|They Might Be Giants|
John Sidney Linnell (born June 12, 1959) is one half of the alternative-rock duo They Might Be Giants. In 1982, he co-founded the band with John Flansburgh, and continues to play a primary role in the duo as a songwriter, singer, and musician. Generally, Linnell sings and plays accordion, keyboards, and saxophones for TMBG.
John Linnell was born in New York City, which is where he lived for part of his childhood, prior to his family's relocation to Lincoln, Massachusetts in the late 1960s. He attended Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, where he befriended John Flansburgh, who was a year younger, and with whom he often produced tapes of strange music with a cheap 4-track recorder, including a recording of "Don't Worry Kyoko". Both Johns worked on the staff, and later as editors, of the school newspaper, The Promethean. Around this time, Linnell played saxophone in a jazz group called The Baggs with some of his classmates. He and Flansburgh parted ways when Linnell graduated and went on to study English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, though after his freshman year, he took a year off and ended up never returning to school. Instead, Linnell found himself with bleached blond hair, playing keyboards for The Mundanes, an unsigned Rhode Island-based New Wave band. As the band grew in the early 80s, it and Linnell moved to New York City. It was at this time that he and Flansburgh began to once again record music together, under the name They Might Be Giants. Flansburgh speculates that the pressure of being in such a serious band is part of the reason Linnell enjoyed recreationally recording music with him. Before TMBG found major commercial success, Linnell continued to work a day-job as a bike messenger in New York City. The Mundanes disbanded in 1983, just as John and John began recording what would become the first TMBG demo tapes.
In 1997, John Linnell married Karen Brown, with whom he has one son, Henry Linnell, born in 1998. The next year marked the release of John Linnell's first solo album, State Songs. Of the project, he said he had always had a problem with finding titles for songs he'd written, so he decided to start naming after states, since it gave him 50 guaranteed titles, but Linnell has since announced that he has "given up" on completing the project.
Describing his role in They Might Be Giants to The Splatter Effect in 1994, Linnell said:
I have a personal, a real obsession, with melody and harmony. I can really never get enough of that kind of thing. I don't think too much about the cultural context of what we're doing. I think John [Flansburgh] is more on that end of it. He thinks more in terms of the larger picture, the larger meaning of what we're doing. I'm more into the technical end: the chords and the rhythms and the melodies.
In addition to his musical contributions, John Linnell has done some minor visually-artistic work for the band, including drawing the sketches on the labels and CD of Lincoln, and home-made Flash music videos for "Whence That Wince" and "I'm All You Can Think About".
John Linnell has had a few solo releases since the formation of They Might Be Giants, including:
- State Songs (EP) (1994) - Hello CD Of The Month Club June release
- House Of Mayors (1996) - Hello CD of the Month Club August release
- Olive, The Other Reindeer (1997) - A limited-edition flexi-disc single under the pseudonym "Johnny Hart", which accompanied the book of the same name by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold
- State Songs (1999) - First solo album
- Montana (Single) (1999)
- Roman Songs (2021)
Linnell's home studio is named Collyer Brothers Studio after the Collyer brothers, a noted pair of hoarders who collected over 140 tons of goods in their lifetimes. Linnell's solo releases were often recorded in that studio, as have been some of TMBG's material, including, most recently, portions of their sixteenth album, Nanobots.
John Linnell has contributed a significant amount of instrumental work for They Might Be Giants and in his solo work. In addition to programming sequencers, he has played the following instruments on recordings and at live shows:
- autoharp ("Pencil Rain", "Ana Ng")
- banjo (even live, exactly once)
- bass guitar (but not in "The Guitar", contrary to the video)
- diatonic and bass harmonicas (the latter heard in "Piece Of Dirt")
- celesta ("I'm Impressed")
- soprano, bass, and contra-alto clarinets
- cowbell ("Take Out The Trash")
- Dustbuster ("Iowa")
- fiddle ("Counterfeit Faker")
- acoustic and electric guitars (both 6-string) ("West Virginia", "Mr. Klaw", "The Big Big Whoredom")
- Kaoss Pad
- Marxophone ("ZYX", backwards in "Am I Awake?")
- sampler (addressed with the honorific Dr. Sample, officially named the "Roland SP-303")
- alto, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones
- circuit bent Speak and Spell ("Electronic Istanbul (Not Constantinople)")
- toy piano
Favorite Bands and Artists
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- The Banana Splits (his favorite band as a child.)
- The Beatles (his favorite band, as said on The Story Behind the Song)
- Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
- The Comedian Harmonists
- Elvis Costello and the Attractions
- Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra
- The Kinks
- Pere Ubu
- The Smiths
- The Ramones
- The Residents
- The Velvet Underground
- Vince Guaraldi
- The White Stripes
- Frank Zappa (an early musical influence)
- Although he’s known as “the John without the glasses”, he is very much farsighted, and has been wearing glasses as early as 1992.
- Curiously, many of Linnell's notable periods of his life involve him being in the hospital (Flansburgh writing him a get well card when he was a kid, having a blood infection during his brief stint in the Mundanes, his biking accident being a catalyst for Dial-a-Song.)
- Linnell has a keen interest in film photography and collects vintage cameras. You can view his photos on his Instagram at @linnell3000.
- Linnell is the number one person John Flansburgh wants to collaborate with songwriting dead or alive.
- According to Linnell in an interview with Hear at Home, his first instrument was a hand-me-down snare drum, which he used to play along with the Banana Splits theme song.