(Originally appeared in Mutant Renegade Zine #4, Fall 1994)
I recently got the chance to interview John Flansburgh from the band They Might Be Giants. We talked about his band, his music club and his d.j. days at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
MRZ – I head that you used to attend Antioch College and d.j. as WYSO.
JF – Yeah. I went to Antioch back in 1980-81. A friend and I did an overnight show once a week at the radio station. The program was free form. We played anything from folk to blues to jazz to punk. We didn’t so much play anything that you would call alternative, becuase there was no such thing back then. It was basically a show for people who liked music in general.
MRZ – Did working with the various genres during your WYSO days help contribute to the diverse sound of TMBG?
JF – Actually I grew up in Boston. I was born in 1960 and as a kid I listened to WBCN, which was one of the original free form radio stations. I think that kind of molded our notion of the kind of variety one could bring into popular music. To be honest, it’s not a self-conscious act. We’re just trying to do stuff that interesing to us.
MRZ – What’s TMBG up to these days?
JF – We’re right smack in the middle of recording our next album. We recorded 20 songs and now we’re working on the vocals. It’s our first ‘Big Band’ project. We have a bassist and a drummer with us all the time, but now we added a horn section on a number of songs. Now we can get really loud. It’s a different experience. It’s definitely a new chapter for us.
MRZ – You also have a strange sort of CD club. Tell me about it?
JF – I co-founded the project with Marjorie Galen who used to work at Bar None Records when TMBG were independent. Marjorie started working for TMBG management company since we went to Elektra. We were in Japan on tour in December of ’92 and Marjorie and I were trying to figure out how we could start our own lable. We realized that we didn’t have enough money to do it right. That’s when we came up with the idea of the ‘Hello CD of the Month Club’.
What people do is subscribe for a year and they get ten CD’s, each one dedicated to a differnt artist. We were pretty lucky in ’93 to have some big name artist record for us. The Residents di one as well as Frank Black. It was a pretty good year for a start up enterprise that’s pretty much in it’s own niche.
The idea of the club worked out better for us as compared to the independent lable idea because not only can we work with lesser known bands, but we can work with some big name people who are already signed to other lables as well.
MRZ – Is having someone like Frank Black do a CD for the club part of a ploy to help get lesser known bands better exposure?
JF – A lot of the lesser know bands we’re working with get a great response from our subscribers, but I know that it’s the stuff from more well know artist’s that bring in the curiosity seekers. I think that if people checked it out they will find some interesting stuff that they wouldn’t gain exposure to otherwise.
MRZ – Do you approach the artists that do these CD’s for the club, or do they approach you?
JF – I worked with Frank Black last year when I directed the video’s for “Los Angeles” and “Hang onto Your Ego,” and I approached him about doing it. Artists such as Frank seem to enjoy doing the CD because it gives them the freedom to do something different. The CD that Frank did wasn’t as full-frontal rock as his other projects. It’s more mysterious and quieter. It’s pretty interesting.
We also get approached by people who heard about the CD club and when they check it out, they were really into it.
The great thing about the club is that in all actuality it is a private club, which means the releases don’t get reviewed by the press. This was the artist feel more comfortable with doing something different and interesting.
If TMBG put out a disco album the press would be raising questions as to what we were trying to prove. With the Hello Club the artists are free from all of that.
MRZ – How does a person become a member of this club?
JF – It’s O’ so simple. All one has to do is pick up the phone and dial 1-800-HELLO-41. The ’94 subscription cost is only $45 and you get 10 CD’s that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
MRZ -What does the Hello Club have in store for it’s second year?
JF – Some of the ’94 CD’s are going to feature Andy Partridge of XTC, Mac of Superchunk, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants and The Minus Five, which is a group consisting of Scott McCaughey with Peter Buck from REM and Tom & Terry from NRBQ.
What people should remeber is that they can only get these CD’s through the club, which really means each one is a collectors item.