Even as the world’s tilted off its axis and freakish aberrations have occurred with increasing regularity, there are thankfully still a few natural laws that have held firm; just as water is wet and grass is green, They Might Be Giants are still releasing new music and touring.
Although it might seem like only yesterday that the treasured indie-rock duo was tearing up college radio with “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and being featured on the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures, John Flansburgh and John Linnell’s ongoing project of marrying absurdist lyrics with stupidly catchy riffs has remained vital through the years. They Might Be Giant’s newest album, I Like Fun, has even been heralded as the latest in a late-career hot streak.
The band’s remarkable consistency — whether it’s in Dial-a-Song projects, on their traditional studio releases, or in their children’s music albums — has come to be one of its defining characteristics. Speaking to New Times in advance of the pair's appearance at Culture Room tomorrow, January 26, singer and multi-instrumentalist Linnell, one-half of the They Might Be Giants brain trust, joked this might have something to do with the relative sanity and lack of hedonism that has pervaded he and Flansburgh’s musical careers.
“The Onion did a humorous thing many years ago about how our episode of VH1’s Behind the Music was the most boring and unwatchable episode ever,” Linnell recounts with a laugh. “To which I was like, Yup, they nailed it.”
From Onion articles to beloved sitcom theme songs, the last three-and-a-half decades have seen They Might Be Giants quietly establish themselves as an American institution and cultural phenomenon. And although their seemingly constant stream of releases makes it seem effortless, Linnell says he and Flansburgh treat the creative process with great respect and aren’t content to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.
“It's actually so important to have a work ethic; sit down, have your materials in front of you and just start working. And if you feel uninspired, just keep going. It’s a good thing to be aware of, that you might not always have good ideas, but you’re not gonna have any ideas if you are just going to wait for the good ones,” Linnell says of the band’s prolific output. “For me personally, the act of trying to write a shitty song will lead me to the good song. If I'm trying to finish a shitty song and I get fed up with it, then the next time I'll just put that aside and start — in the same sitting — working on something else, inevitably it's better and I’ll get warmed up."
When fans swing by Culture Room tomorrow, they can look forward to a lengthy, segmented set that pulls from both the band’s most cherished, well-known hits and its weirder, sometimes neglected selections. Linnell describes the responsibility behind drafting up a live setlist as an involved one, albeit one that’s handled by his partner, John Flansburgh.
“What we tend to do is have a kind of rough setlist for the beginning of the tour which is subject to change,” Linnell shares. “It's like we've taken our regular two-and-a-half-hour show and split it in half and it becomes two chunks, so it gives [the show] a little more structure in a good way. We have two complete scenes, and then we get to go backstage and then lie panting on the dressing room floor, and then come back and do another installment. That's a fun way for us, and I think the audience likes it too.”
In the past, They Might Be Giants have stated that it’s a mission statement of sorts for them to continually find new audiences and bring them into the obsessive fold that is TMBG fandom. Twenty albums and nearly four decades in, Linnell says said undertaking is going great, and much better than he would’ve ever guessed at the outset of he and Flansburgh’s career.
“I'd be totally content if we just held onto our old fans, and instead we seem to have continued to attract new people,” Linnell observes. “It's a weird thing to try and size it up, but I'm very impressed with the range of ages, and the diversity of the audience. And the fact that we still have an audience is... it's like a miracle, it's terrific… and I'm very, very happy with that.”
They Might Be Giants. 8 p.m. Friday, January 26, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net. Tickets are sold out.