They Might Be Giants Courting Big Kids With Here Comes Science

Racket Mag, April 22, 2010
by Jonathan Yost

Here Comes Science is out, and you've had several other albums widely considered to be children's albums, though most of the people I know that listen to them happen to be adults. Do you lack faith in our educational system?

No, that's not why! I think that there's a wide range of quality in our educational institutions and I don't think there's anything wrong with augmenting what's available. Certainly, we're doing something that stands on its own. It's not a statement on the quality of what we're doing, but the idea of doing songs about science and going to school are not mutually exclusive. These aren't a replacement for going to school.

Where did you learn enough about science to be able to write a whole album on it?

Right, good question. We started out with a general knowledge, which most educated adults have. We did some studying on our own, and we also consulted with an expert. We found someone who works at the New York Hall of Science to kind of oversee the whole project. The idea was that we were going to make mistakes, there was no way we were going to avoid committing some factual errors, but we got someone who could keep us on track and save us from ourselves.

OK, so now extended periods of Wikipedia, then, eh?

We did some Wikipedia, but we tried to avoid Wikipedia as a central reference, simply because it's notoriously weird and not completely reliable.

Are you ever afraid of science?

It's not a big fear of mine, I mean, science, itself, is a good thing. It's simply building on knowledge that's acquired, and what you do with knowledge. I think the thing that is terrifying to most people is technology, and what most people do with it. There's reason to be worried about people misusing technology.

But science is about learning and discovery and finding out what the truth is. That's nothing to be afraid of.

What sparked the inspiration for an entire album about science, rather than just sprinkling a few songs through an un-themed album?

We put out a couple of DVDs for kids, the first one about the alphabet, and the second one was about numbers. I think that at that point, we felt that we had done these 'primers' for very young kids and we thought it might be interesting for kids who are a little bit older.

Do you hope to inspire a new generation of chemists, biologists and paleontologists?

I think that kids are inspired by hands-on stuff. I think the most inspiring thing for a kid who's interested in science is to actually go to a museum or an observatory or talk to someone who does something like that for a living. I don't think a record of songs like that will get them going, but I wouldn't rule it out. I'd be very pleased and proud if that were how someone got into any particular field of science.

What is your favorite kind of dinosaur?

Hmm. I don't think I have a favorite dinosaur, though I am very fond of the marine reptiles of the Mesozoic. I've got a beautiful plastic replica of an ichthyosaurus sitting on my shelf. I love the ichthyosaur, but I don't know about a favorite dinosaur.

You are quite the multi-instrumentalist, and I am curious to see if there's anything left that you want to master?

For a long time, I wanted to buy a student-model bassoon, but never got around to it. There's something really appealing about a bassoon. I feel like I'm not going to get to that one.

Have you and the more different John (Flansburgh) thought about writing educational books, maybe educational comics?

Nope. We're songwriters, that's our thing.