I’ve had my eye on Brooklyn’s Ms. Xenia Rubinos ever since stumbling upon her mischievous video for the single PanY Café. Prior to her performance at BAM last Friday I had the pleasure of getting to know Xenia over pear martinis, discussing her debut full-length album Magic Trix and how bullshit it was when Doug switched out the voices and animation artists like we wouldn’t even notice.
Xenia creates adorably absurdist pop powered by soul-fueled vocals. Supported by Marco Buccelli on drums and bassist Adam Minkoff, her songs are decorated with stream-of-consciousness bilingual lyrics and vocal looping reminiscent of Tune-Yards. Just don’t call her a jazz singer.
VICE: Tell me about the "Pan y Café" video.
Xenia: It was a last-minute idea. The filmmaker used a fish lens, kind of like those old Busta Rhymes and Beastie Boys videos. We started filming at midnight and went straight through the morning, screaming the song in different Brooklyn neighborhoods.
I like the blue sparkly dress you wear.
Thanks! That was the only thing that came out from the night stuff. We put training wheels on my mountain bike, and made that the steadicam, so it was just us all over Brooklyn being super crazy. We were done at 4AM then took a nap for a couple hours then started again at 6. The main video that we took was all the early morning stuff and we’re walking down Manhattan Avenue acting a fool, not caring because we were so tired. My body was hurting for like five days after that, for like a minute and forty seconds of video.
The new album is super diverse.
Well some of that stuff I wrote six years ago. Things from your life before… when you were someone else.
Which songs were from a different time?
“Hair Receding,” which is a single and what I consider to be one of the strongest statements on that album. I wrote that a couple years back as an instrumental for a chamber group. I was writing only instrumental music, I stopped singing for a while because I kind of hated the whole image of the stupid singer girl, and I couldn’t find peace about it. I went to school to be a jazz singer and I met all these girls that were atrocious people, and thought, I don’t want to be like this. So it wasn’t until later that I began singing again.
On Magix Trix you make a lot of cool noises with your voice, it’s reminiscent of beat-boxing.
Thanks, I wish I could beat-box, I should explore that.
I’ve read that you use children’s stories as an inspiration.
I think when we are making stuff, the best place to come at it is from a kid’s imagination, the way that you were as a kid figuring shit out. So a lot of my inspiration comes from that. To look at something for the first time, or to just be in your room by yourself playing. I guess that’s what music is, making things up, being silly. So a lot of that is inspiration for the record and all of my music. And "Pan Y Café" is kind of stream-of-consciousness kid’s rhyme, it doesn’t really matter what I’m saying. It’s whimsical, three mice hidden behind the fridge telling you their story just, absurd things.
Xenia and Sophie Saint Thomas.
One of the most intriguing tracks on the album is “Help,” where you sing about a woman named Rosa living under a bridge. Who is Rosa?
Rosa is my…well she could be anybody, but Rosa is my aunt on my mother’s side. The story goes that she came from Puerto Rico to this country to heal someone who was dying; she was a healer, kind of a witch lady. The story is that she made this man walk and lived under a bridge with her six boys. I got to meet her, I never had any strong relation with her but I was familiar with her story. I mean she really was kind of a witch doctor, very superstitious, so in that song I talk a little bit about her, just the wild desperation that she had. But Rosa is really scary! A scary and intriguing kind of person that I think about a lot. She didn’t like to have her picture taken, there is one picture that exists of her and it’s at my grandmother’s house. She’s looking down at the ground, she didn’t want her face in the picture because it would take her soul away.
Yes, I noticed the album had a dark side.
I like thinking about scaring people. Not every art but almost all art that I really like creeps me out in some way. Not that it has to do with death, or is morbid, but it has some creep factor. Even in a performance in a band if it creeps you out a little bit—that’s good. It goes back to the fascination with the creep show, the amusement park.
Collared shirts. Facial hair. Buttons. Raspberries. Legs, female legs.
Male legs….not so much. Presumptuousness. Having nicer eyebrows than me.
You can stream Magic Trix here.