Xenia Rubinos makes genre-defying music that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard before. The first time I heard “Hair Receding” was absolutely mind-bending. The suspenseful, melodic track off 2013’s Magic Trix somehow seamlessly fuses elements of progressive punk, gospel-driven synth sounds and an element of improv. It’s gritty but tender, huge but intimate.
“I tell people I’m a songwriter. I’ll tell people that my last album [Black Terry Cat] was heavily influenced by hip hop and jazz and rhythmic music,” says Rubinos. “Working in these old genres is really limiting for a lot of people, not just myself.”
“Musicians now have access to basically all the music ever created and can listen to any of it at any time, so obviously influence is going to be fragmented. Using the same genre names for the last 10 years is kind of old, and it’s kind of weak,” adds Rubinos.
She is not in the business of telling people what kind of music she makes. That’s for the music writers and scholars to sort out.
But as it turns out, this is a tough task for writers. Magic Trix was lazily handed the genre marker of “Latin,” without acknowledging the presence of punk and jazz sewn into the compositions. Black Terry Cat is a little more than a year old, and that record shows more elements of jazz and hip hop, but the punk flame from the first album is present as well.
Although it’s hard to pin down, one thing is certain: Xenia Rubinos’ music is good, compositionally smart and refreshingly different.
When CP chats with Rubinos by phone, it’s just before she leaves to tour with her band. She’s been spending the past few days running errands, writing a lot and rehearsing.
“I try to sleep in a lot, eat well and take it easy before tour starts. But usually the last few days are a flurry of practices, and I just end up leaving for tour tired anyway,” says Rubinos, with a laugh.
Her band is now a trio: Rubinos is at the helm with her vocals and piano, joined by a bassist, who also plays a synthesizer, alongside her longtime drummer, Marco Buccelli. It’s a locked-in version of the quartet on the first Black Terry Cat tour, but an expansion of the original two-piece setup for Magic Trix.
In the year that Black Terry Cat’s been out, the album has gotten a new life.
“It’s continued to resonate and take on new meaning, as I’ve played it and gotten to tour on it,” says Rubinos. “I had all these plans about how I was going to perform this record live, and when I finally started touring in the fall, I realized that a lot of the songs I thought would present themselves in this soft, smoothed-out way, I naturally performed in a more aggressive, in-your-face way.
“It reminded me of who I really am and where I’m coming from, and it continues to change every time I play it live.”