They Might Be Giants' John Linnell Shares His 5 Must-Have Apps

The Huffington Post, July 13, 2011
by Jason O. Gilbert

"You'll notice none of my favorite apps have anything to do with social networking or interfacing with other human beings," said John Linnell, one half of the stalwart weirdo-pop band They Might Be Giants. "They're all these personal, solitary ones, so I guess that maybe tells you something about me. I'm not trying to reach out to anyone with my phone, which was intended to be a machine for communicating."

"I can see the headline already," I joked, "Antisocial Jerk John Linnell Lists His 5 Favorite iPhone Apps."

"Well," Linnell deadpanned, "I know my wife would like it."

For almost three decades They Might Be Giants have been the coolest nerdy band on the planet, rocking out in their own unique way, with hits including "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," "Birdhouse in Your Soul," and the theme songs to both "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The Daily Show." Their new album Join Us will be released July 19 on Idlewild.

I asked Mr. Linnell to share his five favorite smartphone apps, and in typical TMBG-fashion, he interpreted the request a little differently. After giving me his two favorite iPhone apps (that actually exist), he offered 3 that he really wished would be invented. And really, who knows where his suggestions will lead? One day, They Might Be Apps (sorry).

Here is 5 Apps With John Linnell of They Might Be Giants:


"I have SoundHound, which is great. For me it's torture to sit in a restaurant or a diner and listen to some weird, off track from the 90s and not know who it is but feel sort of oppressed by it...I have a personal, almost autistic problem, which is--I can't ignore music when it's playing in the room. So the great thing about SoundHound is that I can kind of point the laser at the thing and identify and neutralize it, in a way. You know, it's like, 'Ohhh! It's Avril Lavigne. Now I can move on.' "

Star Walk

"That sort of opens up this whole category of, you're somewhere in the world and you want information about the place that you are, the thing you're experiencing. There's a really great astronomy one called Star Walk. You just hold it up to the sky, and because the new iPhone has a gyroscope in it, it knows what direction you're pointing the phone in, and it knows what the stars are in that direction, which is great...You can be some place where you have no idea which way you're facing, and you just point it, and it says, 'Oh, you's the moon.' "

Bird Call Identification App

[Ed. note--This is where I lose control of the interview].

"The other three I would have don't exist yet, but they would be, for that recognizes bird calls. First of all, my eyesight is so bad, I'm useless at identifying birds; I feel lucky if I can see that there's a bird, you know?

"But I can hear the call, and if I could learn what bird calls were, if I could learn to distinguish them, I'd be the guy who could probably tell you what bird it was...If you could hold up your phone to the sound of the bird, and it told you, that would be really cool. I'm crap at birdwatching--so that would really help me, if there was SoundHound for birds."

[Ed. note--There is no "SoundHound for birds" yet, but iBird Explorer can help you identify birds based on appearance and song].

Universal TV Power Off Button

"I know they invented this keychain thing that I've always wanted to get. This would also address that problem in a different way--there's this little thing where you press a button on it and it sends out 500 infrared signals and it shuts off every brand of TV in the world. I was thinking that maybe your phone could do that.

"I would love to just turn off whatever TV I'm facing. Whenever I'm trying to have a conversation with somebody and I'm completely staring at the TV because I can't--there's a flashing light next to the person I'm talking to, and I feel like I'm radically disrespecting by staring over their shoulder, but I can't help it. That would be great. I would love to be able to just turn off that TV."

[Ed. note: Mercifully, there is no app that lets anyone shut off any TV whenever they want. There are several excellent universal remote apps, however, including POWER from Apptagious].

Dog Silencing App

"We have a dog that goes mental when somebody comes to the door, a miniature schnauzer. I don't know if there is any actual scientific way to do this--but if there were a phone app that could send some kind of sound or signal to the dog to make it stop barking. Some people squirt their cats when they're misbehaving, so maybe it could have water in the phone, and you could squirt the dog. Barring that, if there was some sound that made the dog stop barking, that would be pretty high on my list. Our dog just goes berserk. Really, she's helpless...she's sweet, you know, she's just out of control. Just a very nervous dog."

[Ed. note: Not an iDogWhistle, per se, but The Dog Whisperer has his own app, Cesar Says..., available in the App Store. Build a little doghouse in your soul].