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Since the formation of Philadelphia‘s Man Man in 2003, one constant, along with founder Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) has been change. While it’s true that the front man’s gruff trademark vocals and uncanny ability to inject rich narratives into his songwriting have also remained, both the sonic palette and manner in which Kattner utilizes his talents have experienced consistent and organic evolution. Any number of descriptors have been thrown around in an effort to define what the Man Man sound is, but narrowing that down has proven difficult, if not impossible. There are definitely familiar elements and influences to be found (balkan folk, rock, doo-wop, etc.), but although comparisons (some lazier than others) are easy enough to draw, the truth is that the music being analyzed is as unique and multi-dimensional as the man who crafts it. It’s that infectious, one-of-a-kind sound that has seeped into the bones of a dedicated fan (fan) base, compelling a growing number of admirers to go so far as to tattoo song lyrics onto their bodies. With the group’s last studio effort, On Oni Pond, arriving back in 2013, the last 3 years have left folks hungry for new material, as well as the return of the notoriously high energy live performances the band is known for. This October the wait is over.
Now permanently relocated to Los Angeles, Kattner is currently preparing the release of the first Honus Honus solo album next month. For the upcoming LP, Use Your Delusion, Ryan worked closely with producer/shred guitar virtuoso/”pug trainer,” King Cyrus King to deliver a project that takes risks and explores new territory, while still sounding like the next logical progression for the songwriter. The album features vocal contributions from the likes of Shannon Shaw (Shannon And The clams) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and, as we experienced first-hand, the new band that he’s assembled are an impressive troupe with the ability to conjure up a live show engaging enough to rival anything that we’ve witnessed from Honus in the past.
During their tour stop in Seattle this summer, our writer Parvaneh Angus, who previously interviewed him around the release of On Oni Pond, had the opportunity to sit down with Honus Honus to discuss the new project. Realizing that there was still some key subject matter that she’d hoped to touch on, she called Ryan for some followup questions a couple of weeks later. What that call yielded was a conversation that was just as long and equally as informative as the first. When the full transcripts reached me, I viewed them less like the extension of a conversation and more so as two separate interviews that complimented each other, but could definitely stand on their own. This time around, the discussion delves more into such topics as how the project was born, the early days of Man Man, and the incredible Pledge Music campaign that Honus Honus successfully launched, offering pre-orders to finance the manufacturing costs. If you liked the last interview, this one, very well, might be even better. And if you’re a fan of Kattner‘s previous work, you need to quit fucking around and go pre-order Use Your Delusion via Pledge Music now to claim yourself one or more of the amazing/unorthodox rewards being offered through it, before time runs out on that thing. After you’ve done that, then come back and read our “Bonus Bonus” interview published below.
– Dead C
So, the first couple albums that you did with Man Man — and I was trying to figure out where I read this, and I couldn’t find it — but, I seem to remember reading that you recorded the first album over a period of time and then shopped it around. Is that correct?
No actually, with Man in a Blue Turban, we actually recorded a demo — like an EP, basically — of songs we would end up re-recording and putting on the full length. We would just sell it at shows, we didn’t shop around anywhere. And a friend of mine was in that band An Albatross; I don’t know if you remember them.
They were like a Locust type band. They were on Ace Fu and, unbeknownst to me, he sent them the demo. We never actually mailed it out to anybody. And so, they approached me about making a record, and that’s kind of how it started. And in my head I was like, “Oh Ace Fu” — I really like Ex Models and Pinback, who put out their first album on Ace Fu. I was like, “This is awesome, this is like a dream, and I’ll put out a record and I’ll get on with my life.” And I’d be like, “I was on the same label as some bands that I like.” And that was kind of the extent of where I thought my musical career would go.
Because I was 22, 23? And I had never been in a band before, and I felt like a total fraud,. And I thought, “wow, I somehow scammed my way into being on an indie label, and now that’s that.”
Yeah, you made it, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that first record we made for 500 dollars. Which, in hindsight, is like the greatest deal for a label, because they own my masters for the rest of my life for 500 dollars. And Six Demon Bag we made for 1,500. Another great deal. They own the label, and they own the masters for the rest of my life for 1,500 dollars.
I have a good relationship with them now, as time’s gone on.
And I’ve actually made more money with those deals because we recoup so fast.
That’s pretty solid.
So, when I was faced with this solo record, I sent it to one label — I’ll leave it unnamed — that I had a good relationship with. And I didn’t hear back. I followed up. I didn’t hear back again. And I was basically like, “Fuck it.” Because, labels, unless you’re signing to a major– which, I’m not delusional, a major’s not going to pick me up, so I’m gonna have to go with an indie label — they’re not going to give me a decent advance, and they’re gonna own my records forever for nothing. You know, this album, I’m very proud of it. I think a lot of people could like it. But, ultimately, it’s going to reach people who like what I do and can connect with my songwriting style. And, hopefully, people who like Man Man, which I’m still having an impossible time reaching those people.
Yeah. Social media is weird that way.
Granted, I don’t have any PR or anything, so…
Well, I’ll do my best to help.
But, it was incredibly encouraging, though, when I launched the Pledge [Music] thing, which is not like Kickstarter. It’s not crowdfunding. I think that’s something that’s confusing to people, because they’re so accustomed, in this day and age, to all these crowdfunding sites. And nothing against crowdfunding, it’s just something that I’m not into. I don’t want to ask people for money to inspire me to go to the coffee shop and write lyrics, you know?
I don’t need that. I’m not going to pander. So, what I liked about Pledge, which is different, is that they just offer you a form to presell your record. When I went to them, my record was finished. I wanted to presell it to cover the cost of manufacturing, which is so stupid expensive.
It’s so stupid expensive and antiquated in the sense that it takes months and months to have new product manufactured. Especially with vinyl, because everything is so backed up with people trying to do vinyl these days.
Yeah. They closed down almost all the factories, so now there’s no one to do it, so there’s just huge backlogs, yeah.
Yeah, and it’s a shame, and it’s a full time job. I mean, I knew that going in. That’s why you sign bad deals with labels. It’s because they do all of the garbage work you don’t want to do. But the good thing about this is that I’m personally connected to people and I kind of want to change my campaign slogan to, “I will be personally licking your fucking envelopes.”
That was kind of part of what I like about it, that I think you’ve always had a really close relationship with your fan base. You always post tattoo photos if someone comes up to you and says “I got your lyrics tattooed on my arm” and you take a photo and post it on your social media. You talk to everybody and appreciate them and you can really see that reflected in the Pledgemusic campaign.
It’s funny, too, because kids will always come up to me and be like, “Who’s doing your social media stuff, they’re really good.” I’m like, “I’m doing it!” I’m answering the tweets, I’m answering your facebook messages, I’m answering your emails. Who else is gonna do it? And I know bands and I know artists that have interns to do all that stuff, but I feel lucky to have anybody interested at all in what i do. And I don’t take it for granted, and nobody owes me anything.
Your rewards on your PledgeMusic campaign are honestly some of the coolest things I’ve seen an artist kind of give up. Test pressings of albums, keys from your piano, which is wild to me.
And you know, I really need to hire a publicist just so people know that this exists. There’s a lot of Man Man fans out there that, aside from what I can do with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, which not everyone obviously uses, I don’t really know how to reach everyone yet. I’ve got to step it up. I’ve been slacking on tour. But for the Pledge campaign, like the #deadagain cameras, I really wish I’d asked for more money for those. *laughing*
Yeah. That was a pretty big undertaking!
Yeah, I’m gonna do the math right now in my head of how many actual pictures had to be taken and it was 1080.
How many did you offer?
Well, I offered 10 cameras originally, and they flew by so quickly. They were only 50 bucks a pop and you have to develop the film [yourself], but it’s a lot of work. I knew it would be, but at the same time, I like the fact that I’m willing to get face down in the dirt to try to get this album out to you. If that’s what I have to do, it’s fine.
They’re fun to do, but when I was doing them on instagram, I’m on the ground for 5 seconds.
But when you’re shooting that many photographs, I’m on the ground for 5 minutes.
Cycling through all the cameras?
Yeah, but for the most part, they’re not all the same pictures. I would go out with maybe five cameras in my pocket, or just two, and if I’d see a cool setup, then I’ll do it. Like I said, there were ten. They went so fast, I added another ten, and then those went by. And then I thought, “well I’m going on tour where I’ll have a lot of people helping out on pictures,” so I added another 20. So, we just did 540 shots. It was a lot of face down in the desert, in the grass, in the dirt, and really weird filthy bars.
I mean, I kind of wish that I’d taken more Instagram photos of some of the setups, but we just didn’t because I just wanted to knock ‘em out. Like, as a point of reference, I went out one day with Mini Honus Honus and [her husband] Tomoki, and we tried to shoot as many as we could and, in about 4 or 5 hours of just trying to vary up the settings, we only got through maybe six or seven setups.
Oh my gosh.
Because I want ‘em to look cool, you know? I wanna climb on my roof, or on the side of a hill where you’d dump a body. I thought it would be more interesting than like, “here’s me hanging out at a party.”
Hopefully, people will share the images that they get on the cameras.
I’m sure I am like a petri dish of all…
Just all the diseases.
I think it’s awesome that you’re doing that for people. But yeah, 50 dollars seems like not whole lot of money for that.
The cameras themselves cost 10 bucks. And then, once I have to mail them and everything… At the same time, it was a fun experience. I like that that was part of the narrative now, that for over 1000 shots, I was laying on the ground.
With one shoe off.
With one shoe off. The only shot — I think it only ended up on 4 cameras, because of policing — that I really enjoyed, where I didn’t take my shoe off, was a couple days ago in San Diego, when I laid with a sea lion.
Oh yeah, that one actually made it to social media, too. That was awesome.
Yeah, yeah.So, you ended up recording the album with King Cyrus King, who does compositions for Adult Swim and stuff?
Whenever there’d be musicals, like… Yeah, he’s a brilliant motherfucker.
So, that explains the connection between him and Jon Daly, as well, with The Kroll Show.
Yeah, I actually met Cyrus through Jon.
Yeah, playing bongos, right?
Yeah. But I had met Cyrus before that, because Jon had a podcast with Cyrus called ‘Building the Track’ where you had an hour to write a song in a style. And that’s where I first met Cyrus. I was like, “Who is this wild haired Persian man?” I just feel so lucky that I got to meet him. He’s like my brother.
The whole reason this album came together is because he pushed me for it to come together.
The last two albums that you recorded were with Mike Mogis. It seems like this is probably a pretty big change just in terms of the style of production.
Yeah, and we were gonna demo, and I was like, “fuck it, let’s just make the record.” And he made the time to do it with me and, when I’d hit those walls, he’d push me through ‘em.
I see in your campaign you have all these rewards where it’s like, “oh, the two of us will record a cover song for you.” So did you just find that you had a really good vibe together?
Initially, he wanted to start working on music together, because he felt like we were kindred spirits. Which we are! His fiancee is totally fine with our relationship. We made it clear. *laughs* But he wanted to work on music and I was coming off of a 2 ½ year record cycle supporting On Oni Pond, and I was completely burnt out. So, I just told him, “let’s just try to make one song together and see how it turns out.” And we made a 1-minute song. It was a lot of fun. And so I told him about my desire– I’ve had a life-long dream to make a 31-minute record. I don’t know if I talked about this before.
No, you didn’t!
So, I bounced the idea off of him. It had worked out pretty well, because I told him I wanted to work on music, but I just didn’t have the capacity, mentally and emotionally, to just dive right back into writing another Man Man record/solo record. So, I told him about the thirty-one-minute album and it’s thirty-one 1-minute-long songs. And we ended up making this totally twisted kids record. I hate kids music, so I was like, “I wanna make an album which the parents don’t mind hearing on repeat when they drive their kids to school.” It’s completely uneducational. It’s like if Ween made a kids record.
Are these things that are going to be released into the world, ever?
We’re trying to. We were trying to collaborate with a friend of mine who is a writer/storyboard artist on Adventure Time, and we’re kind of just working out the scheduling. We want to put it out as an art project; a book that also has, you know, a soundtrack. We’re just trying to find a way to get it out into the world. The project is called Booger Bubble. And from Booger Bubble we realized we got our working relationship down, and then, he was like, “Dude, just make your solo record already.” And he really helped.
Well, of course, that would be amazing.
But, especially because he did that episode of Portlandia with the kids music. It seems particularly apt.
The songs are definitely in the vibe of like Crackbox… but it’s also some really sweet and tender songs. There’s a couple of them that I even thought of putting on the solo record. Or even, maybe, playing with the Honus band, because there’s a couple really beautiful songs, there’s a lot of silly songs…
It’s hard to believe you wrote a tender song. You never put any of those on any of your albums. *laughing*
No, never. And a song comes from the perspective of a little worm called “Sherman the Worm Man.”
It’s such a beautiful song.
I can’t wait to hear it someday.
I had a couple questions about the album, too, and now that I’ve had a little time to sit with the lyrics a little bit, I have a few more questions. You said this is your “weird LA” album. Apocalyptic LA Pop, I think you called it.
I feel like On Oni Pond, of all your albums, has the most positive vibe, with songs like “Head On (Hold Onto Your Heart)” really lifting the vibe of things. But Use Your Delusion is really back to that…. Well, it’s pretty dark, lyrically. So, I guess I’m wondering how you’re liking living in LA.
Oh, I love it. And the only reason that I haven’t really pushed that it’s my LA record is that… all my records are informed by what’s going on in my life and where I’m living. Like, with Oni Pond, and even Life Fantastic, I was living nowhere. And it definitely bleeds into the music. And I haven’t pushed this as an LA record, because I don’t want it to be written off as a concept record.
I mean, the songs are intrinsically informed by my environment, but they’re not exclusive to that. I think you can enjoy the record without knowing any of the references. I didn’t make a John Misty record, you know?
Haha, right! Well, I don’t know how much you want to get into this, but I definitely felt like some of the songs kind of felt like character studies, like, “this is a failed actor getting by in LA,” and that kind of stuff.
And in “Santa Monica,” just the language you use, saying, “you’re an extra fading into the crowd” kinda feels like the language is very informed, like you said, by where you are. I guess what I mean is, how much of it is personal and how much of it is observational?
Well, I feel like that’s just the way that I’ve always written. In order to write a song, you know, for people who actually listen to lyrics. But, in order for a song to really connect with people it’s got to be relatively objective. But, at the same time, it’s gotta feel like there’s a beating heart putting all these words together. So, it’s always been important for me to create a collage of straight-up personal confessions, observations, songs about my friends — without it being too obviously about my friends, so they’ll remain my friends — and just references to things in my life. Films I like, plays, books…
And you’ve always had a lot of references to art, literature, film, etc in your albums.
Also, where I’m at in my life career-wise, too. Even the title of the album; it’s like you have to be delusional to want to to do this. To want to carve out your little niche through your own language, and think that anyone wants to listen to it. I feel like my whole career has been like I’m a delusional person and I’m trying to use it to the best of my capacity to wake up and not want to run off a cliff.
Yeah, I think that’s a pretty big struggle for a lot of people.
Yeah, you’ve gotta embrace your weirdness and just find the beauty in everything that is wrong with you, because most of that stuff is what makes you wonderful.
And I’ve always wanted to move to LA because, even when I was fresh out of college — and I’m like a failed screenwriter, and so, part of moving to LA was that. And I would tell my parents, “I need to go to LA. I want to go there. It’s where dreams go to die.” But I love LA, it’s such a weird fucking place.
I’m going to go for the first time later this year.
It’s a great place. I mean, it has all those things that people don’t like, but you have to understand, too, that if you tend to gravitate towards garbage and garbage people, you’ll do that anywhere you live.
I have so many wonderful, creative, inspiring people around me, and that’s who I choose to be with. Or, wherever your scene is. I mean, if you’re in Boise, you’ve got to be around the people who are constantly challenging and forcing you to be better.
I definitely have those people in my life that are constantly bouncing from one place to another and, at first, it always seems promising and it always kind of goes sour. It’s kind of like, obviously there’s something deep in them that’s unhappy. You’ve always gotta address that first before you can find the right people.
Yeah, or use it to your advantage.
I know you were involved in a short film with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Are you getting involved with screenwriting a little bit down there?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I finally got back into writing features.
I almost had a feature optioned.
I’m working on a pilot episode, or something I have to pitch. Trying to write my LA noir story.
Nice. I’m excited for that. I hope it gets picked up.
Yeah. People are multi-dimensional. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. I don’t want to just be some rock dude and I’m not.
I don’t think you come off that way.
No, I think it’s very clear from talking to you, even to anybody who has a brief interaction with you, that you’ve got depth.
Did I answer your question? I don’t know if I did.
Oh yeah, I was just thinking that living in LA seems like the perfect place for you to be able to pursue the original reason that you went to school. I think you answered the question.
It’s also one of those things where, I know it’s preaching to the choir, but being in a band and maintaining the band is tough. Unless you’re doing it all the time and kind of sacrificing having an actual life, you’ve gotta hustle. You’ve constantly got to hustle to try to find other ways to get by. And I have to live here in order for that hustle to work.
Your choices for the two songs that you’ve released, you have “Heavy Jesus” which you directed the video for. And then you also had “Red Velvet,” which is a lot darker.
I feel like the vibe of that song, even just with the high pitched chorus or descant is definitely more of a throwback to your first three albums. I thought that was kind of a cool choice, because you really throw something in there for your more recent fans and also farther back.
For the third video, we’re doing, “Will You Blow Your Brains Out On A Sunday.”
Which is horrible, because that song was stuck in my head for like 4 days after you left Seattle. It was like, of all the songs, it had to be those lyrics going over and over in my mind. *laughs*
And it’s once you absorb that line, which is fucking dark, it’s actually a really pretty song about not giving up.
The album title will be “Will You.” But, I like that the two videos we released for the songs, they’re not necessarily the strongest songs on the record, but I like the extreme juxtaposition of vibes. They’re very different.
I think that’s awesome, though. You’re making it very clear that you’re not doing just one type of thing.
Yeah, I don’t know how to do that, or have any desire or interest to do that. I don’t want to be bored .
I thought it was cool that “Will You” kind of felt like a bookend with “Curtains” off of On Oni Pond.
Also, the way that the record opens with “Vampires,” you know the song is an ode to the Mexican Bela Lugosi and someone who’s still doing it, still hoping that that break’s gonna come. And then, it ends with “Empty Bottle,” which is basically an ode to someone who lives under the pier and goes around and takes recycling out of people’s trashes, but still has a positive delusional outlook on life.
Yeah, you know, even though life can be really hard and demanding — it can break your spirit time and time again — it’s all about second chances and remaining hopeful that sometimes the script can change. You have to have a sense of levity about everything. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Yeah, I guess that’s particularly relevant these days.
Yeah. But then again, at the end of the day, I’ll have put out another studio record and I’ll just work on the next thing.
Well, it sounds like you have a lot of promising things on the horizon.
Just another drop in the bucket. But, I’m glad you heard the record and saw us. I’m excited about what we’re doing. I’m with such a great group of weirdos.
Yeah, it really seems like everyone wants to be there. It’s great seeing you all on stage together.
Ultimately, that’s, at least at this point in my life — and please note that I’m wincing as I say “career” — all that matters to me is that it stays true to who I am and it’s fun.
I feel, especially with art or anything creative, that’s the fear that something that you’re doing as an outlet becomes your job.
Yeah, and once it starts to feel like a job, there’s just other things you can do. When making music and having this outlet starts to feel like a grind again, I’ll just do something else.
Well, again, I guess LA seems like a good place to be for that.
Yeah, it’s kind of funny. Cyrus and I, we recently scored a pilot that I hope gets picked up, called “Do You Want To See A Dead Body?” It’s pretty funny. I’m definitely getting what I’m putting out into the universe.
The title definitely doesn’t surprise me at all.
Yeah, especially with my deadagain. It’s pretty awesome. Someone with a really keen sense of humor is listening in.
Oh, what was that?
What do you mean?
There was a really high pitched noise behind you?
Oh, my neighborhood is infested with green parrots. It’s probably that. I also have squirrels that live outside my window in an avocado tree, which sounds very lovely to have an avocado tree outside your window, but I never actually got to eat the avocados before the squirrels did. I bought a squirrel call to fuck with them, but I think I bought a mating call.
Because, whenever I see one outside my window eating an avocado, I whip out the squirrel call and they seem to get really aroused, which is kind of cool, but not solving my squirrels eating my avocados problem.
Not really what you want to peer out your window and see: aroused squirrels.
What I need is to get an embedded squirrel. I need to import one, train it to take them to someone else’s avocado tree.
Get a guard squirrel.
But, I was talking to my friend Shilpa, we were just talking about what a pain in the ass it is being in a band, and I tried to lighten her spirits by giving her the visual of, for the first time in my life, I’m living somewhere. I’ve been living in LA for two years now and for several years before that I was living out of a duffle bag. And I was like, “Shilpa, if you ever get blue and you’re really bummed out, just picture that I’m in my yard putting fertilizer on an avocado tree, trying to get the avocados to really come in full this year.” And it’s working, by the way. There’s a ton of avocados on this tree. I think it’s a funny image, me fertilizing a tree with stuff I bought at home depot. But the squirrels are eating all the avocados. They’re getting fat as shit!
I hope you’re still wearing your denim vest while you’re gardening.
Yeah, my mariachi suit.
I’d agree that’s a pretty uplifting image.
Yeah, so I guess that’s the story of my career. I’m fertilizing avocado trees, so squirrels can get fat.
You’ve lived in a lot of places in your life, right? From posts you’ve made on facebook and stuff, you grew up living in Texas, the Philippines growing up, and then in Philly for your 20s. Do you consider LA home now?
Yeah, until I fall into a fault line.
Yeah, we have the same fear in Seattle. Plus, volcanoes.
Or nightmarishly living under a pier in Santa Monica. That’s my nightmare, but we’ll see.
I think you’ve got this. You’ve got it under control.
Or at least maintaining the illusion of it. *laughs* Use your delusion, there you go.
I don’t know, I think that’s a generational thing. We’re all in the same boat.
Thanks for the support. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for talking with me.
I’m glad you got to see us when we came through. I’m excited to have you see the band again now that we’ve got all these shows under our belt.
Yeah, I’m sure you’ll be touring again once you get the vinyl pressed and everything.
Hopefully. That’s the goal. If I don’t go the way of Costanza’s bride and die licking envelopes. Wouldn’t that be fitting? Then, maybe I can pledge off my ashes.
Support my album. Buy my ashes! You could have me on your mantel forever!
That would be a funny thing to future pledge. My ashes.
Buy my dead body. Makes sense for you.
See if someone could give me money for my ashes. I should talk to my lawyer I don’t have and try to figure that out.
Okay… NOW go Pre-order Use Your Delusion!