Flansburgh answers questions from Cat’s Meow magazine:
Your new CD/DVD Here Come the ABCs is fantastic! The DVD is an optical pleasure. Did you have influence in the animation, production or direction? Was the initial concept to create a multimedia work or was it an afterthought?
Flansburgh: Thanks! We’re very proud of it. We pulled together the visual team ourselves, mostly from friends and friends of friends, and a few cold calls to people whose work we’d seen on the web. My wife Robin Goldwasser actually designed all the puppets. The animators involved are mostly people from the graphic design world who have small companies out of their houses. While the selection process for the artist was very specific-and we did ask for storyboards-beyond that we tried to give them all enough creative room to do their own thing-which is kind of how we like to work ourselves.
Your country and alphabet songs will be appealing to kids. What is your favorite "letter" song from your new CD, and why?
Personally I like the way "E Eats Everything" works. It starts out as kind a list song, which is a charming enough format for a song like that, but then it becomes a bit of a drama with a surprise ending.
How would you qualify or categorize your music?
When I get into a taxi cab with a guitar case, the driver always asks and I say "We’re like the Beatles but with stranger lyrics"- which is certainly not fair to the Beatles!- but there is something paradoxical about the way we approach music. In some ways we are very old fashioned: We like melody, and song structure, but we pretty actively experiment with song form and sound and with point of view in ways that a lot of people find kind of kooky.
What do you think makes your music appealing to children?
We might be the worst judges of that. We only think of how our songs are going to work with our audiences- young or old- in the most general way. There are some things about the way we make kids music, like we don’t make it any more gentle than our adult music, that might help us get past some kids’ intuitive "jive" filter. I do remember as a kid finding the hushed tones of "kids' music" kind of bogus, but I was a kid pretty in love with rock music.
When writing songs for children what are you influenced by, i.e. your childhood, children, TV?
To some extent you do use your own memories of childhood interests as a gauge, but it’s a challenge just writing a good song! I do think about how a lot of the best children’s writers seemed to be working to a more personal standard and from a more personal place. Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss seem like good examples of artists who did their own work. There is a tendency to think that if you are writing for kids you are somehow in a public space and have to conform to a greater community standard, you know, put some health and safety information in there. I think that imposed politeness is really the enemy of creativity. We really like making interesting songs, and hope people find them entertaining.
The bedtime book and CD set Bed, Bed, Bed is a different and great buildup to bedtime for children. What inspired you to write a book and create this set? How was the illustrator of Bed, Bed, Bed selected?
We tried to put a set of lullabies at the end of No! and it didn’t really work, so we were trying to redeem ourselves with Bed, Bed, Bed. The artist is a Canadian fellow named Marcel Dzama. He is actually a fine artist, not really an illustrator at all. We found him through Dave Eggers from McSweeney’s.
You won a Grammy for "Boss of Me," the theme for Malcolm in the Middle, and your popularity has been further promoted by NPR's theme music. What kinds of projects would you like to work on in the future?
We’ll take the big budget jobs please! (laughs) We’ve done an awful lot of television work, a lot of stuff people don’t even associate with us, like the music on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the theme to Higglytown Heroes on the Disney Channel. Right now we seem to be getting into more film stuff, which is exciting just because it’s such a fancy medium and kind of a bigger scale. The downside is it doesn’t move as fast as TV or advertising which tends to always be on some kind of crazy deadline. Deadlines can actually save a songwriter some revision heartache- keeps people from fiddling around with your stuff.
What projects are you working on now?
We just did this amazingly huge remake of a song from the 1964 World Fair called "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" that is going to be in an animated feature based on the book "A Day for Wilbur Robinson." It’s totally orchestral with a soprano singing this Theremin-like line behind my vocal. It’s really a nutty piece of arrangement.