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They Might Be Giants

 

This interview with John Linnell was conducted at the 1992 Bumbershoot in Seattle, and published in Throwrug #6 later that year.

At the time, TMBG had recently released Apollo 18, and were touring with a full band for the first time, having previously used tapes for their "rhythm section."

You've done a lot of interviews ... what's your least favorite question?

Okay, I could give you the whole list...there's a bunch that people ask, and, in fact, they're not even bad questions, particularly, but they're ones that get asked over and over again. Some of them, the answer is pretty simple; and some of them, the answer is totally impossible, and, in fact, I have a problem with the question.

One of the questions, for example, is "Where do you get your ideas from?" That's a really frequently asked question; everybody asks that question, and I know why they ask it, I understand, I want to know where other bands get their ideas sometimes. There really isn't a good answer: we just make up our ideas, they just come to us. I think there's something behind that question that is worth thinking about, so maybe it's the wrong question. That's one of them.

The other is, ''Where did you get your name?" It's the name of a movie. It's not a very interesting answer, unfortunately; it's not a very good movie and it doesn't hold that much significance for us, particularly, except that we thought the name was good. At the time -- this was, like, ten years ago -- it seemed like a good kind of rock band name.

Did you name yourselves before you saw the movie?

No, I saw the movie when I was ten ... we've seen it since then. The movie's not great. I think a lot of people think that we are philosophically aligned with the movie, but that's not the case.

Is the Dial-A-Song still going?

Yes. The Dial-A-Song is a phone machine in Flansburgh's house. Anyone could make a Dial-A-Song, it's really easy to run. It's so easy to do that there's no reason for us to stop doing it. When we're on the road, we have somebody who just comes in and changes the cassette.

Do you have to write 300 songs a year for it?

No, we never did do that. I like the idea that that could have ever been the case, but, in fact, we never did that. We couldn't possibly do that. I think we write about ten songs a year, actually, and Dial-A-Song is a rotating collection of songs. The songs on Dial-A-Song are ones that haven't been released yet, however, which means that right now we've got a small cycle going on. There aren't that many at the moment that we've written and recorded but haven't put out on record yet, but that'll change next year when we get home.

Does John ever (picks up pretend phone) "Hello?"

I think we've probably done it twice in the history of the Dial-A-Song. Oh, the number that's on the current record, Apollo 18, is wrong. The number that appears on every other thing of ours -- that's the real number. (It's 718.387.6962)

Um ... (plays pretend accordion)

(very clever) Accordion?

I don't know, usually when people play "weird" instruments in a band, I ask them if they were in high school band or something, but I can't imagine high school marching accordion...

I didn't play in high school. I started playing accordion after John and I started doing this, we'd been playing together a couple of years as They Might Be Giants, and somebody that we lived with owned an accordion and loaned it to me, and it just seemed to exactly fit in with what we were doing. We did an outdoor show--that was the first time I used it-­and it was exactly right for a gig on the Brooklyn promenade, facing the beautiful Manhattan skyline.

Some people are attracted to the accordion because of its associations, or the way it looks, or something. I like those aspects of it as well, but it also was a keyboard instrument for me to play that I could stand up and move around with. The only other example of that were those synthesizers that they make look like guitars,which I thought were horrendous.

Why are you touring with a band?

Well, we decided earlier this year that we were going to bring our
friend Kurt Hoffman out on the road with us to play saxophone -- we thought, this'll make this tour fun. Once we'd come to that decision and talked to him, it occurred to us that it would be kind of ludicrous, in a way, not to get rid of the tape. It seemed like a halfway measure to have three people on stage and still have a tape. In a way, I think two is the upper limit of how many people you could have plus a taped rhythm section, so we decided to get Kurt plus bass and drums and completely dispense with the background tape.

Do you foresee them being members of the band in the future?

Well, they are; I mean they're They Might Be Giants, but John and I are the Supreme Soviet, you know...I guess that's the set-up.

So, what's it like being Musical Ambassadors for International Space Year?

We don't think about it very much, except when we're doing interviews, because it's an extremely loose relationship we have with the 18 space agencies that are sponsoring this thing. We haven't actually done anything connected with International Space Year except talk about it. There was a point when we were going to do this thing called "Space Minutes," which was going to be taped little segments for some cable station in connection with International Space Year, but nothing has happened. We're on the calendar of events, I guess, and in exchange we've put their little logo on our record. But really, that's the extent of the deal, nothing valuable was exchanged...it's such an informal arrangement that it's kind of hilarious now that we talk about being the official anything of anything.

A friend of mine heard that you both majored in physics...

Wrong. Good one, though.

Do you think of yourselves as dorks?

No...do you think of yourself as a dork?

Uh, sometimes.

Really? Oh. You'll get over it.

How about in high school?

You know, I think everybody in high school has this feeling like they're not on the inside track. I found this out after I got out of high school; that virtually everybody we went to school with was disenfranchised...I mean, this was the '70s, it was a time of great disenfranchisement among everybody, but everybody belonged to a clique and felt like they were not...it seemed like we had a high school where no one was the captain of the football team or whatever, it was basically a whole school filled with people who felt like outsiders, alienated in some way.

Any last words?

Um...uh...any last words, haha...I don't know, no. Ask a question, I can't answer that.

I don't really have any more. Do you eat Spam?

No, I haven't eaten Spam in a long time. I understand there's some kind of Spamburger...

That's what I've heard.

And it's not...the Energizer Bunny hasn't come across the screen -- it's real.

Which I think is one of the signs of the apocalypse, actually

The Spamburger? Yeah, that's in Revelations.

 

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