As I ascended the stairs to the mezzanine of the Paramount
Theater, an ornate, old-style movie palace, it felt like Id
died and gone to heaven. I was on my way to interview my favorite
band, my daughters favorite band, everybodys favorite
Might Be Giants.
RB: John Flansburgh, hi. Nice to meet you.
JF: Hey, nice to meet you.
RB: Congratulations on your Grammy. I understand yall
just got a Grammy.
JF: Yeah, yeah we just got a Grammy in L.A. It was
RB: Did you ever imagine you would be there for "Malcolm
In The Middle" theme?
JF: Oh absolutely not. The whole thing was a big surprise.
We didnt even know we were up for it. Theres a
whole prenomination process that we didnt know we were
up for, so the whole thing has been a kind of delightful surprise.
RB: Weve been joined by John Linnell. Greetings.
RB: Hi. So. Heisenberg said that you cant help
but change whats going on when you observe it. The person
being observed must be changed, so how was the creative process
for Mink Car changed by having documentary cameras
JL: Well we didnt see any of it. I think the
thing was, none of this movie was available for us to see
until it was done, so it didnt affect Mink Car
at all. It was just a, kind of a process of getting over the
fact that there were cameras. We never knew what he had in
RB: But I mean with the cameras there, did they constrain
the things or the types of discussions that might have gone
JF: Oh sure. I mean, I think. You just have much more
blunt conversations when there arent cameras rolling.
Its just a natural thing. I think if AJ had just camped
out with us for a year, by the end of it, it wouldve
been like "An American Family."
JF: But the fact that he was sort of coming and going,
it was never something that we got used to, in what people
think is like the true documentary sense of it. And also it
didnt really affect our, most of our creative process
we have to do very much in private. So like the second theres
somebody else there, a lot of the process just stops.
RB: Okay, one of the things, my familyIve
raised my children on They Might Be Giants music
RB: so you have some fans who have come up over
the past few years. One of the comments that we always make
is that this music is like the sonic equivalent of a Max
Fleischer cartoon for us.
JF: Oh, how interesting.
RB: And one of the things that you always wonderwe
wonder when we watch Max Fleischer cartoons is, what are they
smoking? So we were wondering if you could comment on your
JF: Well, the movie really hones in on the coffee
thing. I think the reality is that we
JL: Were uninteresting in reality. Weve
never really had a sort of particular illicit drug. I mean
that hasnt been a thing that... it doesnt affect
our music. Yeah. Exactly.
RB: By any chance are you Too
Much Coffee Man fans?
JF: Oh, I dont know Too Much Coffee Man.
RB: Its a comic by Shannon Wheeler.
JF: No, I dont know it.
RB: Guy with a big cup of coffee, gigantic cup of
coffee on top of his head.
JF: Yeah, well I think for us, the process of writing
songs more often than not begins with a very large cup of
coffee. And where it goes from there changes from time to
RB: Theres a really large public education component
to a lot of your songs Ive noticed. Things like "Mammal"
or "The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas," or "James
K. Polk" or "Meet James Ensor," or something
like that. Which actually sent my kids out to read about James
Ensor, so thank you very much for that. But how does that
come about, this public education aspect? Is it serendipitousyou
were reading about James Ensor? Or did you think, "James
Ensor! Lets go do some research."
JF: Sometimes... we had this discussion early on about
what kind of subjects are interesting, because they just dont
get tackled in songs too much. And not because we were out
to educate people in particular. I think if, I think one of
the things, that seems compelling about writing a song like
thatand we havent written a lot of those kind
of songs, theres just a few, but people really notice
those onesthe thing is that theyre songs about
something nobody actually wants to know about. I think thats
the thing that makes it interesting. The song, the tune is
really catchy, and when you hear a song, inevitably, for some
weird reason you memorize the words, if you hear it enough
times. Because the tune gets it into your head. It kind of
infects you. So you end up learning all this stuff that youre
not actually interested in. And that I think was one of the
things that seemed funny about writing that kind of song.
RB: So according to your site, youre going to
maybe work on a project for children called No!. So
are you going to indoctrinate our youth?
JF: Yeah, its a, we made a childrens record.
Its actually, it has virtually no educational material.
Its pretty much, its more of a Dark Side Of
The Moon for children. Theres no, it contains no
JF: Oh well theres a song, theres a cover
from a New York City, like a public service commercial from
the sixties called "In The Middle," which the main
refrain is "dont cross the street in the middle
of the block," which is certainly a good piece of information
for the wee ones. But its, it was just an idea that...
seemed like we were at a point in our career where we could
make such a bold departure and not have it be misinterpreted
as entering the world of childrens entertainment in
a primary way.
JL: Yeah, I think we didnt want people to get
confused about what the intention of those other songs were.
Like, they were not, there wasnt some pragmatic idea.
It was much more of a experimental idea to write a biography
of somebody like that.
RB: So how long might you be giants?
JF: Our doctors give us 25 years.
RB: And what would you be doing if you were not giants?
JF: I think Id probably be a graphic designer.
Thats what I did before.
RB: And you worked on childrens books?
JF: Yeah, I worked for a childrens, I worked
in publishing primarily, just like regular. I worked for textbook
publishing, and then I ended up in magazines. And so graphic
design. It would be interesting now because I worked in a
lot of really big places that have all been, with the introduction
of the computer, all the staffs have been whittled down to
tiny crews. So Id be on a computer or Id be on
RB: And Mr. Linnell?
JL: Well I think wed probably both be doing
what it took to make a living, but I think the key thing was
kind of suggested in the film. That we started doing this
for pleasure a long time ago, and Id like to think that
wed still have time, amongst whatever else we were doing
to just goof off and make up stuff. Come up with funny ideas.
That, to me, is something you dont have to get paid
to do it.
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