I god damn love Man Man. I’m biased. Six Demon Bag is in my top ten records of all time, so talking to Honus Honus was a real bucket list moment for me. Their new record, Life Fantastic, comes out tomorrow and is incredible. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
“For the tenth time, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s as odd a way as any to be greeted on the phone, but not for Ryan Kattner, better known by his pseudonym Honus Honus and as frontman for the experimental psych-pop band Man Man. Whether this was purposefully zany, an attempt to put me off my guard or a successful attempt to inspire an opening paragraph such as this, I never found out.
On a break from near constant touring on the eve of the release of their fourth album, Life Fantastic, Mr. Honus reflected on the new record.
“I’m really psyched about it. I’m excited to see how it’s received. I really hope people listen with open ears instead of being like ‘Another Man Man record!’ We put a lot into this one. Not that we didn’t with the other ones, but a lot of different energy on this one.”
Starting with the 2004 release of The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, Man Man has traded heavily in bizarre, catchy baroque pop and a live show that sets word of mouth and blogs blazing. Like an energetic, (more) inscrutable Mr. Bungle in dayglo warpaint or the score to a David Lynch world conquest, their breakout 2006 release Six Demon Bag may have finally been bested with their latest. “I feel like we’re getting better and better at what we’re doing,” says Kattner.
Teaming up with Mike Mogis, of Bright Eyes fame, as producer, Life Fantastic puts front and center the elegant songwriting and emotional depth that made Six Demon Bag a critical and cult darling. Their first time working with a producer, Honus Honus sees it as a positive experience. “We needed to have some outside ears, and someone with a chainsaw to attack our songs.”
The new focus is apparent. “Dark Arts” is a marvel; its piano ambush intro melting into a frenetic, hellish tango, with Honus Honus crooning “These days I feel like a pariah/an albatross with my feathers on fire.” Its contrast with the soda shop sing-along “Piranhas Club” and the career high “Shameless” is stark, but all three represent the core of the Man Man philosophy: intimidating musicianship producing challenging pop with a deep melancholy that never bogs down the dance floor. It’s a trapeze act with no net and Man Man navigate it like Flying Graysons (without the fall, naturally).
“It’s the whole reason why I got into playing music,” says Kattner. “It was to get these things out of my system. It can be transformative. For me, it’s getting some baggage out, but for some people that could be a fun joyous song. I appreciate the challenge of a melancholy center being wrapped in birthday wrapping paper.”
Central to Man Man’s growing legend is their marquee live show. “We have fun playing music together. And we’re really fortunate to do it as long as we’ve have and that there’s people that support what we do.” The stage climbing, diving and intense bandmate interplay of their shows has been the sustaining force of their career. “We feel like, even four records in, we’re a word of mouth band. It’s the gospel of what we do.” Kattner insists. “We don’t wanna get complacent. You gotta have the hunger.” It’s something he’s keen to do for the foreseeable future.
“Fuck, I don’t know what my marketable skills would be at this point. I don’t know what the demand is for someone who wears dresses on stage and looks like a maniac and sings sad songs.”