John Flansburgh - Guitar, vocals, a variety of other instruments
John Linnell - Accordion, vocals, an even greater variety of other instruments
From Brooklyn, New York, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS are a singular musical duo whose intricate, sophisticated sound comes jam packed with melody, wit and philosophic punch. While the critics have heralded their songwriting abilities, audiences have gone wild for their exuberant stage show. "We didn't want to come down too heavy on people," says accordionist John Linnell. "You don't have to put them through this Wagnerian set of emotions. We wanted to make the show friendly and interesting." John Flansburgh puts it more simply, "We're definitely a rock band. I've seen performance art, we're not performance art. I've seen Chuck Berry, we're kinda like Chuck Berry. The songs are rockin'."
Which is only to say that THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS are as fresh today as those first blues-skewed rockers were a couple of generations ago. "We're making music for our time," says Flansburgh. "I don't understand why people want to repeat what's been done in the past." With Flood: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS' major label debut: Linnell and Flansburgh continue to reshape the idea of what constitutes a band.
Although John and John became friends in high school back in Massachusetts, they were reunited a few years later when they converged on Brooklyn. There they began to share equipment and collaborate on recordings. The first THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS show was rife with "crazy Aleister Crowley numerology," according to Linnell. During a blizzard in a lower Manhattan dive THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS cosmology began to take shape. "It was January 23rd," recalls Linnell. "We played 23 songs, although we had only planned to do 22. There were 23 people at the show. We each made 23 dollars. I was 23 at the time."
When the band formed John Linnell was working as a bike messenger. Flansburgh: having plowed his way through the "classic bum jobs: parking lot attendant, staple remover, bus boy": was toiling in Grand Central Station counting commuters for Metro North Railroad. "I was there about 2 1/2 years," recounts Flansburgh proudly. "I counted close to one-million people. It's a great job for writing songs. You have absolutely nothing on your mind - the clicker does all the work." Flansburgh left because "they were paying $7 an hour and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS was paying $8."
Just as THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS was developing a small following on the New York club circuit a series of set-backs befell the band. John and John shared "a great apartment with a drum set" in downtown Brooklyn. "We got booted out of our building," remembers Flansburgh, "and we had to get a new apartment real fast." The day Flansburgh moved to his new digs near Bedford-Stuyvesant, all his earthly possessions were removed by a burglar. A day later John Linnell fell off his bike and broke his wrist.
With no equipment except a high-tech cast, performing was out of the question. Undaunted, the ever-resourceful THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS instigated a plan that had been percolating in Flansburgh's brain for some time; the Dial-A-Song phone line (718-387-6962). "I tried to talk him out of it," says Linnell, "he used his home phone line, and as a result it was impossible to reach him." Advertised in the personals section of the Village Voice, the THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS Dial-A-Song service, with a different song each day, was logging hundreds of calls per tune.
In 1986 THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS self-released cassette came to the attention of Tom Prendergast and Glenn Morrow, who were then starting their indie label Bar/None Records. Later that year Bar/None released They Might Be Giants (the album) and John and John shot their dizzying low-cost videos "Puppet Head" and "Don't Let's Start." By January 1988, a year after the lp hit the racks, MTV put "Don't Let's Start" into a strong rotation. Sales of the album, and the bands notoriety, skyrocketed.
In May, 1988 THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS finished their second lp, Lincoln. Heavy college radio play of "Ana Ng" helped Lincoln dislodge U2's Rattle and Hum as the most popular album on American college campuses. Suddenly, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS were generating ink: and not just in the music press; TMBG was featured in People, The New York Times, and Linnell and Flansbrugh were introduced to the Esquire Register for their musical achievements, being cited for their "intelligence, irony and iconoclasm." All of which took John and John "completely by surprise," says Flansburgh. "When we started getting press, we pretended we had this master plan behind us. Actually, when we started, we figured if we sold 5,000 records, that would be our equivalent of a gold record."
On Flood, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS are in their best form ever, as they continue to pour more ideas into one song than many bands put into double albums. The lp contains 19 songs, and features guest musicians as diverse as avant-garde guitarist Arto Lindsay, Tito Puente's trumpeter Charlie Spalvida, and violinist Mark Feldman, who holds the unique distinction of having backed up both Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart. From the rock rave-up "Twisting", to the C&W inflected "Lucky Ball & Chain" to the existential oom-pah of "Particle Man," THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS are truly adventurous and utterly tuneful. The first single from the album. "Birdhouse In Your Soul": with its tender night-light metaphor and melody: is instantly humable.
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS are ready for anything. And when it happens, they'll probably write a song about it.