Skip to content
Altered State

They Might Be Genius

They Might Be Giants have released a new album and an art book, and John Flansburgh gave us an interview as fun and esoteric as they are.
Credit: Sam Graff

Some things are worth the wait. Throughout their nearly 40-years, 22 studio albums, 9 live albums, 10 compilation albums, 7 video albums and 21 EPs, They Might Be Giants’ new album and accompanying art book, both titled BOOK (out November 12are—whether we knew it or not—exactly what we’ve been waiting for.

BOOK (the book) features original photos by Brian Karlsson and is a festival of absurdist delights page by page. Peppered throughout are TMBG song lyrics through the decades, arranged and hand-typed in the curiously artistic splay they deserve. This full-color, cloth-bound hardcover book brings the coolest art show you’ve been longing for right to your home. As with everything TMBG do, it’s meticulously designed, curated, and produced—without taking itself too seriously. BOOK (the album) features 15 songs classically TMBG: Clever, melodious, and musing.

We spoke with one-half of the TMBG founding duo John Flansburgh about BOOK (the album), BOOK (the book), and how they combine to make “a fully psychedelic experience of sound and vision.”



SPIN: Why not call both the book and the album Album?
John Flansburgh: Good question. The book of BOOK is the full scope of the project which is both an art book and a musical album. So, BOOKis a very real collaboration between They Might Be Giants, the designer Paul Sahre who typed up all the lyrics by hand on an IBM Selectric typewriter from the early ‘70s, and the photographer Brian Karlsson. It’s a unified effort meant to be enjoyed as a fully psychedelic experience of sound and vision.

Should every new record be accompanied by an art book?
Absolutely, but only after the final 2,500 copies of the 15,000 we printed are sold.

In 25 words or less, why is TMBG the world’s greatest band?
I’ve heard rock critic Greil Marcus declared TMBG “the opposite of rock ‘n’ roll” which is very rock ‘n roll in a sick kinda way. (25 words counting rock ‘n roll as three words.)

The world’s obviously richer for your existence, what else would make the world richer?
That is a very kind thing to say but I think a living wage for all instead of a minimum wage for many would be a good start in making people richer in a meaningful way.

Of all the catastrophes facing the world right now, what is the one that’s hardest to take seriously?
After the last answer, I can hear some folks just tuning out! NO ONE wants to hear a guy in a band’s thoughts on this, but I’ll try to go a bit macro. I think the biggest problems on the political landscape is a tie between folks that are packaging real catastrophes as hoaxes, and others packaging hoaxes as catastrophes. I am very tired of conspiracy theories, individuals unwilling to commit themselves to do things just for the greater good, “personal research” from surfing social media, and folks disrespecting experts who actually have spent their lives getting their heads around big problems.

You’ve been around a long time—has the music industry gotten better or worse?
Well, the short answer is I think it’s simply different. It’s unquantifiable. Great for some smaller scenes, a rip-off for lots of folks in the middle, and even some at the top. But hey, as we say on the tour bus, “You wanted to be in a band!”

What was the inspiration for the album?
Our projects start as songs, which is a much more manageable thing than cooking up a concept for a whole album and working backward to an overarching idea. Our albums are just collections of new songs and it’s only after they’re assembled together that the shape or the tone of where the band is currently at is measurable.

Do you guys have a favorite lyric from one of your songs?
I can’t think of one specific lyric that stands out at this moment, although I can think of some that I regret! (We can discuss thosewhen we meet face-to-face.) I can think of some musical arrangements on BOOK that I am super-excited about like “If Day for Winnipeg” which sounds like an electronic music box powered entirely by nightmare fuel. That is previously uncharted territory for us.

In BOOK(the book) you list all the unique words in your lyrics: What are the three most unique?
Well, the words in the list are unique in the sense that they are the separate, discrete words used in the lyrics of the album. I like the parade of names more — like Godwin of Godwin’s Law and Lord Snowdon (which I actually spelled wrong in the book. Yikes. It seems the legacy of Edward Snowden looms so large as to distract even our highly detail-oriented researcher).

Aside from being the photographer featured in BOOK(the book), who is Brian Karlsson?
Brian is a Brooklynite and a Pratt graduate like myself, and our collaboration, due to the pandemic, has been entirely remote so I don’t really know him beyond his work and his work ethic which seems pretty powerful. I get the impression being a street photographer takes up a lot of hours waiting for things to happen. The designer of BOOK, Paul Sahre, discovered him via his connections in the art photography world, and we were very lucky to find someone both as talented and as new to the art scene as Brian. I am pretty certain in a few years he will be a very big deal.

I just called you guys a national treasure—reactions?
As long as we’re not buried national treasure!