Saturday, March 6, 2010

They Might Be Giants - Interview - Show Preview - New Hazlett Theater - 3/13/10

They Might Be Giants will be playing two shows next Saturday, March 13th at the New Hazlett Theatre (sponsored by the Warhol). Below is an interview John Linnell was kind enough to do with us. Both of these shows are 'family performances' with songs off their children dvd's. The shows are scheduled for 2p and 5p which are already sold out.

Who's the better audience, the adults or the kids?

JL: They're different. Kids are easily distracted by the confetti cannon. Adults don't require protection from onstage electric fans, unless they're drunk.

Where do you see the future of your music going with regards to genre and audience in the wake of your success with children albums?

JL: We have never successfully predicted where we're going next or what possible audience awaits us in the future. In my nightmares it's just us and James Lipton.

I hear you're making an album with sock puppets, how did that come about? Is it hard to perform with puppets? How do you keep their egos in check?

JL: We're not making an album with the puppets, but they do appear with us in the show. They present us with an opportunity to let our real feelings out. We've also been using them backstage to work through some issues from our own childhoods. I think we're beginning to see a real breakthrough there. Only the first sentence is true.

Any interesting stories from performing for children?

JL: We had one memorable bookstore signing where the parents were behaving like the neurotic yuppie dog owners from the movie "Best in Show", if you're familiar with that. They were both nervously instructing the kid at the same time, shouting over each other and trying to get the kid to pose in a particular way for a photo with us. The kid was taking it surprisingly well and calmly faced the camera between us, but you would have thought the mom and dad were trying to tame an army of squirrels.

Do you find the children that attend the shows looking for a ‘Purple Dinosaur’ or do they understand there isn’t a grownup in an animal suit?

JL: Kids seem to get the show and I think they respect the way we present ourselves. In general with kids you can set the terms and they'll adapt to whatever kind of show it is. The really great thing about a kids show is that the audience has relatively few preconceptions about how a rock show is supposed to go. It's very liberating to play music for people who aren't mentally comparing you to a long list of other bands. Adults tend to think more like rock critics and really aren't as open minded.

I was watching some of your videos for the recent LP Here Comes Science. Do you all produce and create the videos? They are well done.

JL: Thanks! After we've recorded the songs we pass them along to a team of brilliant young animators who make the videos. What's really gratifying is how they come up with all sorts of visual ideas that clarify what we're trying to put forward in the songs. In some cases they've actually done their own research and have taken the video from mildly informative all the way to college prep.

Who comes up with the information for your more educational/informative yet totally fun songs? How do you work that in to the songwriting process?

JL: We try not to play too fast and loose with the facts. Our general philosophy is that the songs should refer to the material rather than completely explain it. We are not educators! However we can point kids in the direction of the subject and try to encourage interest in it. I think that the best way to kill any curiosity about something is to force feed the whole thing into a two minute song lyric. And yet as I said before there's a surprising amount that you can get across painlessly by representing it visually. I would never have guessed that we could explain the periodic table of the elements as thoroughly as we and the animators did in the video for "Meet the Elements."

You are performing two shows on the same day in Pittsburgh. Will these be the same? How will they be different?

JL: At the beginning of the first show our performance will be full of energy and enthusiasm and our between-song raps will have the sparkle of a birthday party magician. By the end of the second show we'll be jaded, tired and cranky. Just kidding. They'll both be great.

The shows you are performing in Pittsburgh are classified as ‘family' friendly. How are these different from your normal club shows?

JL: The main difference is that we play the material from the the kid's DVDs. There's also a lot of overlap with the grown up shows. We'll play songs originally written for adults such as 'Dr. Worm' and 'Particle Man' and we often make the same oblique jokes that confuse even the people onstage. There's never anything inappropriate at our family shows but we don't talk down to kids.

Follow up with the question above; will your older audience still relate/enjoy these performances? Especially those without children?

JL: Apparently they do and will. There seems to be a fraction of the crowd that doesn't bring kids with them and they keep coming back.

Do you find the parents who bring their children to the shows have been listening to you as they themselves were growing up?

JL: That's what they tell us. My sense is that most of the kids really are fans of the band but I'm sure that there are a few who are there to humor their parents. Which is pretty close to one of the ten commandments.

You have sustained a level of success by adapting as you have gotten older. Was there any time where you thought “I need to get out of the music business.”

JL: That thought should have occurred to us many years ago. If there were ever a voice in our heads telling us to quit we have failed to heed it.


  1. Agreed...very good.

  2. Mr. Linnell always makes me laugh - taming an army of squirrels.

  3. Linnell in excellent form here! Very good indeed.

  4. Wow! Linnell was in a silly mood that day, wasn't he? I love it when Linnell's in a silly mood.

  5. This interview is a perfect example of what makes JL and TMBG so great, very workman-like attitude about their craft and what they do, without the slightest hint of delusions of grandure or Rockstar mentality. Plus smart and funny. John's interviews and songs are a lot alike.

    -Yer Pal Paul

  6. Long Time Fan - Listened to Flood Tonight after a long drought and wondered what you are up to. Thank you for the interview and staying alive. I'm a songwriter myself. I rate you at the top with the Beatles as the most diverse artists of all times. So pleasantly unpredictable. Something to strive to even though I'm past the prime. Children have an appreciation by instinct for what is universal. That's what you are.

    Way down in Texas,
    -Weldon Cabaniss

  7. I always love interviews with John Linnell! Much more interesting than those with Flans. John Linnell is such a musical genius, it's great to get to see more of a personality behind the beautiful music.

  8. Two Words: I <3 Linnell. That is all.

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