- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

For a cult band, They Might Be Giants has had an awful lot of mainstream work lately. The quirky duo won a Grammy for singing the theme to Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle," did the Bond parody "Dr. Evil" for the second Austin Powers film and even contributed a song to Disney's "Return to Neverland," a Peter Pan sequel released earlier this year.
Not bad for a band that few would have predicted would make it to its 20th anniversary.
"I can't say I completely understand why we're still together," founding member John Flansburgh says on the phone from a hotel in Las Vegas. "We didn't care about getting famous. We just wanted to write interesting songs."
He's in Vegas to promote a new documentary of the band, "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns," produced by A.J. Schnack, which is making the rounds of independent film festivals.
"The nicest thing about the movie is that it really focuses on how idealistic we are as people," he says.
The guitarist-singer met multi-instrumentalist-vocalist John Linnell when the two were in high school in Lincoln, Mass., in the late 1970s. They wrote together as teen-agers but split after high school, only to reunite again in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Gaining exposure has always been one of the duo's big struggles. One of their more inventive ideas, Dial-a-Song, helped them gain a label deal. Fans could call up an answering machine and get recordings of They Might Be Giants songs, a gimmick that impressed Bar/None Records.
"We spent an awful lot of time just getting the word out," Mr. Flansburgh says. "We're a very hungry band."
A self-titled debut arrived in 1986, followed by "Lincoln" in 1989. Both became college campus favorites because of the band's sense of humor and unusual sound.
The song titles on the debut alone speak to the duo's creativity: "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," "Don't Let's Start" and "Youth Culture Killed My Dog."
MTV helped the band's third album, "Flood," become a hit and gave the duo its first taste of mainstream success. Although many of the songs on "Flood" are childlike ("Particle Man" being a case in point), Mr. Flansburgh insists that the band never has targeted youngsters.
"What we were doing was an abstract idea explorations in existential collapse," he says. "That goes straight over the heads of most kids."
Though several albums in the 1990s failed to gain commercial success, They Might Be Giants held onto its devoted fan base. The following only grew with the success of projects such as the "Malcolm in the Middle" theme, "Boss of Me." The band also contributes heavily to the show's soundtrack.
Not wanting to leave children out of the equation, the band has released its first album just for them. "No!" combines the duo's oddball humor and gentle harmonies, even as it leaves the existential drama behind.
"It's a record that parents can actually listen to. It does hold up to repeat listening," Mr. Flansburgh says. "We really took our cue from Dr. Seuss and the more interesting people who write for kids."
Should fans expect children's songs when the band plays at the D.C. Sessions concert series this evening?
"We're very much a rock band, and we sometimes do special shows for kids," Mr. Flansburgh reassures longtime fans, "but there are some more rockin' songs here. We've been doing 'Robot Parade' in the show for the last year and a half."
A regular band album is in the works, and They Might Be Giants has no plans to retire anytime soon.
"I think a lot of bands are really victims of their success. Success is just as powerful a force in the undoing of musical projects as failure," Mr. Flansburgh says. "We've been lucky to have a lot of success, but manageable, modest success."

WHAT: They Might Be Giants, Lake Trout
WHERE: Steps of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and G streets NW
WHEN: 4 to 10 p.m. today
TICKETS: Free
PHONE: 202/471-4200.


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