Twinkie Jiggles faces the past on his own

Sean McPherson steps into the spotlight with his solo debut, Too Big to Fail

Sean McPherson is never really off the clock. A musician by trade, he's a promoter and entertainer by nature, the type of guy with an ever-present stash of flyers in his back pocket who'll make himself available whenever a friend needs a favor. It's a fact that's served him well, first as the bassist of St. Paul hip-hop mainstay Heiruspecs, and later as a founding godfather of Trivia Mafia — a role he walked into when he wanted a way to keep audiences occupied between sets.

Now, McPherson — known to many as Twinkie Jiggles, his stage name with Heiruspecs — is stepping into his very own spotlight with Too Big to Fail, the debut record of the Twinkie Jiggles Broken Orchestra.

"It's exciting and terrifying that the mistakes are all mine," McPherson admits. "I doubt there will be anybody besides folks within my immediate circle who'll go, 'This is precisely what I expected from Sean going solo.'" He pauses to smile, then adds, "But I'm glad it's my name and that I'm trying this thing out."

Step to Twinkie Jiggles, we dare you
Carrie Thompson
Step to Twinkie Jiggles, we dare you

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TWINKIE JIGGLES BROKEN ORCHESTRA play an album-release show with Greg Grease on Friday, February 7, at Icehouse; 612-276-6523

Sure enough, the Broken Orchestra is decidedly quiet and contemplative. But to someone hailing from a hip-hop group emphasizing live instrumentation, this project's subtle exploration of jazzy textures and soulful dirges is a not-too-distant cousin. It's a sound that was borne of its environment, in cafes and restaurants, and yet another product of McPherson's heads-up attitude: When one of his other bands couldn't make a gig at Barrio, he pulled together a few of his friends, and the Broken Orchestra was born.

"I really enjoy playing loud-ass hip-hop," McPherson insists. "But I was really glad to be part of a band that's designed to play in spaces that need to be quieter. You wind up playing in those spaces, so why not tailor a little bit of your music to that?"

The group started as a bit of a diversion — these days his primary gig is playing bass for Dessa — but as he wrote more material, he decided to record an album. "It was, and still is, a way to take some more chances, because there's not a ton of expectation of what will happen at a particular show."

Yet for McPherson the truly new territory in the Broken Orchestra is that of a lyricist. He doesn't sing on the record — "I have a very bad singing voice," he says, flatly — drawing instead on a handful of local singers, including Ashley Gold and Chastity Brown. But this is no leap of faith, all the same: "I got into music as a lyric writer; I wanted to write stories as a kid," he explains. Even as a bassist in other projects, he says, "I'm really sensitive to what's going on lyrically and coming up with good arrangements around that. I'm not one of those people where 90 percent of what I hear is the beat."

Most of the songs on Too Big to Fail delve into McPherson's experiences with, and reflections on, romantic relationships. It's something that touring with Dessa drove him to open up about. "A lot of songs are like, 'Oh yeah, I pull chicks in every city,' but no one I've known — they say that stuff onstage, but that's really no one's reality offstage," he says.

"Hi, My Name Is Ana" illustrates the murky romantic realities of life on the road, while the smitten affection of a song like "Perfectly Enamored" gets a sharp-tongued counterpoint with "Free Change," the record's slickest, catchiest track. "A lot of times, conscious hip-hop stuff avoids this by just not talking about women at all," McPherson says. "That's not going to work for me, because I want to talk about that stuff."

The band — which includes Dessa bandmate Dustin Kiel, and No Bird Sing members Graham O'Brien and Bobby Mulrennan — often rotates players, making it an adaptable unit. But above all else, McPherson says that what makes the Broken Orchestra work is being a good manager.

"I was a gaping asshole early on in Heiruspecs. In high school, I was like, 'You suck, this just isn't good,' and I fired a lot of friends from the band," he says, with a touch of embarrassment. "But I think curbing the ego early on, and making some really big mistakes early on, was a good way to learn how to treat people."

Now McPherson can reflect on a career that stretches back more than 15 years and gain some perspective — a theme he explores on Too Big to Fail's closing track, "We Always Dressed That Way." "It's one of those things that's like, 'Oh, did I come up short of living some sort of rock 'n' roll, wild fantasy?'" he asks, rhetorically. "We could've used to chill out a little bit and not be so uptight. But it's more a matter of going like, 'Everyone can... still have a seat at the here's-my-story table.'"

 
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