Interview: Honus Honus of Man Man
Slicing his lip open on a broken mic stand wasn’t enough to stop Ryan Kattner, known as Honus Honus in his experimental band, Man Man, from performing. He stopped at the hospital, super-glued it shut, and was ready to play the next night at the Pearl Street Nightclub. But on-stage injuries are nothing new to Kattner, who stumbles and climbs all over his band’s equipment at his shows. His crazy alter-ego, complete with tribal face paint, mirrors the over-the-top energy of his fans jumping around below the stage.
Ryan Kattner: I had one my most epic eating-shits-on-stage downstairs [at the Pearl Street Nightclub] before. We were ending the set on this song, “Ice Dogs.” I was trying to orchestrate. It was the last song and it was the most uncool looking thing ever. I stood up on the drum stool and as I was moving my arms, a leg snapped. So then I fell from five feet onto my back and it knocked all the air out of me, but it was funny. I bounced right back up… I mean I fall down a lot. I’m surprised I haven’t been impaled sooner on a microphone stand.
Abby Wise: Do the every day personalities of Man Man members show through in your stage personalities?
RK: They exist within us. I feel like being on stage allows us to get certain things out of our systems. I mean, I could genuinely, honestly say that if we didn’t have this outlet, we’d be locked up in prisons or at the bottom of rivers. We’re not the healthiest people so it’s a good thing we have this outlet. There are some members of the band, it’s a miracle they’re not serial killers, you know?
AW: Tell me about the war paint. Why do you guys wear it?
RK: In the early days, it was sort of like a Lost Boys, Peter Pan, kind of vibe or even like Lord of the Flies. It was a way of getting into character. It’s just what we’ve been doing. It’s fun and it’s a connection thing. We’ve been doing it for a long time. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to do it, but it’s fun.
AW: Why did you start writing music in the first place?
RK: I honestly just thought it was going to be an anecdote in my life, it still might be, of “remember that time I made that record?” I mean, I really only thought there’d be one Man Man record. It was sort of like a rest stop in the trajectory of where I wanted my life to be, which then turned into my car was stolen at the rest stop and then I got stuck there and had to find a way to survive. I keep trying to hitchhike out of there, but no one will fucking pick me up. It might be the war paint or the short shorts or the mustache or now, the big scar from where a mic stand went into my face.
AW: How would you describe Life Fantastic?
RK: I think it’s our most beautiful record to date. The orchestration and just working with a producer for the first time- Mike Mogis [of Bright Eyes]- you know, that definitely had something to do with how it turned out. I’m definitely very proud of the album.
…It was a hard one to make. We went into Omaha with a lot of songs and then we just narrowed it down. We wanted to have a concise record. Consequently, I think we got rid of the songs that could have been our singles, just to try to make it work as a whole piece.
The criticisms we got for the album were, “Oh- it’s just another Man Man album,” but I’m like, “Well what the fuck else are we supposed to sound like?” …I feel like it’s more of a grower than a shower. It’s the most deceptive record because the production’s noticeably better, but I think it’s more twisted than any of the records we’ve done before.
AW: Why did you guys decide to bring Mike Mogis on board?
RK: You know, you don’t want to keep making the same records every time. You’ve gotta grow up or at least evolve.
…It’s a dark record though. It’s the first time that I ever had to deal with really close friends dying. And just the way that felt. And not living anywhere, and everything. You learn how to deal with it. It was kind of a crazy feeling, something that everyone goes through.
IF: Did you make the record to deal with it?
RK: I wanted to quit playing music because I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I wasn’t feeling it. But I knew, at the same time, that if I quit playing music, that’d be quitting on myself in a lot of ways so it was just a matter of trying to stick with it and work through those feelings. It wasn’t as much writer’s block as it was I just didn’t care anymore.
AW: What made you care again?
RK: Ironically, I got into a motorbike accident, and I realized that, hey – maybe I’m getting a little crazy here. I should probably scale it back a little bit. I think it was just reconnecting with the reason I ended up accidentally playing music to begin with. And that was to kind of get this craziness that’s in my head out. You know – music’s therapeutic.
AW: What was the first song that you wrote on Life Fantastic?
RK: “Steak Knives.” “Steak Knives” happened after I had a long-term relationship end. Then back-to-back, two of the people who were pretty instrumental in me even playing music, they both passed away pretty tragically. I just felt kind of lost. Musically, it’s the simplest on the album, but that song took me the longest to write. It took me a year and a half to finish it and it’s like two chords, you know? I just needed to connect with it. I think anyone can tell if you’re dialing it in, and that’s the last thing in the world that I want to do.
AW: Do you refer to the same relationship throughout all of your albums?
RK: No. That would be really tragic. It’s nice to have songs that are a combination of abstraction and are referential, but then also have straight-up confessions buried in them. I feel like it’s way more interesting than a woe-is-me song.
AW: Do the people know the songs are about them?
RK: Not all of them. “Rabbit Habits” is about a relationship, which is the same one that was in “Steak Knives” and “Skin Tension.” Those three songs are linked in a way. I wrote parts of “Rabbit Habits” a year before the relationship was over. I felt that it was ending. It was kind of tied in with my parents divorcing. That was the idea behind it. For me, that was how I approached it.
“Skin Tension” was a song that I wrote for my girlfriend before we were dating. She told me that a girl wrote her a love song and I was like, “I’ll write you one better.” It’s kind of a fucked up message. And then “Steak Knives” was after we broke up.
AW: Do you have plans for a new album?
RK: Yeah. I’m going to haul up this winter, after I’m done touring. I’m doing Mister Heavenly touring too, and after that, I’m going to try to work on some new songs. I can’t really write songs when I’m on tour. It’s hard. It’s impossible for me.
AW: Sometimes bands become overproduced when they use the same formula over and over again. Will that happen with Man Man?
RK: Probably not because I’m a fucking mess. I’m still learning how to write songs.
AW: Do you have an idea of what direction the new one will go in?
RK: No idea. It happens after every record. I forget how to write songs, or that I even wrote songs. I don’t even know who that person was. It’s a challenge to try not to rediscover that person because I don’t want to be that person again. I’ve got to be someone else.
Pearl Street Nightclub. Northhampton, MA