They Might Be Giants are still masters of surreal, catchy pop

For music fans of a certain vintage, They Might Be Giants are probably best remembered as an alternative to alternative-rock circa 1990.

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They Might Be Giants

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When: April 22

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Where: Commodore Ballroom, 868 Granville St., Vancouver

Tickets: $35 at ticketmaster.ca (sold-out)

For music fans of a certain vintage, They Might Be Giants are probably best remembered as an alternative to alternative-rock circa 1990. That’s when the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell released Flood, the third TMBG album and the record with what became two of the pop group’s signature tracks, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) and Birdhouse In Your Soul. The band hasn’t slowed down since that album, releasing a new one every two or three years. The latest is 2021’s Book, selections from which the band are including on its current, oft-postponed tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Flood. We talked to Flansburgh about AI, the new record’s song about Winnipeg, and touring with a horn section.

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Q: Have you experimented with AI, as in asking AI to write a They Might Be Giants song?

A: I did. Obviously, AI needs a lot of prompts. It works best if you feed it a lot of basic information. The output was impossibly weak. I have to say it was shockingly dull and kind of a disappointment. The fact that it is fake writing, it’s no surprise that it has the texture of artificiality. You feel like you’re reading a completely empty text. There’s no meaning behind it.

Q: There’s a song on Book called If Day for Winnipeg. What’s the idea behind that one?

A: I was reading about the Second World War and the efforts people made on the home front to try to raise money for the war effort. And they described this really crazy thing called an “if day,” and the idea was like, if the Allies lost the war, what would it be like to live under a Nazi regime? And it just seems really dramatic. And kind of crazy. It was probably very heavy on costumes and yelling. I don’t think it was that treacherous, but still the title “if day” is kind of frightening.

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Q: And then you put that together with Winnipeg. Let’s see AI do that.

A: Yeah. Well, I bet it’s got some pretty good historic resources and could tell you all about it.

Q: This tour was supposed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the release of Flood but kept getting postponed. What does that do to a musician’s psyche?

A: A long time ago somebody said you should never talk about the music business in interviews, but to try to get people up to speed on the hard truths about booking, anytime you cancel a show you are doing irreparable if not catastrophic harm to your career. This would probably be late-breaking news to Axl Rose, but to anybody who resides on planet Earth and works in a band, you come to realize that cancellation is kind of a professional death.

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Q: You guys are touring with a horn section. Is it just that you want to do something special around this Flood tour?

A: We had 80 shows in front of us, playing in larger venues, and all these shows were sold out, and it seemed like a real opportunity to do something a little bit more deluxe. We felt like we could afford it. But then, rock bands are expert at figuring out new ways to lose money.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the show?

A: These guys — Dan Leavenworth, Stan Harrison on sax, Mark Pender on trumpet — are so amazing. It’s a thrill to share a stage with them. Every night, they blow the room away. It’s nice to be able to take the credit for all their hard work.

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