Kids' stuff makes gigantic impact

For an increasing number of alternative rock veterans, children's music is where it's at.

Artists including Sarah McLachlan and Pennywise's Jim Linbergh have contributed to children's compilations. Lisa Loeb and Barenaked Ladies both recently released children's albums.

They Might Be Giants – who play a rock show Saturday at the Visulite Theatre, followed by two sold-out children's sets at Imaginon Sunday – have been following the playground path since 2002.

“It was wildly successful on every level. It launched us into this parallel career,” says TMBG co-founder John Flansburg of 2002's “No!” And despite the popularity of parent-friendly albums like the “Rockabye Baby!” series, which fashions lullabies out of songs by bands like the Eagles and Queens of the Stone Age, Flansburg flatly states, “We're not really doing parent rock.”

The move seems natural, given the playfulness of TMBG's rock songs. Childlike hits “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” helped set the tone for the band in 1990. TMBG also penned the adorably bratty theme for “Malcolm in the Middle.”

Flansburgh doesn't look to his childhood for inspiration.

“There weren't a lot of examples of kids' music that I enjoyed. I got propelled into popular music because the (children's) stuff was so dull,” he says. “I think a lot of kids enjoy popular music, even stuff that has language that's inappropriate for them. Our approach is to do something that is rhythmically full-blooded, not just some folkie sing-song stuff.”

He enjoys the anonymity and musical freedom that side projects like children's and TV music afford him.

“The funnest thing with the work-for-hire stuff is that it is faceless,” he says. “You can take a completely different approach and no one knows it's you when you're doing the disco song or SWAT team action-adventure song with tacky strings and wah-wah guitar.”

The group's latest children's release – “Here Come the 123s” (which follows last year's rock album “The Else”) – includes a DVD of eye-catching animated videos, some of which have been making the rounds on the Disney Channel. Flansburgh and They Might Be Giants partner John Linnell introduce the clips as puppet characters created by Flansburgh's wife.

“It's hard to get (animators) to stop doing stuff with words since our audience doesn't read yet,” he says, laughing. “They love to make words fly around.”

However, TMBG will keep the videos on the shelf at ImaginOn on Sunday.

“It's an entirely musical presentation,” he explains. “I think it's important to give kids an entertainment opportunity that doesn't involve watching more TV.”