While the world was waiting for the Apple Developers Conference to unveil its updates to operating systems and additions to iProducts, They Might Be Giants was gleefully plotting a course towards furthering their love of technology by way of music. The uncharted territory they attempt to traverse rolls well past their early years of using their landline answering machine to debut new songs.
The release of their latest album, Nanobots, took TMBG back to their playful early years of quick-take songs tethered by experimental instrumentation and lightning fast wit. Often anachronistic, the short and sweet LP celebrates everything from Tesla to redundancy.
A slight detour into children’s music further influences the album with tracks like “Call You Mom” and “Nouns” just as comfortable on Nanobots as they would be as bonus tracks for Here Come the ABCs.
The Brooklyn outfit have been around almost an entire decade longer than the internet has been in existence, a fact made all the more impressive given the world wide web’s recent twentieth birthday earlier this year. Not to say that they’ve lost any steps as technology evolves. Long seen as early adopters, TMBG take an audiophile’s approach to the production of music from recording to releasing.
“We put together music with instruments and computers and make digital audio. We’re often toying around with gizmos and it really sparks our imagination to write songs,” frontman John Flansburgh tells the Appeal.
“We’re delighted by 21st century music-making devices and not necessarily afraid of technology. I feel like the future is gonna be good. Not every part of it will be good though. We’re not pre-sold on technology but we’re definitely curious.”
TMBG came on the scene when CDs weren’t even remotely popular and were seen as skewed towards a more corporate listener, yet the band embraced the format. They found an indie label willing to release their works in both CD and vinyl formats to cater to listeners of all sizes, forging a highly diverse network of fans who classify the band as everything from cerebral listening to party music.
Along with fellow frontman John Linnell, the two Johns are the driving force behind They Might Be Giants. The band is rounded out by longtime drummer Marty Beller, bassist Danny Weinkauf, and touring guitarist Dan Miller. And let’s not forget their puppet counterparts, the brash Avatars of They or “more like the Id of They,” jokes Flansburgh.
“They’re saying the things that we’re afraid to say. They even sing on stage. It’s kind of this Twilight Zone element. They’re obscene and really grumpy,” Flansburgh explains.
“I mean, they travel in a suitcase and their health was compromised in a fire last year. They’re fine and they endured. We’ve got a brand new song for them and so far it’s been a hit. When we started with them we really didn’t know what we were driving at but they’ve been a nice surprise. It’s been up to our reinterpreting.”
It was only natural that mock knitted puppets would begin showing up in various corners of the internet as fans paid homage to yet another element of TMBG. As there are minute-by-minute updates on Apple’s every move this week, so frontmen John Linnell and John Flansburgh feel a similar scrutiny from their fans. Wikis and fan-made videos threaten to overtake the very output of the band.
“People in the world who like to pay very close attention to what we’re doing give us this illusion of being a bigger deal. It’s nice to be important to strangers; it’s a really celebratory thing,” Flansburgh says.
“The fans feel almost everywhere; we really get a standing audience. They’re very active.”
TMBG are set to hit San Francisco just as Apple’s Developers Conference is wrapping up and could make for the perfect post-conference party as they take the stage this Friday at the Warfield.
“We’re hoping that some dot-com billionaire will hire us for something. We really need a top-dollar gig,” Flansburgh deadpans.
Their San Francisco performances are storied and even encapsulated in the Venue Songs ditty “San Francisco (Fillmore).” Though the celebrated Western Addition venue is a frequent tour stop, the nearby Warfield has just as interesting of a history with the band.
“Our first gig at the Warfield was during the height of the grunge movement in 1992. I felt like there was never a moment where someone wasn’t in the air in the crowd. It’s really distracting to see people be carried like that. It’s like someone waving at you: it’s hard to not follow. It’s very strange. We’d be playing a quiet song and people would be moshing.”
To that, we say: give ’em hell, Apple acolytes.
Catch They Might Be Giants this Friday, June 14 at the Warfield.