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They Might Be Giants Answers Your Questions 92

Posted by samzenpus
from the This-was-the-vehicle-these-were-the-people dept.
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 ... ?
by eldavojohn

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"
by damn_registrars

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.

Rock Band?
by Aaron_Pike

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?
by explosionhead

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?
by conspirator23

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
by WagonWheelsRX8

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?
by conspirator23

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.
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They Might Be Giants Answers Your Questions

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  • Interesting- the list of recently listened to artists could just as easily be a list of artists I recently listened to.

    Does that make me part nerd? Is that the correct label I should now apply to myself?

    • by cayenne8 (626475)

      Interesting- the list of recently listened to artists could just as easily be a list of artists I recently listened to.

      Warmed my heart to see the Stones' Exile on Main St. listed....

      That was such a landmark album, so many influences, etc. I think time has really proven that album to be a true genius record of its time.

      I hope more and more new musicians take pause and give serious listen to some of the classics of rock like this....take some ideas and move them forward.

      Now...if you'll excuse me, "I need

    • You're on Slashdot. Slashdot's tagline is "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters." I think you've already labeled yourself, simply by posting here.
    • by Larryish (1215510)

      Do they ever listen to Bad Religion?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2011 @12:48PM (#37897462)

    I keep hearing that they MIGHT be giants...why didn't someone actually ask them if they were? Were people too scared? is it being kept quiet because of the Jack and the Beanstalk lawsuit?
    Slashdotters want to know....

    • Now that they've been interviewed on Slashdot, they can finally change their name to "They Who Are Giants".

      I fully hope that a contract dispute with their label occurs that forces them to change their name to "The Artists Who Formally May Have Been Giants". At that point the most pedantic of their fans will ask if the former variableness of their Giant-status formally forbids their current Giant-status from still being variable.

    • by Dr. Jest (10116)

      I don't know about you, but I don't really want to collapse this particular waveform.

  • by edremy (36408) on Monday October 31, 2011 @12:52PM (#37897510) Journal
    was on a guitar forum when someone posted the question about bands with mediocre guitarists. One responder (not me) commented something along the lines of "John Flansburgh of TMBG qualifies... and I'd still rather listen to them than anything by Yngwie Malmsteen." I wish there were more folks like them around- quirky, bizarre, nerdy and fun: waaay too many musicians take themselves too seriously.

    My kids love the "Here Comes Science" album- we end up listening to it in the car constantly. I even use a song or too off of it in my classes.

    • by Psmylie (169236) *

      Yeah, they are a fun band to listen to, that's for sure. I saw them live just a couple nights ago (First Avenue, Minneapolis) and they were incredible. I've maybe seen technically better musicians, but these guys have a joy for playing that really comes across, and their songs are fun and interesting.

      Plus it's mildly amusing to me when a fairly mellow song like "Birdhouse in your soul" causes the audience to just go WILD.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)

      My kids love the "Here Comes Science" album- we end up listening to it in the car constantly. I even use a song or too off of it in my classes.

      Hopefully Science and not English. :)

    • by TexVex (669445)

      was on a guitar forum when someone posted the question about bands with mediocre guitarists. One responder (not me) commented something along the lines of "John Flansburgh of TMBG qualifies... and I'd still rather listen to them than anything by Yngwie Malmsteen."

      Hmm. I don't quite get that. I've always considered him to be a very underrated guitarist. He's incredibly versatile and amazingly subtle. But what he's really got is the gift of finding a great hook. There are plenty of amazingly skilled guita

  • Was it just me, or was their response basically "it isn't in my interest to say this, but copyright is obsolete in the 21st century"?

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      On second thought... it is public domain that is obsolete by their wording... And that is truly disheartening.

      • by loshwomp (468955)

        On second thought... it is public domain that is obsolete by their wording

        Given that they probably don't have the "slashdot culture" context, I think they didn't understand (nor respond to) the question that was being asked--and interesting revelation in itself.

        • by Threni (635302)

          Bands don't make a lot of monry from record sales and those that do don't make much from 14 or whatever year old ones, and everyone ignores the law anyway. So why do you think he gives a shit about it one way or the other? He answered the question perfectly.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        On second thought... it is public domain that is obsolete by their wording... And that is truly disheartening.

        Actually I think their practical take on the issue is quite heartening. I'm worried about the continued existence of the Public Domain. But on the other hand, much like the cost of airmail doesn't affect me much in terms of sending correspondence, because I use email instead, what is or isn't in the Public Domain doesn't affect me much on a daily basis because all the stuff that is still copyright protected is nevertheless a couple keystrokes away. Like just yesterday I was looking at all the different v

        • by Machtyn (759119)
          Can you find me a video of the Constantinople or Particle Man Animaniacs clip? They get continued take down notices whenever I find the clip. Either that or the audio has been purposefully muted or changed.
          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            I have trouble with flash-based video at work so I don't know if it has altered audio or anything, but a quick google for "TMBG Tiny Toons" (not animaniacs) gave me this:

            http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1dscb_they-might-be-giants-istanbul-tiny_shortfilms [dailymotion.com]

            But yeah. Obviously the copyright holders can do a lot of damage to the "virtual public domain". It's not a replacement. But as a 'what happens if the public domain as a legal concept is destroyed" it's not the worst practical result. It's not "The Righ

      • No, they just didn't put an awful lot of thought into the answer, evidenced by "effect". If any though was put into it, it was a politician's answer: noncomittal while trying to appeal to the perceived sympathies of the questioner. Kind of a let down. Ah well.

      • by m50d (797211)
        I read it as "there's already so much piracy that I really wouldn't be worried about my works becoming public domain". Which you could take either way.
      • by Jonner (189691)

        On second thought... it is public domain that is obsolete by their wording... And that is truly disheartening.

        I interpreted TMBG's response to mean that it's pointless for them to worry about their work falling into the public domain, which supports the idea that copyright is obsolete. I think they're implying that the fact that their works are under copyright has little to do with how much money they make from them.

  • I really figured it would have been passed on! To be extra verbose now that the dust has settled, I am myself in science but I wanted to try to post the question in as neutral of a tone as possible to avoid making the question itself look biased.

    Thanks guys!
    • by Hatta (162192)

      I liked their answer too. By my reading they said that the partisan tones are there and are intended.

    • by Machtyn (759119)
      I can't say I am surprised about their science answer... they write their songs with purpose and meaning. I don't necessarily disagree with them, either. But to say that religion and science are at odds is to deny that God created this world based on the science. We just keep playing catch-up in our understanding of His laws. (Obviously not all religionists or scientists agree with my viewpoint. Still there are plenty of well respected scientists who are also devout religionists. I'm just putting this
  • Am I the only person who noticed they evaded pretty much every single question? Maybe they took the Jim Morrison approach and took a truckload of LSD before responding... At least their music is better than their responses, on the other hand they'd probably make great politicians.
  • They didn't answer my question about if they realized they were even older. :(

  • Say what they mean, mean what they say.

    One thing I've always noted about TMBG is that they don't appear to ever sell out or take direction from anyone. Even when they have commercial tie-ins (malcom, mickey mouse clubhouse) it's still obviously TMBG-originated material.

    This interview was no different.

  • ...I would've asked them, "Why is triangle man such a dick?"
    • ...I would've asked them, "Why is triangle man such a dick?"

      And I would have asked, "Why did Constantinople get the works?"

  • 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.

    We keep hearing echoes of WXXP in Pittsburgh, even after all these years. That was the most daring rock playlist in the city in the late '80s, but without all the WTF-ishness of WRCT. We'll never see its like again, though, especially with Clear Channel and CBS dominating the market.

  • Why did Constantinople get the works? Why is it nobody's business but the Turks?

    New York was once New Amsterdam, why they changed it I don't know maybe they just liked it better that way?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do you suck so much? I think They Might Be a Bunch of Pig Fucking Cock Gobblers would be a better name for this trash "band."

    • by Iniamyen (2440798)
      Wow, this would almost be funny if it wasn't so angry, unnecessary, wrong, and inappropriate.
  • The Animaniacs clip with Constantinople and Particle Man always get take down notices when posted on Youtube. I can't find them. It really is a loss to entertainment's posterity - what with all these protection of creations. Let the stuff ride, if not for free, then charge us something reasonable!

    It is interesting, there may be a whole new generation that listens to TMBG and not even realize it. I instantly recognized the sound of the Johns in Coraline (Other Father Song), and they do the intro for M
    • The Animaniacs clip with Constantinople and Particle Man always get take down notices when posted on Youtube. I can't find them. It really is a loss to entertainment's posterity - what with all these protection of creations. Let the stuff ride, if not for free, then charge us something reasonable!

      It is interesting, there may be a whole new generation that listens to TMBG and not even realize it. I instantly recognized the sound of the Johns in Coraline (Other Father Song), and they do the intro for Malcolm in the Middle and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

      Well, here's Istanbul [youtube.com] (not Constantinople).

      For Particle Man, just remember, there are other video sites that are not YouTube.

      Voila! [in.com]

      And so you don't have to try to hunt them down yet again the next time these vanish from the Web, I highly recommend installing Unplug [mozilla.org], so you can download video files from YouTube and other sites and save them locally to play back in the media player of your choosing.

  • by MoNickels (1700)

    (Didn't meant to post anonymously...)

    John and John, I'm a longtime Slashdot user and cohost of A Way with Words. Come and have dinner with Martha and me when you play the Belly Up near San Diego next month.

    • Wow, I love A Way with Words! It's always weird when you find out that someone you consider famous is also wasting their life doing similar things to you like slashdot. Keep up the fantastic job with your show, it's always fascinating.

      ( P.S. I, too, would be excited if TMBG ever talked about me :) )
  • Off course there are Giants, they are very real and have killed millions of lives without even knowing they did. Oh wait this isnt a nerd article.
  • I went to see them about a decade ago in Tallahassee, FL, and OK Go [tmbw.net] was the opener (before they became big!). The thing that amazed me (more than the show itself) was that John Flansburgh came out to talk to the audience before the show started, and was courteous enough to warn a mother in front of us that the show would be loud and could hurt her child's ears. IIRC, I think he even had earplugs to give away for just that scenario. How many other bands would do that?

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