They Might Be Giants back at adult table
Band found comfortable niche in kids’ recordings
Friday, November 4, 2011
If you go
What: They Might Be Giants, in concert.
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 10.
Where: McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland.
Cost: $20 through Cascade Tickets, 855-227-8499 or cascadetickets.com.
Information: 503-225-0047 or http://mcmenamins.com.
Over the past decade, They Might Be Giants has found a niche writing and releasing albums and videos for kids. It’s been a successful enough venture that the group no longer has to tour incessantly to make ends meet.
“It’s nice to not be broke, and I think there are many opportunities to go broke in music these days,” John Flansburgh said in a recent phone interview. “So yeah, the fact that it’s been so successful on a sales level has certainly made it a smooth ride for us.”
But doing the kids projects has also had creative benefits when it comes to albums for adults, which remain the main pursuit for Flansburgh and his partner in They Might Be Giants, John Linnell.
“One of the nicer side effects about it is it’s kept us writing and recording pretty much constantly for the last 10 years,” Flansburgh said.
“If you’re in that sort of write, record, tour cycle where you’re only getting back to it every couple of years, you can find yourself pretty rusty upon returning to beginning of the process,” he said. “And that has not been our fate.”
That said, Flansburgh said he and Linnell did struggle a bit during the early stages of writing for “Join Us,” the new They Might Be Giants CD for adults. Once they hit their stride, they came up with a large pool of songs — 18 on the final recording, although plenty of material got left behind.
Flansburgh said a good number of the leftover songs will be released Nov. 11 on a rarities disc called “Album Raises New and Troubling Questions.” Most of those songs, he said, weren’t left off of “Join Us” because they were lacking musically.
“It was more that they kind of repeated themes that are on the album,” Flansburgh said. “Like there’s a song on the rarities album, it’s a very strange and interesting song called ‘Money for Dope.’ But it’s a list song, and there are other sort of list songs on the record.”
As it is, “Join Us” touches on a wide array of styles and feels.
Especially on the first half of the album, there are some pop-rock songs that get the CD off to an energetic and accessible start, including the perky tunes “You Probably Get That A Lot,” “Canajoharie” and “Let Your Hair Hang Down.”
Further into the recording, things get more offbeat, as the group toys with more unconventional rhythms and additional instrumentation such as horns and organ (“In Fact” and “The Lady and the Tiger”), jazzy feels and odd vocal approaches (“Protagonist”) and moments that verge on downright goofy (check out the helium-esque vocals on “Dog Walker”).
The variety and offbeat charms that characterize “Join Us” should be familiar to longtime They Might Be Giants fans.
On early records like the 1986 self-titled debut, “Lincoln” (1988) and “Flood” (1990), the group developed a reputation for its brainy, clever and funny lyrics, frequently accompanied by quirky music.
Since those early days, Flansburgh and Linnell have shown a greater command of the pop music form, though they’ve also held on to their idiosyncratic musical and lyrical tendencies.
Moving forward, Flansburgh thinks he and Linnell may focus on creating music for their adult audience before returning to the kids’ realm.
“I don’t want to get too rusty in the rock music creation department,” he said.