Politics, alternative rock, and Spongebob Squarepants, in a variable order; nothing touching on abnormal for the John duo (Flansburgh and Linnell) who make up the mainstay of quirk-rockers They Might Be Giants. As I chat to Flansburgh about their increasingly bizarre yet brilliant time in the music industry, it’s immediately apparent that it’s perfectly normal to be performing on a popular political show one day, and then writing themes for a talking yellow sponge the next. They Might Be Giants have been going for a mighty 35 years now, and with their upcoming I Like Fun set to be their 20th studio album, they’re sounding as fresh as ever.
“We did the Slate Political Gabfest a few months back,” Flansburgh tells me in his soothing, Massachusetts tones. “Which is a very popular political programme here. It’s a podcast where a lot of well read people get their political opinions from [laughs]. I’m sure The Guardian has an equivalent podcast which gets repeated in the mouths of people who fancy themselves intelligent. But I’ve listened to these people talk for an hour every week for the last 10 years, so sharing a stage with them was like being inside the radio.”
Such political leanings might come as a surprise to those who know TMBG best as a band who won a Grammy for their Malcolm In The Middle theme song, Boss Of Me, or their musical contributions to Playhouse Disney. But those who know their lyrics a little better, will know the two Johns are no strangers to the political arena.
TMBGs are in very good company with the Spongebob Squarepants Broadway musical; it also has songs coming from Aerosmith, David Bowie, John Legend, and The Flaming Lips.
“The thing about the Spongebob show is a very rare thing in kid’s culture,” Flansburgh says. “It was always a show that crossed into working for adults, which is something we’ve always looked to do with our kid’s music. The character that our song is about is Squidward [who you may remember as the clarinet-playing octopus]. Spongebob is very singular in a way.”
On top of all this, there’s the small matter of TMBG’s latest album, I Like Fun, which dropped in January. The first single to support the release was I Left My Body. It’s the band’s usual blend of biting humour, excellent hooks, and quirky instrumentation. Not to say it doesn’t feel like a fresh venture, however.
“The album has themes of dissapointment, and existential dread,” Flansburgh reveals. “Which will make it very much a product of its time. As we’ve evolved as a recording project and a live band, we’ve gotten more elemental in the way we arrange things. It’s made the live sound bolder.”