Published in The Pulse of The Twin Cities
by Kandis Knight
While on the phone with my editor, my curiosity peaked about the title of the new Heiruspecs album, A Tiger Dancing. I had heard about the album in early spring and wondered if they were going to stick with that title. They did.
When my editor told me the album was exceptional, I couldn’t wait to sit down with the dudes from Heiru. [Editors Note: And indeed the album is exceptional. Heiruspecs trump card has always been the dynamic nature of their live band set-up and this has never been more true than on A Tiger Dancing.
Whereas countless groups are content to let their MCs take sole spotlight over half-baked beats, Heiruspecs is a living and breathing Hip-Hop beast. The dynamic rhythm section of Leggett and Sean McPherson (aka Twinkie Jiggles) keeps the low end locked down, and the sultry dulcet tones of keyboardist dVRG are equally essential to Heiruspecs songs. Which doesn’t mean the two talented MCs are window dressing—Felix and Muad’Dib provide more than their fair share of clever wordplay and mellifluous mouth manipulations to keep the party jumping. Hands down one of the best local Hip-Hop album I’ve heard this year.]
KANDIS: How did you guys settle on the name A Tiger Dancing for the album?
FELIX: We originally were going to call the album The Brothers We Are, which is a line from one of our songs. We came into the album saying, "We don't want to use a line from one of our songs because that is cheesy." I think we all pretty much agreed that was a horrible idea. We practically ended up doing it anyway. Because there’s an ending to one of our songs called “A Tiger Dancing” that goes "Move Tiger pick up your paws and let's dance" and I actually wrote it. I wrote it because I relate to cats, Felix is a cat. The image of a dancing animal is kind of interesting. We chose it because it’s a paraphrase from one of our songs. Something we kicked ourselves in the ass about, but we did it anyway.
Kandis: Which song on the album is most personal to you?
Twinkie Jiggles: To me the song that goes the deepest is “Lie To Me,” the last track. That song’s a real departure from our sound in the past and there’s a lot of depth in the lyrics and a lot of what I like about rap in the lyrics.
Kandis: What do you like about rap lyrics?
Twinkie Jiggles: The personal and cultural aspects to it. That song seems personal and cultural at the same time. When a song is personal and offers a little cultural commentary—that’s my shit. I like when rap does that and it happens on “Lie to Me.”
Felix: “5ves” is my personal favorite. I wrote that song one morning sitting out on my front steps watching the neighborhood go by. It’s a narrative of the morning and the way that song flows to me seems intimate. It feels like it should be listened to carefully. I love the fact that you have that intimacy of sound combined with something that’s more like a story. I like that a lot.
Kandis: So do you have any political songs on the album with the elections coming up and everything?
Felix: We have a song called “Positions of Strength.” It examines what makes powerful figures come into being. Some of my personal political views are on that song and there’s another called “I'm Behind You,” it’s about crimes large and small and how they completely permeate our society. From jaywalking to the big ones, murder and rape. It’s a big subject matter to talk about.
Kandis: What are some of the goals the group has for A Tiger Dancing? What things might get you down if they’re not accomplished?Felix: You always want to exceed expectations. There are areas in this country where we have been a lot of times, and there are areas where we have never been before. When you go someplace, or even just when your music is in stores in places where you haven’t been, you hope people will pick up on it. Sometimes it kinda gets me down when we’re reaching out, and we’re going further than we have gone before on tour and everything is looking great and then we realize that there’s some huge area we totally messed up on, and I’m like, “How could we be so stupid?” Sometimes it is completely on us or our business plan.
Kandis: What’s different now, business wise, as far as this release goes?
Twinkie Jiggles: Compared to like three or four years ago, there’s a whole different level of marketing. When you start working with more people the answers start becoming more complicated as far as who handles what. We definitely are still involved with a lot of hand to hand marketing and things like that. Getting disk samplers around, posters around, promoting shows. We have a manager (Glimmer, Inc.) and a booking agency (Hello Booking) in town, then we have a label in New York (Razor & Tie) and the label has an on-staff publicist and an outsourced publicist in Los Angeles to also work our record. On top of that, radio publicists are also hired to work the album to college radio, or urban radio, whoever you’re aiming for. Compared to four years ago, it’s great because now we’re dealing with a lot more volume. You have to really keep track of what’s going on and there are more people you have to watch to make sure everything is on point. When the machine is really running it is really nice to have that many people working on your stuff.
Kandis: How have you grown as a group from Small Steps to A Tiger Dancing?
Felix: Lyrically both of us grew a lot as far as letting our personalities show more through our lyrics. I think that for any rapper starting out up until recently the only thing you had to really rap about was mostly parties, girls, money or status. I think that there has been a wave in all of music towards being more personal with your songs. I don't want to seem like we’re just stuck in a wave but as a natural evolution, as a writer, I feel like I’m less focused on writing a really good rap verse and more focused on writing a really good song. More often than not, the songs I’m writing now are about something. Traditional rap has sometimes been about going to parties, hanging out. In striving to not do that, you got to talk about something else—and a lot of times that’s yourself. As you push yourself to be better at what you do you push yourself into new things and I think both of us have been pushing to be more personal in our lyrics.
Twinkie Jiggles: For awhile all the pop Hip-Hop was talking about money and women. Then there was this underground backlash that was equally crap where people were talking about "I don't have money, I don't have women." It was completely reactionary and now they’re both coming close to the middle. We’re seeing more personal stuff, like Jada Kiss would not have a song like “Why?” five years ago. Everybody’s getting more Emo—it’s not just Slug.
Kandis: Do you ever get tired of being put into the Midwest Hip-Hop box?
Felix: No I never get tired of being put in to the box labeled Midwest. I grew up in St. Paul pretty much on the same block I live now. I love it there and I wish everybody could see it for what it is. There’s some music around the nation in Hip-Hop that is very much a fad. “Everybody in Tha' Club Getting Tipsy” does not really represent St. Louis, nor do I think that Nelly does either. On the other hand there are some people who have really broken ground for their cities and actually do represent their city well. For example, I think Outkast is happily pigeonholed to ATL. Certainly there were people before us coming out of the Twin Cities, most notably, Atmosphere. If I was them I would be happy to say I paved the way for different sounds to come out of my city. You would not hear Lil' Jon if it were not for Outkast. Jermaine Dupri was not producing ATL artists before Outkast. He produced Kris Kross, who were a joke, and Da Brat who was from Chicago. The best thing about being from someplace that is not a huge Mecca for Hip-Hop like New York or the Bay Area is that you get to trail blaze. People respect trailblazers more than they respect people following the bandwagon.
Twinkie Jingles: It makes me happy to make uniquely Minnesota music. It’s not like there’s a style because there are tons of styles. I’ve always been a cheerleader for Minnesota music and still am. I care so much about being a part of the local scene. I love seeing bands grow or break off to do different stuff. It’s so important to me to make music that represents your place and feels good for Minnesota but also works for other cities. Being put in the Midwest box is a small price to pay to come from a place that’s really great. Sometimes you get put into a box because there are other great artists to come from your city that have already been there. It’s not like I would rather have the other artists, like Har Mar Superstar, Atmosphere or Mason Jennings be from another place just so people would be like "What's up with Heiruspecs, where is Minnesota?" It’s much better that they live in my town because I get to see them perform and see them in general.
Felix: It does a lot for your city to see other artists go out and succeed out of town. Just the same way a football team goes out and does well. It makes the city happy. It’s somebody to get behind and root for.
Kandis: A lot of your songs deal with heavy subject matters, how do you get inspired to write stuff like that?
Felix: I have a notebook. It’s hard to write on the road. In the morning I’m most inspired to write. I keep my notebook wherever I may be in the morning. Anything can inspire me, it just depends what mood I’m in.
Muad’ Dib: I usually write a song starting with a phrase and it can go anywhere from there.
Twinkie Jiggles: I approach songs from a different way. I get ideas in my head and putting stuff together with lyrics, it runs the gamut from absurdly “inspired-ly” easy arrangement, where it’s like “Oh here’s the first beat and it goes perfectly with your lyrics.” Then there are songs where you find yourself with the third beat for the song and everything has been thrown together and torn apart. I feel like we must have picked the right songs because there were songs on this album that were easy to arrange and then there are some songs that were hard. “5ves” was definitely one of those songs where it’s hard for me to remember what came first because I wrote a bassline on a keyboard and then I wrote the drum part. Now those lyrics are the only lyrics I have heard over that beat. We have never played it for a freestyle or for someone else to rap over and now those lyrics are so inextricably linked to me that whenever I hear the bassline I think of the words and vice versa.
Kandis: Does the level of success Heiruspecs has achieved ever surprise you?
Twinkie Jiggles: I worked really hard to be a professional musician and I’m surprised that I’m actually successful at it because I know it’s really hard to do. I’m not surprised I reached this level of success with Heiruspecs because when we first got together I was like, “This is some really hot shit, this is really good. I could imagine making music like this for a really long time.” I’m so thankful and happy to be able to be doing this.Kandis: What was a song you loved writing for this album?
Muad’ Dib: “Heartsprings” is my favorite because I had never attempted that type of writing before. I wrote that song with Twinkie Jiggles.
Felix: Muad’ Dib was eager to write because he had never worked with a non-rapper in writing lyrics. He has some experience writing songs with me and 3SB from Twisted Linguistics but before that he had never worked with a piano player before to write lyrics. Sean, Twinkie Jiggles, was jumping all over the chance to help out with writing the lyrics because of the way he is. He wants to be involved with every aspect of writing a song, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It shows through in the song. It’s still Muad’ Dib’s style in how it’s delivered and it still feels like he’s the one talking. It’s beautiful to me because there are some ways of thinking in that song that I wouldn’t think Muad would come up with and then I’m like “Oh that must be the part Sean was in on.”
Twinkie Jiggles: It was amazing to have anything to do with writing rap lyrics. Muad’ Dib is more of a line by line writer and moves on after it’s perfect. So when we wrote “Heartsprings” together I thought maybe if I heap piles of mostly crap on him he will pick out the gems. I think I have more ideas than what I need when I write anything—so I have all of these terrible rap lyrics and 10 good ones and he found the good ones and put even better ones in between and before them so I think that the way I assisted was by getting the ball rolling. I was sitting on years and years of unused material. I’m going to be coming out with a solo album (jokingly), my first single is called “Rap Salad.”
Kandis: How did you measure success when you were younger and how has it changed now?
Felix: I measured success when we first started much different than I do now. In 1997, I measured success as a rapper as having a CD that sold close to a 1,000 in the Twin Cities metro area. Beyond the Twin Cities metro area, as far as I was concerned in music nothing existed. I only wanted someone on the bus to recognize me every once in awhile. At that time, that level of success would have made me completely happy. Our first project was a tape we released and we didn’t even manage to reproduce it after we sold the first batch. We sold 200 of them and I got what I wanted out of that and I was like this is awesome, I was living the life. We were still in school and everything in school points you to a career, 9 to 5 job, make money, retire. As time went on to my surprise Heiruspecs kept being a thriving factor in my existence. We couldn’t really let it go, through ups and downs at varying levels of success it has all led to now. Today I would say I gage success much more in terms of the world. I have no illusions that right now we’re about to sell 10 million records. I don’t expect people to be picking up our CD right after they pick up Justin Timberlake’s and Usher’s, but for me right now, I would feel successful if we could possibly fill a venue the size of First Avenue in every major city in America, and some cities in Europe and Asia. I think we still have a ways to go to get there. When we started it was for fun and it was about getting music out there—now I see other horizons I want our music to reach.
Kandis: Describe your personalities and how they help bond the group together?
Twinkie Jiggles: I grew up as a kid in Massachusetts who wanted to be a rapper [he once rapped using the name “The Tennis Ball King”] and a guitar player. But I never got it and I still can’t write.
Felix: Twinkie Jiggles is the one who always wants to be involved in everything and when he’s drunk, loud and funny. He never stops. He’s pretty much always happy and outgoing. Muad’ Dib is a humorous drunk, friendly if you can get to meet him—but he doesn’t talk to everybody. Peter’s always good, he’s manic and when he’s drunk, he’s annoying as in “I don’t know if I can load my stuff after the show, guys.” dVRG chases bunny rabbits sometimes when he’s drunk.
Muad’ Dib: Felix is genuinely abrasive, not in a totally bad way. Just how he is, if it rubs someone the wrong way, sorry. Twinkie is a coordinator. Overall he’s jovial. Peter’s our little brother.
Twinkie Jiggles: We tried to break ourselves down on tour once, but I can’t remember everything we said. Felix is stubborn and has endurance, it helps to have someone in the band who won’t back down from things they shouldn’t back down from. Muad’ Dib is mysterious. I didn’t know him for a long time, even while I knew him. People who don’t say a lot hold this extra power for when they flip out. And he definitely has it. If I yell, it means nothing, I yell all day everyday. dVRG, I’d describe as really complex and hilarious and I really live that dude. Peter is a really passionate person and that’s really helpful. He and I are emotional and so it’s nice to have a brother in femininity in the band. (laughs).
Kandis: What’s life on the road like with Heiruspecs?
Twinkie Jiggles: You go through a lot emotionally on tour because you have such little control over your environment. We know some days attendance is not going to be well. On a 28-show tour, you can have four days with poor attendance, a show gets cancelled, something bad happens to the van or someone gets into a fight. It can really wear on you. Especially when you don’t get to control even the little things like what you’re going to eat or where you’re going to sleep. I think those things can get you down but we do a pretty good job of keeping morale up while on the road even though it’s hard. Sometimes to keep morale up you need to not talk. And well, I talk a lot. Like I might want to talk about my whole career and where I’m going with all of this and if I come to a bad conclusion 10 minutes before I go on stage, it can be hard to get up there and do it. But the same stuff can get you up also, like really murdering a set and playing really well in front of nobody. There’s a certain dignity and grace there, that I really enjoy. It’s like doing your job really well when your boss isn’t looking.
Felix: Poor attendance doesn’t get me down as much as us playing a crappy show. Sometimes I hear people saying our show was amazing after we played what I considered a crappy show. And in the back of my head I’m thinking, amazingly bad. What I mean is there are things that you as an artist will notice that other people will not. Maybe everything you played tonight felt a little slow. Maybe nobody missed a note and all the lyrics were 100 percent on point but it still felt slow and that can get frustrating. Most artists strive to be perfectionists even though they refuse to admit it and in the quest for perfection if you have a little failure it’s like a huge failure in your mind. Then if the next show doesn’t go perfect, you get down even more. Sometimes when someone makes a mistake, you end up picking each other apart about it. That will get you down because then it is really on your mind. Over the years, I get less and less down over stuff like that. Sometimes I still feel like the audience can pick up on that.
Kandis: What feels different about A Tiger Dancing as compared to Small Steps?
Twinkie Jiggles: Musically, Small Steps felt really good but expository. Like “check us out we’re a Hip-Hop band, we can play songs slow and fast, we can rap about this and that” and it felt like the first album was a business card. It was a cool fucking business card, we got like a record deal (laughs). It wasn’t bad as a business card but now we’re set to make some art. It’s not just about being competent, now it’s personal. Not just rapping, but the whole package, it’s not about making just a beat but the best beat.
Heiruspecs play their CD release show for A Tiger Dancing on Sat., Oct. 2, at The Triple Rock Social Club with P.O.S. and Kanser. 6 p.m. All Ages. $8. 629 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls. 612-333-7399. Check out Heiruspecs on their official website.