St. Paul hip-hop heavies Heiruspecs end their hiatus

Band set to jam once again with new album

You wouldn't know it from looking at the outside of the building, but inside an old warehouse in northeast Minneapolis, down a giant white hallway and tucked away behind an old, heavy metal door, lies the most active and influential hip-hop studio in town. An array of albums greets visitors, a physical representation of the work accomplished inside these walls: Atmosphere's entire catalog, most of Doomtree's solo and collective efforts, Brother Ali, Eyedea & Abilities, I Self Devine.

The Hideaway Studio is producer Joe Mabbott's playground, and the work he has done for local hip hop in this space is legendary. It makes sense, then, that the members of Heiruspecs have chosen to record their forthcoming album here, amid the ghosts and glory of great albums past.

On a warm fall night in early October, the six members of Heiruspecs are hunkered down in the studio, laying down tracks with palpable excitement and urgency. Their CD-release party is a mere two months away, and this will be the first full-length album the band has released since 2004's A Tiger Dancing.

Heiruspecs: drummer Peter Leggett, MC Muad'dib, MC Felix, guitarist Josh Peterson, bassist Sean McPherson, keyboard player deVon Gray
Nick Vlcek
Heiruspecs: drummer Peter Leggett, MC Muad'dib, MC Felix, guitarist Josh Peterson, bassist Sean McPherson, keyboard player deVon Gray
The current lineup of Heiruspecs performing this year (top) and back in 2002 (bottom)
Enrico Fuente, top; courtesy of Heiruspecs, bottom
The current lineup of Heiruspecs performing this year (top) and back in 2002 (bottom)

One might think that Heiruspecs would be rusty in the studio after all that time away, but business is proceeding smoothly.

Mabbott sits in front of a giant mixing board covered with dials and sliding knobs, his face silhouetted by the glow of two massive computer monitors. Heiruspecs MC Muad'dib lounges in a chair in the corner, flipping through a magazine and waiting for his turn at the mic, as lead MC Felix paces the room in a decidedly catlike manner, studying lyrics on a crumpled piece of notebook paper.

Inside the recording space, a room with high ceilings and exposed brick walls littered with dozens of guitars, organs, and amplifiers, the four instrumental musicians of Heiruspecs—bassist Sean McPherson, guitarist Josh Peterson, keyboard player deVon Gray, and drummer Peter Leggett—are rehearsing a riff for a new song. Occasionally McPherson will call out a chord or request a small change, but otherwise the musicians seem to fall into a groove almost instinctively, playing with the kind of ease that only comes from being together for years.

It's been 11 years since Heiruspecs first formed as a group, and they don't appear much worse for wear. They exchange smiles and back slaps, iron out problems quickly, and bounce words of encouragement between the rooms. You wouldn't know it, watching them work peacefully in the recording studio, but they are a band that has weathered some serious storms in their lengthy career.

Just four years ago, riding high on the national release of A Tiger Dancing, Heiruspecs were on the fast track to being the biggest band to come out of Minneapolis in the new millennium. They were playing more than 200 shows a year, had signed onto national label Razor & Tie, and were starting to work on a follow-up to their breakout album.

By the end of 2005, however, it all came crashing down—literally. The band totaled their tour van on the way home from a lengthy outing and, sensing a rising tension among its members, went on an unofficial hiatus. For champions of this local band-that-could, it's been a long wait for a Heiruspecs follow-up album, but that's all about to change. Next weekend, in their first-ever headlining show at First Avenue, the band is set to release a new CD, simply titled Heiruspecs—and it may be their best record yet.

     

IT'S WELL AFTER BEDTIME on a school night, and Peter Leggett and Felix are seated around a low table in the Living Room bar on the first floor of the new W Hotel. They are both dressed to the nines in suits and ties, sipping microbrews; Felix fiddles with an uncut cigar for most of the interview. At first glance, it would seem that the members of Heiruspecs are accustomed to living the high life, but they both admit they don't usually frequent such swanky nightclubs and are here only because they had a photo shoot for another publication in one of the hotel suites.

"We were in a suite that cost $7,500 a night. Can you believe that?" Felix says, grinning and shaking his head in disbelief.

As soon as the tape starts rolling at the W, Felix clears his throat and picks up my recorder, speaking directly into the microphone: "In 1996, Heiruspecs was formed at the magnificent Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota," he says in a low voice reminiscent of a documentary film narrator. "At that time, Felix and Sean McPherson, a.k.a. Twinkie Jiggles, met in a recording class. That is the way our story officially begins."

Leggett laughs, nodding his agreement. "It does. We all went to the same high school at different times, and most of us all met at some point, one way or another, through the recording program. We all took the same recording class with the same awesome teacher there named Red Freeberg."

Located off Lexington Parkway and I-94 in St. Paul, Central High School served as a meeting point and hub for the earliest incarnations of Heiruspecs. All six current members and most of its past members went to the school, converging over recording equipment in Central's unique recording arts program.

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