They Might Be Giants – Across The Ocean

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants return for another Australian tour! There is so much good stuff going on in the They Might Be Giants world such as the twenty fifth anniversary of the classic album Flood and the song a week project which is drawing to a close as the band arrives in Australia to start the tour. Across The Ocean got the opportunity to speak to one of the John’s, John Flansburgh, ahead of the tour starting in November.

they-might-be-giants-promo

Another Australian tour is awesome for us are you thinking the same?

It is awesome for us because when you think about touring and being able to get that far from your house is very exciting.

Do you still enjoy touring as much now as you did when you first started?

Well, we were in obscurity for a very long time until we got pushed in to the music selling machine. I think we spent about five years playing shows wherever an ambitious promoter could make it dance. We did many tours in Germany and across the United States in very small venues before we had anything we did was quote, good for our career, end quote. We’re used to playing shows just for the joy of it and that’s actually quite sustaining for us.

What is that you love about Australia and Australian fans?

Australian fans are some of the most fun people to play for just for me because the enthusiasm level is so high. Regions are different, towns are different even venues attract different crowds but I really enjoy the full on enthusiasm of crowds. People seem to have a good idea about what having a good time is.

Do you have a favourite city?

Well, you know I really just focus on the show. It sounds strange but I don’t really get to do tourism things while we’re on the road. Everything is structured around trying to get to the gig, set the gig up and do a good gig. We have blinders on, we don’t get to see too much but we get to take in the vibe that’s for sure. I’ve been to many Laundromats in Australia.

With seventeen studio albums, thirteen compilations, seven live albums and eighteen EP’s, how do you come up with a set list night , night out that keeps everyone happy?

Part of it is done for us by having songs that people would think we’re jerks if we didn’t play. We try to play those songs because we don’t want people to think that we’re holding back. At the moment we’re about forty two weeks in to a song a week project so we have this vast brand new repertoire of songs in the set that we’re ready to force upon the world.

A song a week? Seriously? Have there been a few moments where you thought you might not make the deadline?

Um, yes! Almost on a weekly basis! It’s a combination of deadlines for videos as well because we’re doing videos for these songs. It goes in cycles because we prepare a dozen songs at a time and work on them with the band. They are full blown productions, they’re not demos, they’re real songs and some of the videos are very persuasive. This week’s is Through A Forest and I think we finished the song just last week and put together a video for it in the last couple of days. It is all very homemade and it does get very last minute and feels a little treacherous but we’ve worked extra hard the last couple of months to make sure that the last couple of months of the style of song era would be super memorable. It would be really sad if we ended it with a bunch of just ok songs. There’s some really top quality stuff coming up momentarily.

Where do you go to next after a challenge like this?

This is the kind of creative challenge which is fun for us. We started working on it many months before the calendar year began and it is a thing that we’ve figured out how to do. There are not a lot of stunts that I think we could pull off successfully. What is interesting is that when people hear about things like this they think the quality will be low, in a weird way we were trying to reset people’s notion of exactly what it was going to be and I’m very proud of, not just keeping up with posting a song on time, as they are some of the best songs I have ever worked on. I like a challenge! The strange thing about it to talk about it a little deeper is that unlike making an album, every song is heard on its own basis. Every song gets its own moment in the sun because it is the official song of the week and even though that is a very small moment in the sun it’s almost the opposite of making an album track. I think it actually affects the way we approach what we are doing even if we might be working on an unusual idea for a song. The song has to stand on its own in this discrete way as it is going to be in the world as the song for this given week. It actually makes us write a stronger song and that is an interesting phenomena. It is different to making an album.

Maybe you could take some inspiration from Regurgitator’s Band In A Bubble experiment?

I’ve heard of Regurgitator! They sound like an interesting band, they were doing this festival a couple of years ago and we might of been a part of that tour. With a name like Regurgitator you need to deliver something interesting.

When the song a week project comes to a end do you think that will create a level of expectation from fans that you will keep creating a song a week?

I’m surprised by how many people thought that we’d actually keep on going. This has been such a marathon for us and I feel like we’re crossing the New York Marathon and the guy with the microphone is going “where are you going to keep on running to next?” We’re so ready for this year to be over so we can take a nap, it has been crazy.

Is that something that you find hard to do, actually stop and not do something that is creative?

Um, I’ll be very honest with you, a lot of our obligation for this song a week project will end right about when we arrive in Australia. Everything will be on the calendar and all the videos will be commissioned and all the songs will be mixed. By the time we get to Australia we’ll be in the mode of let’s just have some fun and I’m very much looking forward to that.

When you’re in that mode do you think that’s where the randomness and surprises will come out in the show?

Well, I’m not really sure what people can tell what our actual mood is. Sometimes our moods are not even synced to one and other. A lot of times we’d get up on stage and someone in the band would go that’s the toughest show of the tour and someone else would say that was the best night of my life. We’re always trying to make it work but for me, a lot of times I’m actually feeling pretty excited to be on a stage but I suffer from resting bitch face. Sometimes I’m misunderstood as not having a good time as I actually am.

Resting bitch face? Can I borrow that one?

Is that not an expression in Australia? It could catch one, it’s like a virus and I brought it to you!

In terms of music challenges where do you go to next?

We don’t have any new things, we’re not going to be collaborating with a symphony orchestra any time too soon. What we find is that writing interesting songs is a very real immediate challenge. One things that is strange is that we are much more capable of working within with the classic combo way of working, we actually play as a band much more often now as a four or five piece band, guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and vocals and don’t rely on more outside sounds. For a band like us and our art-rock background the temptation is always to bring in the weirdest sounds of all and let that drive what we’re doing and let this ever-changing or shifting spot light on whatever unusual  sonic idea we’re grabbing. Working within the way a band works is actually a very elegant solution for us. We haven’t given up on a song and very much hypnotised by the popular songs.

Is it hard to believe that it is the twenty fifth anniversary of the album Flood and knowing that this one has stood the test of time?

Yes! In short to answer your question, it is a yes! It is completely strange, but what is stranger is that it seems like it was five minutes ago that we were doing that. I still feel like that we were recovering from that tour and everything that put in motion is still very much motoring our lives forward. It has been a very manic existence and we have not really had a lot of breaks between then and now.

Rob Lyon

Rob Lyon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Lyon has been writing about all things music for well over ten years in Adelaide clocking up more live shows each year seeing the best going round.

Whether it is rummaging through vinyl at record stores such as Clarity and Title finding hidden gems to scouring the internet to find that album by the next big thing or chasing bands to get that elusive autograph and photo his passion is music all the way.
Rob Lyon

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