Despite a teenage stint as Auckland’s most obvious graffiti artist, Unknown Mortal Orchestra frontman Ruban Nielson’s goal was never to stand out. “I didn’t get caught, even though I tagged my actual name,” he says, his voice crackling with amusement. “There was this kid who was a tagger and got caught by the police and he had to change his tag. Me and him always had a little beef. So I changed my [tagger] name to ‘Ruban’ just to rub it in.”
Now 32, Nielson is still apt at hiding in plain sight. Slouched in a booth at a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood, he could pass for any other Friday night patron—save for a mysterious, peering eyeball tattooed across his Adam’s apple.
This anonymity hasn’t always existed. Having found success with his previous band The Mint Chicks (which featured his brother Kody, now of Kiwi upstarts Opossom), Nielson discovered that life in the public eye was limiting.