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Three years after signing with EMusic, They Might Be Giants decided it was time to return to the studio. "Eventually we were in a position -- we had a bit of a profile from the Malcolm [in the Middle] thing -- where we it was a good time to put out another album and do a tour and we had this material that we liked a lot that had come out in these other forms." Yet, he adds, "we still have a huge backlog of stuff that we haven't put out on CD." At this point, Linnell breaks off into a micro-historical monologue.

"It's funny to think that there will come a time when we're sorry to see the CD become an extinct dinosaur. And for us it's funny, because when we signed with Bar None for the first record, they weren't planning on putting out a CD version. They said that CDs were not going to happen and they didn't want to waste money manufacturing CDs that they said no one would buy. That was in '85, when we struck the deal. Then three albums later, Elektra said they were not going to put out Apollo 18 on vinyl in the US because the market was completely gone. It was a crazy moment when they changed formats that quickly. The economy has slowed down and things are moving more cautiously now."

The thing about electronic music...," he continues, "Well, at one time, there was this idea that because the medium was changing, the whole infrastructure was going to be altered. I think people are now figuring out that you still need record companies. There's always going to be a need for colossal institutions to promote artists who nobody would ever hear about otherwise. You can't just put your music out there and expect word of mouth to do the rest. It does sometimes, if you're lucky. When we were starting out, we weren't aware how important promotion is, or how big a part of our own experience is."

"There's this implicit attitude with Napster supporters that artists may deserve some money -- they sort of grudgingly admit it -- but the record companies really don't deserve to get paid because they're just ripping everybody off."

[ john and john: at ease ]

So does Linnell fall into the anti-Napster camp? "I disagree with that idea. Napster was revolutionary in that it showed the more conservative institutions how to make it more appealing. They woke everyone completely the fuck up to the fact that people want to download their music. That's impressive, that this little company could jumpstart an entire new -- I want to say something more profound than this -- format."

"I like downloading music, I'm not shy about it. But I do think that there won't be artists if there aren't companies to represent them. It's naive to think that you can just have artists roaming around, managing and distributing their own work. That's too many jobs for people who have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning."

It is generally understood that pioneers of any sort are bound to stir up controversy. Just look at what happened to Napster's founders. But, for all their experimentation with style and format, TMBG still retains a good rapport with all age groups, as well as a high Mom Appeal factor.

"In some ways, I always thought the stuff my parents liked was kind of mysterious," Linnell says. "I didn't think it was automatically bad. Maybe I wasn't actively curious about it; but when I started to like stuff that my parents liked, it didn't seem like a problem. It seemed like I was broadening my horizons."

[ flood ]
[ give a listen! ] "Particle Man" MP3

"When we were little, there were things that my dad liked that were totally crazy, that were obviously not square. He had a record of Edgar Froese and it was music we'd jump around to as kids. By the time John and I started doing this, we'd gotten over the idea that you had to cautiously identify yourself as being on the right side of the fence. In our minds, we had gotten past the whole cool versus uncool thing, just from recognizing that a lot of what is thrust at you as officially cool is actually the most bogus stuff there is, and the stuff that nobody tells you about. If there were a definition of 'cool' for us, it would be something you discovered yourself."

Now that the members themselves are approaching middle age, one might think that TMBG's early fans would begin to feel a little dated. However, because TMBG has never created a media buzz, it's easy to forget exactly how long this has gone on. The difficulty in accurately dating the band stems from the fact there is no real time-specific, sensationalist reference point. As far as we know, there never were any extended boozing sprees, bimbos, mansions or fast cars.

"Is there anything even remotely scandalous that could be said about us?" Linnell asks rhetorically. "I think our personal lives have become more tedious as we've gotten older. They started out sort of neutral. But there's very little to report at the moment."

Then he leans forward with a look of confession. "I think John Flansburgh probably wouldn't mind if I told you. He's drinking a lot of Red Bull these days. It could become a problem, but he's got it under control at the moment."

On the web:
They Might Be Giants (Official Site)
Dial-a-Song (TMBG's Dial-a-Song Site)

Inside Earpollution:
They Might be Giants Interview (November 1999)
Working Undercover for the Man album review
Holidayland album review
Mink Car album review

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