The Hardest Working Man Man in Show Business
Philadelphia's Man Man are one of those bands that just doesn't stop touring, except to do a little recording now and then. Luckily, I've managed to get a few minutes to chat with the band's singer/keyboardist/evil genius mastermind Ryan Kattner (AKA Honus Honus) on a rare, much deserved break.
"Because of band circumstances and whatnot," explains Kattner, "I became without a home about six months ago. I'm still without a home; we tour so much. We have a couple of weeks off, so I'm just in LA couch-surfing....Nothing interesting, and definitely not jet-setter glamorous."
After three solid years on the road, he seems to be enjoying a little time off before hitting the road again. He recalls, "in the old days - when I say 'old days' I mean like last year - we'd go on a gruelling tour we'd come back and immediately have to go back to our day jobs working in cafes and bars and moving companies."
The Man Man live show is probably one of the most notorious on the indie circuit right now. The band doesn't take a single break, hopping seamlessly from song to song, switching instruments all the time until the stage is littered with discarded trumpets, guitars, saxophones and percussion toys. "We went on tour with Modest Mouse last year," says Kattner, "and because of that we had to start renting a trailer for our equipment, but before that we just crammed everything in. It was like a hobbit house or something, or a 90-year old shut-in's house."
Now touring in support of their newly released third album, Rabbit Habits, Man Man is still drawing comparisons to the holy trinity of idiosyncratic, iconoclastic musical icons: Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. "I mostly feel bad for those guys," says Kattner without a trace of irony, "because they have to have their names sullied with us. It's amazingly flattering. It's amazing that we can be mentioned even as a mere footnote with those names."
A major element of the Man Man sound is its frenetic energy. For some reason, the music seems to appeal to children, even though the lyrics are, shall we say, a little on the subversive side. "Our booking agent told us his three-year-old really loves the record," says Kattner. "He asked his dad why I sound like a werewolf."
I confide that my seven-year-old daughter is quite fond of their track "The Ballad of Butter Beans." "I just hope she doesn't ask you about the lyrics," he laughs. "'Daddy, what's a dillsnick?'"
Like the artists they're all too often compared to, Man Man is one of those bands that it's hard to be ambivalent about. "I'm really into the idea of polarizing," says Kattner, "not only songs thematically, but also audiences. I want people to love us or I want people to string us up like pi単atas and beat us. I don't really care for the middling fan."
Often compared to "circus music," Kattner is tired of being written off "as a gimmicky, jokey genre band. I don't want to have a shitty personal life at the expense of joke." Yes, they're fun to listen to, but they're very serious about the whole process. To help illustrate this point, Kattner ends our conversation with this juicy quote aimed at anyone who'd consider dismissing Man Man as a novelty:
"If you come to our circus, don't eat our popcorn, 'cause you ain't leavin' the big tent."
Man Man will play Lee's Palace on Monday night with Yeasayer.
Photo from Anti- Records
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