- I have nothing against telling the truth, it's just been a stranger for so long.
- Here's a song dedicated to the people we really work for, and that's the CIA. Lock the doors; you're all under arrest.
- Anything that makes you pay more attention than you want to is an irritant.
- This next song sort of dwells on a universal theme; it's about falling in love, falling out of love, then finding that person and killing them.
- People used to ring up and say 'Don't quit your day job' or 'sell your synth', but the joke's on them: we were fired and the synth is broken!
- There's no room for you, Ric Flair! It's me, Jesus, and Hitler. Get out!
- referring to the People Magazine 'Most Influential People of this Century' poll
- This next song was written by my grandmother...just before a large grizzly bear tore her to pieces. It's based on a true story, written by the grizzly bear himself. In fact, it was when the grizzly bear found out that my grandmother was writing a song based on his story that he tore her to bits. If you're wondering why I'm stalling, it's because my guitar is totally out of tune.
- We're basically the thinking man's drinking band.
- Oh, we're a freak magnet!
- discussing the TMBG fan base
- I was working in a parking lot, which is a great place to learn the guitar. I sat in the booth and practiced all day long. And only two cars were stolen while I worked there.
- If I were worried about having hit singles, I probably would have killed myself a long time ago. Speaking as somebody who's never had a hit single...
- Interviewer (referring to Factory Showroom): There's something I find vaguely disturbing about some of the songs on this record.
Flansburgh: The songs we recorded in the nude, you mean? You figured that out?
- In an interview John said, 'At a certain point you just get tired of the way the other person breathes,' and I took that pretty hard because I, personally, am infatuated with the way John breathes.
- This is a song about being in a nightclub with a band playing really, really loud and trying to have a conversation while the band is playing. People ask us where we get our ideas for our songs.. we have no explanation.
- We'd like to apologize to anyone who is on hallucinogenic drugs for that last song.
- I see us going in the direction of a rock band playing in stinky clubs for the rest of our lives.
- John, I just had two of the biggest cups of coffee in my life, and my mind is RACING like a GERBIL!
- We like playing fun rock music, for the love of it. We only pretend to have a plan for world domination.
- World's going to hell anyway, have a good time.
- For us, almost anything that's funny has a dark side to it. When I think of anything that's ever made me laugh, it's when you're grappling with something really grim.
- I think of myself as a snob. I think mass culture is stupid. I think most of what's going on in the world culturally is kind of jive and sexist and repellant. If that makes me a nerd, I guess I am one.
- I think we're basically a band for people who aren't worrying about whether they're cool or not. Which is not to say we're trying to be uncool.
- We're not as emotionally arrested as we appear on the surface.
- 'Awesome'? We like to think of it as 'gnarly.'
- I'm really uptight and kinda bitchy.
- We're not into jabberwocky. I feel like we could write a song with the title 'I Wanna F*ck You' and people would still say, 'I don't understand... explain to me what that song means.' For whatever reason, the reputation that the band has, people just assume that we're somehow cryptic. But I think a lot of what we do makes quite a bit of sense at face value. We are trying to communicate.
- [US foreign Policy] makes about as much sense as sticking your head in a hornet's nest.
- [Brooklyn's] not the kind of place where you knock on a stranger's door – 'Hi, I know you, you're the crazy guy that lives on the fourth floor...gimme some candy. What's that you're barbecuing in your kitchen? It's a human head!'
- The one big thing I've figured from doing kids' shows is that public school teachers are vastly underpaid. **Chicago Tribune, July 1, 2005
- Most rock shows are very schematic – they're about bigness. By comparison, our show probably seems very stripped down. We wear our street clothes on stage, and we talk to the audience. We play a few different instruments to keep things moving along, but we try to keep it simple. We'd rather people notice the words than a laser show.
- I think it's safe to say we're getting older, but we're also getting stranger. We can all be thankful for that.
- Britain is the only country where you can serve tartar sauce with cucumber and call it a sandwich.
- For all the future musicians out there: 'There is no money past the fifth fret.'
- Head mold, eh?
- Wait, I know that answer: 2 M-80s and the head blows clean off!
- I'm an art school graduate. I'm not, like, uh, some, you know, uh, _I'm not some BOOKworm, y'know_.
- same Not My Job segment, in response to the nonsensical question, "Is this intelligent just because you're smart or intelligence as irony?"
- This song goes out to American Airlines! It's called, 'You Broke My Stuff'.
- WFUV (90.7 FM in NYC) Dec 5, 2006
- When we started, we had a lot of ugly improvisational aspects to what we did, which seemed really interesting at the time, but are actually pretty unlistenable. In a performance way, well, it was sort of confusing, but in performance we would do some things that were compelling in a theatrical way, but when we tried to document them or record them, they just didn't add up to repeated listening. And that kind of changed our ... the more recordings we do, the more we realized the part where I scream for four minutes straight is really not cutting it -- it would wear us out! In some ways, shows are a much more wide-open medium.
- I think what we're doing isn't just left of center, not for everybody, it's very pushy, foreground music. It's not easy listening. It's kind of challenging in an immediate way. It's uptight in a way. It's not the kind of thing you can listen to 24 hours a day, unless you're on the way to the asylum. (Laughs.)
- It's not important what we dress like, and it's not important what our audience dresses like. It's about these songs and this little universe that we create in these songs.
- We don't really project much into what people think about us or what people know of us.We don't spend a lot of time and energy into trying to figure out how we connect with the world. We're really involved with this inward-looking, creative project and we welcome the world to check it out...We really respect individuals and individuality and we just want to be an original band. In some ways, we're more private than people realize. Our goals are personal and our interests are personal. Being a performer and being famous really doesn't motivate us. I think there's a general notion that if you're in a rock band, you're on an ego sled to the moon.
- The odd thing about the podcast is that it does sort of dismantle the notion that we're like serious recording artists because a lot of the stuff on the podcast is really kind of inexcusable and would not hold up to a rock critic's scrutiny at all. ~ The Sound of Young America, 18Jul2007
- "It's funny you ask that because I'm giving a seminar at The Learning Annex called, "Clawing Your Way to the Middle." (In response to a question about whether They had ever been asked to speak on how to make a career in music.)
- The unit of expression for us is the song, and everything we do really... revolves around what you can do with a song.
- [There] are many things - like money, for instance - that simply will not be enough to motivate us to do something we don't want to do.
- And to melt your face off one more time, here's Dan Miller on the electric guitar.
- Writing songs is kind of a low-level mental illness...Once you start on the path of writing, it never really leaves your mind.
- I'm realizing it's going to take me my whole lifetime just to become a pretend adult.
- In response to an interviewer in 2007 making a link between the snowmen on the covers of both The Else and the Don't Let's Start EP: "I never thought of that link, but we do have snowmen in our past. When you’re a band that leans so heavily on nouns, at a certain point you’re just gonna start tripping over the same nouns. I guess we could write another song about a bird now."
- From Rolling Stone, January 12, 1989: "They keep saying comedians are the rock & roll stars of the Eighties, but I think rock stars are the comedians of the Eighties."
- All rock music is fake news.
- If you ever really want to get in touch with mortality, be in a rock band for 35 years. Keeping things interesting is a big creative and physical challenge. It's taken over our lives in every way imaginable, so it's important to keep it exciting.
- I respect God, but I don't believe in him.
- If I had had the choice I might have put myself in a different race; the "most interestingly mismatched socks" poll, perhaps. Maybe then I would have beaten Hank.
- referring to the 'Most Beautiful People' poll, upon which he appeared in 1998
- This song is called Metal Detector. It's about an actual metal detector. It's not a metaphor for anything.
- That's right. I'm a cold-hearted creep.
- And I will give you the clap.
- at one of the December 2003 shows at the Old Town School of Music
- We are the shitty Beatles.
- I'm wearing my little wristband, 'What Would John Linnell Do?". For John is mischievous, and crafty.
- This is a song about a hairdo that looks like this. If hairs were fingers, then that's what this would be.
- So, we understand it's OK to curse on the Internet.... It's fucking OK.
- Interviewer: Which is better, caffeine or sex?
Linnell: Well, they're different. I don't know if you can really compare them. It's sort of apples and oranges.
- If rocking means having a tattoo on your face and being a sexist pig then we're definitely afraid to rock! But there are different shades of rock, I think.
- I think there's some sort of implication in that picture that the squid might win the fight against the whale, but I think what happens is that the whale eats the squid.
- Children do not observe any of the formal rituals of any adult audiences. They do not feel embarrassed by a complete lack of applause at the end of songs. They do not feel a need to face towards the stage. They are perfectly happy to talk throughout the quiet sections of songs and completely drown out the music. This is all just ordinary. We try to avoid doing kids' shows now, because it's kind of nerve-racking and demoralising.
- I think there are just certain words you end up using when you try to say something interesting. There are certain nouns that I think of as very ordinary – like 'car' – that seem to work well in the kind of songs that we write, so that's the reason. It's not that the subjects are particularly dear to us as they are the kind of subjects that function well in They Might Be Giants songs. We just like to talk about ordinary stuff, like, kind of...oh, what's the word? Sort of quotidian type things, the everyday things are things that you can never hear enough about in songs. And there are a lot of things that seem like ordinary, everyday things, but no one seems to sing about them, so they're appealing in that way.
- For John and I it's a very compulsive kind of...not in the strict technical sense, it's not like we have a clinical problem, but it's just that it is kind of our attitude about it. It's something we'd be doing anyway even if we weren't paid to do it. It was something we did for a long time before anybody was interested, which is not to say we don't want to earn money at it because it is a great way to make a living if you can, but that isn't why we're doing it.
- on music
- I'm actually the flamboyant member of the band, as many of you are already aware.
- We could say, like, 'Americans are stupid,' but that would be incredibly mean.
- Usually on a TMBG record, there's at least one song that invokes death. Instead of that, there's a lot of songs about going to sleep.
- on the album NO!
- Our songs remind you of songs you've never heard.
- It's funny, because we've sort of been given the choice between being considered stupid and too smart.
- There's a lot more self-hatred in the East. Which we consider 'healthy self-hatred.' And then there's this kind of sun worship thing which totally freaks us out here.
- Maybe we'll revive The Stick – it wouldn't be much work, really, we'd just have to find a stick.
- Originally, well...it seems like we've always had skulls in our work. We've probably had more visual skulls in the last two records. We've had pictures of skulls and songs about skulls, but you know this is one of these things. We put twenty songs on every record. There is a limited number of objects you can talk about.
- The thing to bear in mind is when in a song we say 'I killed my parents,' we're not actually confessing to something in the song.
- Well, this is embarrassing but I was really into Frank Zappa when I was in high school. I hate that because I really wish I could say that my favorite band was The Velvet Underground. Unfortunately I was heavily influenced by Frank Zappa.
- We just think puppets are kinda cool. We like puppets. Some of our best friends are puppets. We're puppets.
- I think the songs are what they are, and sometimes they click in people's minds, and sometimes maybe they don't, and I like the fact that people think about them and try to make sense out of them.
- It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
- after forgetting to ask whether they could have a fire spitter perform with them at a venue
- I think that we, y'know, have had this periodic problem where we try to do something that's interesting and new, and it comes off as weird, y'know, but we're really not about being weird. Once you're familiar with what we're doing it's not weird at all, y'know, it's just something interesting and new.
- [Discussing Dial-A-Song] It wasn't a get rich quick scheme - it's a get rich really really slowly scheme.
- We're like the opposite of Al Gore - the internet invented us. (from WJFF interview, 18 April 2008)
- In general I'd say that our stuff is available up front. We don't do secret messages. Some ways I don't feel personally that that's cool. I kind of like the song to tell you what it's telling you and there not to be any code in it.
- when asked about underlying messages in songs
- I haven't done push-ups in… I’ve never done push-ups.
- You’re right, I am motivated by an urgent love for pitches going up and down in bewitching patterns that seem to be telling us important things inexpressible in words. What the hell.
- We could shoot a guy on 5th Avenue, and people would buy a recording of that.
- They found the guy who killed Ralph Kramden. He was convicted of humminacide.
- I'd be a delicious steak dinner
- upon being asked if he was an animal, what would he be
- Never EVER! He goes back into his cage right after the show.
- upon being asked if Linnell ever signs autographs after shows
Random concert banter
JF: So we've been doing this thing where we write a song about every venue we play at. We were out with some friends the other night, and they're like, 'So, what? You just like write one song, and change the words around a little and stuff?' They're not our friends anymore. We actually put way too much effort into this.
(Toad's Place (New Haven, CT) 09/22/2004)
JF: Some of you are probably wondering why I've changed my shirt. You see, I got a call from my fancy New York stylist, and he said I should change it. That's why he gets $10,000 a week.
(Toad's Place (New Haven, CT) 09/22/2004)
The Audience: WE LOVE GRAHAM! WE LOVE GRAHAM! WE LOVE GRAHAM!
JF: WE love Graham! WE love Graham! WE love Graham!
JL: You can't have Graham, he's ours.
JF: So, ah, Graham, how long has this thing been going on between you and The Audience?
JF: We don't often say shit in our concerts.
JL: No, it is actually a high developed code.
JF: Yes...a code...for..Stop..Hitting..Instruments...Together.
(From 4/05 show in KY)
JL: Ladies and gentlemen, our most fearful nemesis--it's The Stick.
JF: Benevolent, but clinically insane. Omnipresent, yet alcoholic.
JF: Scream as if you're in hell! *screaming* No, that was 'scream as if you're in Houston.'
JL: I was on the subway recently, and I was reminded--you know those Dr. Z ads? There's a rainbow and there's this skin doctor--Dr. Zizmore, Jonathan Zizmore. Anyway, so he's got this big ad, and he keeps changing it, but in one of them he puts a picture of his whole family in there, and they're on like their ski vacation--you guys seen that one? I was looking at--I was staring at that one, cos I had like half an hour to look at it. And they're all really there in the picture except for one guy, whose--his shadow is like pointing a different way from everybody else's. They've obviously like photoshopped him in. He looks like the other people in the family so he's an actual member of the Zizmore family. But I think he's probably like estranged from everybody else. And the whole point of the picture is to show he's a family man, y'know, like, his kids actually like him? But there's the evidence in fact that there's some kind of problem. He wouldn't even go on the ski vacation with--I don't know.
JF: Hey, we wanna hug you too, but we just don't have time.
JL: We may not ever have time, actually. Very busy.
JF: Very busy. We're busy hugging other strangers.
JL: How's it going? And when I say 'How's it going,' I'm not just testing out the microphone. I'm also seeing if my voice works.
JL: So here's a song we do, it's a very special song.
JF: It's a special song!
JL: Special song. John Flansburgh's gonna repeat stuff I'm saying.
JF: I'm gonna repeat stuff!
JL: He's gonna paraphrase stuff I'm saying.
JF: Say what he says!
JL: Kind of stuff like what I'm saying.
JF: What he said!
JL: A little bit the same but different.
JL: Kind of the same, different words.
In late 2002, TMBG played Irving Plaza two nights in a row. The first night, the Johns had this exchange:
JF: Some of you may have already bought tickets to tomorrow night's show. Well, the joke's on you, cause tomorrow night we're playing the exact same show as we did tonight! Note for note!
JL: He's even gonna say this thing about "tomorrow night" tomorrow night. Even though there's no show after that.
JF: Yeah man! It's like a hall of mirrors! Like a Mobius strip! Ffffoo-foo-foo-foo-foo!
- At this juncture Flans started waving his hands back and forth, making a corridor around his head.
JF:It's crazy! But you know what? We like it that way, man! We're on this trip all the time! And you better be, too, or else we don't even want you here! If you're not on our bus... GET OFF OUR BUS! Foo-foo-foo-foo-foo! (More waving. The crowd goes nuts.) Hey, I'm just kidding, man.
- Then they played Twisting, and instead of doing the guitar solo, Flans gave us more hall-of-mirrors noises and spastic hand motions. And we loved him for it.
JL: (in a redneck voice) Well all right! I'm switching voices over to this voice now. Yeah yeah yea-yeaaaah! This is my real voice; this is how we're gonna talk!
JF: John, let's get back on the bus!
JL: All riiiiight! The bus! YEAH!
JF: Turn on the tv!
JL: I'm sleeping in my clothes tonight! Yeah!
JF: Yeah! Put on that Spike TV channel; I wanna see some tv on Spike TV.
JL: Wait, I got cookie crumbs all over me.
JF: They got Walker Texas Ranger on! I love that show! It's like being lobotomized!
JL: I just found the pizza I didn't finish....IN MY BED.
JF: That's just a little glimpse of our real life, people.
JL: ALL RIGHT!
JF: WE'RE LIVING IN HELL.
JF (introducing "Drink!"): This song goes out to all the alcoholics out there (Pause. Audience: "Woo!") who don't say "woo" when I say the word "alcoholic."
(20th anniversary show in Central Park, 8/15/02)
JL: Papa They Might Be Giants just called.
JF: Oh really?
JL: He sounded terrible, but I told him he sounded great.
JF: It's important to lie to your relatives. Especially during the holidays.
From the WNYC Spinning on Air on TMBG Clock Radio:
John from Spinning on Air: John Linnell and John Flansburgh are here and Danny Weinkauf is here, is that?
JF: No, no, that's actually Dan Miller, our guitar player Dan Miller, also known as Stormy Black, that's his uh...
JL: And Danny Weinkauf
DM: (in the background) I'd rather be Weinkauf.
From the 4.27.2000 Bowery Ballroom show: (they were doing the songs in alphabetical order for fun)
JF: We only actually go to "S" tonight.
Heckler: You're ruining the alphabet.
JF: We're *ruining* it! We are here to *ruin* it. It's our pleasure to *ruin* it! (Takes a sip of coffee)
Heckler: You suck!
JF: No, WE suck!
(audience breaks out laughing)
- The greatest moment of our careers was jamming was Sebastian Cabot. Nobody even knew he was in the club. Then all of a sudden, there he was laying down these awesome licks on his axe. That guy was a monster
- Flansburgh: I was a people counter, doing surveys for the railroad in Grand Central Station. I counted a couple of hundred thousand people before I got laid off.
Linnell: "My two previous jobs were bike messengering in Manhattan, and working freelance in a darkroom for audio visual companies. Both jobs were well suited for singing at the top of my lungs for eight hours a day.
- Our clothing can be divided into two categories. The first group is apparel that's creeping into the realm of architecture. The second group is the clothing at the bottom of the drawer when everything else is dirty.
- We made these hats for the video "Don't Let's Start". People like them but they do have negative side effects--they turn your forehead red, crush your brain and make you vote Republican
- We're the Hall and Oates of music
- You've got to have a dream. You've got to. Because if you don't have a dream, well, then you can't go on dreaming.
- There are stories sort of nested inside a whirling blur of songness.