FORMED: 1983, Boston, MA
John Flansburgh(born: 5/6/60) and John Linnell(born: 6/12/59) grew up in Lincoln, MA. Linnell was actually born in New York and moved to Lincoln early in life. They met in Junior High School when they both worked on the school newspaper. Linnell was an editor of "the only high school newspaper without a sports section" and he became friends with Flansburgh through their work on the paper. They each went their separate way for a while after high school. Flansburgh went to art school in NY for a year, but eventually left to pursue music. Linnell spent some time around the Providence, RI area playing with a group called the Mundanes. The Mundanes were fairly successful locally and released a 7" album.
Eventually, however, Linnell moved to Brooklyn to pursue bigger opportunities. It was here in Brooklyn in 1981 where John and John met up again. They had been interested in making music from their childhood days in Massachusetts, and now that they were both living in NY they decided to pursue a career in music. Their first performance together was in the summer of 1982 at a Sandinista rally in Central Park where they were introduced as "El Grupo de Rock 'n' Roll." Six months later they performed their second show under the name "They Might Be Giants" at a club called Dr. B's in Soho. Linnell played a Farfisa organ and Flansburgh played electric guitar. They used a taped rhythm track as backup. Despite a heavy snowstorm, 23 of their friends showed up and the show was a big success.
They Might Be Giants then started to perform around Manhattan about once a month. They both worked jobs during the day and would rehearse at night. Living in an apartment together they began to work on recording their music. John and John both took pride in making interesting arrangments of their music using their 4-track recorder. To fill in their sound they used various different types of "rhythm sections" These included: a moog synthesizer, an abandoned drum kit, Music Minus One-type records, tape loops, and very early drum machines.
It wasn't until the mid 1980s that John and John were able to pick up a good programmable drum machine which could replace some of the other items. It was also around this time that the infamous Dial-A-Song service was started. After a burglary cleared out Flansburgh's new apartment and Linnell broke his wrist in a bike accident, They Might Be Giants was not able to perform live for several months. In the wake of these events Flansburgh set up an answering machine with stripped down versions of their songs as the outgoing message. John and John figured this was an efficient way to get people to hear their music and advertised the service in the Village Voice.
By 1985 they were performing weekly sold out shows in the East Village. They decided that this would be a good time to start selling their demo tape to their fans. This original tape contained most of the first They Might Be Giants album as well as some tracks which showed up later as bonus tracks on the "Then: The Earlier Years" Retrospective.
In 1985, a reviewer for People Magazine discovered TMBG and reviewed their tape for the magazine. This really started the ball rolling for TMBG. Soon they were in contact with Bar/None records and were able to put out a lot of their demo tape material on to their first album "They Might Be Giants". Much of the work on this album was done late at night by John and John and producer Bill Krauss at Studio PASS in New York. Many of the unique sounds on this initial release came from insomnia and curiousity about some of the studios fancy toys. Work would go on through the night while the John and John tried different sound effects and arrangements. The first album was fairly successful and spawned three videos for the songs "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head", "Don't Let's Start", and "She Was A Hotel Detective". This also marked the beginning of their nearly constant touring schedule.
They continued to play and improve as musicians leading up to the release of their second full length release "Lincoln" in 1988. Lincoln contained many news songs plus some songs leftover from their demo tape. From this album came videos for the songs "Ana Ng", "Purple Toupee", and "They'll Need A Crane". With their 6 videos and two solid albums came more TV exposure. They made their national TV debut performing "They'll Need a Crane" on the David Letterman show.
As They Might Be Giants became more popular it was clear that they were outgrowing the money and distribution that Bar/None could offer them. They were offered a contract by Elektra Records and released their third album "Flood" on this label in 1990. Flood again offered alternative and college radio stations a new hit song, "Birdhouse in Your Soul", following in the footsteps of "Don't Let's Start" and "Ana Ng". Flood also marked the starting point for an expansion in TMBG's sound. They had guest musicians join them on several tracks to broaden their sound.
As they released their fourth album, "Apollo 18" in 1992, John and John decided to get together a full band to join them on tour. This initial full band which joined the Johns on tour in 1992 was J.D Feinberg on drums, Kurt Hoffman on saxaphone, and Tony Maimone on bass. The sound was great and their live show was better than ever. A lot of fans find the shows from this era to be most enjoyable to listen to. The Johns liked the full band sound so much that they decided to record their 5th album "John Henry" with a full band.
The band they collected to record John Henry included Brian Doherty on drums as well as Tony Maimone still on bass. On this album they also made extensive use of horns. With Jim O'Conner on trumpet and Dan Levine on trombone, TMBG's sound took on a whole new dimension. John Henry allowed John and John to produce that intricate sound they loved on their 4 track using a full band recording virtually live. Unfortunately, John Henry seemed to also mark the beginning of problems between They Might Be Giants and Elektra records. John Henry only had one video produced for it, for the song "Snail Shell". This was their first album with only one video. The Johns continued to tour and write new material and continued the pattern of releasing an album every two years with the release of Factory Showroom in 1996.
Factory Showroom represented a bit more of a departure for They Might Be Giants. This LP only had 13 tracks, 5-7 less songs than their other albums. Elektra, possibly concerned with sales numbers, also did not release any videos for this album. The reduction of support didn't hold back John and John, though. They continued to tour constantly and in 1997 released a two disc retrospective of their early material on Restless Records. This release entitled "Then: The Early Years" included all of the first two albums and the B-sides/remix album (Miscellaneous T - 1991), as well as bonus tracks from their earliest Dial-A-Song recordings. As a way of promoting this album TMBG did a couple "Then" shows. They came out on stage and did a set of songs as just the two of them with a tape backup, just like they used to. Then they came out with the full band and put on the rest of the show. The Johns' live show was as good as ever and soon all their fans would get to experience it...
In 1998, after an apparent breakup with Elektra in 1997, They Might Be Giants released their first ever live album on Restless Records entitled "Severe Tire Damage". This release included many of their greatest hits as well as 3 new studio recordings. In addition, as this is being written, TMBG is working on a video for the song "Dr. Worm", a video compilation, and a new studio recording for 1999