Words By Tysen Romeo
After a late-night viewing of the 1971 film “They Might Be Giants,” two high school friends, both named John, came up with the perfect rock band name.
They Might Be Giants is an alternative rock band formed by John Flansburgh and John Linnell in 1982.
“We were just trying to do something that sounded different,” said Linnell. “We were not maybe thinking that we’d be saddled with the name ‘They Might Be Giants’ for the next 40 years … you kind of forget about the meaning of the name over time, the same way people don’t worry too much about how dumb the name of The Beatles is.”
They might be giants, or they might be masterminds.
Over their 40-year career, TMBG have released 23 studio albums, won two Grammy Awards, were nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) for “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” and sold millions of albums.
Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard of many bands that have been able to stick together for over 40 years. They might have made a deal with the devil for success in the music industry or they might just know how to stay relevant.
Known for their unique style of alternative music, using unconventional instruments, experimental sounds, and quirky lyrics, TMBG defies a true description of what their music is like.
“Occasionally I’m on an airplane or something and someone says, ‘What do you do?’ and I have to sort of try and explain what it is,” said Linnell. “I feel like I’m sort of bullshitting in that situation. You know? I can’t really say what I think it is because I don’t think it makes sense to anybody. I generally say we do original music. Fundamentally, it’s a rock band.”
And there was no better place for their experimental sound to shine than in New York City circa 1980.
“New York had its own kind of microclimate at that time, and, in particular, what we would end up doing was playing in these little clubs that were performance spaces,” said Linnell. “It was really fun and exciting. We made a ton of friends in that world, and we felt like we were part of that community.”
Linnell and Flansburgh were credited as influential members of the founding and growth of the creative DIY music scene in Brooklyn in the mid to late 1980s.
Not only were they producing music to influence the DIY music scene, but as time went on, the duo of Johns got a backing band and began to make music outside of their super unique genre.
“We started doing a lot more different stuff. We made albums for kids, and we did a lot of commercial work, which we had never done before,” said Linnell. “The weirdest thing, we did a lot of jobs that were commercial jobs but felt strangely artistically satisfying. For example, we did a whole bunch of donut ads, and that was one of the funnest things we’ve ever done weirdly.”
The inseparable Johns also began touring and doing special venue songs where they would write a song for each venue or town they were visiting, then adding each venue song into its own album to create one big special album dedicated to the fans. Apparently, when you have the gift to write music you do it about anything and everything.
“There’s been a lot of memorable places that we return to over and over again, like there’s a theater in Philadelphia called the TLA [Theater of Living Arts] that’s great. Asheville, North Carolina has The Orange Peel. That’s a super fun gig. Then Stubbs down in Austin, Texas, has this big outdoor stage. It’s a really great place to play, and also they serve amazingly delicious barbecue there,” said Linnell.
They Might Be Giants knew their niche audiences and always visited the towns they previously toured. The pair of Johns don’t plan on stopping anytime soon either. This time around the tour bus is coming to the swamp.
It’s highly likely you’ve never seen them live before (neither have I), but if we just make it through listening to music that one of the band members can’t even describe, we can find out if they are actual giants. Or if they are at least 10 feet tall.
So until then, I’ll call them The TBD Giants, and we’ll all find out March 18 at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.