Unknown Mortal Orchestra

aka UMO

It is an odd fact that one of New Zealand’s most successful musical acts of the 2010s first rose to prominence from an anonymous Bandcamp account. The unusual mix of lo-fi psych guitar and funky drums exemplified the musical freedom that the songwriter behind the group, Ruban Nielson, had been seeking from the project and which continues to be central to UMO’s success.

Ruban Nielson came to playing music relatively late, picking up a guitar at age 19. His father was a longtime musician, but also a recovering addict. Part of his rehabilitation involved making amends to those affected by his struggles, so he bought Ruban an electric guitar. At the time, Ruban was at Elam – the University of Auckland art school – and more focused on painting/drawing than music. Elam was also where he met his wife, Jenny, a sculptor.

Sex & Food promotional image.
Photo credit: Krug
Ruban Neilson (centre) and UMO, in a 2011 publicity image taken for Fat Possum Records.
Photo credit: Allison V. Stewart
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - I Killed Captain Cook (2023)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love, 2015.
Ruban Nielson in The Mint Chicks.
Photo credit: Gareth Shute
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love (2015)
RNZ: UMO - Chronos Feasts On His Children (live at Whammy, March 2018)
Ruban Nielson in The Mint Chicks, Grey Lynn all ages show.
Photo credit: Gareth Shute
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - IC-01 Hanoi, 2018
Ruban Nielson, 2015.
Photo credit: Promotional image
RNZ: UMO - If You're Going To Break Yourself (live at Whammy, March 2018)
UMO in 2016.
Photo credit: Promotional image
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - So Good At Being In Trouble (2013)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II, 2013.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra's self-titled debut album, 2011.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Nadja (2023)
Ruban Nielson, 2015.
Photo credit: Promotional image
UMO - Hunnybee (live on KEXP, May 7 2018))
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Layla (2023)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food, 2018.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra NPR Tiny Desk Concert (2023)
UMO live at Wonder Garden, 2018.
Photo credit: Gareth Shute
Ruban Nielson.
Photo credit: Neil Krug
Ruban Nielson and Jacob Portrait, UMO.
Photo credit: Gareth Shute
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Hunnybee
RNZ: UMO - American Guilt (live at Whammy, March 2018)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Funny Ffrends
Ruban Nielson, 2019.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Meshuggah (2023)

Before Ruban and Kody were born, their parents toured overseas as part of John Rowles’ backing band.

Ruban twice won the Best Album Art category at the NZ Music Awards, for the Mint Chicks albums Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No? and Screens.

An EP of acoustic versions of songs from II was released as the Blue Record shortly after the album’s release.


Ruban Nielson - vocals, guitar, producer

Kody Nielson - drums, keyboards

Jacob Portrait - bass

Quincy Mcrary - keyboards

Julien Ehrlich - drums

Riley Geare - drums

Gregory Rogove - drums


Fat Possum Records


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