story by Lisa Mushett, USTA Northern Section
Former Gopher tennis players Nate McLain and Aleksey Zharinov know what it is like to be the center of attention. From 2000-04, McLain and Zharinov served and volleyed their way in to the Minnesota tennis annals, winning a combined 91 singles matches in their careers. Now, the duo is starring on a different stage as they are two members of the hottest “eclectic, eccentric, electric” band in the Twin Cities - Sika.
Bound together by tennis, McLain from Prior Lake, Minn., and Zharinov, from Siberia, Russia, actually had an intermediary who brought them together musically Aleksey’s brother Sergei. The younger Zharinov was living in the basement at McLain’s mom’s house in Woodbury, Minn., while visiting the United States. It was then, McLain and Sergei discovered they had similar musical tastes and decided to start a band. Aleksey later joined the group as the bass player, which also features drummer Dave Crevier and keyboardist John Torgerson.
Practicing as an instrumental band for three years, the group decided they needed to find a singer. Suffering through countless auditions and some bad luck along the way, they never found one. Finally by default, they asked Aleksey if he could sing.
“We thought Aleksey would be a good front man because he is sexy and not from around here,” McLain said. “That was worth its weight in gold in the singing world. Unfortunately, he was tone deaf and I remember Dave having to leave practice because he just couldn’t take his awful singing anymore!’”
That summer, Aleksey also moved into the McLain house and started taking voice lessons from McLain’s mother, Jane, who was a voice and music coach. After practicing every day with Jane, he blossomed into a full-fledged rock star.
“He developed an amazing voice, but he also had an amazing teacher,” McLain says with a smile. “He actually applied the same approach of hard work and discipline to his singing that he showed on the tennis court and it paid off.”
It sure has as Sika has played many of the top venues in the Twin Cities including The Fine Line, Gluek’s, Tiffany’s and the Varsity Theater, as well as the North Shore Theater in Duluth. The band, which many compare to the group Muse, is now looking to take its self described “Radiohead meets Depeche Mode meets Metallica meets Mozart” sound international.
“We really have aspirations of traveling the world and playing music,” McLain said. “It’s something that we all love to do as a band. Music is a release and a joy. It is about enjoying what you do and getting others to experience and feel what you do to some degree.”
Ready to take their act on the road, there is someone the band keeps close to them on a daily basis Sergei. After visiting Aleksey for six months on a visiting visa, Sergei obtained a student visa to study and play tennis at St. Thomas in St. Paul, but the Russian government would not let him come back to the United States because Aleksey was already here. Devastated, Sergei remained in Russia, giving up his dream of playing tennis and studying in the States.
Matters became even more destitute when one night, when Sergei was mugged and beaten nearly to death as five men wanted his CD Walkman a gift from his older brother. Sergei was in a coma for 10 days and the prognosis was not good. Sika was Sergei’s nickname in Russian.
“We were all in such shock and horror. All we could do is pray,” McLain said. “Well, God answered our prayers because through a miracle and four brain surgeries, Sergei recovered. It was then we decided to name the band Sika after him.”
Although music is their number one priority now, tennis still plays a prominent role in both of their lives. McLain and Zharinov are teaching pros in the Twin Cities area as Aleksey is at Golden Valley Country Club in the summer and Twin Cities Tennis Camps in the winter, while McLain started McLain Tennis Academy in the January of 2007. He currently has about 25 junior players of all ages at the Championships and Challenger 1 levels he is developing.
They also remain two of the top players in USTA Northern as they play many local tournaments. They reclaimed their men’s double title at the prestigious Erbert’s and Gerbert Aquatennial Tennis Classic this summer, which features the best players in the Section, after also winning the title in 2004 and 2005. McLain is also ranked third in the Section in men’s open singles.
“It is hard to keep your game at such a high level when you are teaching and playing music,” McLain admits. “You are not as sharp as you could be if you were practicing all of the time. I personally feel guilty when I spend more time working on my tennis knowing I could be working on my music.”
McLain concedes though that tennis and music are based on the same principles and they really do go hand in hand.
“Both tennis and music rely on discipline, determination and practice. Tennis has helped our music so much that it actually attracted our drummer, Dave, to the game. After learning some of the basics from Aleksey and me, he is a 4.5 player and a certified teaching pro in only two years time.”
Just like Dave’s fast rise on the tennis courts, Sika is primed and ready to experience that same ascent on the music scene and can’t wait to take center stage in a city near you.