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Q & A | They Might Be Giants

Giants among men

John Linnell, right, and John Flansburgh have been together as They Might Be Giants for 25 years. “We started out playing for friends of ours” in New York, Linnell says.

Special to the Times

John Linnell, right, and John Flansburgh have been together as They Might Be Giants for 25 years. “We started out playing for friends of ours” in New York, Linnell says.

They might wear glasses. They might play an accordion. And they might be wearing the same clothes they wore to a Mac users group meeting today. But don't think They Might Be Giants might also be geeks.

"We don't feel (like geeks). I don't even know what that is exactly," co-founder John Linnell said. "I feel like culture has changed a lot since we started. It seems really mainstream now to know something about technology."

Linnell and John Flansburgh have turned their love of quirky lyrics, nerdy instruments and catchy choruses into a Grammy Award-winning career that has spanned 25 years.

Tunes like Don't Let's Start, Particle Man and Birdhouse In Your Soul have been college radio hits for years and helped Linnell and Flansburgh build a loyal base of fans that turns out each time the Giants hit the road, including a stop tonight at St. Petersburg's Jannus Landing.

Lately, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based band has turned a new generation onto its music by producing three popular children's albums (No!, Here Come the A-B-C's and Here Come the 1-2-3's). The tunes are mainstays on Radio Disney, and the band even performs the theme song for the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Linnell joined the hosts of's Stuck in the '80s podcast recently to discuss the band's unique music, their love of technology and the strange experience of picking up a Grammy.

When you first began playing, what kind of response did you get from crowds?

Originally when we started out, we were playing in the safety of the Lower East Side in New York. . . . Mostly we were performing in clubs and rooms that hosted performance art, so we were often the most normal thing that was happening. We fit right in.

In your live shows today, some of the classics really get made over. Did you feel they were too dated?

I think we just forget how they go. We try to make it interesting each time, but we're really just trying to do a good show.

Why do kids' music?

We just felt it'd be fun. It seemed like a break from stuff that was more high pressure. What we didn't expect was that the kids' record was going to be a big seller. Suddenly, it seemed like it was a career move.

Do you take the same approach in writing for kids?

We've never really known what people want, so we just do what we want. The main difference is that the kids' material doesn't have a lot of death imagery or incredibly grotesque, depressing stuff — the kind of stuff we would feel okay including in our grownup work.

You won a Grammy for the Malcolm in the Middle theme song. What was that like?

I think we felt like we were impostors. We'd always made fun of the Grammys. . . . And we pretty much stopped making fun of the Grammys after that, I'm embarrassed to say. Which was maybe the point. They give you one so you'll stop mocking them.

To hear the full interview with John

Linnell, go to Stuck in the '80s at blogs.

They Might Be Giants

They play tonight at Jannus Landing, 16 Second St. N, St. Petersburg. $21. Doors open at 7.

Five songs

to download

Here are the highest-rated TMBG songs from the This Might Be a Wiki fan site (

Birdhouse in your Soul

Their highest-charting song, it's a tune about a child's night light.

Ana Ng

Their first big hit in 1988, written after picking out a popular name from the New York phone book.

Don't Let's Start

Lyrics were chosen solely because they fit the correct number of syllables for the melody.

Doctor Worm

About a worm — not a doctor — learning to play drums. A staple for most live performances.

They'll Need a Crane

Performed on Late Night with David Letterman in 1989 during the band's TV debut.

Giants among men 03/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 8:11pm]
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