Here Comes They Might Be Giants

Lance, March 5, 2008
by Lindsey Rivait

After 13 full-length studio albums and countless EPs, live albums, and compilations, They Might Be Giants is still going strong. Recently, John Flansburgh and John Linnell released two albums, The Else and Here Come the 123s, recorded 14 songs for the new Dunkiní Donuts advertising campaign, and regularly air podcasts for their adult and kids audiences via their website.

Through the years, Flansburgh and Linnell have dabbled with technology, beginning in the 1980s with Dial-A-Song. When someone would call the number, a machine would automatically answer the land-line and play a pre-recorded song. The device was set up in Flansburghís apartment after Linnell broke his wrist in a biking accident, rendering him unable to play the accordion. They advertised their number in local newspapers, ultimately catching the attention of Bar/None Records, with whom they signed.

The spirit of Dial-A-Song lives on through their podcasts, in which the Johns offer rare, demo, and live tracks and remixes for fans. "Dial-A-Song mainly just died a technological death," says John Linnell, one half of TMBG. The pair had a stock of old machines, but had trouble with them. "Weíd try to get them repaired but they kept dying and it was like, after twenty years, the things just donít last forever and eventually, unfortunately, we resigned ourselves to the fact that the Internet had kind of taken over where Dial-A-Song had left off."

Flansburgh and Linnell do their best to cater to their adult and kid fans. Even in 1991, their music was appealing to both groups. In fact, many fans got their first taste of TMBG from an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures in which two of their grown-up songs, "Particle Man" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," were turned into music videos.

The band never set out to make kids music, however. Their first kids album, 2002ís No!, was thought of as a vacation from doing serious work. "We were very surprised when that recording became the most successful project weíd been working on that year. It outsold our grown-up They Might Be Giants albums by a factor of two to one or something like that. So, it suddenly appeared to us that this was a real job and not just a sideline for us. The thing that was successful about that record was that we werenít thinking of it as some kind of serious chin-stroking music. It was really all about fun and doing something interesting and not feeling like itís a heavy job. I think thatís why it was successful," Linnell says.

Thatís not to say that grown-ups wonít enjoy the kidís records as well. The essence of their unusual music is instilled in the childrenís songs, although the band does hold back quite a bit. "There were a couple we recorded for No! that we realized were just way too creepy and weird to be considered as childrenís songs," says Linnell.

Songs from the childrenís album certainly have the same TMBG feel that their grown-up albums have. "Thereís a track on Here Comes the 123s that was originally going to be an Else song. The drum loop from it was provided by the Dust Brothers and we built up the track on top of that and then, ultimately, it just turned into this song about the number seven without really changing the music at all," explains Linnell. "It seemed liked it would work really well with this lyric about seven. I mean, the lyric could only be for that project, but the music didnít have to change at all to move from the grown-ups to the kids."

TMBG hasnít made a complete changeover to kidís music, as they still enjoy the regular grown-up music.

"The regular albums are, I would say, sort of the essence of what we do. Thatís the closest to what weíre about in a sense. Yet, thereís something very light-hearted about doing childrenís music that I think frees us up to do things. We donít feel the pressure of having to have our work compared to the history of rock music when weíre doing kids music. Iím glad we get to do both. I donít think that one of them is better than the other," explains Linnell.

Even with such a prolific body of work behind them, the duo plans for more releases appealing both to kids and adults. "Weíre promoting the 123s now and at some point in the next year, weíll start planning the next one of those, which will be Here Comes the Morse Code, or something like that," jokes Linnell.

The band is toying around with the idea of exploring science musically for their next album. "We might do something about science. That would definitely be for somewhat older kids. Thatís one idea weíve been floating around. It wouldnít be high school science, but it would be science that would get younger kids interested in the topic of science. I think that would be a fun project," says Linnell.

As for what they hope people take away from their music, Linnell offers, "I hope people really enjoy it. I think mainly in the past weíve just written stuff thinking itís the kind of stuff we would like. And I think thatís mainly it. You get a deep enjoyment where you like it, you like the process, you like listening to it, and you like thinking about it afterward. Thatís sort of a secondary thing, but the main thing is that itís something thatís good enough to think about. Not just enjoy while itís happening, but it sort of stays in your head," says Linnell As for the children, Linnell says, "I realize that weíre doing educational material, but I really donít think of it as for that purpose. I think that what weíre doing for kids is really entertainment as well."

For more information about TMBG, visit them online at