Thirty-six years ago, John Flansburgh and John Linnell started They Might Be Giants, a quirky duo with a drum machine. The band, which now has a backing band, occasionally takes breaks, but has never broken up. Instead, they've released 20 studio albums and have garnered success in a variety of genres, including alternative, college radio and children's music.
OnMilwaukee recently had the pleasure of asking Linnell a few questions before their show tomorrow night, Friday, March 16, at The Pabst Theater. Of course the 1992 stage collapse at the Modjeska Theatre was the white elephant in the conversation and had to be discussed.
How does a band stay together since 1982? You guys must really get along well or...?
We have nothing to compare this to in our own experience, so for us the question is: why do other bands break up? I guess it's because they didn't get along or they were disappointed with the way things were turning out. It seems like we do this out of some uncontrollable compulsion, and we have never been sure what to expect so there's been no basis for disappointment. Plus we do get along pretty well. I can be annoying sometimes but I make good coffee.
How is "I like Fun" different from other albums?
Our only working method is to write songs we haven't already written, so any variation in quality between albums is probably due to sunspot activity or diet. One thing we're noticing is that people really like this one.
Is it harder to have fun as we age?
Some of the pure joys you take in novelty and discovery are no longer available but entering middle age you become very tuned in to which things you deeply enjoy as opposed to cheap thrills. Although I've always loved to stare off into space.
What are your personal goals for the future?
I want to shake off this tour flu that is circulating endlessly around the bus, from one bunk to the next and then back. I got sick in February and then the same germs came back around in their mutated, more powerful form a month later.
Will you always equate Milwaukee with stage collapse?
For me Milwaukee signifies much more than our 1992 performance at the Modjeska Theater where the front of the stage collapsed under the weight of scores of audience members dancing to the Famous Polka. In my mind it has a dark and chilly Germanic vibe, as though the single eye of Wotan is looking down in terrifying approbation. Why do we always play there in the winter? Or is it always winter in Milwaukee?
So will you play "Snowball In Hell" tomorrow night?
You've deliberately set up the punchline! Bless you.