“She’s doing some R&B sounding vocals with weird keyboard stuff,” is the not too far from accurate description an onlooker used for Xenia Rubinos when he meandered halfway into her set at Union Pool back in August. He was part of the more intrigued Union Pool crowd that had gathered earlier in the night when we took pictures of Xenia and her drummer, Marco Buccelli, in the bar’s garden. Most gave an inquisitive glance and went right back to their beer glasses or tacos (or both), some wondered aloud who we were and what we were doing, and some were annoyed because they were being ran into by our photographer and if they were the bouncer, they were definitely annoyed at the situation.
The thing that was the consensus, though, was that Xenia was the girl being photographed, and whatever the reason was she was being photographed didn’t really matter. Xenia’s magnetism, as seen onstage, translates in person as well, and it’s only enhanced by her self-assuredness. When everyone was staring during our DIY photoshoot, Xenia didn’t seem to notice at all, a trait she perhaps picked up in her knowledge of Magic Trix.
My first question is about improvisation. With your music I feel like, clearly that’s how a lot of the songs come about. Just you messing around with your keyboard and figuring it out. Is that what it is? How do you come up with a song? What role does Marco play?
Improvisation is a huge part of making music.Improvisation is using what you have in front of you and what you know to make something up on the spot right? That’s what like kids do when they play, that’s how kids discover the world. That’s how musicians make music too.
Marco is great because he loves songs and aside from being an amazing drummer he also has such a passion for songs and arrangements. We have a nice exchange. [He’s] kind of an editor, he helps me edit myself, helps me produce. This record [Magic Trix], really he produced the sound of it. He kind of gave me the green light saying, “We don’t need all these other fancy things; what we have is the sound of the record already.” He helped me define that.
I’ve read you described Brooklyn as “really mean and lovely” which I thought was spot on. What did you mean by that? What’s the meanest thing, what’s the loveliest thing?[Laughs] I don’t remember saying that but maybe I did. I definitely think the city has a grittiness to it. It’s very honest and it kind of makes you see yourself. It brings you into yourself a little bit. Because it can be very tough. Especially when you get to the city as a newcomer and it’s kind of shocking that so many people are around you but you can feel so lonely at the same time. Everyone is very individualistic which is awesome because at the same time everything goes, anything goes. That would be a lovely, lovely thing about it.
But it can be really tough and harsh sometimes. It’s kind of like life. It’s very much this open thing and it is what you make of it. [Brooklyn is] very honest. Well some parts of Brooklyn are changing but when I moved here I never felt like it was trying to be something that it wasn’t. Ultimately, I feel it as my home. It took a while to feel that way but I do really feel like [it’s] a home. It’s nice to come back too. [laughs]
I really like the bilingualism of your music. Is that a thing that happens naturally? When you’re writing lyrics do you come up with them in Spanish first or English first?
It’s actually the same as I just make music in general. Improvising and sometimes I will an idea will happen in Spanish and sometimes it’ll happen in English. The new thing that happens to me is that I’m not good with words. I’ve been in a fight with words for a couple [of] years. The languages just come later — I’m making sounds with my mouth and they don’t make any sense and then it becomes some kind of word. I am bilingual, I grew up speaking spanish in my household first and I think some of my imagination always stays there. It’s nice to have that kind of palate. It’s like another instrument to choose from.
When did you realize that you wanted to do music and was that an issue at all with your parents? I ask because you have a Cuban and Puerto Rican background and I come from a Mexican background, and I know that choosing anything artsy as your career is generally frowned upon. How did your parents react?
I agree with you. I think a lot of times, facing that circumstance of being a first generation of people who immigrated to this country looking for a better life and they may not have had that opportunity to choose what they wanted to do. Now here you are and they want the best for you and they want you to succeed.
But my parents have been so supportive and I think that sometimes they don’t understand what I do. They see that I love [it] and they are proud that I get to do something that I love. It’s like an accomplishment for them that they got to give their child a life like that. It’s a luxury and I don’t take it for granted and I think about it every single day: that I get to wake up and I get to fight for what I love, and I get to focus on that every single day and work on it. It just makes me want to work harder because I know that that wasn’t the reality for my family. It’s a really interesting thing and I’m curious to see how it plays out for second generation immigrants in this country and just moving forward generationally. We’re just in a really interesting time where young people in their 20s and 30s are living lifestyles that were kind of uncommon in the past. I’m really curious to see how that affects ethnic family stereotypes I guess. I think there may be some change ahead.
I do find a great deal of hope in young Latino first generation and immigrating professionals working in various aspects of music from journalism, radio, management, and not to mention artists! I’m inspired by the amazing people I get to work with like Analuz Vizarretea at Ba Da Bing Records, originally from Mexico and now here thriving with alot of passion for what she does. People like Analuz, the quality of the work being done makes me so hopeful for what this Latino community can grow to be here in the US. It’s a work in progress, and I think all good things take time.
Yeah. I’m looking forward to it.[laughs]
You have family members who’ve had clairvoyant experiences. Have you ever had anything like that or has any supernatural shit happened to you?
Well you know I think everyone has ability a lot of ability. They say that we only use a very miniscule amount of our brain power in general and human beings don’t really use all the brain power we have. I think in addition to that there are a lot of abilities that we have that are not really cultivated and are not valued for the most part in society. I find it really fascinating to learn about and question and I’m curious about it. I think there’s also a lot of family mythology about people who are clairvoyant, like santeria practices that I find really fascinating but I don’t know really much about. So some of the things I allude to in making [Magic Trix] are just kind of referencing that those things are a part of the culture that I come from.
Yeah. I think it’ll be very interesting if there was some kind of emphasis in developing your person. Whether that be any kind of ability or emotional ability and your power as a human being. We all have power, right? As a musician it’s weird because you get a lot of power. You’re put on a stage and you’re above people so they look at you. Instantly that creates some kind of strange power. But in everyday life we all have power and we use it in different ways. It’d be very interesting if we could learn how to harness that in positive ways. [To] realize what that is and be in control of your emotions and control how you react to other people. I don’t really hear anyone doing that or championing that in this society where it’s all about just getting the power and doing whatever so I’m interested in it.
Was that your grandma in the video for “Hair Receding”?
Did that take any convincing to do?
My grandma is incredible and she just wanted to help me out. She didn’t really understand what it was. She was like, [starts speaking Spanish] “I didn’t know that they made movies in that way!” We strapped like, nine cameras to her. She was so radiant and so excited and I feel like she felt like she was helping me and she was! She knew how important it was to me and she would do anything to help me and so it was a really special couple days to get to do that. She’s incredible.
I love those little moments in the video where she smiles and she realizes it. She’s kind of like, ‘Oh! I’m smiling and there’s cameras on me!’ It was really sweet.
I like the idea of her as the protagonist because I felt like she was a very unlikely protagonist. I just thought that there was a lot to her and you don’t really get to see someone like her in media ever — a woman who is alone, who has power, has joy. I really wanted to show that. I told her that she’s famous now [laughs].
What’s something that — now that you’re going on this tour compared to past tours –what’s something that you’re like “Oh I wish I knew that before.”
Especially since I assume you guys have a little tour van and it’s just you two in there.
Yeah. The things I wish I knew, oh man! Probably so many. I always wish I brought sweaters. That’s not very interesting. I don’t know, I’ve learned a lot. Just by going on these tours I’ve learned a lot about the drill of just rolling into a new place and meeting a whole new set of people and what you do kind of every night. I’m still learning a lot and I’m excited about this adventure with Man Man. It’ll be a lot of cities I’ve never been to and will be a good amount of time on the road.
I’m really interested in learning how to deal with the audience in a different way and how to deal with myself and my energy every night in a different way. It can be very challenging night after night. So I’m curious to keep learning. Any time that you’re playing music you’re trying to transmit something and trying to do something. I’m really interested in how to use your energy and how to use your power. So hopefully I’ll have more stories to share about what I learn too [laughs]. That’s my goal.