|They Might Be Giants|
John Conant Flansburgh (born May 6, 1960), commonly called Flans or Flansy, is one half of the alternative-rock duo They Might Be Giants. In 1982, he co-founded the band with John Linnell, and continues to play a primary role in the duo as a songwriter, singer, and musician. Flansburgh primarily provides lead vocals and guitar for the band in recordings and at live shows, during which he often leads the band and provides frequent banter.
John Flansburgh grew up in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where he attended Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. Some time during his high school career, Flansburgh befriended John Linnell, and together the two collaborated on strange tapes of music, which were recorded on Flansburgh's cheap 4-track recorder. One such recording is "Don't Worry Kyoko", which the Johns reportedly reimagined in "faux-Rod Serling voices". Both Johns worked as editors for the school newspaper, The Promethean. Flansburgh also worked at a record store called "Strawberries" in Harvard Square. According to Flansburgh, Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner" inspired him to become a musician. He was also heavily influenced by the punk rock scene in England and Wales, both of which he visited with a Summer abroad program in the 70s. Flans taught himself to play the guitar while working as a parking attendant in Washington, DC (only two cars were stolen the whole time he was working, but he claims someone was killed behind the garage). Initially, he only learned to play on the top three strings, because he couldn't properly wrap his hand around the neck. He was given his first guitar by a friend who was in a Beatles tribute band.
Flansburgh went on to attend George Washington University, Antioch College, and Pratt Institute, from which he earned a BFA in printmaking in 1984. He claims to have had a job counting commuters in Grand Central Station. Prior to releasing music with John Linnell as They Might Be Giants, he performed with a number of musical acts including The Blackouts, Watchface, and Frieda. Before They Might Be Giants found major commercial success, Flans was seeing success in graphic design, and worked for Condé Nast up until the recording of Flood. He compares the experience to the television show "Mad Men, but in the 80s", and says that Anna Wintour smelled like "very nice perfume". In 1996, he married Robin Goldwasser.
In addition to being TMBG's left-handed guitarist, Flansburgh is often considered the more "extroverted" and social of the two Johns. He plays a large part in organizing live shows from a musical and technical standpoint, including devising setlists, and he is more involved in the business aspect of the band. Flans is also a visual artist: he did a lot of work with his father's graphic design office while he was growing up. All of TMBG's album covers up to Apollo 18 were from physical paste ups put together by Flansburgh himself. The back and front covers of Miscellaneous T are photos of letters he constructed with papier-mâché. Flans continues to take a part in planning the design of TMBG's liner notes, media art, and covers. He says that his goal in designing art for the band is not to define the band itself, but instead create an appealing piece of artwork that preserves an element of mystery in the music for the listener to independently interpret.
Also among Flansburgh's skills are his capabilities as a music video director. Flans directed TMBG's videos for "The Guitar", "Doctor Worm", "Spoiler Alert", "Cloisonné", and "You Probably Get That A Lot". He has also directed videos for Harvey Danger, Frank Black, Soul Coughing, and Ben Folds Five. In 2019, Flansburgh revealed that he was behind the so-called Ajax Digital Design, which had been credited for a number of the videos for the 2018 edition of Dial-A-Song. On a less professional level, Flans has frequently put together iMovie slideshow videos for They Might Be Giants songs. These videos, which all feature previously released songs (with the exception of "Chicken And Ice Cream"), are released through TMBG's YouTube channel.
Flans is also involved in music production. He has produced albums for Muckafurgason and Jonathan Coulton, and he engineered Drink Me's self-titled album. He was also involved in production for Hello CD Of The Month Club releases.
Side projects and solo work
In 1993, Flansburgh and Marjorie Galen launched the Hello Recording Club, which issued monthly EPs from well-known and up-and-coming artists. With Joshua Fried, Flansburgh formed Hello The Band, which recorded a single EP, released through Hello. For this project, Flans assumed the pseudonym "Rolf Conant".
1995 saw the beginnings of Mono Puff, a musical group featuring many talents put together by Flansburgh. Mono Puff released a number of EPs on the Hello label, as well as an album, Unsupervised, on Rykodisc, and later It's Fun To Steal, produced by Flans and Pat Dillett, on Bar/None. A video was produced for "The Devil Went Down To Newport", the single from Unsupervised, and it went into occasional rotation on MTV's 120 Minutes.
Flansburgh also has a personal studio in New York. Some recent TMBG material has been recorded at The Governor's Bluff, which is named after Flansburgh's notorious white cat, the Governor.
He has acted as DJ for a number of dance parties and weddings over the years.
John Flansburgh has frequently utilized a number of instruments for They Might Be Giants. Flans has played the following instruments on studio recordings or in live performances:
- acoustic and electric guitars (both 6- and 12-string)
- bass guitar
- mandolin (“Lucky Ball & Chain”)
- melodica ("Snowball In Hell")
- metronome ("Flood Promo")
- harmonica (32 Footsteps)
- trumpet (he can even play two simultaneously, admittedly not very well; contrary to the video, not in The Guitar)
- egg shaker
- The Stick