D.X. Ferris, author of the 33 1/3 volume on Slayer’s Reign in Blood album, has a great piece on Rolling Stone.com about the making of the classic They Might Be Giants album, Flood.
As a bonus, here are two chunks that didn’t make it into the final article:
Flood was the band’s major-label debut, the first of four records the group would record for Elektra over the next seven years. The label’s legendary back catalog included the Doors and the Stooges. More recently, it had recruited 10,000 Maniacs and Metallica. The Giants were lured there by A&R rep Sue Drew, who signed Phish the same year.
“What made sense with Sue Drew is that she was very young and had a businesslike approach,” recalls Flansburgh. “Unlike a whole generation of A&R people who had come before her, she was actually not on drugs, and [was] thoughtful. She also had her own taste, and was signing stuff that she thought was interesting.”
Once on Elektra, following in the footsteps of Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop, the clean-cut art-students drew more than their share of sideways glances.
“There were people at Elektra who were almost openly hostile to us,” says Flansburgh. “There were some very famous record company people there. The head of A&R was Howard Thompson. He had seen the band early on at the [East Village hotspot] Pyramid Club, and I have a very distinct memory of him in the back of the room, shaking his head like, ‘No, no, no.’ And this [was] during some of our most glorious days – we had probably 200 people in front of him, completely losing their minds. In some ways, we were kings of a very small corner of New York.”
The Johns spent two two-thirds of their recording budget to record “Birdhouse,” “Your Racist Friend,” “We Want a Rock, ” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”
Flood’s four key songs were produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, an in-demand team whose credits included Madness’ One Step Beyond…, Dexy’s Midnight Runners Too-Rye-Ay, Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Punch the Clock, and the David Bowie-Mick Jagger cover of Bowie-Jagger cover of “Dancin’ in the Street.” (They would later work on Morrissey’s Kill Uncle and Bush’s Sixteen Stone.)
Langer and Winstanley were ace songsmiths. More important to the Johns, though, was Langer’s stint as the guitarist Deaf School, a ’70s Liverpool art band. “That,” says Flansburgh, “was the credit that probably made him seem like a kindred spirit.”
Langer and Winstanley, recalls Flansburgh, “were super-nice guys…. They were hired to be the hitmakers. Clive has the best line that any producer could have in his back pocket: He didn’t think we needed a producer.”
“My sense is that that’s not what he was really thinking,” says Linnell. “But he was saying the nicest thing he could say to us at the time.”
The four Langer-Winstanley songs took money and time. Each tune went through a week of pre-production, followed by painstaking recording. Those songs were also the source of the sessions’ most creative friction. Winstanley liked the duo’s synth bass, but the producers weren’t keen on many other electronics, like the group’s pet Casio FZ-1 sampler.
“It’s funny,” recalls Flansburgh. “They had a whole set of technical skills in analog recording, and they were very fussy about getting everything just so. And there was definitely a point where they just stopped really being interested in the technology we were working with. Sometimes it felt like we were, in the old sense of the word, punks – ‘Yeah, you and your boxes. Knock yourself out!’”
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