John Linnell

People were horrified the first time we lit our skin on fire during a performance. Now that they've come to expect it, what's the point? The sad part is, we really enjoyed doing it.
Musician, 1987

We could say, like, "Americans are stupid," but that would be incredibly mean.
Request Video, 1990

There's a lot more self-hatred in the East. Which we consider "healthy self-hatred." And then there's this kind of sun worship thing which totally freaks us out here.
Request Video, 1990

Well, it's a song about a nightlight, Dave. It might be a cute nightlight in some people's eyes, I don't know. That's pretty much the whole story of the song, though. It's about a nightlight.
120 Minutes, 1990

First ladies are like your children. You have to love them all.
120 Minutes, 1990

There are a lot of different ways to write songs. We try to mix it up. You know, come up with different systems. But there is kind of this old standby, this old dependable thing that I do, which is I just sit on my bed with the accordion and just sort of play chords and sing and kind of wait for something good to come out. So that gets me pretty far and then there's a lot of different ways of coming up with melodies.
The Music Revue, 1992

People who are self-styled weirdos--it must get old, you know, because you can't be that weirded out by have to accept yourself as a possible kind of person, eventually, so it can't really be about being weird.
Polygraph, 1994

I like the way Ice Cube raps. It just seems kind of unprocessed. He's a pretty straightforward rapper. Do you think he's called Ice Cube because his head is sort of shaped like a cube? I associate the name Ice Cube with a cube shape. I don't know if that's right, it's probably wrong.
Unknown source, 1996

[On "Doctor Worm":] Somebody said, "That song doesn't make any sense. Typical of They Might Be Giants songs, the lyrics don't make any sense, how do you know, who knows what that's about." And I thought about it for a second and I thought well you know, really, I mean--I mean, I feel defensive immediately hearing somebody describe it that way. But to me, the song makes perfect sense. It's about somebody who has an idea of their identity that, you know, other people don't agree with. And specifically, it's about the kind of person who has a fantasy about, you know, having --wants people to call them a nickname that nobody will agree to call them, and has an idea of their status that nobody else agrees on, and it's a pretty common problem, you know. I mean I grew up with people like that, who lived in their mothers' basements and, you know, had an idea that they were on TV and--and stuff like that, and y'know that's all the song is really about, it's about somebody who has a fantasy and nobody else will buy into it.
The Wireless, 1997

Prices at the ubiquitous cafes are torqued up to tourist specifications throughout town. This hasn't dissuaded me from slarfing down cup after steaming cup of cappuccino until I begin interrupting my own conversation with myself to express my disagreement. When I'm caffeinated to the point where I can no longer sit still I lurch out and look for some daytime excitement.
Memo from Rome, 1998

I have the old limited edition Britannica that I found at a used bookstore and I gotta say it is my favorite thing, I feel sort of ridiculous about this but I wish that I could replicate in some other way the pleasure I get from this book you know it's so well written, very different from nowadays so I'm actually, I've seen other copies of the same thing and I'm like "Oh I wish I could buy it again, I liked buying it the first time but I've already got one." There's no point.
Strange Advice, 1998

JL: We made action figures for the Malcolm in the Middle video that we did. Yeah, somebody sort of sculpted these figures. Basically, they took the bodies of existing action figures and made little heads of me and John and the three Dans. And the kid from the show and in the video, Dewey, is playing with them and dragging them around behind his bike.
INTERVIEWER: Were you happy with the way yours turned out?
JL: My figure? Well the face looks like me and the rest of it has, like, rippling, washboard abs.
INTERVIEWER: Which is accurate, right?
JL: I'd like to say that it was...but I can't.
INTERVIEWER: If you could add a special feature to your action figure, what would it be? Kung Fu grip? An accordion that fires missles?
JL: I'd have to think about that, actually. I think my special feature would be like a curvature to the spine, and you'd have a fake Advil that you would give to the action figure and its spine would straighten out a little bit or something. I don't know, I'm not articulating this very well. I'd have to think harder about this. Mine would be the one with back pain.
UGO, 2002

INTERVIEWER:If you were confronted by a giant Abraham Lincoln, as seen in the poster for Gigantic, how would you defeat it?
JL: It's a loaded question. Let's see, how would you defeat a giant Abraham Lincoln? That's like a riddle. I think you'd need a giant John Wilkes Booth.
UGO, 2002

To me this gig is, at the core, a desk job, which is the part I like best. That's why even in the live show I stand behind a desk, or maybe it's a podium.
TMBG Maiiling List, 2003

And to some extent I think--we still have enormous respect for each other. At least, John respects me a lot.
Soundcheck, 2003

After nearly three decades of faithful service the phalanx of phone machines that were the standing army supporting Dial-A-Song finally collapsed and died of old age and exhaustion. They will be given a state funeral as befits such brave soldiers.
Salt Lake City Weekly, 2009

We will continue to deride awards and institutions until they honor us, at which point we will shamelessly boast about them.
Salt Lake City Weekly, 2009

INTERVIEWER: What is your favorite kind of dinosaur?
JL: 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.
Racket Mag, 2010

INTERVIEWER:You have a lot of songs about historical figures--President James K. Polk, James Ensor. Who is one historical figure you'd want to have coffee with?
JL: I know who it would be. It would be the composer J.S. Bach. He wrote a wonderful cantata just about coffee. He wrote these deeply God-fearing, religious cantatas--I probably wouldn't have that much to talk about on that subject. But he clearly loved to drink coffee. But I would definitely choose Bach.
Baltimore Sun, 2011

[My telescope] does give me a dim sense of the unfathomable distances separating us from everything out there, which I take with me as I'm in bed falling asleep. This could an expression of the uptight and futile desire to make a mental diagram of the universe, or maybe the exact opposite, which is the desire to blow my own mind to smithereens.
The Rumpus, 2013

Don't the really good song ideas just appear out of thin air? For some reason I'm always repelled by the idea of encountering some compelling or troubling idea and rubbing my hands together while rushing home to sculpt it into music. My dad used to irritate me to no end by reacting to anything interesting by saying I should write a song about it. So, yeah, as you suggest it seems to require a necessarily mysterious gestation that will be poisoned by manhandling, meddling or, indeed, a plan.
The Rumpus, 2013

Thinking about the germ of an idea reminds me that one very typical starting point is a simple phrase, kind of like the title of a country and western song, that becomes the scaffolding for the rest of the lyrics. In this situation everything seems to follow logically from what is usually the chorus, unless one perversely tries to steer the song in a contrary direction to make it more interesting. But whichever way the stream winds we are still unable to locate the headwaters.
The Rumpus, 2013

You probably know that I have a darkroom in the basement, which is where I get high on the fumes of something called Blix, a combination of bleach and fixer. I take pictures, I develop them and I scan the negatives and mess around with the images in Photoshop. As you correctly assume I don't really want to make them public, partly because they would wither and crumble under scrutiny, but also it would make me self-conscious about doing it and I very much enjoy the luxury of this particular privacy. I do like to show off my collection of oddball old-timey cameras to anyone who comes over, but I can detect something in my friends' polite smiles that tells me nobody else finds them as compelling as I do. The magnificent Univex Mercury with its one-of-a-kind rotating shutter!
The Rumpus, 2013

You're right, I am motivated by an urgent love for pitches going up and down in bewitching patterns that seem to be telling us important things inexpressible in words. What the hell.
The Rumpus, 2013

Even when the words are weird, like that 'please pass the milk please' part, it's interesting for us to come up with a melody that's like a Trojan horse in your brain, if you like, even if it's not inherently palpable.
God is in the TV, 2015

Death is an interesting subject that people don't talk about enough. And the reason they don't talk about it enough is that nobody ultimately knows what it is. It is utterly incomprehensible to us. You never get to the end of the conversation--now is the only time. In some ways it's like low hanging fruit--it's easier for us to write about death and dark subjects than it is to write a good love song.
God is in the TV, 2015

INTERVIEWER: You've crossed over all over, into children's music, Internet music revolution, the literary world. Do you bristle at the term "crossover success"?
JL: I mainly bristle at the atrocities of the Internet music revolution. Did they really have to gun down the tsar's family?
Bearded Magazine, 2015

It's also hard to get through an entire show without dropping the pretense that we are some kind of magical beings enveloping everyone in a trans-dimensional hypnotic spell. At some point we are forced to acknowledge that we're a bunch of jerks yelling into microphones. But then it's back to the theatrics!
Bearded Magazine, 2015

It's actually so important to have a work ethic; sit down, have your materials in front of you and just start working. And if you feel uninspired, just keep going. It's a good thing to be aware of, that you might not always have good ideas, but you’re not gonna have any ideas if you are just going to wait for the good ones. For me personally, the act of trying to write a shitty song will lead me to the good song. If I'm trying to finish a shitty song and I get fed up with it, then the next time I'll just put that aside and start--in the same sitting--working on something else, inevitably it's better and I’ll get warmed up.
Miami New Times, 2018

There are songs we write where the lyrics are very explicit, and leave nothing to the imagination. Then there are others where there’s a kind of pleasure we take in being oblique. It’s not that there’s a secret we’re concealing; the song itself just doesn’t completely connect all the dots. But that’s what you get.  And in some ways that reflects all of our experiences on earth — sometimes you don’t get the answers. People have to live with mystery.
Angelus, 2018

John Flansburgh

We were on MTV and they showed our video right after the new Springsteen video. Of course, that just illustrates the whole "good boy/bad boy, Beatles/Rolling Stones" thing that everybody's talking about.
Cash Box, 1986

Some cranks call up and grumble, "Don't quit your day job" or "Sell your synthesizer." But we've already been fired, and the synthesizer's busted. Hah! We showed them.
Musician, 1987

I have felt good about the couple of "suit" shows we've done. There is something really edgy about the whole band wearing suits. It's like we're from another planet--the PLANET OF MEN!
TMBG Mailing List, 2003

INTERVIEWER: If you had to sum up your life to date in 3 words what would they be?
JF: Rock, rinse, repeat.
DC Urban Dad, 2010

Well, we have politics--we are citizens in the world. And that does annoy people who disagree with our politics, but I have to remind people that our politics are right and their politics are wrong.
Boston Music Spotlight, 2011

The first time we got nominated for a Grammy, John Linnell and I were wondering what we would say if we won. And he was saying that he wanted to say, "Don't lift yourself up by pulling on the seat in front of you in the airplane." Just as a public service. Like if you have a chance to speak in front of a large crowd of people, you could actually move the culture forward.
The AV Club, 2015

Q: If you could pick one TMBG song to play for aliens who'd just landed on the White House lawn, which would you pick and why?
A: I would like to write an original number. Maybe something like, "Can You Help Us with Climate Change?"
San Diego Reader, 2015

This band is a Trojan horse. We’ve wrapped a very interesting package around some overly complicated ideas, and we just don’t want to be called out on it.
Orlando Sentinel, 2018

Social media

Kittens are all technical shortcoming. Their little paws--pointless for scratching.

Both John and I are early risers and big coffee drinkers, so inspiration is just another cup away!

I've worked jobs with people who wouldn't pass the Turing test.

Both Johns

JF: I think we're kind of--we're more deeply ashamed of being clever.
JL: He didn't include that in the article. He didn't say, "They're smart, and they're totally ashamed of it."
Idiot's Delight, 1990

JL: I've never seen him naked either which is really weird because I--I've never seen John naked even though we've spent about 25 years playing in bands and sharing dressing rooms.
JF: So you've blacked that whole thing out?
JL: Blacked what whole thing out?
Cahoots Web Chat, 2000

JL: Will you ever have the "eye-planing" laser surgery or is it just too freaky? I would have it if I could but apparently it won't help people who are farsighted, at least not yet. JF: Maybe they could turn your eyes INSIDE OUT and then do it! No, eye surgery is something I really fear. I am really fascinated by this "botox" thing they are doing in Hollywood which actually PARALYZES YOUR FOREHEAD with POISON BACTERIA. You can't create wrinkles because you can't raise your brow. Sounds like a good idea, but if you look at some of these aging starlets it might appear their faces are frozen,BECAUSE THEY ARE. JL: I'm hoping they come up with a bacteria that they can use to KILL MY EMOTIONS. That way I won't ever look sad or tired. Or one to AMPUTATE ALL NEGATIVE THINKING. JF: Sad and tired has always worked for you. And it's better than bitter. I'd lay off the bacteria till your fifties.
TMBG Mailing List, 2003

Host: Are mermaids an appealing idea to you? I mean we're here at the Coney Island Museum, in Coney Island there's a big mermaid tradition as part of the--
JL: Yeh, I--that's--that to me is completely weird. I mean the whole idea of mermaids as erotic is really weird I think because--because they don't apparently have--
Host: Well, to second base!
JL: You can get to second base, yeh, yeh.
JF: We're talking about second base on PRI.
JL: That's right. But that's where it ends, pretty much.
Studio 360, 2003