What: They Might Be Giants
When: 9 p.m. Friday, June 7
Where: Ogden Theatre, 935 E Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-832-1874
More info: ogdentheater.net
The inescapable story every time They Might Be Giants releases a new album is the band’s longevity.
It’s hard to talk about a band that’s been around for more than 30 years without reflecting on the past, and that’s especially true when it comes to John Linnell and John Flansburgh. Their consistently strong output, a catalogue three decades deep, is their own competition.
“It’s funny we’ve reached this point where we’re not being compared so much to other bands as we are to ourselves,” Linnell said. “We have to work hard to meet the expectations that we’ve set for ourselves. This is the 16th album that we’ve made. We didn’t want it to seem like a pale reflection of other stuff that we’ve done. Obviously we want it to be something new, original.”
Nanobots, the duo’s March release, is indeed something new. It’s still the pop rock fans have come to recognize and love, but this time, they’re really pushing the lower limits of song structure and length. They’ve never been likely to carry on a song past three minutes, and that only happens a couple times on this 25-track record, while many more clock in sub-30 seconds. “Hive Mind” is only six seconds long.
These aren’t interludes, though. They’re completely self-contained, free-standing songs. “Don’t Kill Me” closes out the album with just 32 seconds of vocal melody and nothing else. The idea is a callback to They Might Be Giants’ fourth album and the track “Fingertips,” which was a series of different choruses.
“We thought it’d be nice to have a bunch on this record and have them not be connected to one another. That was just the idea. Just little palate-cleanser songs that aren’t part of this large thing,” Linnell said. “They’re kind of fun and easier to write. The challenge is knowing to quit when you’re finished. The temptation is to keep messing around and adding stuff.”
“It feels like you could add verses and add extra choruses and stuff, and you just have to pay attention, and you have to convince yourself that it’s not necessary and, really, that the ordinary reflex that you have to fill out a song is necessary. You can just tie it up with bow.”
Wrapping it up isn’t quite so simple though, even when you’ve been making records since 1982. When the challenge of crafting 25 simple and delightful nuggets of rock is complete, there’s still fretting over the arrangement on the record. None of it is getting any less stressful with time.
“I would say we probably tear our hair out as much or more now as we ever did,” Linnell said. “I personally always feel a little uptight when we’re nearing the end of the project because I don’t wanna screw it up.”
Never content to just put out a record, They Might Be Giants have (finally, you could say) created an app. It’s free, available for iPhones and Androids and operates on the same principle as Dial-a-Phone, which the band created in the early years to allow people to call a phone number to hear some free music.
“[It] was long before the internet, but the idea was that you were able to listen to music at home and not go to a record store or go to a gig. Now it’s such an ordinary idea. At the time it was such an interesting and weird thing to do,” Linnell said. “The app maybe isn’t as Earth-shattering as Dial-a-Phone was, but it continues that philosophy. You have a personal line on us.”