BY BRYAN BIERMAN In a parked car on some Saturday, summer of 2004, I fumbled through the radio stations, finally landing on WKDU, and this crazy noise they were playing. When I got home, I emailed the DJs to find the name of that ‘gypsy Tom Waits circus punk’ (or probably something similar to that—I was 15 and had just bought Swordfishtrombones, so I’m sure I wanted to show that off). I couldn’t get the music out of my head for days, but I didn’t know what it was. “The band’s called Man Man,” they finally wrote back, “they’re local.” I thought, this came from here? Since forming in 2001, Man Man has crawled up from the Philly dive bars to become a worldwide cult-favorite, while still retaining their spot as one of the city’s most beloved sons. Last year, they released their fourth album, Life Fantastic, a somewhat darker affair. Front man Honus Honus (a.k.a. Ryan Kattner) also released an album with “doom wop” side-project Mister Heavenly last year, featuring Nicholas Thorburn of The Unicorns, Shins/Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer, and their sometimes touring bassist, actor Michael Cera. We spoke to Honus, in advance of Man Man’s show at Union Transfer this tomorrow night.
PHAWKER: Man Man toured last year, then you went on tour with Mister Heavenly. Are these two shows (Rhode Island/Philly) sort of an epilogue?
HONUS HONUS: Kind of. I released Life Fantastic last year with Man Man, so we’re about to head into some downtime while we work on the next record.
PHAWKER: Have you ever been to Union Transfer?
HONUS HONUS: I haven’t, I’m excited about playing there.
PHAWKER: When you’re done touring, do you miss it, or are you just wiped out?
HONUS HONUS: Definitely wiped out, but we’re all going to miss it, because touring is our livelihood, and it’s what keeps us from going crazy. Which, in and of itself, is kind of a crazy thing to say, because touring also makes you insane. But when we’re not on the road, it sort of… gives you too much time to think about everything else. Good to stay busy. But now we’re shifting into writing mode.
PHAWKER: Have you been demoing anything new stuff?
HONUS HONUS: A little, not too much. Mostly we’ve just been taking time off, and kind of, collecting ourselves. ‘Cause there was a lot of touring last year.
PHAWKER: Do you have any idea of what you’re going to go for on the next album, or is it still up in the air?
HONUS HONUS: You know, it’s still up in the air. We’re just starting to talk about it now. It’s interesting, because in the past, record cycles were—you toured for a couple years behind the record. But now, since the way everything’s changed, you kind of have to keep plowing through. It’s an interesting challenge, but it doesn’t ever make it any easier.
PHAWKER: Was the best, and worst, moment on the tour?
HONUS HONUS: All the shows were really great. I think the only thing was that we thought we had made some real strides as a band, and also as musicians, on Life Fantastic. And I think the one thing that was a little disappointing was that it still felt like it was kind of released into a vacuum, or just flew under the radar. We’re really proud of the album, so, we just want more people to hear it.
PHAWKER: It was kind of different from the other ones.
HONUS HONUS: Yeah, it was a real labor of love. I guess, it’s just a matter of still getting it out there. It’s still a young record.
PHAWKER: Usually Man Man’s shows are really energetic and upbeat, but Life Fantastic was a bit more somber. How has it felt playing those songs live?
HONUS HONUS: I think it’s more interesting when there’s a real ebb and flow to things, so it’s not just all “cocaine jams.” It’s nice when you can balance it out, because people aren’t generally always all the way on. And we have four records at this point, so we play a little bit from everything, but even the new material we’re working on, we’re excited about, ‘cause it can be radically different, as well. But we have enough songs now that there’s a nice balance of feels.
PHAWKER: Will you be playing any of the new songs you’re working on at the next two shows?
HONUS HONUS: Probably not. The way we generally write is… it takes a long time for us to write, and then we road-test stuff. I feel like once we start going out on mini-tours, and longer tours in the future, we’re going to start trying out new material, and see how it flies. These shows are just—”epilogue” was a good description. We’ve been wanting to play Union Transfer for a long time, so we’re psyched.
PHAWKER: You went to UArts for screenwriting, right?
HONUS HONUS: Yes, many moons ago.
PHAWKER: Is screenwriting still something you would like to do?
HONUS HONUS: Yeah, I feel like a total failure until I actually get something done with that.
PHAWKER: Is that something you’ve been trying to do?
HONUS HONUS: Yeah, I’ve been trying. I’m kind of a failed screenwriter.
PHAWKER: Well, I think most of them are.
HONUS HONUS: (Laughs) Because all I’ve written is like, three minute stories.
PHAWKER: I read an interview with you a few years ago where you raved about Beat The Devil. They became one of my favorite bands because of that. Are there any other bands people should check out?
HONUS HONUS: Nick Waterhouse—he’s this guy out of San Fran. He released a digital EP, which is really spectacular. Actually, Shilpa—she’s the singer of Beat The Devil—she has her own thing now, Shilpa Ray & The Happy Hookers. And I’ve just been addicted to her. She gave me like, six, or seven demos of her new record, and it’s just so good.
PHAWKER: They opened for you guys last year, right?
HONUS HONUS: She did. And this stuff is different from the stuff she was playing on that tour, because this is her solo thing. I told her, “Man, I’ll play in your band! I’ll play maracas, I’ll sell your merch!” She just has one of those voices.
PHAWKER: These are just a couple Tiger Beat questions: Beatles or Stones?
HONUS HONUS: Stones.
PHAWKER: Occupy or not Occupy?
HONUS HONUS: Occu-pied.
PHAWKER: What’s the last movie that blew your mind?
HONUS HONUS: Drive.
PHAWKER: Last book you read?
HONUS HONUS: Youth in Revolt [The Journals of Nick Twisp].
PHAWKER: Favorite Simpsons quote?
HONUS HONUS: “…I’m full of chocolate.”
PHAWKER: Last question, and I have to ask—is Michael Cera as cute in real life?
HONUS HONUS: [Laughs] Yeah, he’s adorable. We actually had a hard time playing, ‘cause I couldn’t stop pinching his little cute cheeks.