Interview: Twinkie Jiggles of Heiruspecs

Interview: Twinkie Jiggles of Heiruspecs

The members of Heiruspecs know that hard work never killed anybody. After years backing up underground scene-shakers like Atmosphere in its hometown, the sought-after five-piece hip-hop band from St. Paul established a national profile with 2004's virtuosic A Tiger Dancing. The group will play two shows at Minneapolis' Triple Rock Social Club on Saturday before heading out on a two-month tour with Tre Hardson from The Pharcyde. The A.V. Club's Adri Mehra spoke with bassist Twinkie Jiggles. This interview first appeared in The A.V. Club's Twin Cities print edition.

The A.V. Club: What does Heiruspecs mean?
Twinkie Jiggles: It comes from a Latin word. When [Heiruspecs MC] Felix and I started playing shows, we played as Live Hip-Hop, or just as Felix. I was like, "Oh, we should call it Haruspex," and he was totally into it, but he heard the word as Heiruspecs, spelled the way we now use it. At the end of the day, he had it written on his hat that way, and he was like, "It looks cooler." Now I really like how it's spelled, and it's easy to search online for us, because you can remember how to spell it. I was the longest hanger-on to the old way—I pronounced it "haruspex" for probably two years. Once somebody gets it tattooed on their arm, the argument about spelling it differently is officially over.
AVC: So all five of you went to St. Paul Central High School?
TJ: Yes. I moved from Massachusetts in 1996, and at that time Felix was there. Muad'Dib, the other rapper, had already stopped going there, and dVRG—Devon, our keyboard player—had just transferred to the Arts High. Then Devon and I started playing in Walker West Jazz Ensemble, this cool community jazz group that Mint Condition played in before we did. I met Martin Devaney there, too. I learned a ton about music, because I came from a rural place where it was just not the cool thing to play music, especially music where there was no words. And a big thing I learned from Walker West—I think we all did—was playing gigs in far-from-ideal situations. I learned how to play without monitors or a soundcheck, or without knowing all of the songs, or even without knowing everybody who was going to play with you. I learned a lot about jazz culture. I'm a real Type A personality, and the jazz teacher was a very, very laid-back dude. I remember being at a gig at the Mall Of America and saying, "What song are we going to play first? What song are we going to play second? Who's going to have the third solo?" It's so taboo in a certain part of jazz culture to not stand back and let it happen. I remember him leaning over to another [person] and being like, "This fucker talks too much."
AVC: Did your varied sound grow out of playing together here?
TJ: We do what we can. Devon is classically trained and went to the New England Conservatory Of Music. And our drummer Peter, who's just the best drummer I've ever had a chance to play with, he can do everything. We're all big fans of rap, but when we can spice it up, we try to. A lot of that weird stuff comes accidentally when you have producers who might not be super musically versed in what's going on. Trying to breathe some of that back in through the nerdy music-theory things we've learned can result in stuff that we get a kick out of. I've fallen in love with all of the weirdo things that don't make sense on Wu-Tang records, and I've tried to bring that in.
AVC: You clearly enjoy playing live instruments, but do you see a place for sampling?
TJ: We use it less than a ton of rock bands. We don't sample at live shows, but we're not one of those groups that's against sampling. There's one song that didn't make it onto the last record where we sampled the drum groove. I think it's really great that if you see Heiruspecs, compared to seeing some other live bands, it's pretty easy to suss out who's doing what and how it's being done. It's kind of a bummer when you look up and realize that the best shit you're hearing at a concert is the one thing that's on the loop.
AVC: You guys all have other musical projects. How does that affect the band?
TJ: There's a beauty to being in a musical community like this. Peter and I back up Jessy Greene, and we also play in a rock group called Ela and with other rappers. Muad'Dib is an MC with Twisted Linguistics, and Felix produces them, and he also played a solo show a few weeks ago. A lot of times the potential for a hip-hop song will accidentally sneak up on me in a rock format. I'll be thinking of something that I think would fit for the rock group, and a couple of bars in I realize this actually has an application as a rap loop. It would be stifling if my only job was to sit down every day and say, "Okay, I have to make rap songs." It's nice to make what I think is a rock or R&B; song, and then discover the potential for it to be a rap song. I think getting different things flowing around inside your head allows for different, beautiful accents. Sometimes the scheduling thing makes it hard, but we wouldn't want it another way because we like coming back home and having relationships with other musicians in town. It makes it more fun when Heiruspecs gets back out on the road and we get to share the different things we've gone through and learned musically.
AVC: Are you working on a new record?
TJ: Our first priority when we get back from the tour is just a little rest, because we've been going pretty damn straight since our record came out 13 months ago, and then before that we basically had a two-month break, and we had been playing straight for a year or two before that. We got a van in 2003 that had like 50,000 miles on it, and now it's got 200,000 miles on it. So right now we're going to relax, and we've made a bunch of demos for the rapper guys in the group to reflect on. We're all still working on stuff, but I think we'll start really digging into it in 2006.
AVC: You guys have opened for huge acts like Jurassic 5 and Busta Rhymes. What was that like?
TJ: Meeting these guys was such a trip. It was a couple of years ago, but we were super young, and we hadn't really done any touring. It's just great to meet people that you're a fan of and look up to, and have a real conversation with them.
AVC: You also opened for The White Stripes, right?
TJ: We opened for The White Stripes when that didn't mean what it does now. It was in 2001, at Bennington College in Vermont, where I used to go to school. I was super-steamed because I had done a ton of stuff for my college bringing in bands and playing a lot, and I was like, "You can't give me $200 or something to let my band play? People will come!" And they were like, "Uh, we've got this band, The White Stripes, and we have to pay them $400." [Laughs.] And I was like, "Who the fuck are The White Stripes?" And I remember we came in and The White Stripes had already soundchecked, and I was like, "This girl didn't even move her fucking drum set!" I had to pick up her drum kit, and then move the dude's amp off, too, and set up our stuff. And it was a trip because there was like 20 people watching The White Stripes, and then three weeks later The White Stripes are on the cover of Spin. I bet at that point they were probably killing in the [big] cities, but it takes a little longer to get to the rural colleges. It's funny, because if I met them now, I'd be like, "Oh, hey, what can I do for you? Really nice to meet you. Can we open for you?" But at the time, I was just like, "Yeah, I had to move your damn drum set because you left it up there," and very surly. [Laughs.] I'm kind of kicking myself for that one.

More The A.V. Club Blog