Myke Weiskopf Interviews Tom Pendergast
MYKE WEISKOPF INTERVIEWS TOM PENDERGAST
Weiskopf: One aspect of the Giants that must have been especially appealing was that they came built-in with an engineer/producer with whom they did their records. They were an autonomous organization, in a sense. Did this appeal to you as a brand-new, independent label without strong financial backing?
Pendergast: I don't think I even considered it at the time; I didn't break it down like that. They were obviously two very talented, smart, hardworking individuals who knew what they were doing. Bill Krauss was almost like a third member at the time; I didn't realize how important he was or how their whole thing worked. They were a pretty unique duo; there was nobody doing what they did at the time. As time went on, it became clear to me how important he was. It wasn't a consideration for me as to whether I'd sign them or not. I just thought they were great.
W: Did you sense that, when Bill Krauss left the Giants, there were going to be a lot of major changes in terms of their ambitions and their aspirations?
P: Not really. As important as he was, the two Johns were always the important whole. Whatever happened, happened because of those two.
W: The first album was almost identical trackwise to their demo tape. Was it their decision to re-record the songs and resequence the album?
P: As far as I was concerned, they knew best. We interfered as little as possible with them because they had such a clear picture of what they were about.
[Actually, Glenn Morrow had asked Flansburgh to "tickle up" the masters a bit; instead, the Johns re-recorded most of the album.]
W: The Giants had a very strong image on their own that seemed to perpetuate itself. Did this make your job easier in terms of marketing them to the world?
P: It helped. They were constantly evolving at that point, and in many ways they were ahead of us in terms of what they were about. We just let them do whatever they wanted to do.
W: They are almost impossible to classify, which makes it hard to sell them.
P: It worked for them in those days; it was pre-MTV. The live experience was the only experience, in those days, and nobody had ever seen anything like these two guys. They were their own lords and masters, and they did whatever they wanted to do. They were as entertaining for me as they were for everybody else at the time. Every show was different. I saw dozens of TMBG shows on occasions when they played the Village Gate every week, and they would reinvent themselves every week. They blew my mind every time; they were brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I've never seen anything like them. I haven't, to this day, seen anything like the original They Might Be Giants.
W: Who had the say about singles?
P: It was a joint decision, but I think "Don't Let's Start" was an obvious single.
W: "Puppet Head", for instance...
P: That was done before they ever even came to us; They had done that themselves in the very, very early days of video TV. A channel in this area played the video in a "Battle of the Bands"-type thing where you had to call in and vote for your favorite video. Looking at that video now, it was pretty primitive.
W: What prompted the decision to release them on the hippest of all CD formats, the three-inch?
P: Again, it was the early days of CDs. I think we were the first ones to do that on an independent label.
[Actually, Ryko's Frank Zappa "Peaches En Regalia" was the first.]
W: Their debut album was already being bootlegged in Japan before it was even released in the US. Did you know what a hot property you'd had on your hands at the time?
P: I knew the potential. One never knows, really; we were new at the time, and you trust your own judgement. It was such an odd thing: one guy playing electric guitar and the other playing an accordion.
W: Their first two records were released by different companies in the UK. Was it based on the desire to have stronger distribution for LINCOLN, or just a matter of preference?
P: It was just haphazard.
W: Was the "Puppet Head" video the first time you had seen them?
P: No, Glenn had gotten the tape from Flansburgh. I had started the label to put out the Rage To Live album, and we worked that for a number of months. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to continue with Bar/None Records at the time, and Glenn brought this tape to me. They had all these great little pop songs on there-- catchy, different little pop songs. It was odd, but there were melodies in there. I went to see them, and that was odder still: two guys with funny hats and their funny props. The first time I saw them was at CBGB's. Again, the songs were there, and I thought, "I'll give it another go."
W: Did the "Purple Toupee" promotional 8-track actually do anything to help sell LINCOLN?
P: A lot of people got a great kick out of that, yeah. I talk to people still, and they say "oh yeah, I've still got that 8-track on my desk here", using it as their paperweight or whatever.
W: How soon before they officially broke with Bar/None were you aware of their decision to switch to a bigger label?
P: I don't remember, but it was obvious that they were going to go somewhere else. Neither Glenn or I would have stood in their way; We would never stand in any artist's way. You realize at some point that you're incapable of doing justice to the act. You get the best for them, and hopefully the best for yourself as well. To this day, we continue to have a good relationship with They Might Be Giants.
W: What's your favorite song?
P: "The Day". I thought it was a beautifully written song. [idyllically] "Biplanes bombed with fluffy pillows"... That line always did something for me, you know? A gentler world... I like that one a lot, and "She's An Angel".