for these wintry nights is the warm, lo-fi embrace of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s live show, so be sure to catch them this Thursday at The Wall in Taipei.