Ryan Kattner of Man Man: "I Keep Inching My Way to What I think is the Perfect Pop Song."
Also known by his stage name, Honus Honus, Ryan Kattner has been leading the odd band Man Man for a decade. Speaking from his home in Philadelphia and in anticipation of tonight's show at Dada, Kattner was equal parts affable and quick-witted. On the heels of Man, Man's find new album, On Oni Pond, Kattner talked with DC9 about writing his own press releases and trying to never repeat himself.
Why do so many critics compare Man Man to the Talking Heads?
I don't mind the Talking Heads comparisons. I actually haven't heard them all that often.
What about always being referred to as experimental?
Yeah, I get that, too. Did someone once call us Talking Heads light? That's interesting. We usually get references to (Captain) Beefheart. On our first record, I wrote the press release and said we sounded like Iggy Pop. I was curious to see if anyone would actually buy our record based on the press release. When we went on tour, people were writing that we were channeling the sound of 70's Detroit. That was pretty funny.
Do you still write your own press releases?
No, I just did it for the first record because I was curious. I mean we don't sound anything like Iggy Pop.
It is nice having a sound that is hard to describe?
Yes, I think that is great because we aren't trying to sound like anyone but ourselves.
Where did you come up with the alias Honus Honus?
Because Humbert Humbert seemed kind of inappropriate.
How is the Philadelphia music scene these days? The classic image is of soul music.
I think we fit into the soul music category. I think the cool thing about our scene is everyone is doing their own thing. There's not really a sound to the city, especially for a experimental, Talking Heads kind of band. That kind of goes along with the Philly attitude. The Philly attitude is that I am going to do my own thing and if you don't like it, get the fuck out of my face.
Are you a big Eagles fan?
It might be sacrilegious, but I'm not.
What about the Phillies?
Yes, I am a Phillies fan. I am a fan of the Flyers and the 76ers. I don't dislike the Eagles. The flip side of that is that I am not a fan of any other NFL team. I like football, but I feel like it would be disrespectful to the Eagles if I liked another team.
Your most recent press release claims that you guys are fearlessly unique. In that respect, you remind me of Pere Ubu.
I think any comparisons may be in terms of a sensibility rather than a sound. I can appreciate that because a band like the Talking Heads did their own thing and established their own sound. Just because anyone can sing like David Byrne doesn't mean you have the same kind of drive.
The band uses a lot of interesting instruments, especially on stage. One instrument listed at a show was people's heads.
[Laughs] I have a drum and sometimes I occasionally miss. I don't force it or anything. I don't want to put my drumstick through their fontanel.
In 2007, you toured with Modest Mouse. Was their audience appreciative of your music?
Yes, it was pretty amazing actually. I don't understand why we are flying under the radar. I don't think we are inaccessible. I just think people need to know about us. That's what I like about this new record. I'm still learning how to write songs. I keep inching my way to what I think is the perfect pop song.
Both the last couple of albums have been perceived as more straight forward and accessible.
I think it's just a matter of crazy and chaotic getting old. It's not there wasn't songwriting on the earlier records. I think it is just a matter of knowing when to choose your battles with that stuff. You can either put on a straight jacket, or you can put on a nice suit and smile.
So you are not selling out; you are just growing up?
You have to keep challenging yourself, and you have to keep evolving. Otherwise, what's the point? You just keep repeating yourself and that gets boring. Who wants to do that?
Who are some people who have influenced you as a lyricist?
My own patience, I suppose. I really respect Leonard Cohen. I am not trying to copy anyone's style. I wouldn't know how to do it. I wouldn't do it well. It takes me a long time to write songs for that reason. I am pretty hard on myself.
I like Leonard Cohen because he can write very personally, but still be objective. He keeps you guessing, keeps you on your toes. You think you have him figured out and then he throws you a curveball. I think the same can be said for Steven Malkmus from Pavement. He can be very abstract, but also seem very personal and from the heart.
That's interesting seeing that one critic wrote that the songs on 2011's Life Fantastic seemed more personal and true to life.
I was just more forthcoming about it this time. The songs definitely represent a chapter in my life, even though my life is not an open book.
What is the biggest difference between Life Fantastic and the recently released On Oni Pond?
The new one is not like Life Fantastic at all. It's a lot different. It's great. I like Life Fantastic. It's the album that I wrote about that period of my life. I didn't want to repeat that. It was a conscious effort to step away from some things and enter some scary territory. What came of it was a surprisingly strange, but accessible record. We had a lot of fun with sounds and vibes and just had a lot of fun with it. There are aspects of this album that we groove more than we have in the past. The whole album doesn't sound like any one song. I think we hit a home run in this case.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.