Written By Erin Mathis
If you’ve never heard of Man Man, I suggest that you stop reading this right now, open up your iTunes or Spotify, and listen to at least five of their songs. I say this not only because they’re an incredible band that you should know about, but because it’s near impossible to put their experimental sound into words – it’s something that you just have to hear (or … experience) to understand. Also, I recommend listening to a minimum of five songs (rather than just one) for a very important reason: each one sounds completely different. Unlike too many bands today, when you hear one of Man Man’s songs, you haven’t heard them all. Despite being five albums into their career, Man Man has yet to run out of original ideas. Each song has it’s own unique, self-contained sound, often highlighting a specific instrument such as a piano, ukulele, or trumpet. Though, if there is one underlying theme that spans all five of their albums, it’s that what they create is something that does not need to be qualified or defined, because what they create is art. It’s as simple as that.
Their line up includes lead singer and keyboardist Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner), drummer and percussionist Pow Pow (Christopher Powell), and multi-instrumentalists Shono Murphy (Bryan Murphy) and Brown Sugar (Adam Schatz). Currently, they’re bringing their high-energy performances on tour, recently playing at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom, and hitting up music festivals like MusicFestNW and the upcoming XPoNential Music Festival. Lead singer Ryan Kattner was kind enough to break away from his busy schedule to talk with Pop-Break about the band’s unique sound, the inspiration for its name, and how it all started.
Pop-Break: Sometimes I’ll hear a band come on the radio and before their vocals even start I know who it is, because their sound doesn’t change much from song to song. I think my favorite thing about you guys is that no two songs sound the same. And I think the main reason for that, is the fact that you guys just have so many instruments. Why is using so many instruments important?
Ryan Kattner: I don’t know if it’s necessarily so important. We just have different vibes for different songs. It is important in the sense that I’d rather have a funky sounding set than the same old, same old.
PB: So can you tell me what the song writing process is like? It is one person running with an idea, or a fusion of everyone’s contributions, or how does it typically work?
RK: Usually when something’s being written, I’m writing it with Chris and if it’s Chris and I jamming out a musical idea, we’ll come up with cool sounding parts. Then I’ll try to contextualize them into a song.
PB: Is the recording room, just insane?
RK: Oh, it’s bonkers.
PB: Some of the songs sound very old fashioned. Some sound like a swanky hotel. Some sound like an old-timey carnival or circus.
RK: Bite your tongue! No circus, no carnival! (laughs)
PB: Okay, so no circus, no carnival, but do you draw on certain time periods for inspiration?
RK: Surprisingly not. I’m really not a very good musician. If I just start playing a part and I think I can make a song out of it, I do. I don’t really think about it too much. I’m never like: “This sounds like a swanky hotel lobby,” (laughs).
PB: Some of them do though!
RK: I know, and I think that’s one of the cool things about having this band, and being in this band, is that, we don’t worry too much about things like if all of our songs sound the same. I think it’s far more interesting that they don’t, and that we can embody a lot of different vibes.
PB: So you guys are now five albums in. When you started, did you know it was going to be something that you wanted to do for the long run?
RK: No I never thought I’d be in it for the long haul. I just thought it was gonna be: “Oh this is my weird band that I started after college.”
PB: Oh wow, so what were you going to college for?
RK: Writing. I wanted to go for screen writing and play writing, but it just isn’t as practical as being in a band.
PB: Just out of curiosity, what is your current favorite song?
RK: “Blood and Tears” by Danzig. It’s an awesome song. I’m thinking about doing a cover to it.
PB: What’s your typical routine right before a show? Do you do anything special to prep for the stage?
RK: Chris and I, we need about a four hour window of not eating before we play. If we did, we’d be sharing our meals with the audience. It’s a really physical show, and it’s not the easiest music to play.
PB: So can we talk about the album art for a second? Why is it so amazing? Who makes it?
RK: This guy, Steven Dufala, he did the cover design for our first three albums, and he’s awesome. For our fourth album we had a New York artist, Bradley Kahlhamer, whose art I saw in a museum, so I got in touch with him. And the same deal for our last record, On Oni Pond. I saw some work in an art magazine, and got in touch with the artist – Berlin based Andrea Wan, and she was super cool.
PB: How do you feel about your rival band – Lady Lady?
RK: Who the f*** are they?
PB: No, I’m totally joking, they’re not real.
RK: But if they were, the singer of that band would need to have a killer mustache.
PB: Finally, I want to ask about the band name. I’m sure you get asked about it all the time, but I’m really curious.
RK: Well, when we were coming up with a band name, I was just trying to think of the simplest name possible. Just a name that didn’t really have any meaning, so once you heard the music, and you saw our art work, and you saw our live shows, it would all make sense, and then you really wouldn’t think much of the name.
To see Man Man at the XPNonential Festival, click here.