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They Might Be Giants, kids show, Regent Theatre, Arlington MA, 23 May 2010
Image by Chris Devers
This photo was used by BrooklynBased on Nobody’s Business But the Turks, a piece about a free show TMBG did on the Williamsburg Waterfront in July 2011. Sadly, their site doesn’t seem to keep the photos that were used at the time, but I promise it had been there…
• • • • •
Via the Regent Theatre’s web site:
A Special Family Show with . . .
They Might Be Giants
Benefit Concerts for Boston By Foot
Sunday, May 23 at 12pm and 3pm
Both shows sold out – thank you!
They Might Be Giants will be performing two special shows especially for families. These are full band, full length performances. Both shows are to benefit Boston By Foot, the non-profit group giving guided walking tours of Boston for over 33 years. All concert goers can also use their ticket stub to get a free tour from Boston by Foot, including Boston by Little Feet tours for kids, during the upcoming season. All profits will go to BBF. www.bostonbyfoot.org/
They Might Be Giants Biography
HERE COMES SCIENCE!
For alternative rock legends They Might Be Giants, rave reviews from the likes of Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Pitchfork, NPR and beyond might not be that unexpected, but we’re not talking about their regular gig here. Sure, TMBG have sold millions of records, are multi-Grammy winners and have even composed a musical accompaniment for an entire issue of McSweeney’s, but these most recent accolades are for the work TMBG has created for children and–as the reviews attest–no other band swings as effortlessly from adult music to children’s fare and back again with the artistic and commercial success of They Might Be Giants.
John Flansburgh and John Linnell’s latest CD/DVD is Here Comes Science (Idlewild/Disney Sound). It’s an ultra-vivid crash course through topics that in lesser hands could easily put kids to sleep. With rock anthems and electronic goodies crafted to amuse, intrigue and deliver the 4-1-1 on evolution, solar system, photosynthesis, the scientific method and more. Following Here Comes the ABCs and Here Come the 123s, Science is geared for older kids and it introduces ideas in a way that not only inform but will stay in your head forever.
While it may seem like an odd move for a duo recognized as the progenitors of the American alternative rock movement, it really all makes perfect sense. From their earliest days with Dial-A-Song through their online music distribution, TMBG have always challenged rock’s status quo and gone out of their way to take their music to brand new audiences, and by the looks of things, they’re having a lot of fun doing it their way. The Giants use every bit of fan interactive technology by connecting with kids via regular podcasts and including a DVD of delightful animated interpretations of their songs with each Here Comes… album.
The band is constantly working on new music, new projects and touring–sometimes with 2 shows a day. Founders John Flansburgh and John Linnell, along with their long standing live combo of Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf and Marty Beller, show no signs of swapping one successful gig (adult music) for another (children’s music). Rejoice people of Earth–there’s just that much more for us all to enjoy.
Question: You once said in an interview that TMBGs knew what you didn’t want to do with your music geared for kids: You didn’t want to tell them how to behave or write songs that are educational. But these songs are quite educational, and in fact, you have a science consultant on this record. Did you make a conscious decision to really teach something on Here Comes Science?
John Linnell: I think it’s still a record you can listen to for enjoyment, and that’s real important to us. I am perfectly comfortable with the idea of something that is pure entertainment, but I don’t think there is any need for something just purely educational from us. My sense of this record is that it is mostly fun, musical and interesting and it happens to have lyrics that talk about science.
Question: Did any Children’s books or albums make an impression on you when you were a child? Because now you’re making that impression on children.
John Flansburgh: We get that question a lot, and it’s a valid question, but speaking for myself, I feel like we have something to contribute to kid’s music because what we’re doing is actually lacking in the general culture. Generally, our stuff is not really coming out of any amazing experience with the kid’s stuff from the past. Our childhood was during the really golden era of classic pop and singles. Those songs weren’t really designed for kids, but the power of it spoke to us and a lot of other kids quite directly.
Curiously–although I see the obvious connections–we didn’t really grow up with all of the progressive kids stuff of the 70’s. We were that micro generation of glitter-rock young teens listening to Alice Cooper and David Bowie and we totally missed the boat on Sesame Street and School House Rock and Free To Be You and Me. But even being a bit too old for it, you could tell there was something cool about that stuff. Basically the cartoons of our generation were either super-violent, like Spiderman, or the really simple-minded Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
Question: Which one of you was the science student? Either or you? Neither of you?
J. Linnell: Specifically into science? I would say we were both middling students in school, but philosophically we are both, as adults, very pro-science. We like living in the post-enlightenment era in history. Are we still living in the enlightenment or is it over now, I can’t tell? Are we in the “en-darkenment” now?
J. Flansburgh: I think we’re actually in to the “gee whiz” part of science–all the scientific phenomenon that sparks your imagination. We certainly aren’t academics, but there is something remarkable about the world of science and there are ideas in science that just send your mind reeling.
J. Linnell: One the things that is exciting about it is that it makes you realize that things that are true, that can be proven, aren’t always intuitive. There is a difference between what seems to be the case and what turns out to be proven to be the case, and that’s really exciting. The world isn’t always what it seems to be and it makes everything more wonderful in a way. You have an experience of the world, walking around, and then science provides knowledge about the world that is not always anything like the experience.
The history of scientific discovery is partly revealing things that you don’t always experience directly, it’s bizarre in a way that so much of what we know is stuff we can’t always experience directly, like molecules and galaxies.
Question: Does that make it easier or harder to write about Science?
J. Linnell: Well, both. There is a point that you do reflect that you’re trying to explain something preposterous. And luckily, I think kids know the whole world is strange and preposterous, but as they get older, they get used to the idea that there are facts they just have to take someone’s word for.
Question: Considering you guys once used an answering machine to showcase your material, how amazed are you that you have all of this media at your disposal – podcasts, internet, video, etc…how has it changed the way you work?
J. Flansburgh: We enjoyed having an easy-breezy, loose reputation in terms of getting our music out to people. It was very great to be the one of the few acts in the United States who wasn’t preoccupied with getting on the radio or a cash return on our music. Of course now there is almost no end to the free stuff, and it is cool to see how much you can get in to the world, but with the most popular videos on YouTube being cats jumping into a box or people getting pushed down escalators, part of me worries that all this electronic media is just in the service of turning our culture into an endless episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
J. Linnell: A lot of what the technology suggests to people is the democratizing of culture and the notion of interactivity kind of caught fire online early on. What’s weird for John and I is that we were never interested in either one of those things. We actually like the idea of controlling what we are doing and we like the old fashioned idea of there being quality control on culture, that you would get the “good stuff” and there would be a way, through a critical apparatus or institutions, that would deliver the good stuff and filter out the bad stuff. It feels like the big problem nowadays is that everything should be available to everyone at all times and the result is a lot of garbage to wade through…not to sound like an 80 year old man! (laughs)
Question: With your accompanying DVD, how did the directors and animators come together? Are they the same people from Here Come the 123s? How much creative control do you give the animators with your songs?
J. Flansburgh: We are the producers on all the animated material and we select the artists we collaborate with pretty carefully. We’ve been involved in a lot of television and video projects over the years and that was very good training for these projects. There is an expression in rock video production: “Good. Fast. Cheap. Choose two” It’s a very unreasonable thing to expect everything to come together on a tight budget. Our strategy is to give the animators a relatively long lead time so they can do something that will be a good portfolio piece for them and something cool for us. And although we’re on a tight budget, we can offer a large amount of artistic freedom, and that gives us the opportunity to work with the most creative people out there.
Question: For this tour, you’re doing both “kid” and “adult” shows, sometimes 2 in one day. How is it different when you perform in front of kids versus when you perform in front of adults?
J. Flansburgh: Whatever pretensions you might have about your performance get totally re-calibrated when you’re playing for kids–playing a kid show is probably a bit closer to being a school teacher than being a rock star. There are also a lot of parents in the audience and we address them as well which kind of breaks forth the wall of "kiddie-ness."
Just to address the questions we always get: “how is it different writing a song for kids or writing for adults?” or “performing for kids and performing for adults?” Well, there is a real overlap, but there are meaningful differences too. A good song works in a way that is kind of irreducible whether or not it’s for kids or adults. If a song has a strong melody or an interesting concept, it will animate any audience, but in performance, kids have a really short attention span, so keeping things moving is important. Routinely the confetti machine gets the biggest response of the day. That will keep your ego in check.
Although in the past, “Clap your Hands” and "Alphabet of Nations" worked for adults, by and large the kid stuff stayed in the kid show just because it’s, well, for kids! (laughs). But with "Here Comes Science" a lot of the songs work good in the adult show. and that’s unusual. “Meet the Elements,” “My Brother the Ape,” “A Shooting Star is not a Star,” and “Why Does the Sun Shine” slid into the adult show without any second thoughts, and “I Am a Paleontologist” is totally rocking live.
Question: What’s next for They Might Be Giants?
J. Flansburgh: We’re working on a rock album right now, but we have so much touring interrupting our effort it’s hard to know when it will get done, so the real answer is we’re going to be spending a lot of time on a tour bus trying to figure out how to get the WiFi working!
Our children’s book collaboration with Pascal Campion, Kids Go, just came out at the end of last year on Simon & Schuster. It’s actually a very beautiful project and a fulfillment of a dream of mine. When we were approached, I wanted to do an actual picture book, which very few people get to do, and it was exciting to realize that dream. A good picture book is something that really stays with you.