FIDELITY
Q & A
  What was the name of the first song you ever recorded?

 We're not sure, but it might be a version of Yoko Ono's song "Don't Worry Kyoko, Mummy's Only Looking For A Hand In The Snow" that we recorded on Flansburgh's reel-to-reel when we were around 15. We sang with faux Rod Serling voices.



  In "Rhythm Section Want Ad," we know who Menudo is, but who is MDC?

 MDC was the abbreviation for a west coast hardcore band called Millions of Dead Cops.



  What is your favorite hockey team?


The Bruins. Shoot score Bobby Orr!



  What does the skull mean on "Back to Skull" and "John Henry"?

 We generally prefer not to decide what things like that mean. The skull was chosen as an element on the cover art partly to offset the adorable cuteness of the kids. The effect of the whole thing seemed right, for reasons hard to put into words.



  Who were the old guys in your "They'll Need A Crane" video?

 They are professional old guys. The drummer worked for Frank Sinatra in the 50s. The bass player has retired from music and currently writes crosswords for the Daily News, and the keyboard guy is an actor.



  What did you guys do before you started your band?

 Among other things, Linnell worked for an audio visual company and Flansburgh did paste up and design work for publishing companies.



  There is a song on Dial-A-Song that isn't a song, it's some woman interviewing you, asking you questions about you two living like pigs and your music being compared with Nazi Germany in the 1940s. How did that originate?

 The recording you heard was an excerpt from a promotional tape we made in 1985 which was a fake interview interspersed with real songs by TMBG. The voice of the interviewer was our friend Jennifer Neff.



  How is life different for you now that you are internationally famous in comparison with when you weren't? How have your attitudes changed about music, fans, etc.?

Well, ah, first of all, we don't walk around feeling internationally famous. For the most part I feel like we are on the same life course we were on before we made records, though we've certainly grown up a bunch since we started the band in '83. Our values and goals for the band have always been more personal than professional for us. I don't think we've taken anything for granted in terms of what this level of public exposure would afford us.



  Who is your favorite composer of classical music?

The number one cat in my, and probably many other people's book: J. S. Bach. The more music I listen to, the more this opinion is reinforced. He rules.



  Do your parents like your music?

My dad is a pretty rabid follower of our music. He has opinions on almost every song. My mom is generally not as interested in contemporary pop music, but she likes our lyrics and has all the records.



My folks are big boosters. They wear our t-shirts at shows. I always inadvertently swear when they're at a show. I don't usually, really, Ma, you gotta believe me...



  What's Track 13 on "Miscellaneous T" all about?

This is a very frequently asked question. Back when very few people called Dial-A-Song the phone machine that played the songs took messages. I came home one day and found the message tape full, instead of the ten or twenty messages it usually had. I rewound the tape and found that most of it was taken up by a woman who had called on a conference call with her friend, listened to the song and then proceeded to have a private conversation unaware that the Dial-A-Song machine was recording them. The recording on track thirteen is just an excerpt of the first couple of minutes of their conversation. It actually got much stranger, but it was unrelated to the band, and too freaky to put on a record.



  Where did the name "Apollo 18" come from?

 Apollo 17 was the last of the moon missions, so 18 would be the next if there were one.



  What is an "argonaut" (in reference to "Birdhouse in your Soul" from "Flood")?

 "ARGONAUTS, in Greek legend a band of heroes who took part in the Argonautic expedition under the command of Jason, to fetch the golden fleece." “Encyclopedia Britannica. The story of the exploits of the crew of the fifty-oared Argo is engagingly retold in a novel by Robert Graves: Hercules, My Shipmate (check it out).



  What are your favorite foods?

 On the road we are always on the look out for Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Mexican. And barbecue when we're up for it.



  Which song of yours are the two of you most proud of?


Linnell's.



Mine. (just kidding)



  Do you get much fan mail?

 Regretfully, at this point we get too much to answer it all personally.



  Where is the picture on the "Flood" album from?

 That photograph was found by Flansburgh in the basement archives of Life magazine. It existed as only a contact print on a roll of film shot by famous photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. It was in a series of photographs of Kentucky flood victims from around 1930. Another photograph from that very same shoot has become quite well known. It is of people standing in a bread line in front of a billboard poster of a happy family in a car with the words "America: Highest Standard of Living." It is featured in the "Best of Life" and has become synonymous with the Great Depression, even though the events surrounding the photograph are unrelated to it.



  What is the backwards message on "Subliminal?"

 It is not a message, just the vocal and drum track reversed.



  Do the Giants prefer cream or sugar in their coffee, or black as it stands?


black with sugar



"light" no sugar.



  Why "TMB Productions" and not "TMBG Productions?"

 Our first enterprise was They Might Be Incorporated which seemed clever at the time. When the second business entity was started we just stuck with it.



  How do you decide in what order the songs are on your albums?

I've been the one proposing the set list for the show for a few years now, and applied some of that show-business intuition to the records. I'll run it down with Linnell, and then we defend it from everybody else. Unlike the show, which is set up around momentum, it seems like the TMBG goal in sequencing albums is to place each song in its own setting, while complementing the songs around it. Usually one offsets the rhythmic style of the previous track. Tempo, key, singer, instrumentation, and lyrical content also play a part in our decisions. We are guilty of "front-loading" our records with the poppier songs, but that doesn't dictate exactly how we put the sequence together. It's gotten harder with CDs, since you don't get that great "side two" break to start over.



  Left or right handed?


left handed.



right handed



  What type of computer do you have?

 Both of us use Macintoshes at home and on the road.



  Do you have any sheet music out? Where on this planet can I get it?

 There was sheet music printed for "Birdhouse" in the U.K. when that song charted over there. It's probably not available anywhere anymore. We've been trying to figure out a good way to put together some kind of song book, with at least the words, melody and chord symbols, and maybe some other things written out. Horn parts. The bass lines. An essay by Brian Doherty explaining his philosophy of music. Whatever. The idea would be to make the kind of book we would want to get by a band we like.



  Are you guys Republican or Democrat?

I think I'm registered Independent. I usually vote for the loser.



  What do you like on your pizza?

 We've been getting into olives lately.



  What's the origin of "Space Suit?"

That song was written to incorporate a bunch of chords I had learned under the instruction of Jack DeSalvo, a guitarist I took lessons from in the early eighties. It was originally titled "I'll Remember 3rd Street" to reflect its jazzy origins, but once the recording was made with the spacey synth part its final title seemed more appropriate.



  Where did you get the idea for "Spider" and who does the vocals?

 Spider is the product of an idle afternoon messing with the sampler. Linnell did the voices, except for "must...stop!" which Flans added along with the cocktail bongos, horns and sound effects.



  Are you afraid of spiders?

 Deliciously afraid.



  Recently, while sitting in my room listening to the ever-popular album "Flood" on my CD player and mindlessly going through the CD booklet, I noticed something on "Road Movie to Berlin," half the song is not sung. The middle of the song has words written that are not used in the song. Why?

 There were a bunch of alternate lyrics written, but it didn't seem like the song should be that long.



  Is "Why Must I Be Sad" linked to Alice Cooper in any way?

 "Why Must I Be Sad" is sung from the perspective of a kid who hears all of his unspoken sadness given voice in the music of Alice Cooper. Alice says everything the kid has been wishing he could say about his alienated, frustrated, teenage world. It's another one of our speculative, non-autobiographical songs which uses the word "I" a lot.



  Will future TMBG releases be pressed on vinyl in the U.S.?

 Our Bar/None catalog is available right here on vinyl. Elektra is evidently starting to put stuff out on vinyl again, but we don't know if that will include our recent back catalog.



  Will the rare TMBG 1985 demo tape be offered for purchase again?

 We don't want to flood the market with material, and the '85 demo overlaps the first album on many tracks. In fact, the only difference with half of them is that the mixes are less refined, so its appeal is probably limited to our more hard-core audience. Ultimately it probably will get some proper release, but right now it would seem too redundant with the first lp.



  Why were two songs titled "She Was a Hotel Detective?"

 Actually the original song has the words "She Was a" in parentheses. The second song was an attempt at a follow-up song in the tradition of "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Let's Twist Again."



  In the video "The Guitar" it shows some chord frames for the guitar. What were those chords?

They should be A, C#min7, Bmin, E which along with A, D, A, E are pretty much all the chords in that song.



  Who is "that guy"?

"That guy" probably has a family or an estate or something and we don't want to alert them to the fact that we've been using his likeness in case they'd want to sue us.



  What's going on at the end of "Hideaway Folk Family"?

John and I are just doing our fake backwards singing. (It was recorded forward)



  I've never seen you guys play live. Are there any pits or crowd surfings at your concerts? How wild do your shows get?


Regrettably, there seems to be no end to the moshing and what we refer to as "pass the dude," though we feebly try to discourage those things, particularly during our quieter numbers. No one listens. Sometimes I feel like a cranky old man yelling at the neighborhood kids going mental in his backyard.



  What are some of your favorite music groups?

I like The Beatles, Ramones, Residents, The Comedian Harmonists (from Germany), The Smiths, Band of Weeds, The Pixies, The Kinks, Constance Towers (a Japanese band), The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Prince and the Revolution, Chris Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, The Raspberries, The Harmonicats, Pere Ubu, Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, other things I can't remember...



My personal musical obsessions are pretty relentless and dull. As a child I grew up with a transistor radio tuned to Top 40 waiting for Beatles and British Invasion songs, with my folks playing Joan Baez and Cambridge folkies on the hi-fi. Currently, I have an on-going obsession with Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra, along with R&B and soul songs from the '60s and '70s (exceptionally well compiled by Rhino). I enjoyed the Green Day album, and got our drummer Brian to pull out his Weezer tape a million times on this last tour to listen to that "Buddy Holly" song for its Brian Wilson-like vibe. Recently I've been listening to this great collection of songs by Allen Toussaint (a New Orleans R&B and pop record producer/pianist who made a few very cool records over the course of the Seventies.) I really dug the last Superchunk LP and recently got the new Guided by Voices album. In the past I have been into early Mills Bros. (their pre-band, 30's era stuff) and Tennessee Ernie Ford.



  I heard somewhere that you guys used to be a Christian band. Is that true?


No. We've always been non-denominational.



  Which album did you enjoy making the most and which did you enjoy most when it was finished?

"John Henry" was really fun to make because we were in an exotic location (upstate NY during the blizzard of '94) and surrounded by lots of people we liked and admired. I think my favorite record is still "Lincoln" though as I recall recording it was pretty hellish because the air conditioning in the tiny control room was not equal to the blazing Times Square heat, and we had lots of arguments. At one point stinky white smoke started pouring out of the computer, and everyone went "AAAAGH!"



The process of making both "Apollo 18" and "John Henry" was a pleasant experience for me. We spent about ten weeks of studio time recording "Apollo 18." The actual recording sessions for "John Henry" was just a week and a half in Bearsville and a couple of weeks in New York, but we had done song writing demos, as well as band demos, and then an intense week of rehearsal upstate. Both took about three weeks to mix. The mixing sessions are tense because that is the final process, but most of those days are spent waiting for the mixing engineer to finish his job. Making records has always been really exciting for me, but the process used to make me very tense. I think I'm finally acclimating myself to the careful pace and insane expense of working in a recording studio.



  Linnell, what kind of Bari Sax do you play and how old is it? Also, what kind of mouthpiece do you use?

I recently bought a new Yamaha YBS-52 which has a very snappy tone and plays in miraculously good tune. I brought an electronic tuner to the store to check it out because I've had so much trouble with intonation in the past. My previous horn was a King Zephyr from the 30's (formerly owned by the New York public school system) which started coming apart from all the abuse it took on the road. My mouthpiece is a Berg-Lar-son which came with a very cheap Bundy bari I bought at We Buy Guitars on 48th Street in 1985.



  My question involves something I saw while coming back from Amherst on the bus. While crossing the Connecticut River, I saw this painted on a bridge: "I don't want the world, I just want your half." I wondered if the lyric from "Ana Ng" on this bridge was the inspiration for the line in the song, or merely an act performed out of love for TMBG. What's the word?

We were driving from Boulder to the airport in Denver last year when we encountered the same thing on another bridge. John and I don't condone acts of vandalism but we took it as a friendly compliment. The phrase in the song came out of a conversation we once had about money.



  I am starting a band that was heavily influenced by the music of TMBG and I am wondering if you could give me any advice on what to do to make it work and establish ourselves?

Well, once you've figured out how to successfully hide our influence, I'd recommend that you write, perform and record as much as you can. Experience is the fastest and most exciting way to develop your music. A guitar teacher of mine once told me there wasn't a gig not worth doing in New York. Looking back I feel I have strong proof to the contrary, but the spirit of his advice is valid. Don't be too calculating about having a career. If you have fun and nothing happens professionally, you probably still had more fun than the guys with the good haircuts who just got dropped from their record deal.



  I called your infamous Dial-a-Song and heard what sounded like a classroom of kids singing "Particle Man." What's the story?

A music teacher sent us that recording of his students performing the song. It's my favorite version.



  Linnell, before you began playing accordion, did you listen to any accordion players' music? If so, whose?

I was completely ignorant of the vast repertoire of accordion music when I first picked up the instrument about a year into the life of TMBG. I think I formed a few positive associations (Tex-mex, Cajun, various European varieties of music) but mainly I liked the fact that it was a keyboard instrument that didn't seem played out or ungainly. Currently I like the schooled sound of William Schimmel's playing and that of his student Anne DeMarinis (Band of Weeds).



  Is "Dinner Bell" about Pavlov's dog?

The song does indirectly refer to Pavlov's famous experiment involving a dog's reaction to the ringing of a bell after associating the sound with food.



  In what year was TMBG formed?


John and I did our first show as TMBG in January of 1983.



  What and where was your very first public appearance? Was it a success?

Under a different name John and I performed in the summer of 1983 in Central Park for a FSLN rally that a friend of ours was organizing. We figured their would be a diverse audience of lefties. We felt a bit out of place when the actual audience was primarily Spanish speaking, with many people directly from Central America. We performed "Alienation's for the Rich," "Cowtown," and "Space Suit" among other songs I can't recall. Linnell played a clarinet and his Farfisa organ (which was difficult to lug into the park without a car). The crowd was very generous with us, and made us feel appreciated. We didn't perform in public for about six months.



  Why did you change the "Nyquil Driver" to "AKA Driver" and omit the lyrics on the liner notes of "John Henry"?

It was an brief education for us in the difference between protected speech and trademark infringement. Although it was a possibility that we could have gotten away with it, or settled with the Nyquil manufacturers for a small amount of money, the path of least hassle was simply omitting the name from the package. According to our lawyer you can say pretty much anything in a song about a product, and that expression is a protected part of every American's freedom of speech. However when you title a song after a trademarked product and then start selling your recording (which is also a product) you run the risk of the trademark holder suing you for infringing on their trademark. To make matters tougher on ol' Nyquil Driver, trademark holders are compelled by the law to protect their trademark or they run the risk of their product name falling into the public domain.



  Did the 19 song bits in "Fingertips" start out as being actual songs that you guys just decided not to use in their entirety, or did you write them specifically for the purpose of the song?

They were written as fragments to be strung together. I think the order might have gotten a little switched around but essentially the whole thing was conceived as it is.



  Flansburgh, what is your favorite guitar brand?

After five years playing a Japanese Fender Telecaster which had its neck broken twice, I have switched to Gibsons. I find the Gibson Les Paul the most versatile stage instrument, and I can play them very, very hard and they stay in tune. Gibson Montana very kindly built a left handed L1 acoustic model for me for the "John Henry" recordings, and can be heard on "Self Called Nowhere" and on "Sleeping in the Flowers."



  If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be?


I'd be a delicious steak dinner.



  Where was the "Don't Let's Start" video shot?

We shot the outdoor scenes at Flushing Meadows park in Queens, NY, site of the 1964 World's Fair, which both Flansburgh and I attended as children and remember fondly. Several of the pavilions are still there, including the New York State pavilion which has an enormous map of the state (badly chipped up) covering it's floor.



  Are y'all "boyhood friends" or did it start as a music relationship?

We met in high school before either one of us thought of music as a potential career.



  Who are the children in the "John Henry" photographs?

 Half are friends' kids, and the other half are professional model kids we cast for the shoot.



  What are you saying in the background of "I Palindrome I"?

The background vocals are a couple of palindromes: "Man o nam," which doesn't really mean anything, and "Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age," of which you can make what you will.



  Why is the ep "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" unavailable?

 The CD5 is usually sold just as a vehicle for singles, so it is hard to keep them in print. We hope to compile the Elektra CD5 material soon.



  Have you guys ever been on Saturday Night Live or Letterman or something like that?

We did the old Letterman Show three times, and Conan twice, along with the Tonight Show twice, and a recent slot on the Jon Stewart Show. We've never been on Saturday Night Live, but we have been on Good Morning America which is like Saturday Night Live only it happens in the morning.



 Are there any songs you can't stand to play anymore?

Once in a while we pull a song out of circulation simply because it's become a grind and we're not doing it justice anymore. Usually we can revive such a song after a little vacation and it sounds fresh to us again.



  The drums on some songs on "Flood" are credited to Alan Bezozi. Did he use a drum machine or a drum kit?

He actually did a bit of both. On the song "Hot Cha" Alan and I constructed the drum track by making samples of individual sounds of sticks or brushes on the box my Macintosh computer came in. He then triggers those sounds by playing an electronic drum pad. He played the sequence on "Lucky Ball and Chain," and helped with the programming on "Birdhouse" and "Twisting." He played live snare and percussion on "Particle Man."



  What has Laura Cantrell done besides "The Guitar"? Does she have any albums?

Laura is making a demo of her songs right now, and sings with a trio called the Watchbirds who perform at the Mercury Lounge on a pretty regular basis. She also DJs a very cool program called the "Radio Thrift Shop" on WFMU (New York's free form radio station).

 
HOME