The Madness of Minka.
It’s National Tequila Day, and for the boys of Minka, that’s cause for celebration. With burritos and a bottle of El Jimador Gold in hand, the funky four-piece make their way over to Bardascino Park, a shaded little South Philly spot on 10th and Carpenter streets.
Fresh out of a typical songwriting session where Legos were used as inspiration and ideas were tested out on an audience of plastic snakes, spiders and dinosaurs, the guys relax before their next gig.
Between shots straight out of the bottle, memory-soaked laughter tells the story of how they all ended up together. It goes a little something like this: a Craigslist ad landed frontman Ari Rubin and guitarist Ian Brick on a reggae tour in 2012 and something just clicked. They initially tried to start Minka with a dude whose arms became paralyzed in a freak sleeping accident, creating a need for some new talent. After humorously watching Rubin absolutely sabotage a live show with some side project, Max Perla was sold and slid in behind the drum kit. Bassist Joe Flack jokes that he made it on the team for being a “warm body with two working arms.”
The rest is history, marked with a few footnotes: weird, loud and most likely naked.
Rubin, better known as Dick, isn’t shy when it comes to entertaining an audience. He fondly recalls stripping during 90 percent of shows in Minka’s early days.
“Ari likes to expose himself,” Flack says as Rubin nods approvingly. “It always started with the shirt, the belt, the socks. Always, the socks get thrown at me for some reason. I’m just trying to hold it down back there and I’m getting socks thrown at me. Then the pants come off. But he’s never gotten beyond the underwear.”
“That’s not true,” Rubin adds confidently, recalling that night at Bob & Barbara’s when the button over his fly went missing and the whole crowd got a revue.
Rubin’s unabashed stage presence leaves the rest of the band wondering if he’ll get naked at any given show.
“That’s one of the jobs of bands,” Brick says. “To get noticed, you have to have a gimmick of some sort. But then, once you understand that it’s a gimmick and that’s separate from your band, you kind of have to slowly phase it out. He’s done that for the most part.”
“We’re on to a new shtick,” Perla offers.
So, the birthday suit got a replacement.
Before the smell became an issue, the men of Minka played shows in the paint-splattered suits that they crafted while making the music video for “Jackson Pollock,” the lead song off their latest EP, The Republican (think South Philly after-hours strip club, not the GOP, which has no place on this record). More recently, Rubin struck gold digging through his 86-year-old dad’s closet when he found four matching, nude turtlenecks and some sweet valour tracksuits.
“We were really in touch with our South Philly roots at that time,” Brick says of their faux athletic wear. For a while, Rubin paraded around in the loudest suit of them all, leading the band in American flag apparel.
What’s the fun in coming dressed as themselves, anyway?
“We’re all a bunch of different people inside,” Brick says. “We focus on one specific part of us that we can really bring out. We try to think of ourselves as scientists and we’re in the lab doing a controlled experiment on ourselves – a controlled, schizophrenic episode.”
The byproduct has been two EPs full of tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a high standard for a stage presence that physically illustrates them. With less-than-subtle songs like “Let’s Fuck,” Minka is all about taking risks.
“We’re not afraid to do something a little strange, clearly,” Brick says. “I mean, this guy is our lead singer. That was a huge risk.”
“It was a risk, in actuality,” Rubin says. “I had never sung before the band at all. I was a piano player and I hurt my hands real bad. I didn’t think I’d be able to play again, so I started singing.”
Contrary to the band’s style, Rubin was brought up on opera and classical music. His piano training would stretch 10 to 12 hours a day with no breaks up until 2012, when a bad case of tendonitis redirected him to the mic.
His tense, often shouted vocals fuse the influence of artists like the Talking Heads and David Bowie, backed by synthed-up, dance-y drum beats that give Minka its signature sound.
“The ’80s birthed us,” Rubin remarks while fittingly sporting a retro pair of aviator eyeglasses and beard he hasn’t shaved since Jan. 1.
In their newest single with that ’80s vibe, “Kids These Days,” Minka hits on the inevitable truth that in any generational transition, the old heads will criticize youths walking their beaten path.
In a nearly theatrical chorus, the band sings, “Kids these days just don’t get it, they don’t think like me…they don’t take life seriously.”
“We enjoy the fact that they don’t take life seriously,” Brick says, capturing the ethos of the age-old complaint. “We want to be like them. We are complaining about them only because we desire to be like them.”
He then makes the distinction that they are not, in fact, grumpy old men.
On the contrary, Rubin would describe Minka as a silly, childlike band who often ask themselves what the opposite is of what most people would do in any given situation.
“We zig when they zag,” Brick says.
He elaborates on how the band occasionally encourages Perla to ditch his skills on the drums to play like a child with no musical ability would, and hold down the beat when Rubin sporadically jumps from instrument to instrument that he doesn’t know how to play.
“That’s what the music scene is missing – bands that just want to freak out and have fun and don’t worry about looking cool,” David Sweeny, better known by his alter ego Johnny Showcase, says of Minka. “We’re kind of kindred spirits.”
Sweeny and his friends in the electrifying funk outfit Johnny Showcase and the Mystic Ticket handpicked Minka to open their record release show for The Octopus! at Underground Arts in October because their ideals align.
“I think we both think that music should be fun and should be about pleasure and doesn’t have to take itself seriously, but can also be really good music,” Sweeny says. “They wear turtlenecks. That’s the ugliest thing you can think of and they still have hot college girls freaking out to them. It’s great.”
The guys all have day jobs where they manage to take themselves seriously, so when Minka gets together they turn the focus to having a good time. Perla says the band wants to break the humdrum cycle of bands that stand on stage to play slow and sad tunes.
In modern music, Sweeny says it’s par for bands to just get up in front of a crowd who just stand there and then everyone goes home.
“Minka aren’t afraid to be absolute fools for the audience and totally give it to them,” he says. “That’s what makes them head and shoulders above most other groups in the city.”
“We just feel like there’s missing a loud, fast, coked-out, fun band on the scene,” Perla says. “We want to try and be that band.”
“Coked-out, figuratively,” Brick adds. They just like the idea it represents.
“We play mostly sober…” Perla says, with “at this point,” echoing in from all sides of the table as sunshine wafts through the half empty bottle of tequila.
In Minka’s infancy, Rubin would black out before every show, the rest of the guys trailing somewhere behind him. He recounts their first 15 shows being long, foggy nights before the band made a change.
The era of getting smashed before every show has passed. Instead, Minka focuses on being, ‘loud, fast and a little raggedy’ on their own terms, turning their main focus to playing small, local spaces.
“Right now we’re just trying to cultivate Philly,” Rubin says. “If people don’t give a shit about us here, why would they give a fuck about us anywhere else? We’re doing tons of house parties and we’re open to playing anybody’s soiree.”
No space is off limits – the smaller and sweatier, the better. Minka thrives on a stage all to themselves with no regulations on their eccentric performance style. They make themselves right at home, from the pool to the kitchen. Perla cites bonus points if the space is dirty and “in your face.”
So naturally, when super-fan Adam Weinraub reached out to the band to play his “crazy secret rooftop blowout kegger,” they were all in.
A cool breeze rolls in as the sun begins to fall on a mild Friday night, alerting the guys that it is time to pack up and head over a few blocks to 7th and Wharton streets for the show.
“I can’t believe he’s actually doing this,” says Caiola Katz, Weinraub’s longtime friend, as he shows Minka up to the roof. “We’ve been talking about this for months.”
It is perfect timing for the show, as the second and third floor tenants just vacated days prior.
New listeners to the local music scene, Weinraub and Katz caught Minka fever after watching a show at Bob & Barbara’s, where Rubin ended up on the floor with the mic stand between his legs, humping the stage.
“When we first saw them, we were a little disturbed,” Katz says. “But you can’t take your eyes off of Ari.”
Several shows and blurry house parties later, the pair are hosting their very own Minka show and aren’t sure what to expect.
“No show is the same,” Weinraub says. “It’s like going to a sporting event and seeing a different game every time. You go and you see Minka, and each one of them brings it like they want to entertain everyone in the crowd.”
Pale pink clouds have long fallen behind the skyline as a more-than-casually-late crowd begins to form on the roof deck to find Minka dressed in thrift store Hawaiian shirts. The open-air playing space is dimly illuminated only by a waxing crescent moon hanging in the distance and a lone floor lamp stuck smack in the middle of the band.
“We’re going to play the fastest, best show we can before the 5-O show up,” Brick murmurs, preparing himself while soaking in the last moments of peace before Minka turns up the volume on an otherwise quiet night.
“We are Minka, and we’re here to fuck your brains out,” Rubin opens, and they were off to start the set with a cover of Weezer’s “Hashpipe.”
The crowd of about 40 strong – with dudes in plaid button-downs in every which direction – warms up quickly, grooving along with Rubin’s wild footwork as the sounds of crashing cymbals take over over the streets, rattling the fence of an empty alleyway across the way and echoing through the neighborhood.
“This is the greatest shit I’ve ever seen,” Katz says to a friend as songs like “My Room” and “Justice” fill the air, exposing the residential neighborhood to amusing lyrics and overtly sexual comments from Rubin like, “I wanna see you grab some ass. Someone can come up here and grab mine, I’m inviting you.”
From above, an obviously intoxicated man can be seen dancing on the street in front of an unmarked police car.
“Fuck it,” Weinraub says, while going down to investigate. “I’ll get arrested tonight. I don’t care.”
Turns out the police are in a forgiving mood. They offer 30 more minutes of playtime until they will be up to pull the plug themselves.
No need for a reminder, Minka’s set is cut short right before the last song and the teetering 30 minute mark when Perla, who’s notoriously wild on the kit, breaks his kick pedal. No gripe from the band though – one less Prince cover isn’t going to kill anyone.
With the volume pulled down on Rubin’s Talking Heads playlist and the keg of Rolling Rock still flowing, the party wears on into the night.
“I told Dick, ‘I’m collecting money for you man,’ and he goes, ‘I don’t give a shit about the money, I just want people to have a good time,’” Weinraub says with a shrug. “It’s nice to see that their end goal is everyone having fun and enjoying themselves.”
From getting dressed up, to stripping and carving out a space in the crowd to throw down dance moves, Minka is all about having fun, and they label low-key spots the most human way to do it.
“At house shows, we can connect to people,” Rubin says, stressing the meaningful relationships he’s made. “And Adam is going to get laid tonight, that’s awesome.”
“That’s like community service,” Brick jokes.