John Flansburgh says They Might Be Giants “didn’t start out being particularly ambitious” with its new album, “The Else!”
But somewhere along the line, he adds, “we felt like this was a chance to do something that was of sort of notable quality.”
Credit that to the group’s decision to work with the noted production team the Dust Brothers — or, as Flansburgh puts it, “deciding we could afford to work with the Dust Brothers. That’s probably the most ambitious idea that’s crossed our minds in the past two years.”
It was, of course, a potential collision of sensibilities. The Dust Brothers, after all, established their reputation making cutting-edge albums with the Beastie Boys and Beck. And although TMBG does “love our computers,” according to Flansburgh, he and partner John Linnell — high school friends from Lincoln, Mass., who formed TMBG in 1982 — specialize in organic, and occasionally quirky, popcraft that’s yielded a couple of hits, 1990’s “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and the “Malcolm in the Middle” theme, “You’re Not the Boss of Me.”
But the pairing, which resulted in about half of “The Else!,” turned out even better than TMBG expected.
“The Dust Brothers are totally about rhythm and form and, believe it or not, are very much into pop form,” Flansburgh, 47, says. “They’re really dedicated to making it perfect. They were perfectly happy exploring every possibility just to make sure the one possibility they walked into the room with was still the best.
“For John and I, who are so used to taking shortcuts and going, ‘That’s good enough,’ it kind of reawoke the value of being super-precious with what we’re doing. It made everything better, I think.”
“The Else!” brings TMBG back to the pop world for the first time since 2004’s “The Spine.” There was a stop for children’s music in between — 2005’s “Here Come the ABCs,” while another, “Here Come the 123s” is due later this year. TMBG, who once operated a Dial-A-Song operation, now produces regular podcasts for its Web site, and it provided the theme song for the animated film “Meet the Robinsons.”
“We’re always the interesting alternative to whatever’s going on,” Flansburgh explains. “We don’t have a lifestyle attached to what we do. There isn’t a uniform you’re supposed to wear if you listen to our music. We’re not part of a subculture.
“We’re really a band that’s for the independent thinkers of America. You can like a lot of other music, as we do, and still like our music. You don’t have to get your cultural passport stamped to listen to They Might Be Giants.”
That independence has proven to have some durability, too. This year marks TMBG’s 25th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of its first album. But, Flansburgh says, “it feels like two weeks. It’s just always been exciting, and the band has been constantly evolving.
“And now it’s just really in peak form, so it feels like a particularly good time for They Might Be Giants.”
They Might Be Giants perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (July 22nd) on the DaimlerChrysler Main Stage at the 15th Annual Concert of Colors. The festival takes place Thursday (July 19th)through Sunday at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroi t. Admission is free. Call (313) 576-5111. For a full schedule, visit www.concertofcolors.com.
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