They Might Be Giants Biography
TMBG have released 15 studio albums. Flood has been certified platinum and their children's music albums Here Come the ABCs, Here Come the 123s, and Here Comes Science have all been certified gold. The band has won two Grammy Awards, one in 2002 for their song "Boss of Me", which served as the theme to Malcolm in the Middle. They won their second in 2009 for their album Here Come the 123s. The band has sold over 4 million records.
Linnell and Flansburgh first met as teenagers growing up in Lincoln, Massachusetts. They began writing songs together while attending Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School but didn't form a band at that time. The two attended separate colleges after high school (Flansburgh attended Pratt Institute), and Linnell joined The Mundanes, a New Wave group from Rhode Island. The two reunited in 1981 after moving to Brooklyn (to the same apartment building on the same day) to continue their career.
Earlier years (1982–1989)
At their first concert, They Might Be Giants performed under the name El Grupo De Rock and Roll, because the show was a Sandinista rally in Central Park, and all of the audience members spoke Spanish Soon discarding this title, the band assumed the name of a 1971 film They Might Be Giants (starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward), which is in turn taken from a Don Quixote passage about how Quixote mistook windmills for evil giants. According to Dave Wilson, in his book Rock Formations, the name They Might Be Giants had been used and subsequently discarded by a friend of the band who had a ventriloquism act. The name was then adopted by the band, who had been searching for a suitable name.
A common misconception is that the name of the band is a reference to themselves and an allusion to future success. In an interview John Flansburgh said that the words "they might be giants" are just a very outward-looking forward thing which they liked. He clarified this in the documentary movie Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) by explaining that the name refers to the outside world of possibilities that they saw as a fledgling band. In an earlier radio interview, John Linnell described the phrase as "something very paranoid sounding".
The duo began performing their own music in and around New York City — Flansburgh on guitar, Linnell on accordion and saxophone, and accompanied by a drum machine or prerecorded backing track on audio cassette. Their atypical instrumentation, along with their songs which featured unusual subject matter and clever wordplay, soon attracted a strong local following. Their performances also featured absurdly comical stage props such as oversized fezzes and large cardboard cutout heads of newspaper editor William Allen White. Many of these props would later turn up in their first music videos. From 1984-1987, They Might Be Giants were the house-band at Darinka, a Lower East Side performance club. One weekend a month they played on the stage there and by the end of their three year stint sold-out every performance. On March 30, 1985, TMBG's released their 7" flexi-disc, dubbed "Wiggle Diskette" at Darinka. The disc included demos of the songs "Everything Right Is Wrong" and "You'll Miss Me".
At one point, Linnell broke his wrist in a biking accident and Flansburgh's apartment was burgled, forcing them to take a break from performing. During this hiatus, they began recording their songs onto an answering machine, and then advertising the phone number in local newspapers such as The Village Voice, using the moniker "Dial-A-Song". They also released a demo cassette, which earned them a review in People magazine. The review caught the attention of Bar/None Records, who signed They Might Be Giants to a recording deal.
Dial-A-Song consisted of an answering machine with a tape of the band playing various songs. The machine played one track at a time, ranging from demos and uncompleted work to fake advertisements the band had created.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Dial-A-Song was often difficult to access due to the popularity of the service and the dubious quality of the machines used. In reference to this, one of Dial-A-Song's many slogans over the years was the tongue-in-cheek "Always Busy, Often Broken". The number (718)-387-6962, was a local Brooklyn number and was charged accordingly, but the band advertised it with the line: "Free when you call from work".
At one point in 1988, the Dial-A-Song answering machine picked up a conversation between two people, who played the Dial-A-Song, then questioned how they made money out of it. An excerpt from the conversation has been included as a hidden track on the EP for (She Was A) Hotel Detective.
Longtime listeners to Dial-A-Song have counted at least 500 distinct songs and variations recorded by They Might Be Giants, making them one of the most prolific rock bands in history in terms of published material.
In March 2000, TMBG started dialasong.com, which was more reliable than the original, phone-based version, as it utilized a flash document to stream the songs. This was replaced in August 2006 however, with a page promoting the They Might Be Giants podcasts.
John Linnell stated in an interview in early 2008 that Dial-A-Song had died of a technical crash, and that the Internet had taken over where the machine left off. On November 15, 2008, the Dial-A-Song number was officially disconnected, though it has at times been used in a similar style by independent artists.
The duo released their self-titled debut album in 1986, which became a college radio hit. The video for "Don't Let's Start", filmed in the New York State Pavilion built for the 1964 New York World's Fair in Queens, became a hit on MTV, earning them a broader following. In 1988, they released their second album, Lincoln, named after the duo's hometown. It featured the song "Ana Ng" which reached No. 11 on the US Modern Rock chart.
Move to Elektra (1990–1992)
In 1989, They Might Be Giants signed with Elektra Records, and released their third album Flood the following year. Flood earned them a platinum album, largely thanks to the success of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" which reached number three on the US Modern Rock chart, as well as "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".
In 1990, Throttle magazine interviewed They Might Be Giants and clarified the meaning of the song "Ana Ng": John Flansburgh said, "Ng is a Vietnamese name. The song is about someone who's thinking about a person on the exact opposite side of the world. John looked at a globe and figured out that if Ana Ng is in Vietnam and the person is on the other side of the world, then it must be written by someone in Peru".
Further interest in the band was generated when two cartoon music videos were created by Warner Bros. for Tiny Toon Adventures: "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Particle Man". The videos reflected TMBG's high "kid appeal", resulting from their often absurd songs and poppy melodies.
In 1991, Bar/None Records released the B-sides compilation Miscellaneous T. The title referred to the section of the record store where TMBG releases were often found as well as to the overall eclectic nature of the tracks. Though consisting of previously released material (save for the "Purple Toupee" b-sides, which were not available publicly), it gave new fans a chance to hear the Johns' earlier non-album work without having to hunt down the individual EPs.
In early 1992, They Might Be Giants released Apollo 18. The heavy space theme coincided with TMBG being named Musical Ambassadors for International Space Year. Singles from the album included "The Statue Got Me High", "I Palindrome I" and "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)". Apollo 18 was also notable for being one of the first albums to take advantage of the CD player's shuffle feature. The song "Fingertips" actually comprised 21 separate tracks — short snippets that not only acted together to make the song, but that when played in random order would be interspersed between the album's full-length songs. Due to mastering errors, the UK and Australian versions of Apollo 18 contained "Fingertips" as one track.
Recruiting a band (1992–1998)
Following Apollo 18, Flansburgh and Linnell decided to move away from the guitar & accordion (or sax) plus backing tracks on tape nature of their live show, and recruited a supporting band that consisted of live musicians (Kurt Hoffman of The Ordinaires on reeds and keyboards, longtime Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone and drummer Jonathan Feinberg).
John Henry was released in 1994. Influenced by their more conventional lineup, this album marked a departure from their previous releases with more of a guitar-heavy sound. It was released to mixed reviews amongst fans and critics alike.
Their next album, Factory Showroom, was released in 1996 to little fanfare. The band had moved away from the feel of John Henry, and Factory Showroom includes the more diverse sounds of their earlier albums, despite the inclusion of two guitarists, the second being Eric Schermerhorn who provided several guitar solos.
They left Elektra after the duo refused to do a publicity show, amongst other exposure-related disputes.
In 1998, they released a mostly-live album Severe Tire Damage from which came the single "Doctor Worm", a studio recording. Around this same time period, Danny Weinkauf (bass) and Dan Miller (guitar) were recruited for their recording and touring band. Both had previously been members of the bands Lincoln and Candy Butchers (Previous opening acts for TMBG). Weinkauf and Miller have continued to work with the band to the present day.
Beyond Elektra (1999–2003)
For most of their career, TMBG have made innovative use of the Internet. As early as 1992, the band was sending news updates to their fans via Usenet newsgroups. In 1999, They Might Be Giants became the first major label recording artist to release an entire album exclusively in mp3 format. The album, Long Tall Weekend. is sold through Emusic.
Also in 1999, the band contributed the song "Dr. Evil" to the motion picture Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Over their career, the band has performed on numerous movie and television soundtracks, including The Oblongs, the ABC News miniseries Brave New World and Ed and His Dead Mother. They also performed the theme music "Dog on Fire", composed by Bob Mould, for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. More recently, they composed and performed the music for the TLC series Resident Life, the theme song for the Disney Channel program Higglytown Heroes, and songs about the cartoons Dexter's Laboratory and Courage the Cowardly Dog.
During this time the band also worked on a project for McSweeney's, a publishing company and literary journal. The band wrote a McSweeney's theme song and forty-four songs for an album that was meant to be listened to with the journal, with each track corresponding to a particular story or piece of artwork. Labeled They Might Be Giants vs. McSweeney's, the disk appears in issue No. 6 of Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.
Contributing the single "Boss of Me" as the theme song to the hit television series Malcolm in the Middle, as well as to the show's compilation CD, brought a new audience to the band. Not only did the band contribute the theme, songs from all of the Giants' previous albums were used on the show: for example, the infamous punching-the-kid-in-the-wheelchair scene from the first episode was done to the strains of "Pencil Rain" from Lincoln. Another song to feature in the series was "Spiraling Shape". "Boss of Me" became the band's second top-40 hit in the UK which they performed on long running UK television programme Top of the Pops, and in 2002, won the duo a Grammy Award.
On September 11, 2001, they released the album Mink Car on Restless Records. It was their first full album release of new studio material since 1996, and their first since parting ways with Elektra. Other events on that day might have had a detrimental impact on sales; this is speculation. The making of that album, including a record signing event at a Manhattan Tower Records, was included in a documentary directed by AJ Schnack titled Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns). The film was released on DVD in 2003.
In 2002 they released No!, their first album "for the entire family". Using the enhanced CD format, it included an interactive animation for most of the songs. They followed it up in 2003 with their first book, an illustrated children's book with an included EP, Bed, Bed, Bed.
Podcasting, independent releases, and children's music (2004–present)
In 2004, the band created one of the first artist-owned online music stores, at which customers could purchase and download MP3 copies of their music, both new releases and many previously released albums. By creating their own store, the band could keep money that would otherwise go to record companies. With the redesign of the band's website in 2010, the store was reincarnated.
Also in 2004, the band released their first new "adult" rock work since the release of No!, the EP Indestructible Object. This was followed by a new album, The Spine, and an associated EP, The Spine Surfs Alone. It was at this time that Dan Hickey was replaced by Marty Beller who had previously collaborated with TMBG. For the album's first single, "Experimental Film", TMBG teamed up with Homestar Runner creators Matt and Mike Chapman to create an animated music video. The band's collaboration with the Brothers Chaps also included several Puppet Jam segments with puppet Homestar, and the music for a Strong Bad email titled "Different Town". More recently they recorded a track for the 200th Strong Bad e-mail, where Linnell provided the voice of The Poopsmith.
TMBG also contributed a track to the 2004 Future Soundtrack For America compilation, a project compiled by John Flansburgh with the help of Spike Jonze and Barsuk Records. The band contributed "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", a political campaign song from the presidential election of 1840. The compilation was released by Barsuk and featured indie, alternative, and high-profile acts such as Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, and Bright Eyes. All proceeds went to progressive organizations such as Music for America and MoveOn.org.
Flansburgh and Linnell made a guest appearance in "Camp", the January 11, 2004 episode of the animated sitcom Home Movies. They voice both a pair of camp counselors and members of a strange hooded male bonding cult. On May 10, 2004, they made a guest star appearance on episode 140 of Blue's Clues called "Bluestock" alongside several other stars, such as Toni Braxton, Macy Gray, and India.Arie. They Might Be Giants were in a letter for Joe and Blue.
Following the Spine on the Hiway Tour of 2004, the band announced that they would take an extended hiatus from touring to focus on other projects, such as a musical produced by Flansburgh and written by his wife, Robin "Goldie" Goldwasser, titled People Are Wrong!.
2005 saw the release of Here Come the ABCs, TMBG's follow-up to the successful children's album No!. The Disney Sound label released the CD and DVD separately on February 15, 2005. To promote the album, Flansburgh and Linnell along with drummer Marty Beller embarked on a short tour, performing for free at many Borders Bookstore locations. In November 2005, Venue Songs was released as a two-disc CD/DVD set narrated by John Hodgman. It is a concept album based on all of the "venue songs" from their 2004 tour.
TMBG covered the Devo song "Through Being Cool" in the 2005 Disney movie, Sky High.
Since December 2005, They Might Be Giants have been making podcasts on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, basis. Each edition includes remixes of previous songs, rarities, covers, and new songs and skits recorded specifically for the podcast.
The band contributed 14 original songs for the 2006 Dunkin' Donuts ad campaign, "America Runs on Dunkin'", including "Things I Like to Do", "Pleather" and "Fritalian". In the aired advertisement, Flansburgh sings "Fritalian" along with his wife, Robin Goldwasser. In a 2008 commercial, "Moving" is played.
The band have produced and performed three original songs for Playhouse Disney series: one for Higglytown Heroes and two for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. They also recorded a cover of the Disney song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" for the movie Meet the Robinsons and wrote and performed the theme song for The Drinky Crow Show. The band was recruited to provide original songs for the Henry Selick-directed movie of Neil Gaiman's children's book Coraline, but were dropped because their music was not "creepy" enough. Only one song, titled "Other Father Song", was kept for the film with Linnell singing as the titular "Other Father".
Their 12th album, The Else, was released July 10, 2007, on Idlewild Recordings (and distributed by Zoë Records for the CD version), with an earlier digital release on May 15 at the iTunes Store. Advance copies were made available to stations by mid-June 2007. The album was produced by Pat Dillett (David Byrne) and The Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys). On February 12, 2009, They Might Be Giants performed the song "The Mesopotamians" from the album on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In the rest of 2007, They Might Be Giants wrote a commissioned piece for Brooklyn-based robotic music outfit League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots and performed for three dates at the event, and covered the Pixies "Havalina" for American Laundromat Records Dig For Fire - a tribute to PIXIES compilation.
The band's 13th album, Here Come the 123s, a DVD/CD follow-up to 2005's critically acclaimed Here Come the ABCs children's project, was released on February 5, 2008. On April 10, 2008, They Might Be Giants performed the song "Seven" from the album on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In 2009, the album won the Grammy Award for "Best Musical Album For Children" during the 51st Annual Grammy Awards.
The band's 14th album was Here Comes Science, a science-themed children's album. This album introduced listeners to natural, formal, social and applied sciences. It was released on September 1, 2009 and nominated for a Grammy Award on December 1, 2010.
On November 3, They Might Be Giants sent out a newsletter stating "The Avatars of They", a set of sock puppets the Johns manipulate for shows, will have an album in 2012, suggesting another kids album. However, a new adult album titled Join Us was released on July 19, 2011.
On October 3, 2011 Artix Entertainment announced that the band would be performing in-game for a special musical event to commemorate the 3rd birthday of their popular MMORPG AdventureQuest Worlds.They were featured in AQ World's special 3rd birthday event as John and John.
In December 2012, the band announced that their sixteenth adult studio album, Nanobots, will be released on their Idlewild Recordings label on March 5, 2013 in the US and on British indie label Lojinx in Europe.