They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell on the Power of Individuality and the Band’s New “BOOK” LP | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 24th, 2024  

They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell on the Power of Individuality and the Band’s New “BOOK” LP

You Form Your Identity

Oct 25, 2021 Web Exclusive Photography by Shervin Lainez Bookmark and Share

John Linnell, co-founder for the Grammy Award-winning alternative rock group, They Might Be Giants, knows that process is as important as product, if not more so. For the band—which has released around two-dozen albums, recorded popular television show theme songs and impacted a globe of music fans, taking its time and remaining true to what makes it tick uniquely is paramount. This is especially true when it comes to They Might Be Giants’ new LP and accompanying tome, both of which are named BOOK, and both are out this Friday.

“We often do not plan things out very rigorously in the beginning,” he says. “This is how each album takes shape, we just try and write a bunch of good songs and try not to write the same song we wrote last time. We put them in a pile and figure out, ‘What’s this going to be?’ We’ll arrange the album based on what we’ve got.”

For Linnell and the band’s other co-founder, John Flansburgh, the work is intuitive—just as it was when they made waves their now-infamous “Dial-A-Song.” The same went for the new 144-page book. Flansburgh, Linnell says, wanted to create and release something that was tangible, tactile. So, the band employed both a photographer (Brian Karlsson) and someone to execute the book’s typography and design (Paul Sahre) and thus the cornucopia of images and text was made. While one may not expect a band that has been working since 1981 to release a new book almost as performance art, that’s exactly what They Might Be Giants decided to do.

“You form your identity,” Linnell says, “by intuitively coming up with something you would like. What you don’t want to wind up doing is making something that appeals to other people more than yourself. If you do something you’re not particularly committed to or interested in, if it gets successful, that would be a nightmare, right?”

Linnell and Flansburgh, who met in high school in the suburbs of Boston, bonded over being creative people even by 14- or 15-years-old. Neither was thinking necessarily about a career in the arts or music, but they just focused on doing stuff. Linnell liked cartoons. Flansburgh was into recording. In the early ’80s, the two found themselves in a poor part of Brooklyn, New York. They lived in a building where other friends lived, cheaply. It afforded them the opportunity to keep tinkering, fiddling, and making work. At the time, performance art was big in the city, and Linnell and Flansburgh worked their way in.

“A lot of people were going up and doing extremely experimental things,” Linnell says. “In little tiny rooms in the east village. We found a home in those kinds of places, for some reason.”

At the time, the two performed free form with only a tape player to back them. Doing so, they honed their sound, their vibe and chemistry. Later, the albums came. The songs rocketed up the charts. The band established itself and moved on to commercial work and kids show theme songs. They’ve been nominated for a Tony Award and sold four million records, at least. Now the men are each in their early 60s, still putting out songs and more.

“We were pushing 40 before we decided to start doing all these kinds of more commercial projects,” Linnell says. “We enjoyed doing them mostly. They weren’t as bad as we’d anticipated—we didn’t have to hang up our souls.”

The band’s new record pops, beginning with the energetic opener, “Synopsis for Latecomers,” which announces the band to those who may not be familiar. But the band does it with a smirk and anthemic power. Other standouts include the sticky “Drown the Clown,” propulsive “Super Cool,” and poppy “Brontosaurus.” Today, the duo has its eyes on the future, as much as anyone can. They’ve scheduled and postponed, scheduled and postponed shows and tours. They’re hopeful, but it can be frustrating. In the meantime, they continue to have their collective mind’s eye on creativity, on writing, on doing more.

“I’m hoping that we can come back to some semblance of normal in terms of live performance,” Linnell says. “But there’s also a general feeling that some things have maybe changed permanently in ways a band tours and performs. But as far as writing, we’re optimistic about that. We can keep doing what we’re doing.”

Linnell, who grew up loving to draw, says that, when considering the music he and Flansburgh make, he loves the surprises that can still arise in song. In some ways, the songs can be cartoonish, themselves. Set up, punch line. Squiggle here, sound effect there. It’s all about creativity, about trusting yourself and creating what you want to see in the world. Those are the things that make Linnell feel optimistic in an ever-changing world.

“I love the mystery of discovering something completely new and alien,” Linnell says. “There’s this thing when things don’t make any sense at first. Then, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this is actually a good thing.’ It looked ugly and strange at first—and this isn’t just with music, but culture in general. It gets invented over and over again and it seems preposterous and wrong at first then you come to accept the new thing.”

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