Honus Honus, aka Ryan Kattner, leader of Philadelphia insanity-rock band, Man Man, is likely, in hindsight, grateful for the dissolution of his band’s original configuration shortly after its first album, The Man in the Blue Turban with a Face. Honus was at that point free to recruit, among other hyper-talented weirdoes, Chris Powell, aka Pow Pow, perhaps the greatest drummer in indy rock. Since then, Man Man have recorded two much better albums, and broken through the particular ceiling that has kept so many “weird” bands (including Powell’s previous frantic, multi-member psych band Needs New Body) performing in the margins for small appreciative audiences. After an extensive tour opening for Modest Mouse, plus landing songs in a Nike commercials and the HBO show Weeds, Honus spoke to Filter about the band’s set at VooDoo Fest in New Orleans, among other topics as varied as Man Man’s instrumentation. HH: (Slowly) Heeeey, man.
Me: Heeeey, man. The recorder’s running, we’re doing it, now.
HH: It’s happening.
Me: It’s happening as we speak.
HH: Do it.
Me: So, a trite one first: what’s the origin of your stage name?
HH: Honus Honus? I just flipped through the phonebook. It’s a common name in the phone book.
Me: You’re f—ing lying. HH: I am totally lying to you.
Me: Then where does it come from? You can’t tell me?
HH: No, it’s nothing special. I was just trying to think of a really dumb stage name, and who names their kid Honus? So I just doubled it, thinking it would be twice as special.
Me: What about the band’s name? We have several theories going on that.
HH: Oh yeah? What are your theories, I would like to hear them.
Me: Well, I think you should tell me the answer first before I tell you the theories because otherwise you’ll just pick one of my theories and say “Yeah, that’s it.”
HH: I won’t pick one of them. I won’t cop out that easy.
Me: OK, it’s either the Japanese…
HH: Japanese slang for vagina?
Me: Yeah, is that it?
HH: No. Keep going.
Me: Well, this isn’t it I’m sure but…you know Professor Griff from Public Enemy? Well whenever he talks about racial strife he always refers back to these two hypothetical black guys names Man Man and Peanut. Like, “I am not sure if that information is reaching Man Man and Peanut,” or, “Yes, that may be true, but what ramifications will this government policy have on Man Man and Peanut.” So I figured maybe it’s just a cool black nickname or something?
HH: Man Man can also refer to the smallest, youngest kid in the family. It also means “drawer” in Philippino, I’ve been told.
Me: OK. But what was your reason for picking your band name?
HH: Well, keeping in mind that most band names are pretty terrible, I tried to come up with something that was bad, yet memorable, and simple enough and not completely offensive.
Me: Did you know about the Japanese meaning before you named it that?
HH: No. Nor did I realize that naming it Man Man, so many people would then focus on our facial hair. (interview continues below this video:)
Me: Yes, I have read a lot about y’all’s facial hair, oddly. So, Chris Powell seems to be a huge part of your sound.
HH: Mm, he is. His contributions are definitely super important, he’s a killer drummer. But on the first record it was a whole different lineup.
Me: Did you used to go to Need New Body shows and covet Chris and try to talk him into quitting their band and joining yours?
HH: No, but I loved that band, they were phenomenal, just the spirit of what they were doing. We were the other band in Philly that was weird; we were called Gamelan, then Man Man. And that version of the band, after the first record and tour, it kinda dissolved, and that was at the same time that Need New Body was imploding, and I just asked if I could hire Chris out to play drums on Six Demon Bag.
Me: So you are the type of musician or songwriter who, regardless of who’s in your band, you’re going to be writing and recording your songs…
HH: Or die trying. But at the same time, the group of people we have now are just magical. When my band dissolved and I got to pick all new people to play with, I picked people whose ideas I trusted. And personality was important as technicality. As a musician, I am pretty primitive, but they are all approaching master status.
Me: When you got these specific people weren’t you kind of afraid that particularly Chris’ musical personality would drown out the sincerity inherent in your music? His kind of…
Me: That was the whole question. Go ahead.
HH: No. I want you to go ahead.
Me: No, I was done.
HH: No, there was something else there.
Me: I was going to say Chris’ ‘cartoonishly insane musical personality,’ maybe you were afraid that it would drown out something sincere you were trying to do…
HH: I feel like what makes this band tick is a loosey goosey proficiency and a willingness to experiment and take music different places, but there’s also a lot of sincerity. Kids can tell when you’re just lining up parts on index cards like ‘lets take this style and juxtapose it with this style and sing about a heart’. It’s just not that easy.
Me: Are you still playing shows in the form of one giant insane medley?
HH: Yes. We build this torso and then…it’s like a giant Mr. Potato Head body where we can switch out some parts. There are certain parts that only go with certain parts, but. The set is about an hour and it’s really intense. It’s full on. Even when we play similar sets it’s still not easy to do.
Me: Have you all played VooDoo before?
HH: No, but I festivals. Because there are people there who want to see you and people who don’t want to see you but they’re stuck, and there’s people who walk by with their little kids who are confused but they want to stay while they’re parents are totally offended…
Me: Well, if you’re lucky, this year at VooDoo you’ll get to see REM, Nine Inch Nails, maybe Rage Against the Machine – it’s like the 90’s for the third time already.
HH: While ironically, most of the kids who will be there were actually born in the 90’s.
Me: It seems like Man Man would particularly like New Orleans.
HH: We do. I especially like the above ground crypts. And I’m into the oyster poboy, and of course the musical tradition. Professor Longhair, man.
Me: Yeah, the musical tradition will drive you kind of nuts sometimes too though, living here. Sometimes it makes you feel like you’re living in a museum. There are so many people here who are amazing players but don’t have one unique idea to their names.
HH: Yeah. You can go into Guitar Center and see that too. But at least in New Orleans it’s music you wouldn’t mind listening to.
Me: True. But, New Orleans is one of the few places where you can have a job playing music, and while that’s great on some level, it also creates all this like….crabgrass. Music that just fills up space.
HH: Definitely, I know.
Me: Have you heard (famous New Orleans one-man-band and inventor of the Drum Buddy) Quintron?
HH: Oh yes. He’s awesome.
Me: Yes, he’s my ideal New Orleans music. Definitely beholden to New Orleans, but at the same time it’s not retread.
HH: Yes, we almost did a Halloween show with them last year in Austin. When we come through New Orleans again we’d like to play at his Spellcaster Lodge club.
Me: Oh, lastly, when I called you earlier, you were busy soundchecking, and I wanted you to tell me what all Man Man has to soundcheck. Pretty insane?
HH: Well, there’s lots of percussion, vintage keyboards, marimba, horns, xylophone, samplers, pots and pans to bang on.
Me: And you test all that out at soundcheck?
HH: It actually only takes us about ten minutes to set up, 20 to make sure everything’s working, but then it takes the soundmen about an hour and a half or two hours to set the microphones. That’s if he’s on the ball. The other day we had a guy it took him three hours to mic everything. It shouldn’t take that long. But what we need to do is travel with a cageful of trained spider monkeys that would do it all.
Me: You’re definitely not the first person to have that idea. I have heard it so many times actually, I am surprised no one has actually done it yet.
HH: But I am the first person who would graft human hands onto them.
Me: Human-sized ones that would be giant on a spider monkey? Or ones that fit them?
HH: Tiny hands. Like little baby hands. Big hands would look silly on a spider monkey. C’mon man.