Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

May 20, 2015

*Multi-Love:* album inspired by an awestruck triad will be released next week


Portland musician Ruban Nielson, leader of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, releases his third album on May 26th. It's Multi-Love, about the unexpectedly dazzling live-in triad that he found himself in with his wife and her girlfriend. Nielson and the story behind Multi-Love are featured in a long profile in Pitchfork, "the leading voice in independent music and beyond." Pitchfork claims "a fiercely loyal audience of more than 5 million unique visitors each month."

Update later in the morning: This is getting bigger — Multi-Love is reviewed on National Public Radio and is written up in The Guardian. More to come soon....

Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, performing in Spain in 2013.

Love Is Strange: The multitudes of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Ruban Nielson

By David Bevan

...While Multi-Love, UMO’s third full-length [album], marks a thrilling departure from the bedroom psychedelia that has earned Nielson an unexpected following, it’s also an album whose backstory speaks to the manner in which he views his art, his life, and the connection between the two — a leap of faith and a leap forward. It teems with lush synths and futurist textures, hallucinogenic funk and R&B, but emotionally and lyrically, Nielson needed a light....

After touring behind his first two albums for nearly three years, Nielson arranged to take a year off, so that he could write, record, and spend more time at home with his family. But as work on Multi-Love began in earnest last year, Nielson and his wife found themselves reconsidering the outlines of their relationship. As we eat and laugh at their tiny wooden dinner table, I’m sitting in a seat that, up until very recently, was occupied by someone else, someone whose absence is palpable and whose influence can be felt throughout the record she helped shape. “It’s not that this song is about her,” Nielson sings in the album’s hypnotic title cut. “All songs are about her.”

“I’d never heard of polyamory before and I wasn’t interested in the idea of it,” Nielson tells me after dinner, during a long walk through his neighborhood. “I just wanted to pretend that no one had ever thought of it before, to stumble into it blindly.” He scratches nervously at his chest, over a tattoo of an open eye etched between his collarbones. “I feel like I’m gonna spend the rest of my life trying to live last year down. It was such a beautiful time.”

In February 2013, while exploring Tokyo on a day off from touring, Nielson wandered into a club. From across the room, he remembers spotting a strange, singularly beautiful 18-year-old woman [Laura] and then awkwardly and inexplicably waving to her the moment they made eye contact....

After taking repeated notice of their blossoming friendship, Jenny asked her husband to have Laura send along a selfie. “Wow,” she told him when it arrived. “Let me talk to her.” Nielson introduced them. Before long, Jenny and Laura started corresponding on their own — online at first, and later, through handwritten and increasingly intimate letters. It was at this point that Nielson began to worry. “They had turned into love letters,” he says. “[Jenny] told me that I could read them if I wanted to, but I didn’t and I still don’t. It’s kind of terrifying to think that she was being intimate with another person. I didn’t get angry or upset. I just thought, ‘Oh, what have I done?’”


...Jenny approached him with a plan: Laura was going to come to stay with them for a while, and the five of them [including their two kids] would try living together.

“I had two thoughts,” Nielson says, revisiting that moment. “The first was, ‘Holy shit, I I’m fucked. I’m no match for this girl.’” His second: “‘This is fate. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. If this is the end of my marriage, then this will be the album that documents it. There are a million ways for this to go wrong for my life — but there’s no way for this to go wrong for me artistically, as long as I keep my eyes open and I’m brave.”

Nielson says what followed was like “a crazy awesome dream.” The three of them bonded almost immediately, and the kids, whose response was always a major concern, took to Laura just as quickly. “‘Let’s do this forever, this is the ultimate state of being,’” he remembers thinking, that first week they were all together.

Ruban Nielson in his basement studio in Portland. (Photo by Leah Nash).

...After those first few weeks together last May, the relationship between Jenny, Laura, and Nielson began to show signs of strain. As a relative newcomer, Laura couldn’t help but feel excluded when faced with the history and understanding that Nielson and his wife had developed over more than a decade together. But some mornings, Jenny would wake up to the sound of her husband and Laura on the couch, laughing and binge-watching a television show that they started without her. Talking about his own insecurities, Nielson says, “They would discuss something feminist, and I would just sit there, like, ‘Well, I think men are shit, too, but I’m the man in the room.’” For days, he would sulk around the house while Jenny and Laura carried on, toiling in the basement rather than confronting them both with his feelings. “Think about the two most serious relationships in your life so far, and then experiencing them simultaneously,” he tells me. “It makes you wonder: How much can a human being deal with emotionally? How well-adjusted are you?”

All of it made its way into the music, just as he had planned. In August, Laura’s tourist visa expired and she was forced to leave the States until she could obtain another. For six weeks, Nielson and his wife pined for Laura as she worked on a project in the Peruvian rainforest, while also trying to carry on with their lives....

When Laura returned in September, unannounced, Nielson was committed to the idea of continuing the relationship. They all took trips together and celebrated Halloween with the kids. They told their neighbors and close friends in Portland, a few of which reacted unfavorably, out of fear....

Shortly after last Christmas, as Laura’s visa expired again, her attempts to renew it were denied and she was forced to leave once more — this time indefinitely....

When the kids ask about Laura now, Nielson and Jenny tell them that she was forced to leave. “It just got suspended in no man’s land,” Nielson says of the relationship. “It’s brutal. The reason why she’s not here is out of our control, but we’re trying not to be maudlin about it. It’s hard to say that you’re sad because there are only two people in love now instead of three. But we were all in love. It was a real thing. It worked. I’m more alive now because of it.”...

Read the whole article (May 12, 2015), with links to more of Nielson's music.

The article got him a short writeup in newspapers in New Zealand, where he grew up and used to play in the Mint Chicks.


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