Sean McPherson: Big man on the scene

After years with Heiruspecs and Dessa, bassist Sean McPherson steps out with a solo project sung by and about women.

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Sean “Twinkie Jiggles” McPherson returned to First Avenue with Heiruspecs for 89.3 the Current’s ninth birthday party on Jan. 25.

Photo: Leslie Plesser • Special to the Star Tribune,

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He has played, written and taught music from multiple genres on different instruments, but there’s one thing Sean McPherson can’t do to save his life: sing.

“There are three songs in Dessa’s shows with background vocal parts that require pitch, and I’ve been fired off two of them,” admitted the veteran bassist of local hip-hop pioneers Heiruspecs, who also anchors Dessa’s backing band.

Fortunately, McPherson knows quite a few good singers. He lined up four of them — all women — for the debut album by his darkly tinted soul-rock band the Twinkie Jiggles Broken Orchestra.

Cheekily titled “Too Big to Fail” — the mantra for the 2008 financial bailouts, and a nod to McPherson’s stocky physique — the record marks McPherson’s first time as lyricist and sole songwriter on a project. That’s after a decade and a half with Heiruspecs, a half-decade with Dessa and many years with various other outfits, including the rockier groups Ela and Big Trouble.

Songwriting is something McPherson certainly can do well. The album’s 14 songs, most of them narrative-based, range in tone from the heartfelt groupie tale “Hi, My Name Is Ana” to the woman-done-wrong storm chaser “Without Warning” to the milder gem “Being in Love With You,” a love song suitable for wedding dances. (Not for McPherson’s own wedding, though; he hired the reggae band Exodus to play his nuptials in October.)

That each song happens to be about women is only one reason McPherson recruited female cohorts to sing them.

“We just happen to live in a city where women singers are prevalent in the music scene, and I decided to take advantage of that,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with or know a lot of them, and I just found them more amenable to interpreting other people’s songs. I don’t know why that is, but something about it just works better.”

McPherson, 32, put together the TJBO on a whim almost three years ago when Big Trouble had to back out of a gig. Neo-soul singer Ashley Gold was one of the first singers he turned to and remains the primary go-to lady, featured on half of the album’s tracks.

Other singers on the record include Chastity Brown, the Chalice’s Claire DeLune and Aby Wolf, another Dessa backer who will be part of Friday’s release party at Icehouse along with Gold. The revolving-door cast at TJBO gigs has included future Poliça frontwoman Channy Leaneagh and even the occasional dude, such as Greg Reese of Demographics (not to be confused with Friday’s opener, rapper Greg Grease).

“It’s been fun to officially be the leader of a group, not in the dictator sense but just as a creative approach,” said McPherson, who described Heiruspecs as “a group where everybody acts and cares like he’s the leader, which is mostly a good thing.”

McPherson has been at the forefront offstage as well, as an adjunct professor at McNally Smith College of Music (where he shaped the first-of-its-kind hip-hop curriculum) and co-founder of Trivia Mafia (now a franchise with nightly contests in bars all over the metro area).

A native of Williamstown, Mass., he moved to St. Paul his sophomore year of high school along with his older brother and Big Trouble bandmate, Steve.

He started using “Twinkie Jiggles” as a nickname while at St. Paul Central in reference to his thick body, seeing it as a way to “get in front of ways people might potentially attack you.” Now that it’s part of his new band’s name, he said, “hopefully, it shows people with above-average weight don’t have to be shy about being on stage and can still use their voice.”

Even if they’re not really using their voice.

Random mix

Jeremy Messersmith’s first record under his new contract with Glassnote Records (see: Mumford & Sons), “Heart Murmurs” hit stores Tuesday with a wave of national exposure, including a “First Listen” streaming feature at NPR.org and a video premiere at RollingStone.com for the second single, “Ghost.” A second release party was added Feb. 21 at First Ave after Feb. 22 sold out. …

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  • Sean McPherson's big three

    Thursday February 6, 2014

    As he steps out with his Twinkie Jiggles Orchestra, McPherson looks back on the three gigs that have made him...

  • TWINKIE JIGGLES BROKEN ORCHESTRA

    With: Greg Grease.

    When: 11 p.m. Fri.

    Where: Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $8, IcehouseMpls.com.

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