Five years is kind of a long time between albums, but They Might Be Giants have been doing anything but procrastinating. Since the quirky college-rock duo’s last full length, 1996s Factory Showroom, they’ve busied themselves in a stew of projects.
“We would have preferred to come out with a commercial CD as part of our regular pattern of putting out a record every other year,” said co-Giant John Linnell. “But it wasn’t coming together in the usual way. And then we wound up doing the ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ gig which pretty much took a year of our time.”
Aside from penning the show’s temper-tantrum theme song “Boss of Me,” TMBG is also responsible for the background music from the first two seasons of “Malcolm.” As if that wasn’t enough work, Linnell and partner John Flansburgh put together a CD of music for McSweeny’s Literary Journal, as well as recording a children’s record entitled No!, to be released on Sony Wonder next year.
So when did their new Mink Car finally come together?
“Some of the tracks started before we even had a specific project in mind, like ‘Hovering Sombrero,'” Linnell explained. “But we didn’t really start the project in earnest until the beginning of this year.”
Around that time, the Johns found themselves working with guest producers Clive Langer, Alan Stanley and Adam Schlesinger. They spent a lot of time in the studio, worked on old and new ideas, and soon the record began to gel.
The standout “Man it’s so Loud in Here” evolved from a rough live version into a Pet Shop Boys-esque synth-pop groove with some help from Schlesinger. He and Flansburgh worked on the track, radically slowing the tempo to moderate dancefloor speed.
“I think they thought to just completely rework the whole thing,” Linnell said. “And in some ways, we applied that idea to a lot of different songs. We’d look at a song and say ‘Why don’t we try something completely different?'”
Aside from guest producers, the Giants also worked with ex-Soul Coughing frontman M. Doughty on the cut “Mr. Xcitement.” With the song’s instrumental portion already laid out, Doughty dropped a truly bizarre rap overtop.
“I think it’s very hard for us to get what his lyrical guiding light is,” Linnell said. “There are a lot of lyrics on that song that we don’t completely understand.”
All told, the time TMBG spent toiling in the studio resulted in a fantastic bunch of tunes. At the same time, Linnell is already looking to the future, and is as excited about promoting Mink Car as he is about the band’s next release.
“I think this children’s record is my favorite overall project that we’ve done,” he said. “My son, who is almost three, is really into it… so I get to hear it quite a lot. You know the way kids listen to music, they can just listen to it over and over again. But that’s fine, I’m getting wild pleasure out of it.”
They Might Be Giants will play The Electric Factory with Afroman and The Moldy Peaches on Friday, Nov. 2.