They Might Be Giants still not short on inspiration
When “Nanobots” arrived on March 5, it marked the 16th album the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell has released as They Might Be Giants over their 30-year partnership.
Few bands survive anywhere near that long, and of those that do, many have long since run out of the inspiration (or courage) to create music that's fresh and different. But Flansburgh says he and Linnell feel as creative as ever.
“We're so far down our crazy road, but still these songs and these ideas just completely take over our consciousness, so it's something we're really dedicated to,” Flansburgh says. “People say ‘How long can you be in a band? How long can you make albums?' And it's like, I don't know. I don't even know if it's a good idea for people to make five albums, let alone 16.”
The album makes it clear that Flansburgh and Linnell are showing no signs of slowing down.
“Oh, we're always trying to figure out how to stretch out,” Flansburgh says. “There's nothing more interesting to us than finding a new kind of song to work on.
“I think ‘Sometimes A Lonely Way' for me was, it was interesting to write something that was kind of that down,” Flansburgh says, mentioning a pretty-piano-based ballad from the new album. “It wasn't intentional. I was trying to figure out how to do something that was just simple, and I think the combination of a really unadorned arrangement and a very direct kind of sentiment kind of added up to something that seemed much more intense than I think I was even intending.”
Another song that stands out to Flansburgh is “The Darlings Of Lumberland,” which was a collaboration with veteran saxophone player Stan Harris (perhaps most famous for playing sax on the David Bowie hit, “Let's Dance”).
“I think there's something that's actually very breezy about the way the horn chart works on that song, even though there's a lot of instruments,” Flansburgh says. “There might be 10 horns at a time happening on the song, but it feels very sparky. It doesn't seem like bogged down and it doesn't seem over-orchestrated. It's very alive.”
What's also different about “Nanobots” is the overall feel of the album, Flansburgh says. The CD has 25 songs, a half dozen of which are less than 30 seconds long and the album flows from start to finish as a single piece. Sequencing the songs, Flansburgh says, was perhaps the most-challenging aspect of the project.
“We started making the sort of micro-songs, we started constructing those songs, and they're all really fun in and of themselves, and we didn't know how we should string it together. We didn't want it to seem like just ‘Fingertips Part Two,” he says. The original “Fingertips” is a collection of 21 short songs arranged together on the 1992 album “Apollo 18.” “And we didn't want it to seem like a medley. So, some of them are sequenced to stand apart and some of them are chained together. And it kind of ebbs and flows. But I think the cumulative effect is pretty singular and I think the whole album stands up as an experience.”
“Nanobots” will add to an impressive and deep discography that dates back to the duo's 1986 self-titled debut album. Early on, They Might Be Giants was sometimes labeled a novelty act for its witty (and frequently brainy) lyrics and its catchy and sometimes quirky pop songs. Still, the group got signed to major label Elektra Records (from 1989-1996) and even had a Top 5 modern-rock hit with “Birdhouse in Your Soul” from the 1989 album, “Flood.” But the greatest success has come with an entry into children's music. The first-such release, “No,” arrived in 2002 and has been followed by “Here Come the ABCs” (2005), “Here Come the 123s” (2008) and “Here Comes Science” (2009).
Flansburgh, Linnell and the touring members of They Might Be Giants (guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller) have an extensive tour set for “Nanobots,” with shows, so far, booked into June. Flansburgh says he's looking forward to seeing how songs, new and old, take on a different life live.
“I'm sure that much like when we did the ‘Join Us' tour, a lot of things are going to evolve really radically as the (“Nanobots”) tour goes along,” he says. “It's interesting to have been working with the same guys for so long. We can really restructure what we're doing so quickly.”
Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Turrentine tribute features fine play
- Performing for presidents or Pittsburghers, Franklin’s soul keeps shining
- Musical multiplication works wonders in Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild shows
- Granati Brothers’ new album almost didn’t go anywhere
- Honeck brothers team up on Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra stage
- Singer Harris getting help tackling Billy Strayhorn for Pittsburgh performance
- When does anticipated Record Store Day drop in Pittsburgh? This weekend
- Garfunkel back in fine vocal, and spiritual, form for Pittsburgh stop
- Tickets for July 18 Mayhem Festival on sale Friday
- Highmark Stadium will host concerts this summer
- Steve Miller Band to be 1st show at Highmark Stadium