By MIKE CHAIKEN
They Might Be Giants have been nothing but productive over their past 36 years of existence.
TMBG, who are coming to New Haven Friday night, have 20 albums to their name.
The band – probably best know for “Birdhouse in Your Soul”— just added another notch in its catalogue with a new album, “I Like Fun.”
In an email interview, John Flansburgh—who is joined in the band by John Linnell—said They Might Be Giants never expected to still be making music in 2018 when it formed three decades plus ago.
“When we started the band, I didn’t have any long-term goals much beyond being able to sing and play the guitar at the same time,” said Flansburgh. “In some essential ways, I think we were a bit skeptical about how far things could go given the kind of music we were into and what we thought we were doing—a lot of the music we loved wasn’t finding big audiences, but time made us more optimistic.”
“I think a good gauge of how unexpected our career has been for us is noting that we were both extremely psyched to play CBGBs the first time we got there and how we were equally psyched to be able to stop playing there once things got going for us,” said Flansburgh.
Most bands are lucky to have three albums before fading. Led Zeppelin had eight albums before breaking up as did The Talking Heads.
But They Might Be Giants have had 20 albums, released some children’s music, and keeps up an aggressive pace of new music with its Dial-A-Song project, in which a new song is released each week (www.dialasong.com).
The Dial-A-Song project is key to keeping music fresh for the band, said Flansburgh.
“The Dial-A-Song project works for us on a couple different levels,” said Flansburgh. “It’s an interesting writing challenge just because it requires a lot of output, but it’s also a way to keep the band and our music in front of people on social media for far longer than an album release.”
The band’s latest album release, “I Like Fun,” finds They Might Be Giants mining a variety of different styles and genres – a trademark of the group since the beginning. In a way, it’s a throwback to the experimentalism of the 1960s of groups such as The Move and 10cc, who would bounce between heavy rock, Beatlesque harmonies, reggae, and British music hall. TMBG’s approach runs counter to some bands who will find one approach, do it well, but don’t veer away from it.
“Somewhere in the ‘80s even the most ambitious bands kind of went ‘monolithic’ and moved away from the style-jumping set up of pop bands cut from a post-Beatles headset, who kind of filtered styles of music not so much as a pastiche but as a jumping off point to do things ‘their way.’ But then things went towards what you could call ‘one-vibe-only’ bands… But I do find a lot of bands, even bands I totally enjoy, kind of lacking in their musical scope. I think in that sense we hearken back to that earlier sensibility,” said Flansburgh.
“It might be worth noting we didn’t have a drummer when we started which was a unique place to begin as songwriters,” said Flansburgh. “We weren’t stuck with any rhythmic set up of even any basic instrumental line up, so things were kind of automatically wide open in terms of arranging.”
Although the album is bouncy and joyful, press materials explain the songs on “I Like Fun” draw from darker themes of “dread, death, and disappointment.”
Asked about that darker vibe that arose, Flansburgh said, “On the other end of making albums, you realize the themes of the work were there all along, but we certainly didn’t set out to make such an existential album… Maybe it’s the time we are all living through as a culture that is just getting filtered into what we’re doing that has made it seem more vivid or just dire.”
If the songs on “I Like Fun” seem joyful, blame it on the melodies.
“Melody is a strange thing because no matter what you say, if you put it to a strong melody it kind of lifts it up,” explained Flansburgh. “Marrying death-trip lyrics with melody-driven pop songs is in many ways our original recipe. For me, I feel like it’s a natural evolution for any pop songwriting. It acknowledges adult concerns but still has energy and punch. I don’t think you could turn the recipe upside down and expect the same results.”
When They Might Be Giants takes the stage in New Haven this weekend, Flansburgh said, “Our show is a true celebration of everything we can bring to the stage. There is a healthy amount of improvisation built into the show and the set list is ever evolving. And since our band seems hell-bent on blowing the roof off of every venue they enter I think it’s safe to say it will be a memorable night out for anyone who is attending.”
They Might Be Giants perform at College Street Music Hall, 238 College St., New Haven on Friday, April 13 at 9 p.m. Doors open at 8 p.m. Ticket for the 14 and up show are $25 to $35.
For tickets, go to www.collegestreetmusichall.com For more information about They Might Be Giants, go to www.TheyMightBeGiants.com