by Holli Stephens
In his more advanced age, leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin became extremely paranoid. It became so serious that he surrounded himself with a pack of dogs for protection. Among his four-legged friends, his favorite was named Minka. For Ari Rubin, this was more than enough reason to name his Philadelphia based alternative dance group after it.
“Our goal is to use simple elements, but just arrange them in new ways. And put an interesting spin on the familiar.” Rubin wants his music to speak to people, but in the most “bizarre and unconventional” way possible, he says with a laugh.
Since a fateful meeting in 2009 with guitarist Ian Brick on a cross country reggae tour the duo has since added members Paul Sipio on keyboards, Joe Flack on bass, and Max Perla on drums.
Holding an interview with Rubin was like conversing with an old friend. He is blunt, eccentric, and possesses a sense of humor that only someone with such an outrageous outlook on music can pull off. He enchanted me with stories about doing unpleasant house shows for strangers where it became a game of making the audience as pissed off as possible through “extremely sexualized dance moves”. Rubin even confessed how his side gig is “hitting up the nursing home circuit” and performing a Frank Sinatra cabaret act.
Minka’s first self-titled EP was the result of Rubin and Brick meeting in a basement a couple times a week. It didn’t translate the way Rubin had hoped in a live setting and became more of an interpretation of what they had originally intended to create. Rubin states, “When we first started playing out we were experimenting with Max playing an electronic kit along with an acoustic kit. We eventually realized our strength lies in our musicianship and we just go for that raw rock vibe more than weaker electronic soundscape.”
The group’s most recent news is the release of The Republican on the 29th of July. Rubin and his other group members frequently go to this bar where “nothing good and everything good happens.” It’s no surprise that the EP is named after it and is a collection of memories created in the infamous The EP, which was recorded live in two days, has more of a “raw” sound which Rubin is extremely pleased with.
The group recently changed their songwriting process which is the biggest positive change in recording the two EPs. Rubin’s tone relaxes as he says, “We all just get together and write as a group and each person will toss a lyric out and well go with it. Minka’s enemy is blandness. Increasingly we use songs that have an identity.”
For a group where every member is in a different side project that includes reggae, rap, rock, jazz, and classical genres, Minka’s identity is something truly unique. Rubin says he’s not afraid to change direction in his songwriting process as long as the result is something out of the ordinary.
“Every performance is an opportunity to explore the limits. Our band motto is ‘you don’t know your limits until you exceed them’. Whether it’s as cerebral as in a song where we have just some really strange chord progressions that don’t really make any sense…we push the envelope and try to see what that can be.”