On They Might Be Giants’ latest kid-friendly endeavor, Here Comes Science, brainy bandmates John Flansburgh and John Linnell delve deeper into the grade-school curriculum they’ve been rocking out to since 2002. A follow-up to 2005’s Here Come the ABCs and last year’s count-tastic Here Come the 123s, Science is chockfull of upbeat, fact-packed lyrics and delightfully catchy hooks that threaten to give The Wiggles a serious run for their money. On it, Flansburgh and Linnell touch on subjects ranging from paleontology (“I Am a Paleontologist”) and going green (“Electric Car”) to biology (“Photosynthesis”) and the color spectrum (“Roy G. Biv”) without once compromising their signature sonic quirk, making for a disc that demands to be blasted-whether or not you’re driving the carpool.
As the twosome slowly approach their 30th anniversary, the Johns continue to dabble in projects too numerous to name, including a new adult record, additional theme song endeavors (they’re responsible for The Daily Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Oblongs, just to name a few), and a whole lot of live shows. I recently caught up with Linnell to discuss the new album and why kids will forever be the toughest critics.
You’ve found great success with your children’s records. Were you ever concerned that this project would alienate your fans? I think what was encouraging for us was when we made the first kids’ record, we weren’t taking the project very seriously. We were doing a lot of other stuff, including our regular records and commercial work for Malcolm in the Middle and whatnot. The kids’ record was a real low priority sideline. We had such a nice time making it because it seemed sort of inconsequential, and, as a result, it had a lighthearted quality that people really responded to. But we were really taken by surprise when that album outsold the adult record we put out that year. We didn’t have a plan to become a kids’ act; it was just an opportunity that was kind of irresistible. We were successful before we were really working at it.
Why the decision to tackle science over, say, health or history? The first two records were really obvious-numbers and the alphabet. After that, we kind of went, “Well, we’ve done the main topics that are for really young kids.” : There’s something very appealing about making up science songs for kids, though. We had a song in our repertoire that was a kids’ science song from the 1950s, and it was one of our most popular songs, so it kind of felt natural to go into science. But I think you’re right-there are other topics that are appealing. History definitely is on the list. It never occurred to me to do one about health, though.
How would you compare the creation of this album to ABCs and 123s? In some ways, I felt like we could be fairly reckless with the letters and the numbers because kids know all that stuff anyway-we’re not actually teaching them anything. Those records really were, in our minds, entertainment disguised as education. It was our way to be fun and make parents feel like it was good for their kids. [Laughs.] With the science album, we definitely were sitting up a little straighter because you’re really not allowed to get it wrong. Everything has to be fact-checked. We actually hired a consultant who works at the New York Hall of Science and he saved us from a lot of blunders. But I will say the blunders that remain are entirely our fault.
You’re playing both adult and family shows during this tour. How would you compare them? I’d say the main difference for us as artists is that the kids are a little bit of a tougher room. They don’t worry as hard about how we’re doing. Adults want you to succeed onstage. It makes them nervous when the band isn’t going over, so they’ll bump up the enthusiasm with feedback. They also observe these formal rules of a concert: They face the stage, and they applaud at the end of the song, and they don’t talk during the song because that’s what makes them comfortable. Kids don’t have these same concerns. [Laughs.] For some of them, you’re just what’s going on in the room, and they’re not all that worried about it being a successful show. They might not applaud, or they might be facing the other way, or they might be talking to their friend : or on the floor. But then there are a lot of young kids who come right up to the front and pump their fists and sing along to all the songs. : It’s kind of exciting, actually, to think that we might be introducing kids to rock music or to live concerts. There might be kids out there for whom this is their first live show, and that’s really cool. That’s an important memory.
Arts & Lectures presents They Might Be Giants at UCSB’s Campbell Hall this Sunday, November 15, at 4 p.m., preceded by face-painting, balloon animals, and snacks starting at 3 p.m. For info, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.