Giants among us

Giants among us

T hey Might Be Giants return with Nanobots

By Alan Sculley
Photo: [l to r] John Flansburgh and John Linnell of They Might Be Giants; photo credit: Dominic Neitz

When Nanobots arrives on March 5, it will be 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 said in an early February phone interview. “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.”

But one thing is clear, They Might Be Giants has outlasted nearly every other alternative rock band that started out in the early 1990s and Flansburgh and Linnell show no signs of slowing down.

“Oh, we’re always trying to figure out how to stretch out,” Flansburgh said. “There’s nothing more interesting to us than finding a new kind of song to work on.”

And Flansburgh said he and Linnell succeeded in discovering some new musical territory on Nanobots.

“I think ‘Sometimes A Lonely Way’ for me was, it was interesting to write something that was kind of that down,” Flansburgh said, mentioning a ballad from the new album.

What’s also different about Nanobots is the overall feel of the album, Flansburgh said.

“I don’t think we’ve ever really committed to an album that kind of goes from track to track in sort of, I don’t know what the word is because it’s not a concept album, but it does have a flow to it that is sort of created by the sequence,” he said.

Nanobots features 25 songs, a half dozen of which are less than 30 seconds long. Coming up with the right sequence for the album, Flansburgh said, was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project.

“We didn’t know how to put it together at first,” he said. “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.” (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 that utilized unusual instruments such as bass clarinet and accordion. 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 The Science (2009). The group’s previous release, 2011’s Join Us, like Nanobots, was a regular “adults” album.

Despite their long history together and a level of popularity that has allowed They Might Be Giants to play large clubs and theaters for years, Flansburgh said it has taken him and Linnell most of their career to feel confident in what they do musically – mainly because of the perception that their music was left of center.

“For a long time, I think it was very hard for us to figure out if there was even a place for us in the mainstream culture,” he said. “Now it seems like the whole world has kind of got the same orientation that we do. It’s very interesting to feel so in the zeitgeist.”

Flansburgh, Linnell and the touring members of They Might Be Giants (guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller) will be bringing the fun to concert stages with a tour that so far is booked into June. Flansburgh said 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 said. “It’s interesting to have been working with the same guys for so long. We can really restructure what we’re doing so quickly.”

They Might Be Giant will perform on Saturday, March 2 at the Newport Music Hall, 1722 N. High St. in Columbus, and Sunday, March 3 at the Madison Theater, 730 Madison Ave. in Covington, Ky. For more information, visit theymightbegiants.com.


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