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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thirty Years of They Might Be Giants

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When Nanobots arrived on March 5, it became the 16th album the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell has released as They Might Be Giants over their 30-year partnership. Few bands survive anywhere near that long, and of those that do, many have long since run out of the inspiration (or courage) to create music that’s fresh and different. But Flansburgh says he and Linnell feel as creative as ever.

“We’re so far down our crazy road, but still these songs and these ideas just completely take over our consciousness, so it’s something we’re really dedicated to,” Flansburgh said in a recent phone interview. “People say ‘How long can you be in a band? How long can you make albums?’ And it’s like I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s a good idea for people to make five albums, let alone 16.”

That said, there have been some notable 16th albums, including The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and The Band, Innervisions by Stevie Wonder and Some Girls by The Rolling Stones. Nanobots may never achieve that sort of status, but the album makes it clear that Flansburgh and Linnell are showing no signs of slowing down.

“We’re always trying to figure out how to stretch out,” Flansburgh said. “There’s nothing more interesting to us than finding a new kind of song to work on.”

And Flansburgh said he and Linnell succeeded in discovering some new musical territory on Nanobots. Flansburgh singles out the ballad “Sometimes a Lonely Way,” a much more sober kind of song than the quirky alternative-pop band is typically known for.

“I think the combination of a really unadorned arrangement and a very direct kind of sentiment kind of added up to something that seemed much more intense than I think I was even intending,” he said of writing the song.

Another song that stands out to Flansburgh is “The Darlings Of Lumberland,” a collaboration with veteran saxophone player Stan Harrison (perhaps most famous for playing sax on the David Bowie hit, “Let’s Dance”). “I think there’s something that’s actually very breezy about the way the horn chart works on that song, even though there’s a lot of instruments,” Flansburgh said. “There might be 10 horns at a time happening on the song, but it feels very sparky. It doesn’t seem bogged down and it doesn’t seem over-orchestrated. It’s very alive.”

The album has a very different feel from most of the band’s release. It’s 25 songs, a half dozen of which are less than 30 seconds long, so the album flows from start to finish as a single piece. Sequencing the songs, Flansburgh said, was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project.

“We didn’t know how to put it together at first,” he said. “We started making the sort of micro-songs, we started constructing those songs, and they’re all really fun in and of themselves, and we didn’t know how we should string it together. We didn’t want it to seem like just ‘Fingertips Part Two,’”—a reference to “Fingertips,” a collection of 21 short songs arranged together on the 1992 album Apollo 18—“and we didn’t want it to seem like a medley. So some of them are sequenced to stand apart and some of them are chained together. And it kind of ebbs and flows. But I think the cumulative effect is pretty singular and I think the whole album stands up as an experience.”

Flansburgh, Linnell and the touring members of They Might Be Giants (guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller) have an extensive tour planned for Nanobots. Flansburgh said he’s looking forward to seeing how songs new and old take on a different life live.

“I’m sure that much like when we did the ‘Join Us’ tour, a lot of things are going to evolve really radically as the tour goes along,” he said. “It’s interesting to have been working with the same guys for so long. We can really restructure what we’re doing so quickly.”

They Might Be Giants headline Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, May 31 with openers Moon Hooch. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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