From underneath his black baseball cap, Ruban Nielson denies his genius. The cap's comically oversized bill has been folded skywards to reveal a colourfully hazy photo of a Palm tree-lined beach printed on its underside.
"People that know me really well know that I'm, like, really simple," he insists.
Crazy? No. Dumb? Yes? Okay, sure, the hat lends some plausibility to his claim, but all other evidence suggests that no, I'm not currently with stupid. Musically, his work is restless, innovative, exciting and brilliantly walks the line between complexity and accessibility.
Conversationally, he's as lo-fi as his music but just as likely to surprise by heading off on an unexpected tangent or a sudden flourish. During our chat we discuss art, music, politics, philosophy and the death of rock, as well as his plans to resuscitate it. Plans he's not entirely sure will be successful. That risk of failing, he says, is what excites him.
But for now, he's insisting he's a simple man, with simple desires.
"When I write things it sounds like this complex depressive person, " he says. "I feel I get misunderstood."
"As long as I have spicy food, like spicy noodles; and I get laid, I'm happy. All that existential crisis that I talk about is not there. It's just something that my brain does. Sex & Food was my last chance to contrast whatever comes across as heavy on the record with the truth about how simple and, uh, kind of dumb I am underneath it all. Underneath the facade."
As is UMO tradition, Nielson has shaken up the band for the new record, Sex & Food. This was prompted by three things. Firstly, he was concerned UMO was morphing into a jam band – an idea he hated. Secondly, Jack White stole his keyboard player. And thirdly, and most significantly, he had an existential crisis that saw him almost ending the band entirely.
"I achieved all my dreams. Quite a while ago actually," he says. Then he laughs and clarifies, "Growing up pretty poor in New Zealand I didn't know much about the world so my dreams were quite modest. But at some point I said, 'Well, I've done it all. Everything I'd ever dreamed'. I was worried I might just be continuing on the success that the band has achieved. Which I had no interest in doing."
You really considered killing the band?
"Yeah, because I get bored really easily and this is my medication for whatever's wrong with me. Sometimes I think I have a lot of options for what I could do in my life. But then I realise that I really don't."
He smiles as he says this, but he can't hide the underlying sadness and it's obvious it's something he's thought a lot about.
"I want to work but I have to have something significant," he continues. "I think working with Kody [Nielson, his brother], working together, is a worthy thing to base this year around. I got really excited about it."
Yes, you read right. The musically estranged Nielson brothers are, incredibly, back in a band together. While Kody has played drums on most of UMO's records, he's never actually been "in" the band.
"He's my favourite drummer and has been for a long time," Nielson says, before recounting how he realised that bringing in Kody was the only way to save UMO.
"I had it in my head that I wanted this to be the best version of UMO, the proper version. I woke up on New Year's Day and the first thing that popped into my head was, 'I need to get Kody back in the band'. So I texted him."
After the implosion of the pair's former band, The Mint Chicks, there was some history to work through.
"It was quite hard for us. We have a sibling rivalry. We don't pull our punches," he admits. "We're best friends but, like a lot of close siblings, when we argue it's a meltdown. So it's this weird thing of whether we can hold it together. I have a feeling this is gonna work. I think it's worth the risk."
How has this impacted Sex & Food? Sonically, the record lets dust gather on the funk-sheen of UMO's last album the acclaimed Multi-Love, while retaining elements of its disco groove. It also calls back to the low-fi styling of the group's earlier cobweb crusted albums. Nielson describes the sound as "folding the band back on itself".
But nothing UMO's recorded could have prepared you for their red hot first single, the ferocious, hard rocking American Guilt.
"I'm the kind of person that he would prefer not be there," Nielson says, referring to America and its president. "It's the feeling of being there long enough to feel like my identity's partly as an American and starting to understand that that comes with all this guilt. It's not me pointing the finger at American culture, it's about feeling guilty about participating in America."
It's a heavy theme, but it's not as heavy as the song's outrageously wild and distorted riff. What's he playing at? Rock, we keep hearing, is dead.
"I'm happy to accept rock is dead," Nielson says. "It's very typical of my personality to start reading that rock is dead and that the genre itself has collapsed, commercially, and then immediately the only thing I'm interested in is the most rock thing I can think of. Just the perversity of it. And because it's wrong. I like doing wrong stuff.
"Guitar solos were the worst idea when I started. The break beats thing that was really wrong. Funk was a dirty word. It's not now," he sighs. "That's the problem. You do these things and they're really uncool and you prove that it doesn't have to be. But in the process you make it acceptable and a little while later it's cool.
"Now, funk's not a dirty word. I can't do that anymore. That's no fun. The job's done. So, now it's rock. Rock is what funk was five years ago. An untouchable genre."
You sound a bit like a musical provocateur, I joke.
"No, I don't purposefully go out to try and do that," he answers. And then, with a sly grin, he adds, "but it is really fun."
Who: Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Ruban Nielson
What: New album Sex & Food
When: Next Friday