Somehow, after losing his band to differences, Honus of Man Man went on to assemble a completely new crew and write one of 2006’s most creative albums: Six Demon Bag. The band are currently touring across America, and will be playing at the Pitchfork Music Festival this summer. Luckily the band had time to stop before their show at The Dame for a quick word. Honus and I discussed his band’s recent woes, his stance on modern music, and the importance of his song “Ice Dogs.”
An Interview with Honus of Man Man
Matt: First of all, would you say that you write pop songs?
Honus: Yes…and did you just ask me a pointed question? (laughs)
M: (laughs) Well, I had to make sure that my next question made sense. Would you say there’s any difference between the music that you write, and what has been traditionally known as a “pop” song?
H: Is there a difference? I think we’re writing our own pop hits. If people chose to label us as writing circus songs…that’s their choice.
M: Do you think you’ll be remembered differently in 10 years, then?
H: That’s assuming that we’re still around in ten years (laughs)
M: If you avoid the spiral into drugs and alcohol then…
H: No, I’m talking WWIII! (laughs)
M: (laughs) Hypothetically, then
H: No one will know who the f— we are in 10 years… No one knows who the f— we are now! I guess in a couple years, when a major labels puts out a band made of 19-year-old kids that sound like us, we’ll be a footnote.
M: Maybe they’ll list you as an influence on their Myspace profile
H: (laughs) We can only hope
M: Getting back to the ‘pop’ question: I love how you guys jump into a completely different melody in the middle of a song. For example, in “Ice Dogs” where it starts off very throaty, but turns into the pretty ‘sha do be do’ portion. Is that an intentional meldoing of two different songs, or just the way it happened to progress?
H: It’s organic–it just kinda happens. It’s more my attention span than anything else. I think these songs are straight. We didn’t want to be another f—ing rock band.
M: Is a lot of that coming from your musical history? I know you just did that Etta James cover recently.
H: Nah. That’s just a great song and I wanted to cover it. As for “Ice Dogs,” the record was recorded during a turmultuous time. I wanted to send the album off on a sad not…but not too sad.
M: So the placement of “Ice Dogs” was very intentional?
M: You spoke just a second ago about writing during a troubled time. Do you think that your songwriting has been at all linked to unhappiness?
H: God, I hope not (laughs). The crew that’s assembled now is the most talented group of people that I’ve ever worked with.
M: Yeah, you guys seem to have melded really well, based on your live show. Speaking of which, what’s it like to have gathered such a reputation for a great live show?
H: Crazy things happen. We played a show the other day where some 14- or 15-year-old kids showed up in gorilla suits. And I’m all for that, ya know? I’m glad our concerts are a place where people can come and be different… We’ve had girls strip…and touch themselves or bandmembers in inappropriate places.
M: Has anything ever happened at one of your shows that you felt went too far, or maybe even scared you?
H: One time we had two guys go at it in a bottle fight
M: Like, broken bottles?
H: Yeah. But that was like a drug deal gone wrong or something. It had nothing to do with us. (laughs) I love the lower east side.
M: (laughs) So…what are the ideal song conditions to write a Man Man song in?
H: The songs just kinda happen. Pieces get put together. I’ll cannibalize other things I’ve written. I don’t really like a system…I’d like a system! (laughs)
M: What was it like to write songs after the band…changed?
H: I kinda didn’t think about it. I jumped into the studio to start recording. Sergei and Pow Pow really got it rolling. Half of the record was already written, it was just a matter of bringing in people to do their parts.
M: Do you play most of the intstruments that are on the album?
H: Yes, a lot on the record…It was just maddening to record and then put a touring band together. Pow Pow helped out, but he couldn’t tour because of his commitment to his other band Need New Body. Moonbeam-his actual name-did our touring until Need New Body went on “hiatus.”
H: His parents were hippies (laughs)
M: So about this new album–would you say it’s more a natural progression for the band, or a jump into uncharted waters?
H: It’s a natural progression. I’ve read a lot of reviews that said it’s a step back. A step back from what? A record that already didn’t make sense?!
M: Those reviewers probably love the Arctic Monkeys.
H: It’s frustrating when bands pop up out of nowhere without doing work. It’s a funny thing, the economics of music.
M: It’s got to be pretty rough to tour without a lot of financial leeway.
H: Every instrument we have is in various stages of broken. If you look at my Rhodes…it’s held together by matchsticks. That’s the principle of this band–working with what we’ve got.
M: Also, just from listening to your soundcheck…it sounds like you all come from pretty diverse musical backgrounds. When you were each doing your own thing, it sounded like a lot of different styles were present.
H: That’s what makes this band special. Everone’s got their own interests, and we attack it in an earnest way.
M: I can’t think of a better way to end this interview than that!
H: Aren’t you going to ask me what my favorite albums are right now?
M: (laughs) Honus, what are your favorite albums as of right now?
H: This band, Floatation Toy Warning–have you heard of them?
M: Yeah, they’re pretty awesome
H: Definetely. I wrote them off as a Flaming Lips rippoff, but it’s a beautiful album.
M: I went through the exact same phase!
H: Let’s see…and Tunng. They’re great.
M: What about Islands? I know you and them are supposed to be pretty tight.
H: The new Islands record is straight. Nick is amazing. I’d really like to work with him on something in the future.
M: Well, it seems like you’ve got a great shot at it. He’s got a long history of collaborations with friends.
H: We’ll see what happens, I guess
M: I look forward to hearing about it, whatever it is (laughs)
H: (laughs) For sure