Tunneling Through the Guy: A Conversation with Honus Honus of Man Man [Part 2 of 2]



Back in September, the raucous Philadelphia outfit of dayglo crazies known as Man Man released, On Oni Pond, the 5th full-length of their career, on Anti- records.  Working more closely than ever with long-time collaborator, ChristopherPow PowPowell, group founder/frontman (and only consistent member, since its inception), Honus Honus (born Ryan Kattner) went back into the studio with producer, Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk), whose skills were first employed on their previous release, Life Fantastic, 2 years ago.  And while some of the same components and players may remain, the new effort incorporates slightly more electronic elements, proving once again that Kattner is hell bent on consistently evolving the sound of the project, even now, a full decade into its existence.  Each time that they re-enter the lab, the formula is remixed, and On Oni Pond presents a clear and noticeable mutation of the ragged beast that Man Man first gave birth to on their 2003 debut, The Man in a Blue Turban and a Face, 10 years ago.

Between garnering enthusiastic recognition from outlets as surprising as CNN (see part 1) and embarking on his current European tour, Honus Honus took time out of his busy schedule of winning over fans worldwide and pretending to drop dead in the middle of the occasional historic monument/art museum, for a conversation with us here at Monster Fresh.  Conducted by our own, Parvaneh Angus, the interview took place at Neumos prior to the band’s October 5th performance at the Seattle venue, and eventually stretched to well over an hour in length.  Being the founder of the site, I managed to work my way into tagging along to record the whole thing.  As the editor, I opted to cut it into 2 separate sections, in hopes of making the overflow of information even more digestible.  [Please make sure to read Part 1, which features a far better and much more thorough introduction of Kattner and his group, by Parvaneh.]

The second half of the interview can be found below and addresses such topics as Ryan‘s other project, Mister Heavenly; hallucinogenics in sports; arson, as it pertains to the destruction of electronic childrens toys in recording techniques; female pleasure devices; border crossing wisecracks; and getting headbutted in the face before a show.  I trust that you’ll find it as fascinating as we do.  As always, thanks for reading.

Christopher Altenburg (Dead C)

[Although the interview was recorded on video, the audio was compromised by the thumping and skronking of the soundcheck above us.  Please view the 2nd half of the transcript below]

MISTER HEAVENLY [L to R] - Honus, Nick Thorburn (Islands, Unicorns), & Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, Shins)

MISTER HEAVENLY [L to R] – Honus, Nick Thorburn (Islands, Unicorns), & Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, Shins)

PA: Parvaneh
CA: Chris
RK: Ryan

I read, in an interview with Mister Heavenly, that, with Nick Thorburn, you had thrown around the term “Doom-Wop,” and I thought that seemed really fitting for Man Man, as well.  Maybe it’s something a little bit different that you’re talking about there?  How would you differentiate that, or would you say that Man Man also qualifies as “Doom-Wop?”

RK:  Yeah, there’s been doo-wop songs going all the way back to our first record.  Like the one about the werewolf.  *groaning and laughter*   Actually, someone, last night, gave me–  Oh!  I have it in my pocket. *pulls an eyepatch out of his pocket*  Not the eyepatch.

PA:  Speaking of eyepatches.

RK:  Pootie, our lighting/vibe guru for our tour bought me an eyepatch for my black eye. *points to his left eye*  Anyway, it’s hard wearing an eyepatch; I kept running into things.

CA: Did you wear it on the wrong eye?

RK:   No, no, no…
(Ryan pulls out a small drawing done in color pencil.  It’s an image of a werewolf on the hood of a car being driven by a black-haired, mustachioed man)

I don’t know if you can see this; this was drawn for me yesterday by “the left-handed Emilys.”  Pretty amazing.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

PA:  Aw, look at that a werewolf on the hood of your heartbreak.

RK:  Exactly, it’s beautiful.  Which, the song was inspired by Teen Wolf, where he’s surfing on top of the van.  *handing Parvaneh the drawing*  It’s so good.

PA:  Oh, that’s you!

RK:  Yeah, it kinda looks like me. My eyebrows aren’t that pronounced.  And I would never wear that color hoodie.  Whatever that is.

CA:  I’ve got to ask you, what’s up with the eye?

RK:  What?

CA:  What happened to your eye?

RK:  I got headbutted in San Diego, before the set.  We have a [fan]–he’s pretty rad, but he’s overzealous–and he wanted a hug, or something, before we played.  So, I bent down to give him a hug, and he was just a little too excited, and then, he accidentally headbutted me in the eye.  And so, the whole set, I could feel my eye swelling.  All I was worried about was that there was a cut, and I was bleeding, and I’d have to go get stitches, and we had to drive from San Diego to San Fran.  That’s all I cared about.  But, it was funny, you know.  We played an entire set and an encore, and my eye is just closing up the whole set.  Looks cool though.  But it does make walking into shops a little strange.  In Portland, near the Hawthorne [Theater], there’s all these fancy shops, and I was going in and checking stuff out.  And all the shopkeepers were kind of wild-eying me, or following me around; I guess, ’cause they thought I might steal something, or I was trouble.  And I’m really not that bad a dude.  I just have a black eye… and look a little wily, I guess.

PA:  Yeah, I’ve seen fans do some weird stuff at shows too.  The last time you played at Neumos, actually, you had the bells, or chimes, hanging from the front of your keyboard and somebody in the audience was just putting his hands all over them.  And I was like, “What is this guy doing?

RK:   I think he was on acid, that guy.

PA:  I think he actually took the bells, at one point, and you had to grab them back.

RK:  Yeah, that’s called a shitty person.

PA:  Yeah I don’t get that, why would you do that to a band you like?

RK:  People steal from us all the time and it’s a little frustrating, because it’s not as though we’re a band that can easily go out and buy all this stuff again.  I had this really rad bell stolen last year when we were on tour, and I had found it in this crazy little mountain village in the Philippines.  It’s my fault for bringing it on tour, but you know, I never thought– When I went to go see my favorite bands, I never stole shit from them.  So now, I don’t really have any flare.

PA:  Just as bare bones as possible.

RK:  That’s all I need.  I have an eye patch.

Did I even… We didn’t even answer the question, did we?  What was the question?

PA:  It was the doom-wop–

RK: Oh! Doom-wop.  Yeah. I mean… I guess. Sure.



PA:  I guess, the most “important” question that I really have is, I’m really interested in how you came to start working with Mike Mogis, because you just seem like you’re from such different realms of Indie music.  It’s an interesting combination.  I’ve heard a lot about since you started working together, but not really how that relationship came to be.

RK:  Well, we never worked with a producer before and we’d always had really talented engineers helping us out.  And… we got an opportunity to work with a producer.  ‘Cause, with Life Fantastic— You know, with every record, we’re trying to make something different, and we kind of felt, as though, that wouldn’t happen, unless we brought someone else in who could maybe help steer things.  You know, who wasn’t involved in the songwriting, but just helped us create the most impactful recorded version of our music.  On top of that, he answered the casual encounters ad that we posted in Omaha.

PA:  Oh nice. *laughs*

RK:  Oh yeah, it was really sweet.

PA:  Casual encounters, huh?

RK:  Yeah, he let me touch his ears for about an hour for 50 bucks.  It was cool

PA:  That sounds like a really nice guy.

RK:  Yeah, but I think it’s more interesting when you have conflicting or contrasting elements being put together and seeing what comes out of it.  If we wanted someone who makes total sense, I think it’s kind of boring.  Mogis is good, he keeps you on your toes.  And we worked with him again, because it was such a great experience and we wanted to make sure we didn’t make the same record again, but we had someone that we trusted that we could have a shorthand with.  It worked out really well.  And the new record–not to be arrogant–but, I think it’s fucking awesome.

PA:  Yeah, it definitely sounded really different from anything you’ve put out before, as a whole [cohesive] record.  I was definitely tapping my foot to it; I was like, “Wow, this is actually pretty cool.”  Which, normally when a band puts out something that sounds different, I’m the kind of person who’s resistant to accept that change.  It takes me a little bit to adjust to, but I actually really enjoyed [On Oni Pond] the first time I heard it.

RK:  Well, I appreciate that.  We’ve gotten some really positive unexpected feedback for this record.  We’ve also gotten some really crappy… just, “How come they can’t remake their first two records?”  Because, if I did, you’d be complaining about how I remade the first two records!  You know?  We’re human beings, we’re multi-dimensional.  I don’t want to keep making the same shit.  It’s boring.  I want to challenge myself.

PA:  Well, you get older, you have different experiences, and have different things to bring to the table.

RK:  Yeah, so, it’s funny.  You can’t please everyone.  That’s kind of where the Rabbit Habits‘ album title came from.  Because the Rabbit Habit, I think was one of the best selling vibrators.  So, if you can’t please everyone, you might as well please yourself.

CA:   What’s the best worst review, you’ve had?

RK:  The Best worst review?  Umm.. I just like it when it becomes clear that the review is not really about us, it’s stirring up something else in the reviewer.  It’s interesting, because then, the review become about the reviewer and it’s sort of psychoanalyzing our lyrics too far and applying them to their own experiences.  It’s like, “Just listen to the record and enjoy it.”  You know, that was the funny thing about about the Mister Heavenly project was that, Nick and I would be reading these reviews, and they’d be like, “Oh this is a great record!  If we didn’t know who was involved with it!  Why can’t you just enjoy the record, enjoy the songs, enjoy the music?  I don’t know. *mocking himself with mimed violin playing*  “Wah, wah, wah.

(side note: Actor, Michael Cera also operated as the touring bassist for the Mister Heavenly).

PA:  You get the comparison to Tom Waits, a lot, which I think is weird, because you don’t really sound like Tom Waits, in general, other than having a raspy voice.  But what do you think the most fitting comparison that you’ve ever actually gotten was, where you were like, “Oh, actually I could see that.“?

RK:  Freddie Mercury.

PA:  Yeah?

RK:  I got it at a border crossing once.  The border crossing guard was like–my hair was shorter [at the time]–and he was like, “You kind of remind me of Freddie Mercury,.”  I was like, “Oh man, that’s cool.”  And he was like, “NOT a compliment.”  “Oh!  Alright.”  Homophobe jerk.  I was kinda psyched.

PA:  I read one interview where you were talking about hearing Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ “I Put A Spell On You,” when you were younger and having something click–

RK:  Yeah.

PA: –and thinking, that’s an awesome sound and it doesn’t have to be something crazy and complicated to be complex and emotional.  And you always have at least one song [like that] on every record.  Like I mentioned before, “Van Helsing Boombox” (Six Demon Bag); “Whale Bones” (Rabbit Habits); “Feathers” (Six Demon Bag); I’d say “Steak Knives” (Life Fantastic),definitely; “Life Fantastic” could go with that; and “Deep Cover,” off the new one…  When I read that [article] and that song (“I put a Spell On You”) was brought up–thinking about the voice and the emotion in that–I was just like, “Woah!”  That’s actually what, when I hear those more minimalistic songs–quieter and more emotional and raw–and I hear that in your voice, that’s where I’m like, “That’s the strength that, no matter what, it always comes through.”  Because, it isn’t complicated, but I think those are the most emotionally connective songs to your audience, in a certain way.

RK: *looks at Chris*  I love her.  I feel like I’m getting all choked up.

No no no, but it’s important.  I think that most people can detect whether or not a song is bullshit, or if it’s coming from a real place.  And, I think even with our wackiest, craziest stuff, it is coming from a real place.  You know, I could go through every line of every song and tell you where it came from.  It wasn’t written in a coffee shop in a flowery book of poetry; it’s all rooted in something real.  But I think, with those songs you mentioned, and even with the Screamin’ Jay song, the most important thing is that you’re just laying it all out there.  It’s good to be raw and it’s good to be ugly and not sound beautiful, ’cause I think there’s a beauty in that.  And I’m always striving to write the simplest song possible.  That one chord song.  Like, “Steak Knives” is two chords, but I think it’s the wealth of life experience and just how genuine you are… with your fee…lings. *laughs*  That sounds so terrible.  But if you just stick with how you feel, then that’s all that really matters.  I feel like that will cut a lot harder than a song that has 25 chord progressions, or is clearly referencing The Beatles, or The Band, or… whatever.

PA:  It’s interesting, too, because I originally saw you seven years ago at Brandeis University in the castle.

RK:  Oh, the castle.  Yeah.

PA:  Yeah, in that tiny little cafe.  And there was like, I don’t even remember how many band members.  It was right after Six Demon Bag came out.  You were all squeezing onto that tiny little stage.

RK:  Yeah.  I remember that show, because we played “El Azteca” and we totally kicked ass.  I don’t think that song has ever sounded as good as it did in that room.

PA:  Well, it was so tiny and everybody was so into it.

RK:  And the funny thing about that was that, on the way up to Brandeis, with the van that we rented, I moved a lot of my stuff to New York into my girlfriend’s spot.  Because I was like, “Alright, fuck it.  I’m leaving Philly, I’m gonna go live with my girlfriend.”  So, I moved my stuff in and, when I was at Brandeis, before we played the show, she said, “I’m breaking up with you, get your shit out.

PA:  Oh god.

RK:  So, after that show and on the way back to Philly, I had to stop in New York and move my stuff out.  I’d been in New York for like a day… or my stuff had.

PA:  Wow.  What I was about to say was, you had a much rawer performance that time, but yeah, that could have something to do with it too.

RK:   Yeah, it all informs.  If I didn’t have this band…phew… I’d be a crazy person.

PA:  If…

RK:  If.  Still could be, you know.  Can’t take anything for granted.


PA:  My friend was actually your contact when you came to Brandeis, so I asked him if there was anything interesting on your rider.  I [felt] like there was something.  One of the things that he said was that you asked for several bags of corn chips, but each bag of corn chips had to be a different color.

RK:   I don’t remember that.  That sounds like bull honky.   I thought you’d mention the Furby thing.

PA:  Oh, he didn’t remember that–

RKHe didn’t remember the Furby thing?!  I mean, we do ask for Furbies, because I want to do a recording of like 50 Furbies in a trash can being set on fire.  I just want to record that and put it in a song .  But I think to date, we’ve received maybe 8 Furbies.

PA:  People haven’t been pulling through.  That’s terrible.

RK:  I know. I ask for a baseball card, too.  And I get that a lot more often.

PA:  A baseball card?  So, how many baseball cards do you think you have?

RK:  Well, I ask for a 19– I think it’s a ’70, or ’71, Dock Ellis baseball card.

CA:  Yeah, he pitched that game on LSD that year.

RK:  Yeah, that’s right.  And the card’s like a dollar, maybe 50 cents, but I like the extraordinary story behind it.  So, if any promoter is like, “Why the hell does he want this card?”  They can look it up and get the story.  I like people performing extraordinary feats under….

PA:  Massive amounts of drugs?

RK:  Yeah, or just unlikely scenarios.  ‘Cause I feel like that’s how I ended up falling into playing music.  I never thought I’d be in a band.

PA:   Originally, you went to school for screenwriting, right?

RK:  *sighs*  Yeah.

PA:  Do you ever write?

RK:  I try, you know.  I’m kind of blowing it, man.  I spent too much time being in an under the radar band.

PA:  Well, you’re still getting to write. I mean, as long as it’s a creative outlet.

RK:  Yeah, I write 3 minute stories, as opposed to…

PA:   An entire movie?

RK:   Yeah, but someday, maybe.

PA:  But, it’s still something that you kind of aspire to?

RK:  Yeah, yeah. And I’m trying, I’m trying.  I’m still trying.

PA:  Well, it’s gotta be hard when you’re moving around and don’t have a place to call your home.

RK:  Well, I finally can call a couch in LA home.  My friend has a spare bedroom that I’m allowed to rent out when we’re not touring.  And it has a couch in the room.  And she was like, “You know, you could move a bed in here.”  I was like, “Nah, couch. I gotta keep things consistent.”

PA:   Right.  If you get used to sleeping on a bed, then it’s the beginning of the end.

RKYeah, fuck.  I’ll get soft.

PA:  Yeah, can’t do that.

RK: *laughs*  No.

City Arts Fest - Seattle [Oct. 22, 2011]

City Arts Fest – Seattle [Oct. 22, 2011]

PA:  Well I think that was most of my questions.

RK:  That’s it?  That’s all you’ve got?

PA:  Well, I could keep talking.  I can talk forever.

RK:  Sweet.

CA:   Dock Ellis–they’re making a documentary on that.

(The conversation briefly veers off into Chris and Ryan talking about Dock Ellis’ history in baseball; fighting racial prejudice; his role in the the ’80s Michael Keaton/Ron Howard film, Gung Ho; transition into substance abuse counselor, and eventual death, etc.)

RK:  He’s kind of my…  Who’s the saint of travelers?

CA:  St Christopher.

RKYeah, he’s my St Christopher, Dock Ellis.

*We thank Ryan for taking the time for the interview and he thanks us for having him, adding that he hopes that we got everything and that, hopefully, the sound was picked up.  Chris explains that he’s sure that we’ll have something to work with, mentioning a history of backwards makeshift methods, and working with what you have.  The conversation picks back up again*

RK:  Well, that’s my life, so…

CA:  Yeah, I never have anything that works the “right way.”  It’s a slow build up [to get that stuff, piece by piece, overtime], you know.

RK:  Yeah, or it’s just the way– I mean, the “right way” is, you persevere and you figure out your way of doing things, and that becomes the right way.

CA:   I’m always messing around with things that aren’t supposed to work.  I got a bass out of someone’s basement–it belonged to some satanist and it had a bunch of devil shit all over it.  I used it for years, and then I took it in to get it fixed, and the guy was like, “This thing shouldn’t even be able to make sound.”  “Well… It’s what I got.

RK:  Yeah, you have to work with what you’ve got.  I mean, I’ve got a raspy voice and I’m not the best musician, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t go and try to write songs.

PA:  You know, I can’t believe I forgot to ask this question.

RK:  Well, ask it now, the camera’s still rolling.

CA:  Yeah, you’re all good.

PA:  I don’t think anyone ever asks you this, but how’d you pick the name Man Man?

(there’s a long pause and Chris chuckles in background)

RK:  That’s funny.  No one’s ever asked me that.

PA:  Honus Honus?  Is that like Humbert Humbert?

RK:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Ha. Touche.

CA:  Man, I never noticed that.

RK:  That’s funny.  I appreciate you not asking those questions.

PA:  That doesn’t have anything to do with your music.

RK:   It’s funny still being asked those questions, five records in.  “How did y’all meet?”  Its like… *sighs*  You don’t want to be rude, because someone is taking the time to ask you questions, but at the same time, if you’re really just trying to get a pull quote, and not actually have a conversation, then don’t waste my time.  I mean, I’ll give you stock answers, if you’re gonna give me stock questions.

CA:  Well I appreciate it, ’cause when I talked to um… the person whose name I’ve already forgotten.

RK:  That’s fine.

CA:  Well she was like, “How much time do you want?”  And, I didn’t want to throw a time at her, like, “We’re going for 14 hours!” or, whatever… “2 minutes!”  But I was hoping [for] just enough time to have a conversation with somebody.  I really just don’t care about that other shit.  If you can find that information on wikipedia, then why waste someone’s time?  If you don’t care, then why are you talking to somebody?

RK:  Well, sometimes it’s just a job, like anything else.  And so, you need to write 50 words and you need to have one fresh line to kind of muddle in with words like “circus” and “carnival.”

CA:  And “Tom Waits?”

RK:  Yeah, and Tom Waits, or Frank Zappa, or… whatever.


PA:  I’m always amazed that nobody mentions a Balkan influence.  You could talk about the rhythms of Mariachi, or Balkan horn and string sections, or anything like that..

RK:  Even polyrhythms, or just African…  You know, I taught myself how to play, and I taught myself how to play for this band.  And we’ll come up with stuff, and… I don’t know.  Nothing’s really over…. umm… It’s not calculated.  We just write stuff and, if it sounds cool, [we’ll go with it].  Or, if it sounds corny and we start to question whether or not, “Oh, this sounds really corny.”  Once we have that doubt, then it’s like, “Oh, it sounds corny, we gotta make it our own.”  Rather than running away from it.  And that’s a great thing about Chris [Powell] is that nothing’s ever corny.  If we come up with an idea, we know that, someone else might be like, “Oh. that reminds me of like, dub music.“  It’s like, “So?”  It’s gonna be our song at the end of the day.  So, whatever, don’t be scared.

CA:  Was that always easy for you?  Well, you already kind of answered this, but was there ever a time where you questioned that more, or where you intentionally kind of steered away from yourself, because it sounded too much like someone else?

RK:  Nah, I feel like if I could emulate someone else, I would have probably emulated someone else more successfully than the references that are applied to us.  I would have emulated the Backstreet Boys, or something.  But I don’t know how to, so I’m just trying to write.  You know, I don’t want to say I wish I could do that; I don’t wish I could do that.  But, I know I can’t really play cover songs very well; it takes me too long.  And I’d rather write my own song than try to learn someone else’s.  Although, I know it’s important for people and it can be a learning experience for them, but I also feel like it sets parameters that you feel confined in.  It does sound pretty silly saying, (in a gruff voice)I don’t know the rules, so, therefore, I can’t break ‘em.”  But it’s true.  I don’t know; I don’t know what’s right.

CA:  It also sounds kind of hardcore.

RK:  It’s like, I mean, I’ve played with people who are super trained, who’ll be like, “You can’t do that!”  And I’m like, “Why not? It sounds cool!  I’m doing it and I’m gonna find a way to make it work.  And I’m sorry you don’t want to do it, but you know, you also don’t have to put up with me.”

PA:   And you have two new band members, right?

RK:  Yeah.

PA:  Were they on the recording?

RK:  Adam [Schatz] helped arrange most of the horns; he’s a badass.  And Brian [Murphy], he jumped on post-album to tour with us, and he’s a fuckin’ slayer, man.  He’s such a great guitar player and horn player.  It’s sick.

PA: I always love that when everybody in the band is multi-instrumental.

RK: See, I’m lucky, because I surround myself with extremely talented musicians.  It just makes me look like I know what I’m doing.

PA:  Oh yeah.  Well, you’ve got us fooled.

RK:  So… whatevs.

On Oni Pond is available now through Anti- Records


Parvaneh currently lives in Seattle, where she intermittently contributes to Monster Fresh and, far more frequently, can be found exploring photography. Evidence of her photographic efforts can be found at thesunsetseast.com.

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