With four albums and 10 years behind them, Philadelphia’s Man Man are heading out on the road this month on a co-headlining tour with Murder By Death, bringing along a fresh batch of songs from their forthcoming album, expected later this year. 2011‘s Life Fantastic revealed a band defying expectations and willing to assume the risks associated with change, and while some things you can always count on (toy instruments, face paint, shaggy hair, a “fucked up voice”), frontman Ryan Kattner, aka Honus Honus, clues us in on just what will be different for this round of tour dates, along with a preview of Man Man’s nearly complete LP5 and his thoughts on the rapper called Man-Mann.
We caught up with Honus Honus from Man Man’s rehearsal sessions in Philadelphia.
: What is a Man Man band practice typically like?
Honus Honus: Well, there are two new guys in the crew, as with every new record there is usually an influx of new blood. So, the rehearsals have been pretty intense, last eight or nine hours a day. This music for that long, it can be therapeutic, but it can also wear you down.
: The tour begins in Washington D.C. on Feb. 7. Is it a long process to get the band ready for these shows?
Honus: Well, we’re trying to rehearse 30 songs for this tour, and, if you’ve heard our songs, they aren’t just drums, bass and guitar. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Fortunately, we have very talented players in the band, and they can just show up and play a song that has trumpet, guitar, backing vocals, marimba percussion and little-girl vocals. We’re trying to do songs from every record, as well as songs that will be on the new record coming out this year.
:This is a co-headlining tour with Murder By Death. What brought you guys together?
Honus: Mutual friends. And, speaking for myself, I don’t like to go to shows where the co-headliners both sound the same, or the opener sounds like a watered-down version of the headliner. I think it’s more interesting when you have different-sounding bands. If anything, we’re united in a pervasive darkness underneath our songs.
: At this point in your career, unless you are playing a festival, you’re probably not playing in front of a lot of new people. But, with this type of tour, there is the reality that a portion of the crowd will be there to see another band. And, I remember my first Man Man show, and it’s a memorable experience. Do you take that into account on this tour, rather than if you were just playing for the home crowd?
Honus: This may sound strange, and this is why we’ve been spending so much time rehearsing, but our goal is to blow Murder By Death off the stage every night we play. And, I’m sure that’s their goal with us, too, as friendly competition. But really, we want the songs to sound as spectacular as possible because we naturally assume that people at our show may have never seen or heard us before, so we want to win them over and convert them. Or drive them away.
: As for the new record you mentioned, is part of the tour road-testing these new songs to see how they play live?
Honus: Totally. You build a monster in the lab and set it out on the world to see how it functions. We’re excited about the new album because it’s a progression and it’s an evolution. We weren’t trying to write Life Fantastic 2.0 or any of the other records, we were just plowing whatever sounds were in our heads at the time.
: So, again you guys recorded in Omaha with Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk), and Life Fantastic was the first time you’ve ever worked with a producer in that capacity. A talking point for the last album was its more “serious tone” and that the lyrics were more “personal.” Is that continued here?
Honus: I think the biggest difference between Life Fantastic and the other records is that I was more open about it. There are personal elements in all the records; I just don’t talk about them. The true line through all of it is always going to be my inability to pass through life anywhere close to normally, and anchored by my fucked-up voice. But, [the new album] is a natural extension. Pow Pow and I bunkered down last summer and wrote the record, and it just has a different vibe to it. But, it’s still Man Man. You’re not going to hear it and be like ‘oh god, what happened to Man Man?’
: That’s something to look forward to.
Honus: Yeah. I’m excited to hear how the songs come across, because they sound amazing jamming in the practice space. I can’t write the same song I wrote when I was 23. I feel like it would just be a disservice to myself and anyone that enjoys what we do.
: Your audience wouldn’t want to hear the same song over and over, you would hope.
Honus: Yeah, and you have to make yourself happy with what you are doing, rather than pander. But, the whole energy and life to these songs are going to be interesting. And if anyone thinks that this sounds like other Man Man records, well they clearly haven’t listened to it.
: Is there an idea of when it will be released, like summer or fall?
Honus: We’re shooting for summer. It’s all tracked, and it might need a few overdubs, but we are starting to do rough mixes now. Hopefully we meet the deadlines, but we don’t have an album title yet, the artwork is still being sorted out, and we don’t even know which songs are going to make it on the record. The thing about working with Mogis again, we now have an understanding and a shorthand of how to communicate. So, whereas the last record took three months in the studio, this one we only had three weeks.
: I noticed on your Twitter how quickly you recorded.
Honus: We didn’t have the luxury to be there that long, so everything was hyper-focused. It was extremely exhausting, but we’re lucky, we get to make music. And, we’re even luckier because people have an interest in hearing it.
: Recently you guys gave away a b-side, “Mayan Nights,” on the day of the proposed Mayan Apocalypse. Was that something you had cooking for a while or did you think of it at the last minute?
Honus: We have two b-sides from Life Fantastic that should have been on the album proper, but as far as the theme and flow of the “album,” it didn’t really make sense unless we took out a couple songs. So, with “Mayan Nights,” we thought that the vibe was already there with “Piranas Club.” But yeah, it was only a couple days before that I thought of just throwing it out there. I love that song. It should have been on the record, and it’s one of my favorite songs from those sessions. We were actually just rehearsing that song before I stepped out.
: So, in my routine pre-interview research, I came across a rapper named Man-Mann
Honus: Oh, yeah…
: What’s up with that?
Honus: I just don’t get it. I… Um… Yeah, we’re sorting that out. I just don’t know how he can do that. He’s from Philly, too.
:That’s what was most confusing! On Spotify, it has you both as the same artist.
Honus: We figuring out the legalities of it. He obviously can’t do that. I mean, we’ve been around… It’s funny, like, ‘really man? I can’t call myself Led Zeppelin.’
: Well, he wasted a solid 10 minutes of my life. It initially looked like Man Man has a secret rap album. But, a quick listen cleared that up.
Honus. Oh, God no. If you ever catch me rapping, you can stick me in a pillow case and throw me in a river. No one needs to hear that. It’s not the new direction we are going.