Earlier this month you got a chance to ask They Might Be Giants about DIY albums, nerd culture, and science songs. Below you'll find their responses. Thanks to the band for taking time to answer questions. I wish them another 30 years of making music and success!From Usenet in 1992 to Dial-a-Song to ... ?
In 1992 you guys were sending out news updates to your fans via Usenet Newsgroup, what are the next big things you want to try to do with the internet to connect with your fans? Are you working on anything crazy and innovative right now that you can talk about that sort of transcends the basic music to vendor to fan experience? Almost all bands send out updates now and allow samples of songs to be heard online, where do you see these methods heading in the future?
TMBG: We were just eager lay-people interested in the emerging technology. I recently was listening to a favorite podcast of mine--a radio show called "A Way with Words" and they discussed the difference between "use" and "utilize" which evenly comes down to this--you use a screwdriver to screw in screws, and you utilize a screwdriver to pry open a door. I guess we're curious about how to utilize things.
The future--we're working on it!
Fan reaction to "here comes the science"
Some of your fans felt that the album "here comes the science" was pushing a specific agenda that was never previously a part of your music. Do you feel that the (perceived) partisan tones on that album are real or imagined, and if they are real do they reflect a change in the attitudes of TMBG as a band or the individual members thereof?
TMBG: When you are making an album about science, it is difficult to avoid the culture clash that is created by fact-based systems of thinking with people who demand their personal spiritual beliefs be recognized as fact. The popular culture also enjoys projecting the idea that science itself "never really knows" onto a host of basic topics that are actually not in scientific dispute--often hiding behind a willful and simplistic misunderstanding of the scientific theory itself--to bolster systems based on faith rather than scientific inquiry. I could go on and on, but I would point you to the work of Richard Dawkins who has a far better explanation of this.
I think I can safely say that there is a large demand for a TMBG edition of Rock Band. Is there anything preventing this from happening?
TMBG: Our general out-of-it-ness might be the real obstruction.
The Tiny Toons Influence
by Anonymous Coward
An entire generation knows who you are thanks to the episode of Tiny Toons that featured a few of your songs. I'd like to know, do you think this is something that not enough bands take advantage of to get their music out there, or did you guys capture lightning in a bottle?
TMBG: I'm sure if they were making more Tiny Toons somebody's manager would be demanding somebody be included in them. We were just in the right place in the culture at the right time.
How has recording technology changed your process?
Given that you've been creating music from Portastudio days and through the rise (and rise) of digital recording, how much of an effect has the progression of tech (especially in affordable home recording) had on the way you each go about songwriting and ultimately putting together your albums?
I'd love to know where you balance what's done in home production set-ups with bigger studios, what sort of gear you work with where, and where along the line people like Pat Dillet get involved. Are you taking half-recorded tracks in to rework? Are you fiddling with mixes and such away from the studio? And are there any production techniques from the '80s that you still rely on, or recent techniques and effects that you avoid? Thanks!
(Also, please come back to Australia some time soon, we miss you!)
TMBG: We are actually such dinosaurs we are PRE-portastudio. Micro-Moog and TEAC four-track open reel was our weapon of choice back then. Everything has changed but nothing has changed: writing a good original song is still kind of hard and having fun making sounds is still a blast. We demo stuff at home--usually apart but sometimes together--and we cook up some stuff in the studio while other stuff is going on. We try very hard not to lose the demo spark while taking it to another level putting it together with the band.
Most underrated work?
Artists don't always see eye-to-eye with their audience. I've heard anecdotes and stories from other artists where they expressed surprise that a piece that meant a tremendous amount to them was ignored by their audience, while a throwaway piece became immensely popular. Can you point to songs of albums that produced a reaction from your fans that was the opposite of what you expected?
TMBG: Hmm. Probably Factory Showroom.
Don't Let's Start was not perceived as a standout track to us or really anyone in our audience until many months after the album was out. A Pittsburgh radio station started playing it like it was a hit song, and that really turned it into something else. Now it seems like a hit song and all the hubbub around it seems quite obvious.
Hypothetical Copyright Question
I've noticed issues regarding copyright tend to have rather opinionated discussions here on Slashdot. My question is a hypothetical one. When copyright law was initially established waaaay back in 1790 it granted protection for 14 years with the option to renew for another 14 years after that time period expired. If this were the way the copyright still worked, and assuming you filed the extension, it wouldn't be long before some of your original works were in the public domain. Would it be unacceptable or would it be considered OK? How do you feel about the current law (life + 70 years)? Is this something artists typically even think of/consider/care about?
TMBG: I am not an expert on copyright and I am not sure how much the changes in copyright are going to effect us in the near term. I would like to make a living making music (which is really not getting easier for any musicians thank-you-very-much), but in the twenty first century, worrying about public domain seems kind of like worrying about the price of air mail postage.
Is nerd-rock a genre ghetto and do you live there?
Seems like music fans, music critics, and the industry itself are obsessed with categorizing artists and drawing attention to the similarities between them, real or imagined. A music service like Pandora is completely founded on this premise, and its success suggests that for better or for worse, this is the way people relate to music. Does it bug you that your music is often lumped in with artists as stylistically diverse as Weird Al, the Barenaked Ladies, and Ween, or do you find that good company?
TMBG: The world is a ghetto, my friend. Hair metal bands feel weird about being called hair metal bands. 2 Step DJs are making music that is much more than 2 Step! Nobody wants to be put in a box. My sole concern, which has largely faded, had been that labeling might help sell an act or define an audience but it short-circuits a listener's ability to experience our ideas. Saying we're geeks or nerds is such a heavy frame and projects so much intention about what were doing. We write a lot of different kinds of music--and they are not meditations on nerd culture or expressions of our personal nerdiness. At its core we are experimenting with song forms and at its best it can be kind of ambitious. On a good day there is actual, kinda singular, kinda personal artistic stuff going on--so to slap some wikipedia/rock critic label across it just seems like bullshit. RIght?
I don't know if the robots are doing a good job putting together set lists for you, but GOOD LUCK TO ALL BANDS. I barely listen to contemporary music, and what I do listen to is on the radio, and NYC contemporary radio is hip hop--which I like a lot because of the awesome sonics.
Here is an exact and unedited list of records I just played and need to put back in their sleeves--Dianh Wahington, The Byrds, Chuck Willis, Harry Nillson, the original cast recording of Company, Janis Ian's first album, Emmylou Harris, The Music Machine, Anita O'Day, Joe Tex,The Stones Exile on Main Street, Mink Deville, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, Noel Coward, The Residents, Carla Thomas, Lester Young, The Jive 5, The Songs of Pogo, The Residents, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Sly and the Family Stone, Television, The Who Sell Out, Gino Washington, Gene Krupa, Leroy Anderson.
That's what I like.