We Catch Up With They Might Be Giants Before Their 2016 World Tour

Here's how they prep a setlist with tracks from 17 different studio albums.

By Darren Paltrowitz - Dec 31, 2015
Get to know the alt-rock band They Might Be Giants before their 2016 world tour in our exclusive interview with the band's frontman John Flansburgh. They Might Be Giants Here's how they prep a setlist with tracks from 17 different studio albums.

Formed over 30 years ago in Brooklyn, NY, They Might Be Giants are so much more than just a band. Over these three decades, the group, led by John Flansburgh and John Linnell, have managed to create an original, yet award-winning sound (which is a feat in itself). Together they have also taken on their fair share of interesting side ventures, like scoring advertising campaigns, writing themes for TV and film, and creating direct-to-fan projects. Since 2002, they’ve even been releasing albums through their own label, Idlewild Recordings.

2015, specifically, though, was a big year for TMBG. Two new studio albums were put out by the band, Glean (more rock-centric) and Why? (more kid-friendly). In support of this new music, the Johns—as rounded out in-concert and on-record by guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf, and drummer Marty Beller—will be embark on a world tour this January.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Flansburgh, who kindly answered questions about the past, present and future of TMBG.

When you're planning a tour, given that TMBG has released 17 studio albums beyond EPs and compilation tracks, what sort of preparation process goes into preparing a setlist?

I always look up the set from the previous time we played in that town and make a point of changing it up—which is not to say we aren’t going to play "Birdhouse In Your Soul," but we might not play other songs. And we usually are touring on a new project. Changing up the show keeps everything going in the right direction.

It's been a long time since TMBG toured as anyone's opening act for a tour. Are there any artists that you'd break that streak for?

That is an interesting question. Opening is such a tough job. We were such a take-it-or-leave-it kind of band when we started. The format alone—working as a duo with a drum machine—left some audiences completely in the cold. I remember getting pretty much blown off the stage opening for Fishbone, who were one of the most visceral, high-velocity acts I’d ever seen. We are probably a far better opener now than when we started.


We did the moe.down festival in upstate New York a few years back, which seemed like a worthy experiment. In the venn diagram of “pleasure derived from a live music experience,” jam bands and TMBG overlap a lot more than one might assume. We both kind of break down the fourth wall, have a lot of different improvisational strategies, and put on a dynamic show with big shifts in volume and tempo. At that moe.down show I felt like the crowd really got what we were doing. I’d be happy to do more shows like that. Maybe some big jam band would take us on.

TMBG has done some New York residencies over the years at venues like Le Poisson Rouge and the Music Hall of Williamsburg. What's the likelihood of another long-term run at a venue for the band in the future?

Very likely, although not in the immediate future. After 15 shows in one year, we can let New York City rest. I do wonder about doing a stand in Philly!

When you're not busy with touring and recording, how do you like to spend your free time?

Same as anybody — binging on Netflix.

Is there something that you wish more people knew about They Might Be Giants?

We want to write songs for movies.

Finally, John, any last words for the kids?

Please stop running the length of the apartment first thing in the morning! Oh, that’s for the kids that live upstairs…

1350They Might Be Giants

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Darren Paltrowitz

Darren Paltrowitz is a New York resident (and Long Island native) whose first proper concert was Billy Joel at the Nassau Coliseum. When not consulting or writing (or handling MTV, VH1 and CMT clearances at Viacom), Darren enjoys writing about himself in the third person.

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