New York’s They Might Be Giants are regularly referred to as one of the hardest working bands in the business.
In fact John Linnell and John Flansburgh – along with Marty Beller, Danny Weinkauf and Dan Miller - are heading to the UK for a tour on the back of their ambitious Dial-a-Song project which saw the band release a new song every week in 2015.
“Yeah that was a lot of work and I’m loathed to work hard. I’m the token lazy guy in They Might Be Giants,” joked Linnell.
“We’ve been working for so long and we started in the early eighties and we’ve never really had a break, we’ve just been making records and touring ever since then.
“We have not had any periods of getting addicted to hard drugs and spending long time in rehab – all the things you’re supposed to do as a rock band for some reason we opted out.
“Actually we haven’t broken up acrimoniously and spent years sulking. We’ve just been doing this pretty much consistently. That’s the reason people get the sense that we’re hard workers.
“I’m not a hard worker. I love staring at the wall, that’s my favourite activity. But we work very well under a deadline so that’s a major impetus for us.
“If we decide we’re going to put out 52 songs in a year then we kind of feel like we’ve committed ourselves and we have to go through with it.”
Dial-a-Song started as a telephone answer machine service in the band’s infancy as a way of getting their new material out to fans.
They decided to bring back the idea last year with a new song released via download every week.
The first batch of songs were released as an album Glean in April 2015 and Linnell said these would feature heavily in the set list for the UK shows. The rest of the songs will be released on CD this year.
Fans can also expect of course to hear old favourites such as Birdhouse in Your Soul, Don’t Let’s Start and The Guitar which all enjoyed huge chart success in the UK, as well as songs from recent their
children’s album Why?
The band has had great success with their albums aimed at children – including winning a Grammy in 2009 for Here Come the 123s. They also won one in 2002 for Boss of Me, the theme tune to TV series Malcolm in the Middle.
“We didn’t make a kids’ record till the band was almost 20 years on so what had happened before then I think was that parents thought that we were a more appropriate band to play for their kids than a lot of the other stuff in their record collection. So it was maybe by default that we were considered ok,” said Linnell.
“We put out a kids’ record in 2001 and it was not intended to be a major career turn for us, We just thought this would be fun and the reaction that we got from that was unexpected. So we’ve kind of had two different careers going since then mainly we’re still doing the standard grown up They Might Be Giants shows.
“We try to be unfettered in the way we’re thinking about what a song could be and not be too tied down to some notion of what the function of a song is or who it’s for.
“Now that’s obviously a bit difficult when you’re writing for kids because you don’t want to include material that’s too disturbing, you know.
“We try to limit the amount of dark material in the kids’ songs but other than that we try to make it open-ended and fun and interesting and imaginative and that’s exactly how we write our songs for adults as well.”
The UK tour starts in Leeds at the Brudenell Social Club on January 27, which has already sold out, but they’re also playing Manchester Academy on March 1 as well as dates in Glasgow, Newcastle,
Belfast, Cambridge and London.
“We’ve been performing and having records on the radio in Britain almost as long as we have in the United States so we’re very comfortable playing in the UK,” said Linnell.
“It feels like a home away from home. I feel like it’s a very friendly place for us.”
Though last time They Might Be Giants played in Leeds they had the petrol siphoned out of their tour truck, and before a show in Manchester, Linnell had his saxophone stolen.
“That was like 10 years ago. Somebody siphoned all the gas out of the truck, that’s right,” said Linnell.
“The saxophone was an amazing stunt. Someone broke into our dressing room, got the baritone sax and left without the case so they must have hidden it under some kind of enormous overcoat or something. We never found out how they’d pulled it off.
“Now that you mention it, Britain is an incredibly hostile place and we do not feel at all welcome!
“No, I didn’t feel like this is particularly representative of the north of England, you know. We’ve had very friendly audiences there.”
Linnell said his favourite memory of the north was playing the Duchess of York in Leeds in the 1980s: “It was such a big crowd – a huge crowd for a tiny little pub and the sound guy was behind the mixing desk and he had to put his feet up against it because otherwise he would have been pinned to the wall by the mixing desk, the crush of the crowd was that big. That’s kind of a fond memory.”
After the UK dates and a few dates across the US, the band has said they will take a break from touring for the time being. So are they planning to get back in the studio?
“It’s not what we’re planning but I’m sure that’s what will wind up happening,” said Linnell.“
John and I haven’t really discussed what we’re going to do this year. I’m sure we’ll come up with some over ambitious project eventually and then we’ll be committed to that!”