Revisited: Jemaine Clement Talks with Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) on the Talkhouse Podcast

Flight of the Conchords crash into Unknown Mortal Orchestra

On this week’s Talkhouse Podcast we’ve got a pair of New Zealanders who’ve forged incredible careers in music and comedy and comedic music: Jemaine Clement and Ruban Nielson.

I’m guessing Clement is best known to our listeners as half of Flight of the Conchords, his musical and acting duo with Bret McKenzie. They haven’t put out a record or toured much in the last decade or so, but their albums and HBO series definitely endure with their subtle hilarity. Clement has of course been plenty busy post-Conchords as both an actor and director. His 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, co-directed with his old friend Taika Watiti, spun off into one of the funniest shows on TV, and you’ve also heard or seen him in everything from Despicable Me to the latest Avatar movie. In the awful event that you’re not familiar with Flight of the Conchords, here’s their David Bowie tribute, simply called “Bowie,” which is discussed a bit in this episode.

Clement seemed excited—and well prepared!—to speak with Ruban Nielson, the singer-guitarist behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Though both of these guys are, as I said, from New Zealand and fans of each other’s work, they had never met before. UMO, as Nielson’s band is known for short, has been making a sort of uncategorizable music since 2010; they most often get pegged as psychedelic rock, which isn’t wrong, but also doesn’t tell the whole story. There are also elements of lo-fi indie rock, a bit of funk, and some garage rock. But the fact that it’s tough to name is part of what makes UMO’s music so appealing. Check out a little their song “The Garden,” which opens the latest UMO album,

These guys have a fantastic conversation that spans everything from the history of New Zealand and their shared Maori heritage to an in-depth examination of the Jagstang, a guitar designed by Kurt Cobain and favored by Nielson. They talk about bombing on stage—and getting bombed before getting on stage—and they share stories about coming up in a shared place. Also, you’ll hear the phrase “sad funky ghost,” perhaps for the first and last time in your life. Enjoy.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Jemaine Clement and Ruban Nielson for chatting. If you like what you heard, please follow Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform, and be sure to check out all the goodies at This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!

(Photo Credit: left, Colin Hutton; right, Amanda Hugenquist; Edited by: Keenan Kush.)

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