Whether you dug them in the ‘80s, grew up with them in the ‘90s, or discovered them in the naughties, American alternative rock band They Might Be Giants will have provided you with a comical representation of American culture.
You’ve probably heard the Brooklyn musos whether you know it or not. After starting up their Dial-a-Song service in 1983, where a call to their answering machine would provide you with a fresh song every day, John Flansburgh and John Linnell have released hundreds of hits across sixteen albums. They’ve scored two Grammys, and recorded an abundance of film and TV themes songs including Malcom in the Middle, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged Me.
I spoke to songwriter and instrumentalist John Flansburgh about the band’s upcoming gig in Hobart (not Constantinople).
“We couldn’t be more excited that we get to go to Tasmania. Just to be able to say, ‘this is Tasmania,’ makes you ten times more worldly than the average American.”
The band tours to Australia to celebrate the release of their sixteenth album, Nanobots, which is a compilation of full length and mini tracks that will leave you both laughing and confused.
“The song Nanobots itself is just as much about raising kids as it is about the weird, futuristic, scientific miniature robot. It’s really about reproduction. But the album is pretty wide open; I think it picks up on the word ‘nano’ with a lot of short songs. We were trying to keep it unpredictable.”
With new songs like the six second Hive Mind and somewhat bizarre Insect Hospital, the album indeed remains unpredictable – even to John.
“Insect Hospital is a very screwed up song and I can’t defend it. To be perfectly honest with you, the original lyric was ‘mental hospital’, but that sounds too harsh. But the truth of it is that the song turns into a full jam, and just makes people rock out.”
Despite the many changes to popular music over the past three decades, They Might Be Giants have managed to maintain a style that cannot be imitated. The two Johns continue to produce alternative rock hits filled with their delightfully nasally vocals, abstract comedy lyrics, and raw instruments that are tastefully infused with electronic sounds (but only sometimes).
John told me that staying original through a changing world doesn’t have to be a difficult thing.
“Historically it’s evolved quite a bit, but we love pop songs and we love music, and it’s very easy to stick to what you love.
“We’ve worked pretty hard; we’re pretty dedicated and we’ve got a great audience.”
This is not to suggest that the band is not embracing the modern world. In the tradition of Dial-a-Song, they have released a brand new iPhone app to cater for all of your They Might Be Giants needs, no matter where you are.
“The iPhone app is very twenty-first century. Just to get it off the road we’re going to try to invest more energy into making the iPhone app a more active platform for our songs.
“I’d like to do songs that are just for the iPhone app.”
They Might Be Giants are headed in for what is set to be a gigantic Aussie tour, which has already sold out in many cities.
“We’re pretty overwhelmed by the level of interest in this Australian tour. Australian audiences are so excitable and into it, and enthusiastic and fun, and they just go for it.
“It’s absolutely energizing to play for an Australian audience.”
You can expect around two hours of hits from They Might Be Giants, and John assures us that “there’s plenty of room for everything.”
“It’s a pretty celebratory show, it’s pretty high energy. I would advise people to bring their crash helmets.”