When They Might Be Giants released its first album in 1986, the group seemed like a novelty act. After all, pairing two nerdy guys with nasal voices and an offbeat sense of humor isn’t a traditional recipe for long-term success. Yet 25 years later, the band is still around, making music not only for its original fans, but for their children as well.
amNY spoke with co-founder John Linnell as TMBG got ready to release its 17th album, “Join Us.”
Three of your last four releases were children’s albums. Are you worried about becoming pigeonholed as a kids’ band? Our first album has a beautiful illustration by Rodney Alan Greenblat, who was influenced by the illustrator who did Curious George. In Tower Records, they immediately stuck it in the children’s section, not knowing who we were. We went another 20 years before making a children’s record. Now we have a long history of doing our own thing, so it’s not an issue.
Is your writing process different on kids’ albums? Not as different as you’d think. We take the same spirit to our children’s music that we apply to the regular material — I don’t like to call it “adult material,” because that sounds like porn.
You’re known as a fun, jokey band. Does it bother you that people miss the darkness in what you do? I don’t think even we know exactly what we’re doing. We just gravitate toward things we like. Two of those things are dark lyrics and happy melodies.
Do you hope that your new song “Celebration” someday becomes a bar mitzvah staple like Kool & the Gang’s? That’d be great. I’ll let you in on a little band secret: When something goes catastrophically wrong onstage, we found that looking at each other reproachfully or getting upset is bad showmanship. Now when that happens, we all shout “Celebration!” That’s become the blanket onstage response to any catastrophe.