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In the 37 years They Might Be Giants have been touring as a band, the US alternative rock band have been over to Australia more times than vocalist and keyboardist John Linnell can remember–luckily he has a crock of gold of information and quickly draws on it.
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“There’s a wonderful website,” he begins in a slow, steady drawl, “I’m just going there now–TMBW wiki–there’s a crazy amount of detail of every show we’ve ever played! You can search by city or country. If I type in ‘Sydney’…”
Linnell is captivated by They Might Be Giants’ own wiki site, coming up with the information he needs. Starting in 1990, They Might Be Giants have performed 14 times in Sydney alone, most recently 2013 and 2015—now Linnell and long-time partner in musical crime, John Flansburgh, will return Down Under on tour this month.
The TMBW wiki is a treasure trove of information that Linnell is now scrolling through. “As we get old and start to lose our memory, it is the most valuable resource for us, especially when we’re on tour. We can not only see where we’ve played and get detailed information, it includes set lists.” Linnell continues clicking at the page in the background, explaining how he’s able to tell from the webpage what songs were played at a certain show and how They Might Be Giants can shake up a show on their return visit.
“It’s so good–it’s tmbw.net–it’s huge! It’s an exhaustive list … It’s insane.”
What’s also insane is that They Might Be Giants in their tenure have conducted so many interviews that they can’t remember exactly whom they’ve spoken with or what about–unfortunately that information isn’t concealed among the pages of their dedicated wiki. “If we’re asked a question we can’t necessarily remember the made-up answer we gave the last time it was asked,” Linnell says in a dull tone. “We might give a different made-up answer and reveal ourselves to be the liars that we are!” The game continues—They Might Be Giants have evidently had trouble keeping their stories straight over the years. “Trouble; that’s all there is!” jokes Linnell.
All jokes aside, Linnell is assuring that he has plenty of material with which he can have new discussions. “We’re trying to be interesting, to say something not boring, and not to repeat ourselves.” This is a common issue in this conversation–what do you talk to John Linnell of They Might Be Giants that he’s not talked about before? The band find the same issue among themselves, too. “John [Flansburgh] and I have a good relationship. There’s plenty of stuff we like to blab about,” says Linnell. “And we don’t spend that much time a lot of time together when we’re not touring so we catch up when we’re on the road. We’re interested in a lot of the same topics, most of which don’t have to do with music.
It still seems there’s endless possibilities in writing and recording music, it’s continually fun, continually interesting, and often frustrating. But that’s just part of the gig.
[ John Linnell ]
“I think we all, strangely at this point, get along really well and look forward to seeing each other. I mean, this sounds kind of boring but we actually have a really friendly relationship with one another, we look forward to our conversations.” Most of the interesting bands, Linnell says, tend to throw stuff across the room at each other–They Might Be Giants have never done that. Of course, it’s proven they can be an interesting band without all the drama because, here Linnell is. “I hope so,” he contemplates further, “We’re trying to keep the attention focused on the work we’re doing.
“There’s a hilarious piece in a satirical magazine called The Onion, about the episode of a show called Behind The Music, the idea is that every band has some horrifying wipe-out where they’re on drugs or … The narrative arc is they crawl back to their superstar status but only after going through this terrible period.
“The point of The Onion article was that our episode, the They Might Be Giants episode, was the most boring episode. Because we’ve just been plodding along all this time.”
Surprising there’s been no handbags at dawn when you consider They Might Be Giants have never taken a break. If you look at TMBWwiki.net, you’ll see they’ve played continuously since 1986. That ease of relationship, in being able to speak to each other about things outside of music, to share common interests, is perhaps a key to the longevity of They Might Be Giants longevity and their professional personal relationship. “We don’t have anything to compare this to,” says Linnell, “This is the only They Might Be Giants we’ve ever been–it is clearly in contrast to a lot of bands that don’t tend to last more than five years.
“One of the typical patterns that happen is enormous meteoric success, they have to follow up on it–so for a lot of bands there’s a sense of “this is what you’re supposed to be”–of course there are a million bands running around not at that level. So for us we had this medium level of success that didn’t give us a false sense of success.”
Beginning this project in their 20’s, Linnell says They Might Be Giants were more realistic about what it is they we’re doing. “That’s still where we’re at,” he says, “We didn’t think we’d be failures if we didn’t have enormous chart hits–which we haven’t really done in the US. There’s been international interest and there’s been enough going on we could make a living doing this, but we didn’t think ‘We’re not The Rolling Stone‘s so we should give up.’”
22 studio albums, 10 compilations, 10 live albums, eight EPs, seven videos and 11 singles. Doesn’t get much more realistic than that. “I’ll take your word for it,” Linnell says stoically. “At the end of it, we still like the whole process. You come up with a song, you work on it, you reject a bunch of things before you come up with something good.
“It’s still a fun process that leads into interesting directions for us. It still seems there’s endless possibilities in writing and recording music, it’s continually fun, continually interesting, and often frustrating. But that’s just part of the gig.”
Catch They Might Be Giants at the following dates:
Thursday 21 February // The Triffid // Brisbane
Friday 22 February // The Triffid // Brisbane (SOLD OUT)
Saturday 23 February // Factory Theatre // Sydney (SOLD OUT)
Sunday 24 February // Metro Theatre // Sydney
Wednesday 27 February // The Rosemount Hotel // Perth
Friday 1 March // 170 Russell // Melbourne
Saturday 2 March // Croxton Bandroom // Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
Sunday 3 March // The Palais // Adelaide