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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

They Might Be Giants: A Return To Old Forms

Why do these men look so upset? They had a lot of fun with us! John Linnell (left) and John Flansburgh are They Might Be Giants. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Why do these men look so upset? They had a lot of fun with us! John Linnell (left) and John Flansburgh are They Might Be Giants. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

John Linnell and John Flansburgh have been making music together since they met at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Lincoln, Mass.

In 1982 they started playing together as They Might Be Giants.

“Writing the 15-second song is an easy way to break the mold, but not in the way you might think.”
– John Linnell

In more then 30 years as an alternative rock duo, they’ve done everything from run “Dial-A-Song,” a phone line that fans could call up to hear songs on an answering machine, to create entire albums for children on numbers and science.

Their sixteenth studio album “Nanobots” is aimed at adults and marks a return to a style of songwriting they used in their 1992 album “Apollo 18” – the super-short song.

Linnell told Here & Now’s Robin Young that it’s a good way to break out of traditional verse-chorus-verse songwriting, without diverting too far from the norm.

“Writing the 15-second song is an easy way to break the mold, but not in the way you might think,” Linnell said. “There’s a chorus there, but that’s all you get.”

“Nanobots” also returns to another song type from They Might Be Giants’ past: the historical biography (see the “James K. Polk” video below).

Their latest subject is inventor Nicola Tesla. Flansburgh told Here & Now that the song changed as he learned more about Tesla’s life.

“We started working on the song about five years ago, there was a fully rocking band version of it,” Flansburgh said. “But I really wasn’t satisfied with the way it was working, in part because I heard a really amazing Studio 360 piece about Tesla’s life, and then got a book about him … it seemed like he kind of was possibly mentally ill and yet functioning at a very high level of consciousness. It was a combination of having a giant brain and having a crazy brain.”

And that interested Flansburgh.

“Speaking as a mostly-sane, small-brained person, it seemed like very impressive and unusual story,” he said.

What do you think of They Might Be Giants? Are you a fan? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation on Facebook.

They Might Be Giants performing “James K. Polk”

The fan favorite and early hit “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”

Guests:

  • John Linnell, musician and one half of They Might Be Giants.
  • John Flansburgh, musician and one half of They Might Be Giants.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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