Catching Up With They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh

It's not just any band that gets to wildly switch genres as much as They Might Be Giants (going from alt-rock to children's music), and even reap Grammy nods for it and somehow widen its fan base.

And then, just when you'd gotten used to it, they switch back.

They Might Be Giants are returning to the form that put them on the map with the album Join Us, which finds proud Brooklyn-based geeks John Linnell (l.) and John Flansburgh (r.) turning out smart, ultra-catchy songs like "Can't Keep Johnny Down" and "Never Knew Love."

Four of the tracks are out this week as a special preview EP on iTunes, with the rest of the album following in the summer.

On the heels of announcing the band's free concert on the Williamsburg waterfront on Friday, July 29, Flansburgh settles in with our Q questionnaire.

Name: John Flansburgh, They Might Be Giants
Age: 50 big ones
Lives in: An apartment!
Occupation: Musician / Songwriter
Your current life in a nutshell:
We are just finishing an album, Join Us, that's coming out in July. It's our long-awaited return to adult-oriented rock music, which sounds dirtier than it is. I'm also producing a very important album for [Brooklyn singer-songwriter] Jonathan Coulton. That's been a ton of fun too.
First real job?
I worked in a kinda uncool record store. I'd left high school early (which is a generous way of putting it) and got a job at Strawberries Records in Harvard Square in the mid-'70s. While hippie culture still thrived at that point, in our store we had to wear these odd red vests that made us look, um, bad.
First record you ever bought?
The Beatles' Hard Days Night at age 5 with birthday money from my Grandma.
Where do you go to unplug?
The Catskill Mountains are a pretty awesome place to get off the grid.
What time do you wake up?
Today? 7 a.m.
Your first NYC gig: Discuss.
We played a FSLN rally outside somewhere on the Great Lawn of Central Park for what one could safely assume was an entirely Spanish-speaking audience and mostly bona fide Sandinistas. We got a positive reaction, but they were already in a very good mood.
Top three songs in your iPod rotation?
"The Hook and Sling," Eddie Bo
"It's a Shame," the Spinners (produced by Stevie Wonder)
Any of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould
What do you splurge on?
Does the co-pay on prescription drugs count as a splurge?
To when do you point your time machine?
I'm happy to jump off anywhere in the 20th century. Just mad about that century.
Best meal you’ve ever had in NYC?
A tie: Katz's and Daniel.
What’s your drink?
First childhood memory?
Playing on a sidewalk with a Japanese battery-operated robot that had an illuminated television-shaped screen of scrolling moonscapes on his stomach.
What’s your pre-show ritual?
Not much. A friend of ours said it was slightly unsettling how nonchalant we can be right before we go on in front of very large crowds -- like we didn't care enough about what we're about to do. We've done a lot of shows, and while I'd say I'm as riddled with self-doubt in general as anyone else, getting onto a stage is one of the only things I actually know how to do.
Do you Google yourself?
No need. I already know exactly how fat I am.
Complete this sentence: In a previous life, I was fully anticipating my reincarnation.
Most treasured possession?
I don't really collect things, although I have a fair number of guitar fuzz boxes. I also have a dozen very colorful bottle caps on permanent loan from Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders. He has a collection of 11,000 bottle caps. They're the only object on my desk besides the computer so I stare at them a lot.
Your favorite thing about yourself?  
Having no idea how to answer that question.  
Who are your heroes?
While there are lots of cultural and historical figures I enjoy tremendously (Thomas Jefferson, Keith Richards, Rip Torn) I am not certain placing anyone on the pedestal of "hero" suits them or me. Regular, mentally healthy people are complicated; ambitious folk at best seem equal parts inspired and problematic, and often far worse. Hero-worshiping just leads me to disappointment or to making some strained excuses.
What scares you?
Waking up to the sound of the tour bus rapidly running across rumble strips on the road. Hard not to think "What happens next?"
Fill in the blank: I’ll know I’ve really made it when I don't have to pack my own gear. (So I guess I'm saying I feel like we've made it, and I still feel grateful for that.)
Next project?
We're touring this fall through the end of next spring -- probably 60+ shows total. I hope we get to Australia and Japan again. Lots of rumble strips!
Tweet your obit (140 characters or less):
Beloved by all, Flansburgh, billionaire philanthropist died suddenly at 105. His remarkable success in later life never went 2 his head.


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