An interview with Man Man’s Ryan Kattner

Man Man's Ryan Kattner
Ryan Kattner says there might be a Super Bowl Shuffle cover in the works. — photo courtesy of Schmilblick

Philadelphia-based experimental group Man Man is set to play Gabe’s on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

About three weeks ago, the band set out on their second tour in support of On Oni Pond, their most recent record. I had the chance to talk to Ryan Kattner (A.K.A. Honus Honus), the band’s lead singer and primary songwriter, as he sat in the band’s tour van outside a venue in Athens, GA.

After admitting that the band’s touring situation has changed only slightly since they first got started back in 2004 (They now have the means to rent a van with room for all their gear and stay in hotel rooms big enough to fit all the band members.), he talked about what it’s like touring small-town America.

“We’ve been playing smaller rooms on this tour,” Kattner said. “We’re hitting a lot of cities we skipped on our first tour supporting the album, and it’s been a lot of fun because when you play smaller rooms it’s a lot more intimate and it can get a lot more intense a lot faster.”

Kattner also issued a challenge to Iowa City Man Man fans.

“There’s been a lot of crowd-surfing, which has been pretty fun. I don’t know if we’ll get that in Iowa City, but we’ve gotten it at most of these shows. So, physical challenge! Gauntlet has been thrown, block of wood pushed off of your shoulder, Iowa City!”

This isn’t Man Man’s first time playing Iowa City, but Kattner couldn’t remember the name of the venue they played last time they were in town. He did remember that it was a second-story venue downtown, which was surrounded by “automatic motion-detector sensors for birds.”

“They sounded like pterodactyls and they kept going off outside the venue,” Kattner said. “It was really creepy. I remember there was this big photograph of Edgar Winter. I will say one thing, I’m a huge fan of Templeton Rye. I was never a fan of rye whiskey until I had Templeton Rye in Iowa City, and it really opened my eyes to the rye.”

Though Kattner says he is generally more comfortable in larger cities, the album, On Oni Pond, has roots in the midwest. It was produced by Saddle Creek’s Mike Mogis, and about half of it was written and recorded in Nebraska.

“I extricated myself from my normal writing environment, which would be Philadelphia, or a city and I put myself in the countryside for what I thought would be a month but turned into six months,” Kattner said. “I was a little burned out from my experience of living out in the country, but we needed to have a full album of songs and we only had about three months to come up with the rest of the music. Fortunately Chris [Powell] had some musical ideas, some loops and what-not, and we jammed on those for a little bit and I came up with words and context to shape the other half of the record. It turned out really good.”

Man Man Seeks New Blood

Man Man is a band in a constant state of flux. With the exception of Kattner and Powell, Band members come and go with each album. Kattner says change can be a good thing, though.

“An infusion of new blood is always good,” Kattner said. “I started the band without realizing that I’d ever have a band. When I started the band it wasn’t like I was starting it with my best friends from growing up, or my brothers, or my war buddies. I just found people I could make music with who would be willing to sacrifice their personal lives just to make music and tour. I started the band five records ago, and with the exception of Chris, who came on board for our second record, it’s been a constant shuffle, but that’s fine. I mean, we’re still rooted.”

He went on to say that at times he wishes he could replace himself and collect a percentage of the band’s earnings.

“That’s why on this record we’re trying to segue into wearing masks on stage,” Kattner said. “For our next record I think we’re all going to wear masks on stage so I can replace myself with someone who’s like 6’5. It’s the beginning of the process of replacing ourselves with music school kids so we can live on forever.

“We’ve been doing casting-calls, Chris and I. We’ve been doing them whenever we’re on tour in the smaller cities. We’ve been holding casting calls with local casting directors trying to find look-alikes. Ultimately we’d like to replace ourselves with people who look like us, but younger. Or older, we’re not “age-ist,” we’ll go either direction on this. Chris found us this amazing 85-year-old drummer who was sick! He was so good. It’s unbelievable, he played in the same style as Chris. He had taken up playing at the end of the second World War. Unfortunately, god bless his soul, he passed away. For a second we thought he was going to replace Chris. I found a guy in Latvia who was going to replace me, but then he shaved and the resemblance didn’t match up anymore.”

Kattner says Iowa City locals who hope to earn a spot in the band should check the Craigslist “Casual Encounters” section in the lead-up to their performance next week.

“Usually it’s ‘M4M’ or ‘M4W with M features,’” Kattner said. “We’re not sexist here, we’ll take a woman if she looks like me or Chris.”

Man Man in the News

Kattner also told me about his possible involvement in a recent Super Bowl Shuffle cover. The cover features an all-star cast of musicians and comedians, including My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and comedians David Wain and Scott Aukerman, not to mention feline mega-celebrity Lil Bub.

“Well, Sean [Cannon], who put it together, emailed me and asked if I would do it and I just kept leading him on over and over and over again,” Kattner said. “I never really felt comfortable rapping. I can’t do it. I can’t even wrap Christmas presents.”

He went on to claim that he didn’t end up doing the collaboration at all, opting instead to have Lil Bub sit in for him. Maybe Kattner has been falsely credited for his involvement in the cover, but I’m pretty sure it’s his voice rapping about the Chicago Bears and not Lil Bub’s.

Man Man made national news back in September when Anderson Cooper put their song, “End Boss,” on his “Ridiculist,” for its bizarre portrayal of fellow CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer.

Stand-out lines from the song include:

“Wolf cuts loose in the barrio / Lemon vodka mixed with churros / Scratched the 8 ball watching girls blow / Through the window / Through the moon glow,”

Not to mention:

“Baby dance inside his belly / Grooving to a cumbia beat / Teethes out a soothing melody / Evil gets what / Evil wants yeah.”

Kattner says he watches the news daily as a way to find inspiration for new songs, and was pleasantly surprised that “End Boss” was even noticed by CNN.

“I had a dumb smile on my face for a couple weeks,” Kattner said. “I got an email. They [CNN] wanted to interview me, but we were on tour so I answered some questions. These things kind of happen. Occasionally things come through the pipeline and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s really awesome!’ I didn’t think anything would come of it. As soon as these strange things bubble up they go away, and you’re bummed out. So I answered the questions and less than 24 hours later that thing posted and my jaw dropped.”

Kattner is the type of musician who enjoys hanging out with his fans before shows, and wants Iowa City to come out and see the spectacle that is Man Man.

“You have to see me put on my glimmer, my glittery outfit!” Kattner said. “And come drink some Templeton with me, it’s gonna be cold.”

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