Women in Color: Xenia Rubinos, Music Maker
Town/City You Claim: Brooklyn
Occupation: Music maker
Favorite Quote: “I know that what I’m asking is impossible, but in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand,”- James Baldwin
1. What's been the best part about growing a fan base and expressing your thoughts through music?
It’s always inspiring to hear from people who identify with my music and learn how they live with it. Their stories surprise me, it’s humbling to know something so personal that I created in my bedroom speaks to and lives with so many people I’ve never met. I get the same feeling when I’m on stage in someplace I probably never imagined being and I look up and there are people singing the lyrics to my song, dancing and I look at my drummer Marco and think “WHOAH? Can you believe this?!”.
2. I'm hearing guitars, piano, and every flutes on your album, "Black Terry Cat". How much are you involved in your band's instrumentals? What's the song writing process like for you?
I wrote all of the parts on those tracks, I just demo the parts or sing them to whoever will play them. I played bass on a lot of these songs and keyboards on all of them. So far my process has been to bring each song to the “most finished” stage that I can before sharing it with others. I try to get as specific as I can about all the parts and know as much as I can about what I want the song to do. Then I can find people to work with to help me get where I’m going sonically. This time, I was messing around on the bass and without expecting it or even knowing how to play it, I ended up writing almost half of the record on it!
3. What's one of your favorite self care activities? And have you found balance between work and play?
Seeing friends and being with people I love always nourishes me in a huge way. I get like a mopey plant that needs watering when I become too much of a recluse and don’t see people. I definitely have not found a balance between work and play. I find that I tend to be in extremes of either one, like I’m on total lockdown and see no one and go nowhere because I’m working or I go on a 3-day drunk friend fun spree! I aspire to be more balanced, but sometimes I think those extremes are just how I operate.
4. What's your biggest concern with the incoming presidential administration? And how has your community of family and friends responded?
My concerns are many but one of them I’m thinking about is the overall affect on our culture. I don’t want us to all be walking around with rain clouds over our heads constantly. I don’t want to get to a party and ask someone how they are and they shrug “I don’t know, I guess I’m ok”. These are really trying times but I hope we can face them with courage, positivity, hard work and determination. It’s really hard to stay positive when you feel like everything is melting down around you but if we melt down too then we’re REALLY in trouble. I also think celebrating our diversity and affirming our identities is great, but sometimes I’m afraid that it’s all dividing us up more and more when we really need to aspire to transcend all of our perceived differences and learn to create different power structures, love each other, live together.
5. Being of Cuban-Puerto Rican descent, how does your heritage inform the way you listen to music from the Motherland and the Diaspora as a whole?
I see my cultural identity to be something that’s constantly in flux, the more I learn about where I come from the bigger perspective I have, and it’s the same for my music. I just watched this great lecture by Pauline Oliveros where she talks about the difference between hearing and listening. She explains that listening is a mysterious process that’s not the same for everyone. Listening is subjective and is a combination of our perception of the moment and our remembered experience. So the more I remember and the more I experience that’ll continue to change the way I can listen. I think it’s a lifelong practice.
6. When did you first realize you were a Brown girl?
I really never used the term so much until a few years ago, it was mostly joking with close friends but recently I’ve been empowered by finding more and more examples of people who look like me or share similar stories in media I consume on a daily basis. Now there are satirical comedy sites that poke fun at what it’s like growing up with your abuela who’s being loud blasting merengue when she went to pick you up in your busted car or used plastic butter containers to store EVERYTHANG from buttons to leftovers. These are such specific experiences that I had growing up in mostly “white” spaces that made me feel “othered” and alone, now there’s all these ways to connect with people who share similar experiences and it’s really fun and empowering. It makes me feel like I’m not alone, and I think gives people something to claim as part of their identity. I may be moving in a new direction on all this labeling and color delineating language though, I feel like there’s something more transcendental I want to aspire to. I just finished reading James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time” and in it he says “Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality”.
Xenia's U.S. runs now through March 31, and she'll be playing Bowery Ballroom on April 13— for tickets look here.