By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"We came back together as a band, and that's where we really were like, okay, this is truly serious," says Felix. "We recorded Small Steps and started to tour."
Whereas their earlier recordings had the loose feel of a live show, Small Steps allowed the band to turn their focus toward song composition and studio polish. It's also the point in the band's career when they started narrowing in on what would become the signature Heiruspecs sound, with the keyboard, bass, and drums meshing into cohesive beats behind the two MCs.
"It was definitely an attempt at stepping out and trying to make something far more official," agrees Leggett. "Getting out of town more and getting college dates and doing the bigger opening spots, things like that. That was like the first time we really got out to the West Coast and the East Coast."
"That was really a personally exciting time for me," says Felix, grinning. "Prior to those first few out-of-town shows, I had never really done any traveling. It was like the world was opening up to me, and I felt really—I felt a little overwhelmed, actually. It's not like we were doing tons and tons of touring to support Small Steps, but we did a little bit."
Once the group hit the road, things started moving quickly. "When we finally settled down after that and started thinking about [Small Steps follow-up] A Tiger Dancing, we had picked up a manager, Vicki Gilmer, who was really sweet to us and really got a lot of good work done."
Their manager started submitting tracks to labels, and three months after they finished recording A Tiger Dancing there was word that the new album would be picked up by national label Razor & Tie.
"The whole process of sending out our material to labels, getting on a label, going out to New York to sign a contract, negotiating, then getting ready to put out the record officially—all that stuff started happening," says Felix. "And the same way that I felt kind of special that I was starting to get to travel after Small Steps, I was feeling like, yeah, we're in business now! We're doing the official, real-deal thing. And then we really got to tour. We got a booking agent, we were doing 200 and some-odd shows a year, and seeing everywhere."
"It was cool to be young men getting on an elevator in New York and going into this place and having people go, 'It's nice to see you!'" remembers McPherson. "It felt good."
"I always liked that they were prepared," adds keyboardist DeVon Gray, who played on and off in the band until A Tiger Dancing and has been a full-time member ever since. "They knew Heiruspecs were coming. Everybody had to make sure to smile and greet and say hello because our band was about to enter from the elevator and walk to the conference room."
WITH THEIR MUSICAL CAREERskyrocketing, Heiruspecs seemed poised to play out the role of local band made good. They were releasing albums at a relatively fast clip, had signed to a major label, and were actively touring every corner of the country. Their single from A Tiger Dancing, "5ves," was receiving widespread radio play and had even been included on a few major motion-picture soundtracks. But as Heiruspecs' career seemed to be on the upswing, tensions broke out within the group.
The label reps at Razor & Tie started pushing for a follow-up to A Tiger Dancing, but McPherson says the stress of spending too much time on the road made it difficult to focus on their creative output. "Label or not, it would have been hard to write songs right at that moment," he says. "At that time there were a lot of arguments and stress. It was still a really tough way to live—on the road for little money, and for not always great returns."
"We spent two years going pretty hard, did a lot of touring," Leggett says. "A lot of touring on our own, a lot of opening acts—Cake, Ja Rule, Lyrics Born, Tre Hardson from Pharcyde, all this stuff. And then we got to that point where it was like, okay, what are we going to do next?"
With the band nearing burnout, McPherson says he could sense that his bandmates needed some time off. But before he could even change the tour schedule, fate stepped in on a cold winter night in December 2005 and dramatically changed the band's course.
"I crashed the van," says McPherson.
"He tried to kill us all," jokes Gray.
The band was heading home from a lengthy tour and had almost made it to Fargo when they hit a patch of black ice and slid off the road.
"It had been really icy, and I was going really slowly," McPherson continues. "I think I was going like 45. Peter was in the front seat—I remember Peter waking up a little bit, and then things started to shake and I was like, 'Oh, shit.' And it felt kind of slow, but it obviously happened very quickly. Somebody said, 'Here we go!'"