The musicians that make up the experimental group Man Man play a wide array of musical instruments including, but not limited to, the clavinet, saxophone, trumpet, iMoog Little Phatty, French Horn, bass clarinet, drum set, euphonium, Fender jazz bass, Danelectro baritone guitar, xylophone, marimba, melodica, and various percussive instruments including pots and pans, toy noisemakers, Chinese funeral horns, spoons, smashing plates, fireworks, and the occasional audience members’ heads. If this sounds overwhelming, it is, but in the best possible way.
Originally from Philadelphia, Man Man is rich with a multi-instrumental style centered on the piano playing of lead singer and lyricist Ryan Kattner (Honus Honus). Along with Christopher Powell (Pow Pow), Jamey Robinson (T. Moth), Adam Schatz (Brown Sugar), and Bryan Murphy (Shono Murphy), Honus Honus unleashes a cacophonous symphony of visionary sound on every audience.
Drummer Pow Pow is the second oldest and most consistent member of Man Man since the group’s inception. He’s played on every album and every live show, which has to be a testament to Pow Pow’s work ethic and commitment to the group. In 2008, their Anti- Records debut, Rabbit Habbits, seemed to push them further along in their careers than 2006’s Six Demon Bag. The album reached #186 on the U.S. charts.
“All sorts of things were happening for us at that time,” Pow Pow says. “We had done that record in three separate sessions between touring all year long [in 2007] with Modest Mouse. Rabbit Habits was our first record with Anti- and was released after tons of national exposure to new audiences. Life in general felt ‘next level’ due to almost an entire year away from home, working on the record and touring. Rabbit Habits was originally going to be called Hot Topic.”
Thankfully, they went with the first aforementioned title rather than the name of a trendy, emo kid retail store. While Rabbit Habbits was a calamity of uplifting jams, their next album, 2011’s Life Fantastic was considered their “darkest” record. The album also marked their first experience working with Omaha’s Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes fame and it’s a big reason they decided to work with him again on the new record, On Oni Pond.
“Honus [Ryan] really liked the sound of the Mike Mogis produced Dev Hynes’ track “Devil Tricks For A Bitch” and we had mutual friends that connected the dots,” Pow Pow explains. “Mike and I both really like the production of the late record producer Joe Meek, which was a constant reference point for Life Fantastic. It seemed that this was universe actually connecting the dots. He was interested in working with us since it would be a very different style band/record that most of his previous records. It was fate.
“After one record of already working together, we were able to talk production specifics very easily/quickly,” he adds. “We had an extremely focused conversation about what to do with the On Oni Pond demos, one that only could happen after working together previously. We loved working with him on Life Fantastic and it seemed to make perfect sense to work together again. He’s a sonic master.”
On Oni Pond was made a bit differently, at least conceptually.
“This is the most personal Man Man record for me,” he explains. “Previous records had multiple creative inputs. This was a duo collaboration front to back, which allowed for a more focused writing process. With only two people, it’s much easier to explore exactly what you want to explore. There are elements and sounds on this record that we weren’t able to see through previously due to the former writing process. It’s absolutely refreshing to make a record like On Oni Pond in the mix of our previous catalog. All the records that we make are an extension of us and where we are at the time, regardless of constantly shifting trends. We can do whatever what we want to do and that is as satisfying as it gets.”
However, finishing On Oni Pond was challenging for Man Man. There’s a sense they wouldn’t want to make another record using this system.
“It’s actually been kind of hellaciously hectic and not ideal—we had to mix the record while we were on the road,” Kattner explains. “It was definitely not easy, but it helped that we worked with someone as brilliant as Mogis—we knew we could trust him to make sure it worked. But it is really tough to listen to the mixes when you’re in a tour van, or at a rock club, and have to make that call. I’m really excited hearing the record, just knowing where my head was when we recorded, and where my heart was. There are some really beautiful songs on this record. I’m excited to unleash it on the world.
“There are some songs that definitely pull you into our world and if you get into what we do, there’s so much more you can enjoy,” he continues. “That’s one of the things that Chris and I are worried about — that people won’t give this record a chance — because I think it can surprise you. We’re not trying to make the same record every record. This one is really different, but it’s still grounded in my head. I can’t really escape that.”
Even if people didn’t necessarily “like” the new record, Man Man’s live shows have become somewhat of a spectacle—not quite a Flaming Lips-style spectacle, but a close second. It keeps people interested.
“We have fun playing music together,” Kattner says. “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 interplay between each member have been the sustaining forces of their career.
“We feel like, even four records in, we’re a word of mouth band,” he adds. “It’s the gospel of what we do. We don’t want to get complacent. You have to have the hunger. 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.”
Man Man has a lot to live up to in regards to their live show, but both Pow Pow and Honus Honus are confident in their abilities to deliver nothing but pure awesomeness.
”You can expect lots of dancing, energy, smiles, laughter, and the wildness. Opening the show is the amazing Xenia Rubinos,” Pow Pow exclaims.
”We have new players in the band, and this is their maiden voyage with us,” Honus Honus concludes. “We’re happy that we were able to work out any kinks on the road and get used to playing together. Mostly though, we just want kids to come out to our show. Not just to see the new material either—for this tour, we’re digging out songs we haven’t played in years. There will be stuff that spans all of our records. It’s refreshing. We’re really excited about it.”
Man Man with Xenia Rubinos, October 11, at Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., 9 p.m. Tickets are $15. Visit www.onepercentproductions.com for more information.