It’s easy to get a good sense of Man Man and the music it makes by taking a look at the stage names of its band members: Honus Honus, Sergei Sogay, Pow Pow, Critter Crat and Chang Wang. This is a band that is eccentric, just a touch loopy and adept at pulling off madcap antics both on stage and on record.
That’s not to say Man Man isn’t a band to be taken seriously, however. The Philadelphia-based quintet was signed to esteemed indie Anti- for “Rabbit Habits,” its third album, and scored a No. 7 debut on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart with the set.
Honus Honus, aka Ryan Kattner, tells Billboard.com the band’s manic energy and off-kilter approach is integral to what Man Man aims to achieve. “We want to create some kind of human response: uncontrollable smiling, heart palpitations, projectile vomiting, pulling hair — something people feel.”
When it comes to the band’s live shows, renowned as energetic and unpredictable affairs, Kattner says, “We only have an hour or so to justify this self-destructive lifestyle of ours, so why not take advantage of it? I’ve always hated going to shows where bands replicate their albums exactly. There’s nothing to watch, no blood and sweat in the performance.”
But the band doesn’t play it safe in the studio, either: “We don’t shortchange our records; we just make them very different than what we do live. But they are both visceral experiences.”
“Rabbit Habits” has a shambled, wild-eyed energy sometimes reminiscent of Tom Waits and Frank Zappa, but feels firmly of its time. The music incorporates everything from squeaky toys and utensils to cap guns, strings and horns, creating a sublime blend of high and low, traditional and modern. Much of it wouldn’t sound out of place on a soundtrack to a carnival sideshow.
Man Man has been a touring band for about five years, but Kattner says its existed as a concept for eight. Of the band’s slowly rising profile, he says, “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘You gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent.’ Saint [Stephen] Malkmus said that. We’re still simmering under the radar and it’s a little frustrating sometimes, but we’re earning our fan base by word of mouth and I guess that’s really the best way to do it.”
The other advantage? Man Man has avoided the hype backlash so many young indie rock groups suffer. “I feel bad for bands who blow up really hard on blogs or whatever on their first record and then cannot live up to that again,” says Kattner. “And those fans that latch on to the hottest thing, they don’t stick around — they jump to the next ship as soon as it’s sailed.”
Currently on the road, Man Man tours incessantly, and Kattner says that’s how the band funded the recording of “Rabbit Habits,” cut while Man Man was between labels. “We used money we’d saved up from two years of touring to make [the record]. We didn’t want to wait around for another label.”
But Kattner couldn’t be happier about Anti- taking on the band. “You spend years kissing frogs till you find a prince. Or, in a different analogy, you got to have a handful of substantial relationships before you find the one to ride off into the sunset with. We got really lucky with Anti-. It’s a great family to be associated with and it doesn’t come with the usual label bullsh*t — they actually care about their bands.”
Kattner says Man Man will continue to do things its way: tour, and “keep it interesting. We just want to spread the word, you know? We want to get out there and get kids out of Hot Topic. What could be more important?”