Before her show at Kings in Raleigh, Xenia Rubinos sat down with WSOE DJ Patrick Larsen to talk about her new record Black Terry Cat, the effect that touring has on songs and the role of identity in her music. Check out the full interview below or listen here.
WSOE: I’ve seen that a lot of people have called your most recent album [Black Terry Cat] a political album. Do you agree with that?
Xenia Rubinos: Not really because I’m talking about my personal experience. I’m making some reflections on societal things; income inequality, the experience of being a person of color in America, being a woman, image issues. So what I’m going through and thinking about. I think that perhaps since there are maybe fewer people who look like me or have my background that are given a chance to tell their story then people call my story political. I just make music and it’s my way of understanding the world.
WSOE: Do you feel like that’s putting what you do into a box?
XR: Yeah, ultimately the problem is in order to understand anything you have to classify it in some way and you have to figure out how to talk about things so you can understand them. So that’s intrinsic when talking about music. You’re going to be put into categories and boxes. But yeah it is a little frustrating especially now because potentially 40 years ago there was less of a mix of genres and cultures then there are today. Music right now is a mix of a lot of things and we are all a mix of a lot of things. Our identities are more complex than one box that you can check off and that’s why those categories are challenging.
WSOE: Do you think we need to look past that?
XR: Honestly, young people and people who know what’s up are not worried about that. They aren’t worried about where someone is from or what box people are checking off. You might be interested in several different kinds of music. There might be certain things that call out to you or you identify with more than others and that represents your personal style or your aesthetic. For the most part, people who are really music fans are not really concerned with genre. It’s a thing of the past.
WSOE: Can you tell me a little bit about how identity played a role in the creation of your new record?
XR: Identity definitely played a role in it because I was figuring out what I wanted to say or what I was wondering which I do every time I’m making music. In the lyrics, I was trying to challenge myself to be a little bit more specific for the first time and being a little more literal than I ever have been so some of the lyrics are a little bit more personal. It’s cool because even though it is personal I’ve been finding out that a lot of people identify with it in their own ways that are totally separate from my personal experience.
When you’re making something it is very personal but when you’re genuine and true with your expression ultimately there’s going to be so many ways that people identify with that thing and you might meet someone who’s really into this idea that you made and they’re so different from you and might project all of these different realities onto this thing you made that you may have never imagined yourself.
WSOE: One of my creative writing teachers would say all the time that “specificity breeds universality” and I really liked that.
XR: That’s a great thought and you wouldn’t think that because you might think being vague would be better but the little things are the most exciting. Even right now as we’re talking if I were to say something really specific about my day that you did too then you would remember that more than anything else I said just because it’s something that you could relate to more in your daily life.
WSOE: This is your second round of touring following this album, right?
XR: Yeah I did my first national headlining tour this fall in the US and I did one in Europe. This is my first big chunk of touring now in the new year.
WSOE: Do you feel more prepared for it now?
XR: No. Not at all.
WSOE: Do you have a favorite song to perform?
XR: It changes. I’ll probably have a new favorite on this tour. My favorite on the last tour was “See Them” because there are a lot of different parts and sections and that’s a song that I also don’t happen to play anything except my voice on so I can just be with the crowd and have a lot of fun dancing. It was just cool to interact with the audience and see how they responded to it. We’ll see what happens this time.
WSOE: Do you ever find yourself disconnecting from an older song that you’ve played too much.
XR: I toured on my first record for like three years so that was unusual for a new artist. I self-released the album and after a year this small label in Brooklyn Ba Da Bing! asked if we wanted to work with them. They wanted to release “Magic Trix” and we did that and it was really great and totally worth it. When that happened I was just about ready to be done with that and ready to move onto the next thing but I ended up touring on it for like two more years.
So what was interesting was that I reached a point where I sometimes felt like I was changing because of course in three years your ideas are changing and you are wanting to do new things. There would be times where I felt like I wanted to stop playing a song so I could take it back into the workshop and bring it back out. There are times when you can’t do that on tour especially since I only had one record so I had to play that.
But, it was cool because in between tours I would update and change things. Sometimes even really subtle things would change on tour like the way that I sang one word would be different and I would get this whole other idea. Or I was thinking differently and it would completely transform what we were sounding like. Things can transform and change just by something small or big.
It still happens today. I’m playing songs from my first record as well but what I try to do is find out why I’m disconnecting. Music and art are infinite so you can look at the same thing and keep seeing different things in it. It’s all about how you are looking. So there’s something in me that changed not something in that piece. Something in my perspective. So I have to think “oh what happened, why am I hating on this song?” Sometimes I change that thing but other times it’s cool to confront myself about why I’m hating it and it might end up helping me in a different way.
It would be interesting to see what happens in twenty years what will happen when playing or thinking about something from my debut.
WSOE: I saw Animal Collective and the whole time people were shouting to play “Banshee Beat” and Avey Tare has said in interviews that he doesn’t connect with that song anymore so they don’t play it.
XR: That’s happened to me with “Hair Receding” which is one of the singles from my first record. I’ve fallen in and out of love and at points, it was really hard for me to play that song. There were several things that I didn’t connect to in the same way anymore. I came back around with it and now I love playing it. Also, I only felt that off stage but when I’m on the stage there’s not much that can bum me out.
Once I’m actually doing it, it surprises me. Even when I come up and I’m like “whatever” because it’s been a rough or tough night or something like that, something stupid. But once I’m there it’s never happened, not even once. Something just grabs me and makes it this whole other experience. The music itself lifts me up when I’ve been at my worst and it carries me and pushes me up. I feel like I’m doing something that’s meaning to me and special.
It’s interesting to see what time does. I’ve had plenty of friends who wrote a breakup record or a record when they were seventeen and they’re not that person anymore. That’s cool too, I respect that a lot. It’s very personal and whatever that artist is going through that time only they know. Other people refuse to play singles because they want to be about albums.
For example, a band that has a really huge single and blows up on their first album and that’s the only thing that people want to hear. They might like making albums and want people to listen to their albums because they don’t think of themselves as one-hit wonders. In that situation they might refuse to play that song and everyone would be mad but they’re happy with themselves and that’s the most important thing since that’s all you have.
If you go around trying to make everyone else happy, at the end of the day, you lose. You always lose. On your worst day that’s all you have. That thing you made, that’s it. So you could be playing for 50,000 people or you could be playing for five people. The night you’re playing for five people you better like what you just did otherwise it’s miserable. We’re not in the business of doing something that’s repetitious or monotonous. We’re in the business of doing something meaningful. If you’re not feeling it then that’s the biggest problem you could have. Anything else like not having a label or not having money are not problems. The problem would be if you hated what you were doing.