Surrounded by friends, Sean McPherson is ‘Too Big to Fail’

For a long time bassist Sean McPherson has used his talent to support something bigger than him.

Now his investment in the Twin Cities music community is paying some beautiful dividends as he makes the leap into song-writing.

Courtesy, Sean McPherson

In high school, McPherson co-founded the St. Paul rap group Heiruspecs, which grew into a full-time touring band from 2002-2005. McPherson gained the name “Twinkie Jiggles” for his big size. Now McPherson tours as Dessa‘s bass-player and backs up a number of local acts, both live and in studio recordings. When he’s not performing, he’s working at McNally Smith College of Music, or running his company Trivia Mafia.

Tonight, McPherson celebrates the release of his new album “Too Big To Fail” at Icehouse in Minneapolis. It features local talents Ashley Gold, Chastity Brown, Claire De Lune and Aby Wolf singing McPherson’s original songs, backed by his band “Twinkie Jiggles’ Broken Orchestra.”

“I got into music to be a songwriter,” said McPherson. “The first group I was in was called “Fungle Toxins” in sixth grade and I wrote all the words but neither me nor the drummer in the duo had the courage to sing them, so we knew how they went, but nobody else did.”

“Too Big To Fail” features soulful love songs with a tender realism that sucks you in. The first track, “Fat Jodie,” launches in with a swift kick to the gut.

i’ve been lonely i’ve been lazy
i’ve been gaining weight
i’ve been buying drugs
and trying them before it’s safe

and you’ve been on my mind
like my skull and my curls
but i always see you out
with other girls

so come on fat jodie just give me a try
you know you know you want to have someone on the side

so come on fat jodie just give me a try
you know you know you want to have someone on the side

and that’s me

“Free Change” was composed off a lick McPherson came up with just minutes before he had to leave town for a gig.

“I grabbed it on piano, recorded and kept on listening to it trying to hear where the lyrics fit. I wanted to write a tune that had a bit of that Sharon Jones feel but some more specifics and significant details than are often in soul songs.”

McPherson used the song as the foundation for a story about a relationship gone south.

“We were just working out those final details – who owes who money, who gets the plants. And as you try to act all businessy with the person you also know it’s bugging you that you are sitting eight feet away from a person that you used to sleep next to. And you’re trying to act like you care about the box of CDRs you came to pick up but you are really thinking ‘how long was this ruined and for how long were we just wallowing in it?'”

There’s also humor. In “We Always Dressed That Way” McPherson looks back on his touring and recording life with observations like “We should have sold more records and smoked more… before they changed which one’s a crime.”

The album pulls together lessons from McPherson’s years touring and playing back-up, but it’s added a few lessons of its own.

“I’ve learned it’s really hard to be the lead person or the side person,” reflected McPherson. “There’s different demands, and it’s important to really care about what you’re doing, that will inspire the folks around you to take it seriously. I’ve also learned that it’s really different when it’s your name on the flyer in regards to responsibility. I’ve always been an ambassador for Heiruspecs but there are real voices in that group besides myself. This group I am much more the lead obviously.”

As a song-writer who’s not a singer, McPherson says there’s a nuanced balance involved in putting words in someone else’s mouth.

“There are lyrics on this record that were changed at Ashley Gold’s request because they didn’t sit right with her,” explained McPherson. “This was difficult to do, but easy to understand. I want to be collaborative, inclusive, understanding and respect the fact that when ideas come out of a writer who is in a privileged position in this society as a white man it would be rude and unconscious to just send them to any singer without room for discussion, elaboration and editing.”

With a mindset like that, it’s no wonder so many musicians like to work with him.