They Might Be Giants, the energetic alternative-rock duo formed in 1982 by guitarist and vocalist John Flansburgh and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist John Linnell, kicked off a world tour on January 17 in support of its brand-new album, I Like Fun. Marty Beller, the group’s live and recording drummer since 2004, joins the duo’s backing band on the trek, which lasts through late April.
To power the wild, high-energy performances, Beller doesn’t hold back on stage. “I’m maniacally committed to throwing everything I have into every show,” he says. “I don’t think it’d be possible to perform any other way. And I want to be completely immersed in the show every night. There are many speeds in a TMBG show. Diving into each one and staying on top of that is a big part of the energy. The pacing of the set is also one of my favorite parts of my job. We do a bunch of quick segues, and I have to make sure I’m staying ahead of the changes.
“There’s a lot of thought given to how faithful the live versions should be to the recordings,” Beller continues. “Many songs have evolved greatly to become their own standalone versions over the course of playing them every night. It’s been really fun to create new live parts inspired by the programmed drums on songs from the band’s early catalog. There’s a spirit of improvisation and musical awareness that everyone brings to the stage. We’re of course playing songs that have definitive arrangements, but within that structure there’s room for surprises and for parts to evolve in unexpected ways.”
Beller, who’s written music for numerous film and TV soundtracks and for several international dance companies, says, “There are a number of ways that my approach to composing influences my drumming approach. What’s the simplest, most direct way I can accomplish what the song needs? I’m obsessed with how a song develops and builds, and I want to accentuate and contribute to that. So I’m often focused on how the drums exist and support the song while we’re tracking. Drama, fire, dynamics, and emotional connection—those words have a real crossover for me whether I’m composing or drumming.”
With more than a decade under his belt with TMBG, Beller still feels right at home. “So much of what the band is about hits squarely on what excites me about being a musician,” he says. “There’s always a new way to approach an old song, the live show, or how we record. And of course I feel extremely fortunate to play music that I’m excited and passionate about. But we have a great combination of shared sensibilities—about music, for sure, but also about the way we look at and talk and laugh about the world outside of music. I think that’s all connected to the ongoing creative relationship.”
Marty Beller plays Ludwig drums, including a vintage brass snare, as well as Zildjian cymbals, Roland electronics, and Vic Firth sticks.
Also on the Road
Gene “Bubba” Chrisman with Robert Finley, Dan Auerbach, Shannon Shaw, and Shannon & the Clams /// Joey Baca with the Contortionist /// Kristen Gleeson-Prata with BØRNS /// Dave Smith with Robert Plant