Kids don't care about rock history when they're learning their ABCs.
When asking They Might Be Giants member John Flansburgh which letter he portrayed in the band's new children's music video "QU," which is getting some heavy airplay on the Disney Channel, the Big Apple resident becomes slightly incensed.
"We don't wear any letters on our head," said Flansburgh, calling from his Brooklyn, New York home. "I directed the video but those are paid actors...Dignity is where you find it."
While self-deprecation wins out, because this is one-half of the quirky indie pop duo responsible for such campy song titles as "Santa's Bird" and "Purple Toupee" (from the 1989 album "Lincoln & quot;), you must forgive Flansburgh's subtle indignation. These days, the outfit is coming to terms with the fact it made a deal with the devil, er, mouse, which with the release of its new kids album "Here Comes the ABCs" has seemingly taken its career out of rock clubs and into preschools.
Decades of success
For many fans, They Might Be Giants' story began over 20 years ago when Flansburgh first teamed up with John Linnell and started composing freewheeling, ironic-based tracks that appealed to more of the idiosyncratic alt rock audience. However, along the way to becoming a cult band for the ages, the twosome discovered its penchant for insidiously catchy pop tunes was a perfect fit for writing television show theme songs.
In 2002, the band won a Grammy for its Fox TV "Malcolm in the Middle" theme "Boss of Me." It was around the same time They Might Be Giants released its first ever children's record "No!."
"I think it seemed like a really interesting writing challenge," Flansburgh said. "We write a lot of different kinds of songs. One of the things about being in a rock band is there is always a context of rock history kind of looming over your shoulder and the liberating thing about writing for kids is that stuff doesn't mean anything to your primary audience. Kids don't think like rock critics. So, it's a very fresh way of approaching your own work and the reason John and I have been able to stay very active as a creative enterprise for all of these years is that we're kind of open to those kinds of challenges."
The challenge now for They Might Be Giants is reconciling its alt rock career with its newfound Disney family fame. While Flansburgh admitted the money is better and for the first time the mainstream, albeit soccer moms and toddlers, recognizes his work, the newfound celebrity requires the band to list its rock club shows, such as the Friday night show at The Odeon Concert Club, as an "adults only" affair.
This is the result of some parents showing up at the band's rock dates, with little Jimmy and his kid sister Susie in tow, thinking they'll hear the group's "Higglytown Heroes" cartoon theme song.
Cleveland audiences get the best of both They Might Be Giant worlds, with the Odeon date followed by an intimate, and rare, children's performance Saturday at the 14th Annual Tops Kidsfest event at Tower City Amphitheater.
"When we play the Odeon, we'll be doing the long-term hearing loss, crash helmet rock show," Flansburgh said.
"And when we do the show the next day, we'll be playing for families."
However, from there it's back to reality as the band leaves Cleveland to perform at Louisville, Kentucky's cult-like event "Lebowski Festival," which is dedicated to movie character The Dude from "The Big Lebowski" and is a celebration of White Russians, bowling and, well, non-children-like activities. Invariably, this show is also billed as "adults only."
"Rock clubs are really no place for kids," Flansburgh said. "In fact, our rock shows are extremely loud and there is often violent dancing, stage diving and all sorts of things. It's really best that the two things be completely quarantined."