It's been over four years since Brooklyn-based rockers They Might Be Giants produced an "adult" album, which isn't as dirty as it sounds—the indelibly inventive songwriting team of John Flansburgh and John Linnell have been busy carving out an increasingly successful niche for themselves with the 12-and-under set, with a growing catalog of popular rock albums for kids. But tomorrow they finally drop another joint for mature audiences with their new album "Join Us." It's their 15th record, next Friday, July 29th, and they'll be returning to the NYC stage with a highly-anticipated free show for the grownups on the Williamsburg Waterfront (funnyman Eugene Mirman opens). We recently spoke with Flansburgh at-length about Twitter, rejected album titles, the American death trip, and so much more.

I was just re-reading an interview you did with us in 2004. It's an email interview. And it's really long! I'm thinking, how do you find the time? Your answers are really in-depth, and it's just very... Thoughtful?! [Laughs] Copy and paste, man. Yeah, you know, you just... The email thing is a very 21st-century thing, and a very strange problem for a middle-sized band like us. We get an extraordinary number of requests for that kind of thing. "Please write an article about yourself!" It's completely disrespectful of what journalists bring to the mix in the first place, but it's also a crazy chore. And it's getting worse and worse, as the recession starts dismantling publishing. But you know, it just puts a lot more sort of stuff like that in your inbox. I'm a fan of your site, so it was easy to write something extensive because I like you guys, so, I didn't want it to be some cursory crap.

Thanks! And happy belated birthday. Thank you very much!

How old are you now? Because when that interview was done, it said you were 44 1/2 years old. I just turned 51!

Wow. I know! That's fucked up. [Laughs] I turned 51. But I don't feel a day over 48.

Did you do anything to celebrate? Yeah, I did actually. I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. Highway 1. Actually, we actually drove down the really obscure part of the highway, at night. Which is a really, really haunting...

Around Big Sur? Yeah, the part that...It was especially, you know, the whole thing is pretty epic. You've got the Pacific Ocean to your right for the whole time. We only drove a couple hours a day. We went from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. We spent a night in Carmel, a night in Santa Barbara. It was a slow trek. But doing that part as night fell and how it felt after night had fallen, it's completely weird. You're driving through...There's no way to exit. You're just on this solemn ride. There are some public parks where obviously people get stoned into oblivion, you know. It's a different world out there.

I've done that drive a couple of times; it's so spectacular. We went to the Petrified Forest, which is totally insane. And seeing the Redwoods, I'd never seen the Redwoods. I'd been through Washington and Oregon and been perilously close to giant trees, but I'd never actually experienced them, so. It's interesting, being right up on that stuff.

When you're out in a place like that, do you have a moment when you think, "What am I doing in New York?" Ehhh yes. I think every New Yorker thinks that. But you know, I know what I'm doing in New York. New York is New York. New York is the capital of the world! [Laughing] I mean, it might not even be the capital of New York State. But it's pretty awesome.

You guys have been here so long, I guess you feel like you have roots here. But for what you do, you and Linnell could work together anywhere in the world... Yeah, I suppose that's true. We both have little weekend retreat laboratories in the Catskills. The Catskills is the new Williamsburg. There, I said it! There is more artisanal pork being butchered there than anywhere else.

I'm assuming it's you who does Twitter. Do you personally manage the Twitter feed? Yeah.

When did that start, why did that start, and how? I don't know when Twitter started, I'm not sure why Twitter started. I have deep, personal misgivings about the world of oversharing. I guess, you know, I think musicians in the pre-internet era are going to sound a lot like silent movie stars when they're interviewed. Like the way silent movie stars would be like, "I don't like it, all this dancing!"

But I think, it's easy to poke fun at Twitter. Nobody wants to read something about somebody's meal. It's also easy to make it seem like it's generating the news rather than being the conduit to the news, you know? Twitter helped Egypt happen but it would have happened with Tumblr. It's not like it's some magical part of Twitter, it's just people being able to talk to each other. But finding the right balance with that stuff is a little bit difficult. There are people on our Twitter feed who have criticized me for being too cheerful on Twitter, which is an interesting thing, because I have to tell you, I've been managing our Facebook account for a couple of years, and Facebook gives you exhausting and exhaustive stats on how well ever single thing did. You can really see the different kinds of threads that succeed with people. You can post things that are really off-topic that will be of very real interest to people, but those things tend to be communications that are uplifting.

I guess these are the issues that journalists think about all the time. What kind of cover stories bring extra traction to their readership? What are the things that are off-topic that people are actually intrigued by and will follow through on? But having the stats right there, being able to see, there are times when it's completely disheartening. It reminds me of when we started doing Dial-A-Song. You put a new song in and people would hang up after 15 seconds, and you'd be like, "Hey man! You didn't even listen to the whole song!" When you post something that is directly related to the band it gets 20 likes on Facebook, and then you post a cat video and it gets 400 likes, it's hard not to feel a little bit ripped off.

Or maybe it's just telling you you need to do more cat songs. That probably would be a real master stroke, if we just moved directly into cat music. Do you know about Witch House? It's evidently a micro-movement in electronica that's like...electronic music with a witch theme. The two projects that are the main proponents of Witch House, one of whom is vehemently against the idea of being labeled Witch House.

Is it supposed to be Wicca House? That was something that my wife and I were discussing. Whether or not the 'House'—to me, calling it 'house' is like calling it dub. 'House' means something, it's not just a word. You've gotta be house if you called yourself 'house.' But evidently, it might also just be like a Wicca House, the place where the Wiccans live. I don't know, I don't much bout this Witch House but I'm intrigued. And, I do think we should call our next album We Are Witch House. We can claim it even if it's not true.

Your next album sort of has a spooky scary monster cover design. At least that's the image that is used for the singles you've pre-released. That's the pre-release. The actual cover is of a big-wheeled, day-glo pink hearse popping a wheelie.

Is that an actual photograph? Or an illustration? It is entirely the concoction of Paul Sahre, the graphic designer. He does a lot of book covers, a lot of the Chuck Klosterman stuff, the Rick Moody stuff. We were fans of his work. He does a lot of stuff for The New York Times, actually. He's a graphic designer and illustrator, so we brought him in. There were so many moving parts to what we were doing, so we wanted someone who could do a lot of different images. But the day-glo big-wheeled hearse is pretty awesome, actually.

I wish that existed in real life. I hope somebody makes it. I mean there are big-wheeled hearses in the world. If you were to go to a funny car show, you would be able to find a big-wheeled hearse. I don't know if they are day-glo pink. That would be the ultimate bad-assery.

Did you tell him that's what you wanted or did he listen to some songs and come back with that? I gave him a set of songs and he did a series of sketches based on it. Paul is a really, you know, people should check out his site and I think they'll realize how many memorable images he's created. Especially if you're a New York Times reader, it's like weird, he's going down in the Illustrations Greatest Hits of the last five years. He's pretty talented. So he was just trying to sum up some of the ideas in the songs. And some of it, you don't want it to be... and this has to do with a lot of issues that we have with what we're doing: Do you want to amplify the ideas of what you're doing and not just illustrate them? There are a lot of nouns in our songs, so it's really tricky coming up with an album cover or a rock video, because chances are there's probably already a pretty visual thing being talked about in the lyrics. Dancing round that stuff is something we're pretty used to.

Well, I'm assuming this isn't a literal depiction of something in one of the songs from the album. Where do you think it comes from, what do you think it evokes, the day-glo hearse? I don't know, it's a pretty classic combination of stuff that we are. We're American, we're on a death trip. We're into things that are fucked-up. Need I go on? Cars! What's more universal than large ridiculous big-wheeled cars?

What about the title? What inspired the title, if you can articulate it? Again, it sort of gets back to that difficult album #15 that rock critics are always talking about. I came up with a long list of ideas for titles, Linnell had some ideas for titles. Both of us had some ideas that probably seemed really off-the-grid to the other.

What would those be? I've always wanted to title an album "Forest Trees." "Forest/Trees." And, you know, part of it is, the "slash" is such an urban, postmodern construction, and the idea is familiar, and I feel like the title reminds you to listen. Because, the biggest problem with anything in music but especially in music that is somehow familiar, you don't really listen hard enough. And I think what we're always trying to do is rekindle people's actual...Try to be persuasive enough to actually get an honest, deep listen out of our audience. Sometimes what we do is like very challenging, but other times...It's hard for me to sum up. But I think that's a big part of our intention. And certainly, a title like "Join Us" is...with an image attached, might seem kind of menacing, but as a title it's kind of this like, open...we're coming at you with open arms, which isn't so bad.

I remember reading an interview with Matthew Sweet a few years ago. His second album is called "Altered Beast". I don't even know what he was getting at with that title but it was a very dark album. He'd had some success and he was struggling with that, and he seemed deeply upset by certain things. But it's a great record, a really interesting, complicated record. It was very much like a revenge of a rock music lover from the '70s or something. Very huge-sounding guitars. But he said he spent half the next year with people saying, "Why is your record called Altered Beast?" And he was like, I don't know. He couldn't...Then he titled his next album, "100% Fun". Which of course, you know, was his biggest record he ever made. That sounds pretty optimistic! You know. And the single of the album was "Sick of Myself" which is the ultimate self-loathing anthem, but it's also super-catchy, so.

And he was like, "No one ever asked me why it was called "100% Fun"! It was fun to make!" Um, but you know, as we were coming up with the shortlist, we had five or six names that were in contention, and I actually did this weird thing where I sent the list to about thirty of my friends, thirty people that I knew... not all my close friends, in some cases, like I sent it to Michael Azerrad, I sent the list to a couple people I know in public radio, and then I sent it to friends who are DJs or rock critic people. And just said, "Which one of these is the best one?" And it was really interesting, there were a couple titles that people were just like, "Well that sounds like a They Might be Giants record, so you should call it that." And that, of course, started playing against our own self-loathing . We immediately scrapped those. But a lot of people warned us off calling it "Join Us". They thought it was really weird. And it's not the only album called "Join Us". There are lots of albums called "Join Us", which surprised me, frankly. I should have done a Google search on that before. It's probably...I don't think it's any foul. I remember when I found out there's a Beach Boys song called "Santa's Beard". I was really shocked.

I don't like reducing music to some summary or description or ask you what this album is, but I'm curious: it's been four or five years since your last adult album. I'm wondering, how do you feel about this album? Well, you know, I'm feeling very self-conscious right now. That's exactly the kind of question that I key in on when I'm looking at some veteran band, and I don't know what the best way to sum it up is. People love their stuff. We worked hard on the record and I think it's a superior effort. Best one yet? I don't know. I think it's pretty strong. The people around it seem to feel like it's really strong, and that actually makes us feel a little emboldened to trumpet its merit. When the people in your office are like, "This is really good," they never say anything nice about it. They're not into like, puffing us up.

Who produced it? We did it with Pat Dillett. He's a producer in Manhattan, he works with David Byrne, he's done stuff with Laurie Anderson. For years he was doing stuff with Mary J. Blige. We've known him since 1990, and we've been working with him for a long time. I think we wanted to really avoid working with outside people. The truth is, we kind of thrive in obscurity. The more left alone we are, the less self-conscious we are about what we're doing, the better it usually is.

I also think you guys have a really great sense of when to play, at least in New York. It seems like you guys will play some shows and then disappear for a while. This interview is going to run before what I believe is your first adult rock show in New York for a while. Well, those are decisions that really, we don't have much...We probably could play in New York, we'd be happy to play in New York more frequently...But you know, I think it probably really is a strategy of our booking agent. We like playing, we like doing shows. I would have no problem like doing a residency in New York.

I am pumped for this show. It feels like it's been a while. It's going to be huge! And it's such an awesome space.

Have you seen shows there? I saw a little bit of the David Byrne show, just walked to the edge of it, I didn't have tickets to it. I didn't get into it. It was just the noise coming over the hill. But it just seemed like the most awesome set-up. And yeah, it's perfect.

And you have some history with that part of Williamsburg, on the waterfront. Yeah, we actually filmed our very first video pretty much where the site is, I think. The video for "Puppethead", where the old ferry used to dock. Or maybe cargo ships, the most northern part of some kind of industrial shipping, navy-yard activity. There used to be a ferry from 14th street to right there, which sounds pretty handy.

I know we just ran out of time, but I'm always curious about your fan base, and I like hearing these stories. Linnell had a fun one. I'm wondering if you have any recollection of an odd fan interaction, or a memorable fan interaction. Have you gotten any interesting packages lately? My whole mind is being blocked out by the scary ones.The scary ones, we don't like to talk about too much. I have to say...You know, my first job was working as a clerk in a record store. I feel like, when you see High Fidelity, that treble-kicking indie rocker snob. That's me. I hate a lot of stuff, you know? And I hate it in a fun-loving way, but it's still...very specific, and the thing that I'm grateful for is that the world is not filled with people as crummy as me. To have the generosity of spirit, to roll with a band that does family music, and obtuse post-New Wave art rock, and to still kind of let that show up on the radar and get a serious critique, that's great. I'm grateful that the world is smart enough for that. Because I'm not sure if I was introduced to us, I could get it, if I could embrace it. And I do feel like what we're doing is actually singular and worthy of examination. I'm grateful to our fans, I think our fans seem to like us for the right reasons, which is not a given. Sometimes people's fans kind of undo the promise of bands. Success can undo the promise of a band. Fans can undo the promise of a band. Sometimes fans just want one thing out of a band. Our audience is actually as open to our most experimental efforts as they are to the pop songs. It's not like groans come up when we do a weird song.

And it's not a monoculture either, you do have a varied fan base. Maybe that's part of it. You know, I've said this before, it's just kind of a big '90s reference, but...I remember doing a show where there...This was a couple years after Pearl Jam, not the Pearl Jam moment, but a couple years after. There were two guys, I'm pretty sure this was in Chicago, there were two guys wearing Pearl Jam t-shirts in the audience, and I'm pretty sure one guy was wearing it ironically and one guy wasn't. And I thought that was a beautiful, you know, it was a... It made me realize that the culture could go farther than you thought. We're the bridge of Pearl Jam t-shirt owners.

Well thanks for talking with us. Hey, well thanks so much, keep on rocking at Gothamist! You guys are doing God's work.