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Ask They Might Be Giants About Almost 30 Years of Music 188

Back in 1982, John Flansburgh, John Linnell, and a drum machine formed They Might Be Giants. Over the last 29 years TMBG have released 15 studio albums, won 2 Grammy Awards, and have become one of the most nerd-loved bands ever. In addition to projects like Dial-A-Song, TMBG were one of the first bands to create their own online music store, and have been making podcasts on a semi-monthly basis since 2005. The band has agreed to answer all your questions about the naming conventions of Turkish cities, building spiritual bird houses, and the music business. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please keep it to one question per post.
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Ask They Might Be Giants About Almost 30 Years of Music

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday September 30, 2011 @11:38AM (#37567758) Journal
    Assuming you still listen to other bands and acts in your free time, by what method do you acquire new music? I've seen your albums in vinyl and I know you were the first major label artist to release an entire album exclusively in MP3. My preferred method is buying vinyl that gives me an MP3 download on the side. So what is your collection mostly of CD, iTunes, MP3s (lossless?) or do you personally enjoy the slight comeback of vinyl []?
  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Friday September 30, 2011 @11:38AM (#37567768)

    Thirty years are coming to an end and now you're even older...

  • In 1992 you guys were sending out news updates to your fans via Usenet Newsgroup, what are the next big things you want to try to do with the internet to connect with your fans? Are you working on anything crazy and innovative right now that you can talk about that sort of transcends the basic music to vendor to fan experience? Almost all bands send out updates now and allow samples of songs to be heard online, where do you see these methods heading in the future?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 30, 2011 @11:44AM (#37567878)

    With all these activities mentioned above, is the band solvent? Are all those other activities worth it financially?

    Where I'm coming from: back before the Joshua Tree album, even with all of U2's success up to that point, they said in an interview that they "had to tour a lot just to stay solvent."; which surprised me so much that I remember that statement 20 years later. It's not that I'm counting your money or anything, it's more of trying to understand the business. As David Sanborn once said, "People see your face on an album and think you're automatically a millionaire."

    • Where I'm coming from: back before the Joshua Tree album, even with all of U2's success up to that point, they said in an interview that they "had to tour a lot just to stay solvent."; which surprised me so much that I remember that statement 20 years later. It's not that I'm counting your money or anything, it's more of trying to understand the business. As David Sanborn once said, "People see your face on an album and think you're automatically a millionaire."

      It helps when you don't blow your whole royalty check on sunglasses.

  • by Aaron_Pike ( 528044 ) on Friday September 30, 2011 @11:45AM (#37567902) Homepage
    I think I can safely say that there is a large demand for a TMBG edition of Rock Band. Is there anything preventing this from happening?
  • I'm in the middle of trying to throw together a band, and finding a drummer isn't easy (if you don't already know one, and you're not willing to pay one).

    What comments do you have about working with a drum machine, especially in a live setting?

    Do you still use one?

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday September 30, 2011 @11:49AM (#37567952) Journal
    What is the most rewarding thing to you personally from the 30 years of being a band? A particular fan letter? A particular performance? Just being able to do what you love?
  • In the song Space Suit there's a very distinctive tonal quality that sounds very much like it was modulated using a Cooper 1138 or maybe a 1138-A. Was this a bold artistic choice or were you just using it for the first time and you forgot to turn the Korg variance down to a more modest level? Just curious because to a pro like me it's like listening to a Casio keyboard on display at K-mart.

  • Y'all started out with adult crowd and somehow got into kid's songs. (My daughter's a big fan). Which is easier: songs for the alphabet, math, or science?
  • Did you encounter much of the "Hey Mr DJ" Payola going on in the industry when you started? Or was the song written about rumors in the industry at the time?

    Is the situation any different now?

  • If I have a date with a girl in Istanbul, where will she be waiting?

  • I was at your show last Thursday in Indianapolis! It was a great show! What exactly is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma?
    • by Creepy ( 93888 )

      Hopefully it was better than the show I saw. Not the worst I've ever seen (Run Westy Run, a band that drunkenly played a Duluth, MN show for 10 minutes before leaving stage and then one guy came back and said the rest of the band had passed out wins), but definitely memorable in the show wasn't very good kind of way. On the plus side, I got those tickets as comps, so no major loss. Everyone else has always raved about their shows, but I think the guys were possibly sick (or wasted? haven't heard they had a

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        They were just copping an attitude from the Replacements, the record holder and still world leader for drunken concerts.

        Even when they should have known better, after Tim, they played the Orpheum so drunk Paul fell into the orchestra pit. I don't know if they finished any songs.

  • Thanks for a lot of great tunes, and a minor-sub culture I enjoy very much.

  • Do you ever listen to your own music? Not just for production reasons, but for entertainment?
  • Are you my only friend?
    Are you not my only friend?
    But are you a little glowing friend?
    But are you really not actually my friend?

  • Tell us your opinions about the loudness war ( ) and how it affects the release of your music.

  • I just saw you guys in Nashville. You look fantastic. It's impossible to believe you've been rocking out for as long as I've had a full-color range of vision. How are you both so amazingly well preserved?
  • Some of your fans felt that the album "here comes the science" was pushing a specific agenda that was never previously a part of your music. Do you feel that the (perceived) partisan tones on that album are real or imagined, and if they are real do they reflect a change in the attitudes of TMBG as a band or the individual members thereof?
  • There was quite a bit of collaboration with the Chaps brothers of home star fame. They seem to have taken a break from the website... Any chance this is because they're collaborating on project with you? If not, any plans to in the future? It seemed like a perfect marriage to me. []

  • Well are they? You should know by now surely!
  • From a roadie (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As a roadie here, I've heard less than flattering comments from local stagehands that have worked your live shows... Are you guys dickwads? or is it your production management? or were you just having bad days?
    Regardless... Thanks for the music

    • Just once, I would like to see a recipient of this question answer: "Yes, as a matter of fact I AM a dickwad! Moreso, I am proud of being a dickwad. I enjoy dispensing small streams of misery from my curdled penis onto the foreheads of those I despise on a daily basis. The sounds of my name being cursed brings me horrid joy, and I get great satisfaction from masturbating all over newborn kittens. Abuse is my middle name (when it isn't Wrong, Arrogant, Mean, or Prick), and I delight in making everyone aroun

  • Great instrument, or greatest instrument?

  • Picking songs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by esocid ( 946821 ) on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:25PM (#37568520) Journal
    When you pick your lineup, how do you sift through your catalogue and decide what it is you'd like to play? For example, (I saw you guys last night in Richmond) I didn't hear anything from Mink Car, The Spine, and I know you have over 300 songs to choose from.
  • I loved being able to play TMBG for my boys instead of Raffi and other crap. No question, just saying thanks.
  • Back in my misspent youth some 20 years ago, someone gave me a song they swore was TMBG, recorded in someone's basement. The title was "On the Rag", and while the vocals bore some resemblance, the lyrics were predictably puerile. Was this really you guys, or was my friend just pulling my leg?

  • Why Does the Sun Shine?
  • When you play shows today, a lot of your older fans expect to hear tracks from Lincoln, Flood, and TMBG. Do you resent having to play the same thing over and over, or do you enjoy playing them as much as we enjoy hearing them? Do you ever play your other well-known tracks, like "Dog on Fire" or "You're Not the Boss of Me"?
  • How did you come about getting picked to score and perform the "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" theme for the series currently airing? When I first heard it while watching with my son, I had my suspicions, but then confirmed them when I did a little searching. Awesome song!!

  • by The Good Reverend ( 84440 ) <michael.michris@com> on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:49PM (#37568922) Journal

    Are there are any songs you regret recording? Something that seemed like a good idea at the time, but now comes off oddly, or in poor taste?

  • I'm coming to see you guys at the Theatre of the Living Arts tonight (Sep 30)! My question is: can I borrow a copy of your latest album? And a couple of blank tapes?

    Also, if you want to hang out after the show with someone nerdier than you, I wouldn't turn you down.

  • OK, I've been a fan since about 89, so I have a lot of questions to ask.

    First: For each of you, which 1 song of yours is your favorite.

    Second: The World's Address is a sad pun that reflects a sadder mess. Where did the idea for this song come from, and why the violin version?

    Third: Who thinks she's Edith Head? Some specific person you knew?

    Fourth: Any chance of releasing the visual song tie-in games from No on the Web?

    Fifth: Do ya'll actually use metal detectors at the beach?

    Sixth: What was it like trying t

  • by TRRosen ( 720617 )

    Why is Flood your only good album!

  • by Torinaga-Sama ( 189890 ) on Friday September 30, 2011 @01:08PM (#37569172) Homepage

    My first exposure to your music was seeing the video for "Don't Lets Start" on a Dr. Demento video countdown on MTV in the mid to late 80s. Looking back, I don't really find that song all that weird, but then again I have spent all of that time being influenced by your music.

    Were you always out to hit that weird nerve? Where you surprised to be picked up by the Good Doctor, who is perhaps best known for promoting parodies and songs that are humorous and/or ridiculous? Did this influence the evolution of your sound at all?


  • Tiny Toons (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hsensei ( 1055922 ) on Friday September 30, 2011 @01:12PM (#37569240) Homepage
    That episode of Tiny Toons with you music I think was one the greatest moments in Warner Bros Cartoons. Surpassing even the Kill the Wabbit mini opera. Would you ever do more collaborations again?
  • Artists don't always see eye-to-eye with their audience. I've heard anecdotes and stories from other artists where they expressed surprise that a piece that meant a tremendous amount to them was ignored by their audience, while a throwaway piece became immensely popular. Can you point to songs of albums that produced a reaction from your fans that was the opposite of what you expected?
  • You've seen both the big label approach to music and the grassroots sell directly to the customer over the internet approach. How do you compare the two?

  • If someone from CERN offered you the use of some faster-than-light neutrinos in order to send some advice to the 1982 versions of yourselves, what would that advice be?
  • There have been some famous rants against the recording industry contracts (think Prince and his SLAVE forehead protest among others). Tell us what you really think of recording company contracts and RIAA.
  • After almost 30 years, can you, with any degree of certainty, tell us whether or not they ARE or ARE NOT, in actuality, giants?
  • I have a non-scientific theory that you guys are atheists like me. I would like to put it to the test. I'm basing my theory on the following lines:

    "A fact is just a fantasy unless it can be checked."

    "I like those stories about angels, unicorns and elves."

    I interpret those lyrics to mean that religion is a fantasy and angels are simply fun stories. Am I correct?

    P.S. My daughter is only 3.5 but is now interested in science and I can't thank you enough for helping me to light that spark!

  • I've always loved your music because it tells a well thought out, interesting, and quirky story. Where do you draw inspiration from? Is there a massive underlying theme controlling everything? A hand inside the puppet-head?
  • Your music has long occupied a sort of middle ground between "real" pop rock and the kind of music you used to hear on Dr. Demento. These days, the Internet has sort of lead a revolution in novelty-type music, from flash cartoon showtunes to YouTube remixes to rappers who write rhymes for a deliberately nerdy audience. I'm sure you're at least familiar with part of this phenomenon due to your recent tour with Jonathan Coulton. What's your observation on the future of the silly song?
  • Now that you've done the theme songs for both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, are you looking to do any more TV work?

  • Should people be beat up for stating their beliefs?
  • Given that you've been creating music from Portastudio days and through the rise (and rise) of digital recording, how much of an effect has the progression of tech (especially in affordable home recording) had on the way you each go about songwriting and ultimately putting together your albums?

    I'd love to know where you balance what's done in home production set-ups with bigger studios, what sort of gear you work with where, and where along the line people like Pat Dillet get involved. Are you take half-re

  • Did Terry Pratchett talk with you before publishing Soul Music, or was it a complete surprise?

Happiness is twin floppies.