Before Playing Dada On Friday, We Get Sarcastic With Man Man's Honus Honus.
After attending college in Philadelphia, where he studied screenwriting, Ryan Kattner decided to focus his penchant for the written word into shorter works like songs. So, without any real music training, Kattner started his first band, Man Man. Then he adopted the stage name Honus Honus and began cranking out eclectic, piano-driven Gypsy rock.
A decade later, Kattner has released five pretty varied records with an ever-rotating cast of backing characters — save for percussionist Chris Powell (aka Pow Pow), who has stuck around since damn near the beginning, and played a big role helping craft the band's most recent effort, 2013's On Oni Pond.
More recently, Kattner's been taking some time off the road to demo the next Man Man record and to begin work on a solo LP. And just before he hopped on a flight from L.A. to meet his bandmates in Dallas to rehearse for Friday's Dada show, we caught up with the ever-sarcastic frontman to talk about his Texas roots and playing corporate-sponsored rock shows.
Are you guys on tour right now or is the Red Bull show just a one-off?
No, it's a one-off. And we're doing Austin as well. We're not really doing any touring this year.
The whole year? Are you guys working on a record at the moment or something?
Um, kind of. We're just kind of taking a break for a little bit. We're doing shows throughout the year and we're slowly working on our record. We've been demoing stuff now, but we're kind of taking our time with it.
So kind of the opposite approach from the last one, then, which seemed to come together quickly.
Uh, yeah. This is definitely an opposite approach. But, y'know, no sense in rushing.
Are you still living in L.A.? Is everybody else pretty spread out?
Yeah, I'm officially in L.A. Chris [Powell] is still holding down our Philly roots.
Have you finally gotten a place of your own there, or are you still crashing with people?
Yeah, I'm still crashing, but I'm here. I've been here, now, for a little while.
Does part of that mentality come from not wanting to own a lot of possessions or anything like that?
That's just kind of how it's been. In order to play music, you have to make certain sacrifices. One of them is having a place to live for a very long time — at least playing the kind of music we play, which I think falls into the cultish territory. Chris and I would love to have lavish estates. It doesn't seem to be in the cards. That's what we get for playing with tarot cards — or in our case, Uno cards.
Speaking of Chris, why do you think he's stuck with you so long when so many other musicians have come and gone over the years?
Good question. I can tell you it has nothing to do with me visiting a witch doctor years ago.
I mean, you were saying it takes a certain level of sacrifice, is Chris just willing to make more sacrifices than most people?
Chris just welcomed a little mini Powell into the world, so his responsibilities have increased tremendously.
Another thing I wanted to bring up was the Man Man lore — the all white clothes you've worn on stage, the absence of stage banter, the stage names you've adopted. A lot of that at the beginning came from a place of not wanting there to be any distractions that might take away from the music but, at some point, don't these things become gimmicks in their own right, and sort of have the opposite effect?
Yeah, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I kind of fucked up the equation when we put out the Mister Heavenly album and I went by my real name. That really messed everything up for me. [laughs] That really made life a little more complicated just because people now know my real name.
But, y'know, I'm working on a solo record right now; it's a wrestling match. It's like, I don't know if everyone's seen Superman II, but there's two Supermen in that movie and they fight each other. That's sort of what's happening with this solo record.
How does your solo material differ from Man Man's?
There's no different approach. It's definitely eccentric.
Is it still pretty keys-based? What's the vibe been so far?
I'm trying to make a nighttime driving record. I think after this many years of making music, I've finally come to terms with the fact that — sigh — I am a weirdo. And that's OK, because we're all weirdos.
You have been making music for a long time. And, like you said, it's kind of got a cultish following, you're still playing smaller clubs. Do you feel like you've quote-unquote made it?
I don't think we've made it. We've made it in the sense that we're lucky enough that people come to our shows. Chris and I are very thankful. Our fans are awesome, I wouldn't trade them for anything. I never imagined, starting out playing music, that anyone would ever want to listen to it. I wake up in disbelief every day. Have we made it? No, we're still hustling.
Do you still feel like a big break is coming? At what point do you say “Our music is pretty weird, we're fortunate that this many people come to our shows?”
I don't think our music is very weird at all. I would say our career has mostly been word of mouth. It's a great place to be. I still think we can reach more people, it's just a matter of it hasn't happened yet. It may never happen, it may happen when we're dead. Who knows, people may not even listen to music in 10 years. They don't really listen to music now, do they?
They certainly don't seem to buy physical copies of it, anyway.
Oh yeah, but you can only lament that so much. It's just one of those things. If we were a band 20 years ago… We had a song called “Head On” on our last record — which, I'm very proud of that song — it's gotten a couple of million Spotify listens. Did that translate into something that's going to help put gas in our van? No, but it's cool that people are listening.
Let's talk about your live shows, which are known for being really energetic and fun. That seems to be a pretty stark juxtaposition to your lyrical content, which is at times pretty dark. Do you just chalk that up to live shows and albums being completely separate things?
They are. I don't want this to be the case, but more people will probably hear our songs recorded than will ever see us live, so that has to be a lasting document in its own right. I live for live shows — just the energy, feeding off the audience. I feel very spoiled, because we've always had such great people that come to our shows. The energy is always so positive. The people allow themselves to become absorbed in what we're doing. There's a reckless abandonment to it all. It's always positive. There's no greater feeling than seeing a young kid or a high school girl stage dive, maybe for the first time. We brought that out of them, that's awesome.
In that way, do you think that people that don't really dig your records would still have a pretty good time at your live shows?
Oh yeah, definitely. It's a much different vibe. And if you like our live shows, you might give the record a chance. As far as the lyrical contrast, you want to keep things interesting. There are many sides to a human being, so why can't music be the same way?
The Dallas show, of course, is being put on by Red Bull, and I was wondering if…
We drink Red Bull? Yeah.
No, but I know you guys had some songs in Nike ads early on that really helped you gain some exposure, so I wanted to get your take on art world intersecting with the corporate world.
Is this the sell out question?
No, not necessarily. I think it's a little broader than that.
I fell like, for the most part, touring, living breathing bands are able to keep doing it because of playing shows. Some shows are sponsored and it helps us out. It's great. We can come to Dallas and play this show, y'know?
Well I think what's great about these Red Bull shows, anyway, is the fact that they're just $3, or sometimes free, so people are maybe a little more willing to take a chance coming to see a band they might not have otherwise.
Yeah. Sure, it's branding, and it's this corporate thing, but there's cool people working in the company. They let us do this. Here in L.A. they were doing it for a whole month where they were just sponsoring shows. I have a lot of buddies that played them. It's fun, it's cool. They're not, like, forcing anyone to drink Red Bull.
True. I mean, there's worse companies to play shows for, I guess.
We haven't played a show for Halliburton yet. We did play Dick Cheney's birthday party. That was wild.
So I read you were born in Texas. Were you here just a few years?
I was conceived and birthed in Abilene. My grandma lives in Waco. My dad lives in Austin.
Ah! So, do you come back to visit quite a bit, then?
Yeah, yeah, all the time. Actually, I haven't lived anywhere in about seven years, so my permanent residence is Texas. I still have a Texas driver's license.
Nice! So, do you consider yourself a Texan, then?
A wild-eyed Texan? Very proud of it, yeah. When anyone asks where I'm from, it's Texas. All my family from my father's side is from Texas.
I was not aware. I had always just heard Philly and then that you were from a military family.
Yeah, we moved around a lot when I was a kid. I went to college in Philly, and later made the mistake of starting a band there. I mean, Texas is in my blood. That's why when these shows came up… We're just trying to work on new music, we go into these writing modes. These shows bubbled up and I was like, “Fuck yeah, I'll play Texas!” It's a funny thing about Dallas, too; we didn't really have great Dallas shows, and then something clicked about five years ago. I don't know if it was a turnover in the kids coming out to shows, but Dallas became one of our favorite destinations. It's rad. I don't know what happened. Maybe someone spiked the drinking water with some Man Man vinyl. But whatever happened, thank god.
Man Man performs with Zorch and Party Static on Friday, April 10 at Dada as part of Red Bull's Sound Select series. Tickets to the show are $10 — or $3 with an RSVP right here. An RSVP does not guarantee admission, just a discounted ticket. Space at the show is limited; admission will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis until capacity is reached.