John Flansburgh and John Linnell aspire to make an adult-oriented kids album in the near future. Photo: Shervin Lainez
Coming off their 16th studio album, the alternative indie rock duo They Might Be Giants, have been riding high on a sell-out tour spanning across three continents. With a 31-year career under their belts that hasn't suffered from a breakup or even a hiatus that we can track, John Linnell and John Flansburgh have been triumphant with catchy and quirky songs that have impacted four decades worth of fans. After doing three successful kids albums with Disney (almost ensuring them a new generation of fans delving into their catalog when they hit their teens), the Brooklyn duo has returned to making adult-themed albums on a regular basis, and have almost seemingly returned to their roots with their latest full-length endeavor, Nanobots. SLUG got the opportunity to chat with Linnell over the phone before they come to town this Saturday at The Depot, discussing the tour so far, the new album and creating music, thoughts on the R&R Hall Of Fame and what people can look forward to at this Saturday's show.
SLUG: How's the tour been going so far?
Linnell: The tour's going well! Depending on where you start counting, we're either in the middle or near the beginning of the end of a three-legged tour, which consists of the United States, Australia and the United States again. We'll be done in about two weeks with that, and we'll be sorta done for the summer, and then in the fall we're back out in Europe and the United States again. We did spectacularly well in Australia, which we were not expecting. We sold out all the shows, and added more shows which sold out, so apparently, there was a very high demand for us there.
SLUG: If memory serves me right, I don't believe you've done the full-world tour. You've always gone to a continent and then broken it up.
Linnell: I would say yes, this is the closest thing we've done to a world tour since the '90s. We have done Europe, Australia, Japan and all these places in the past. I think the “Flood Tour” was the last really big, comprehensive world tour, and there may have been ones after that where we hit every single part of the planet except for Africa. Or South America, we've never played there yet.
SLUG: Would you want to do that?
Linnell: Absolutely, yeah! My wife and I have been down to Argentina and Uruguay, and we love it there. If it were feasible, I would pull for doing shows. But I think, like with Australia, its a little harder because you can't just drive around like you do in the United States. The major cities are far enough apart that you have to fly, and that gets more expensive, and of course everything is more expensive when you're overseas.
SLUG: Moving onto the album, this is only the second you've done in the past five years, and you had the stint where you were doing more kid albums than adult ones. How is it getting back into that groove of doing adult albums every other year?
Linnell: Well, there's not ever really been a system. We ganged up on the kids albums because we had done very well with Here Come The 123s and I think Disney was ready to charge ahead and make another kids DVD. So that was why that happened but there had never been much of a plan. We started out just doing this with the grown-up records, and the kids music came 20 years into the project. 2002 was when we put out No!, which was our first kids album, and even then, we weren't thinking that this was going to be repeated. We thought we were doing a one-off kids record, but it sold spectacularly well, so we kinda got dragged into the kids music racket. So the last 10 years, that's taken up a lot of the work that we've done. But the thing that's nearest to our hearts is doing the profanity-laced grown-ups music, so we're happy to be back.
SLUG: It's an excellent album, and being a longtime fan, it took me back hearing tracks that were really short versions got me thinking about Apollo 18. Were you channeling some of your earlier work to make this album what it is, or were you just aiming to make a whole new version of TMBG, and that happened to be part of the process?
Linnell: I think that's probably a good way of putting it, that each time out, we're trying to blow our own minds. Whether or not we're successful is kinda up in the air. I think I made the suggestion that we do some very, very short songs on this record, and Flansburgh took the ball and ran all the way across the field. So most of the short songs are his, but it really gave the album a different flavor, which was great. As you pointed out, we did this thing called “Fingertips” on Apollo 18, and that was kind of a suite of very short pieces that were connected to one another as you listen to them all in a row. This is slightly different because they're sprinkled throughout the album, but yeah, there is that same spirit for the love of the impossibly short song.