Fiji-13 discuss mansplaining, the difference between punk and classical, and their new EP, ‘Heavy Breathing’

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On the patio of Sweeney’s in St. Paul on a late Monday night, with the Vikings game in the background, sisters Hilary and Heidi James (sans drummer Steven Crowley) recall the origins of their moniker. “We were having dinner with the Sunde brothers, Jason and Jon, at Memory Lanes and told them we were starting this band but didn’t know what to call it,” says Heidi. “We wanted to call it PG-13, but that had been a band for a minute in the same scene as us. Jon—in his JE Sunde demeanor—said, ‘You can just call it Fiji-13,’ and we were like ‘Sold!’” Such off-the-cuff decisions and spontaneous creative moments are what the trio’s all about, and that spirit is captured on the band’s newest EP, Heavy Breathing.

The sisters name Golden, Colorado as their hometown but they grew up in Southeast Asia, relocating from Japan to Hong Kong to South Korea in their early years. They jokingly share their theory that their father is a spy or a murderer, using his job with the Korean government, specializing in uranium for a Australian mining company, as his cover.

The James sisters have a natural rapport, with no traces of derision between them. They genuinely like being around each other; they even own a Minneapolis duplex together. The project began two years ago after Hilary entered a little bit of a life crisis and began questioning whether she wanted to perform classical cello full time. She wanted an outlet that didn’t require a lot of prepping or work.

“I think the punk scene is so opposite of the classical music scene,” Hilary says. “It’s very much, ‘You want to play music? Do it yourself! You don’t need a degree or an orchestra to do this.’ I just wanted to play with my sister. We didn’t know how to play instruments, and you don’t need to know how to play an instrument for punk. I made Heidi learn guitar and I kinda knew bass and we roped Stephen into playing with us.”

Heidi and Hilary both contribute songs, but with not much time to compose, the two write separately and then come together to rework some of the pieces. Heidi’s songs tend to be slicker, Hilary’s crunchy and more blunt, but their different styles complement each other. The new EP pulses with a thrill of raw excitement—it feels brilliant and alive.

Heavy Breathing was recorded in a day and a half by Jordan Bleau in the producer’s tiny bedroom. Heidi and Hilary were crammed into the small space standing up to record, and Crowley’s drums were mic’d up in Bleau’s roommate’s bedroom. To communicate, they had to shout back and forth through the walls.

Their first single “Mansplain It To Me bb,” written by Heidi, tumbles out quickly and confidently. “That song came out of experience, not only personally, but from all women I know,” Heidi says. “I feel like all women have experienced this in some way or another. It’s a cultural thing. It was almost poking fun at that and inflating it a little. Everyone knows what the term ‘mansplain’ means, but how does it feel to be a woman being experiencing it? In this day and age, if you were to tell someone, ‘You’re mansplaining.’ It gets such a reaction. They’re immediately defensive. One guy asked me, ‘Well, what about womansplaining? You’re womansplaining to me about mansplaining to me right now.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. You don’t get to say that.’ Also, that comes out of the culture of mansplaining. It’s 17 layers of shit going on. I wanted to write a song to say, ‘Chill the fuck out about mansplaining. It’s a thing, so swallow it, and deal with it.’ This song is very tongue-in-cheek.”

“This song has been shared with others,” Hilary adds. “I don’t know how receptive the people receiving it were, but even the sense of community that it builds is great.”

“Steven’s dad came to one of our shows, and he knew all of the words,” says Heidi. “He was in the front row singing along. We’ve never personally gotten any negative feedback, but who cares? That’s not the feedback we’re listening to.”

Fiji-13
With: 4th Curtis, Lunch Duchess, Gully Boys, Real Dom
When: 8 p.m. Sat. Oct. 14
Where: Triple Rock Social Club
Tickets: 18+, $7, more info here

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