Honus Honus of Man Man :: the YANP interview

The start of this year brought us the official confirmation that Honus Honus of Man Man and Nick Thorburn of Islands have teamed up as the “doom wop” group Mister Heavenly. The pair have been working together during time off from Man Man’s recording session for their upcoming record — which is yet another reason to get excited for 2010. So as a huge Man Man fan, I knew I had to get the skinny on the next chapter of the band and what’s up with this new collaboration. Lemme tell ya, there’s great news on both fronts.

Honus Honus of Man Man :: the YANP Interview

YANP: So when I interviewed you in March of 2006, this is how we ended…

Honus: That was forever ago…at the Southgate House.

YANP: Actually it was [at the Dame,] even before the Southgate House, but–really good memory! Here’s how we ended. We were talking about bands you liked and you said that “Nick from Islands is amazing. I’d really like to work with him on something in the future.” I said “well, you’ve got a great shot at it, he’s got a long history of collaborating with friends.” You said, “well, we’ll see what happens…I guess.” So what wound up happening? How did you guys actually end up getting together and everything?

Honus: He just got on my ass [laughs]. You know, I talked to him about it back then and it was just a matter of finding the time really, because Man Man’s been on tour forever. And just finding the time…and I’m not the most prolific songwriter, so usually if I have a song it just immediately goes to Man Man. But, the band has had some downtime just because we’ve been working on this new record pretty much since the fall. So I’m in Philly until this record is done and Nick lives in New York now, so I just figured “well if I don’t do it now, I probably won’t do it.”

So I had these songs, which I wouldn’t say they wouldn’t necessarily work with Man Man but at the same time they weren’t completely finished and I wanted to try something a little bit “popier.” I really like Nick’s flexibility– he’s also really ambitious and a very different musician than anyone I’ve played with. But I was just like, “uh, I have these pieces of songs, let’s see what you can do with this.” So, that’s how it came about. So I’ve been going to New York and we’ve been working on songs…we set our goals really low [laughs].

YANP: [laughs] That’ll be the pull quote from this.

Honus: Our ambition all along was to put out a seven inch. You know, we may not play live shows, we don’t know what we’re doing. Let’s just see what happens. We keep the songs under three minutes, “let’s just try to throw our pop hooks and do it, just keep it simple.” It’s been really refreshing. I like his [garbled] things.

YANP: Did you guys start out working in person or did you email him unfinished songs and stuff first?

Honus: Um, we just worked in person. He lives in Fort Green in New York and I just hop on the Chinatown bus and go up there. It started out as one song and now we have four songs. Right now we’re just demoing stuff. The demos sound pretty good. We’re trying really hard to stick to our rules of keeping it simple. Because you know Islands has got increasingly more complex, Man Man’s all over the place. I always thought our voices would sound really nice together, too. But yeah, we’re just doin’ our thing. I’m pretty pleased with what we come up with. I plan still to release seven inches.

YANP: Oh ok, because Nick told Spinner that you guys were going to put everything for free online or something, which was surprising.

Honus: We don’t really know. We’re just trying to have fun with it at this point. We don’t want it to get too serious or too involved and anyone to have too high of expectations, because naturally that’s when it gets destroyed. So far so good, it’s been fun. We’re even thinking about maybe doing an album. But just because we only put together four songs and it happened very quickly. And like I said I’m not the most prolific songwriter, so.

Read the rest of the interview after the jump.

YANP: So, you said you’re trying to keep things simple. Is it weird for you all being two of the not more prominent songwriters for people that are into medium-sized bands, but basically people seemed to kind of loose their minds whenever this got announced. Is that weird for you all? Did that bug you all that now there’s a lot of people watching? I mean, I’m calling and you’ve only got four songs written. Is that weird or encouraging?

Honus: It’s cool, you know…all I’ll say is as far as people don’t have any expectations, then maybe they’ll be pleasantly surprised. We’re not reinventing the wheel or anything, we’re just…I mean there are no wheels, in our own Doom Wop language. If you like aspects of the Man Man records, like “Doo Right” and stuff like that then you’ll appreciate this stuff.

YANP: Good deal. Yeah, speaking of Doom Wop, Nick kinda took credit for coming up with that. What is is about that phrase that you guys thought, “alright, that’s a fair way to describe this music?” Is it largely very Doo-Wop inspired?

Honus: Yeah, it’s funny. Well what I like about Doo-Wop in general is yes, it’s like universal sentiments of love and heartbreak and whatnot. But that stuff is also super personal. So, it just ways of turning that up and making it now. I mean songs that I tend to gravitate toward structurally are very simple, but they still affect you just as hard as something that has 10 chord changes, you know five tempo changes. If you can do that– have the same three chords in a two and a half minute song and still be a kick ass song, then that’s just mission accomplished.

YANP: Yeah, one of my favorite Man Man songs has always been “Ice Dogs.” The end of “Ice Dogs” is what I thought of whenever I heard Nick describing Doom-Wop and I thought “Oh, hey– this album’s for me.”

Honus: I mean if you like that song, then… it’s funny, Nick’s always been a crooner and I’ve been trying to work on my crooning, so… [laughs]. It’s exciting, it’s fun. It’s fun to bounce lyrics and stuff off someone who also writes lyrics and then knowing that, “alright, you can have this part of a song, let’s see what you come up with.” I always thought, even when I talked to you back in ’06, that it would be a nice contrast– Nick’s pipes with my gutter. I always thought they would work really well together. And I feel like just as many people who don’t like our bands, you’re still gonna be a …..[i have no idea what he said here.]

YANP: Yeah, that’s good for people. So the name Mr. Heavenly– how did you guys decide on that? Was there anything else you kicked around?

Honus: I dunno, we just kind of joked around a lot of names. Nick’s girl wanted us to name the band “Boy Stink.” [laughs].

YANP: Boy Stink?

Honus: [laughs]Yeah. I think Mr. Heavenly was the worst of the terrible names we came up with.

YANP: [laughs] That was the worst one and that was the one that stuck?

Honus: Well, when you start a band or a side project, its just a fun distraction. The band names are always the hardest to come up with.

YANP: Yeah, cuz that’s the one that’s gonna stick around.

Honus: Yeah, so…I dunno, I think Mr. Heavenly so far, it seems kinda whatever…

YANP: I liked it! I remember seeing you guys mention it on Twitter, you know “oh, we’ve got Mr. Heavenly practice.” I thought, “oh, well that works!”

Honus: I kinda liked Doom-Wop, but I guess for now, Mr. Heavenly. Because you know, Nick is very heavenly…

YANP: …and you’re very misterly?

Honus: …and I’m the man. [laughs].

YANP: Well cool. That’s pretty much all I’ve got for the Mr. Heavenly stuff, unless there’s anything else you wanna clear up or add.

Honus: We’re working on it. You know its just a matter of trying to find pockets in our schedules because the Man Man record’s been kicking my ass . So, we’re working on getting some stuff together. And it’s very surprising– we’re just telling ourselves that we’re just gonna do a couple seven inches, but you know, it might turn into a record.

YANP: Nice. Very cool. As long as eventually we get to hear this stuff, then I’ll be happy.

Honus: Yeah, trust me. I like the demos we’re coming up with. And we’re just demoing stuff in Garage Band. I’m digging how its sounding, I like how dirty it sounds, but we’ll see. If someone kicks us some loot to record this stuff proper, we’ll….see.

YANP: You could probably squeeze Anti…

Honus: Yeah, we’ll see. Let me just tell you, we’re anxious to get our two and a half minute songs out there.

YANP: Good! So, yeah as far as the new Man Man, like I said, I really have nothing to go on but excitement. But a couple of questions on that. I’ll ask the annoying, pressure one first. Anti said that they’re shooting for summer of this year for a release…maybe, possibly?

Honus: Anti said that? Well yeah, I guess we’ll be out by the summer. Maybe like August or July, that’s the ticking clock on everyone’s mind right now.

YANP: Ok, well, I kinda asked them about when the Mr. Heavenly album was coming out and asked “is there a date on that yet?” and they were like, “yeah, we’re thinking summer,” and I realized she was talking about Man Man, so…

Honus: Yeah, they haven’t even heard any of that stuff yet. No one’s heard it, I mean except for like relatives and stuff. My dad was like, “Oh shit! You guys are channeling some 1950s rock. That’s cool.”

YANP: So July/August or so for Man Man?

Honus: Yeah, for the Man Man record July/August. I mean that’s our plan. Everything now is like a whirling dervish of stress. Because right now we’ve just been demoing, I mean writing and demoing. We spent so much time touring and to have some time off and to figure this out. We’ve just been in our practice space trying to hash these songs out. And I still…we did it on the last record and I’ve probably done it with every record– I’m still a big proponent for trying to do that three minute song. Well, that’s what we’re trying to do on this record, but we’re gonna do it our own way. But yeah, right now we’ve just been pulling these songs, trying to hash out all of our parts and then our plan is to get in a record it by mid-to-late February, and then have it out by the end of the summer. Hopefully we’ll escape the tsunami that’s gonna be the Arcade Fire album.

YANP: [laughs] When’s that coming out?

Honus: I think it’ll come out in May.

YANP: May? Oh, ok.

Honus: I think in the springtime.

YANP: Well, everyone will be recovering from the tsunami. Now have you guys done any of the new stuff live? I felt like you might have done a song or two at the Halloween show, but I didn’t write anything down.

Honus: Yeah, we did a couple of the new songs at the Halloween show.

YANP: Ok, I’m always like “do I feel really bad and this is an old song that I don’t recognize?” But, no, ok good.

Honus: Yeah. I mean one of them was just written right before we played those shows. I mean, we generally like to take our new stuff out on the road. But we just really haven’t had that luxury right now. It’s funny, you run the song a couple of hundred times and then it finally makes sense to you. It also, though, in the process drive everyone absolutely crazy. “Dammit, we have to hear this song again.” Yeah, this is a weird one. I’m trying to wrap my head around that. But I feel like even saying that the writing process is that way for every Man Man record. You never really know what you’re getting until you’re done.

YANP: Do you mean a weird one of having to crack the puzzle to put it together?

Honus: Yeah, it’s a weird one for me to wrap my head around. For me personally, it sounds really dark but some of the songs sound more upbeat than any of the songs we’ve ever written. So I dunno, but then again that could apply to any of the songs we’ve done.

YANP: Actually, that’s really funny. I had gone over the last interview we did like a year and a half ago, and pulled a quote to ask about. You said Rabbit Habits was not an upbeat record but there were upbeat songs on it and I was gonna ask if that was still the same mood for this one where things were peppy but the tone of the album was not exceptionally happy and upbeat.

Honus: Yeah, I dunno. It’s funny, like pre-Rabbit Habits, when that record was coming together, I had a fairly stable life and then right around Rabbit Habits I spent like a year and a half couch surfing basically. So I’m sure that leaked in there somehow. But, I dunno man, maybe I should be worried if I come out with a truly happy album. Maybe that’s when my family members should contact authorities or something.

YANP: Ha. Or throw a party, one of the two.

Honus: Like, “Wait, kick in the door– what’s going on with him? He’s dead but he’s smiling!” [laughs] Yeah, it’s gonna be a weird record, I think. It feels weird.

YANP: Well good. We need some weirdness. I don’t think anybody goes to Man Man looking for ordinary.

Honus: It’s taken me a long time to like, warm up to it. … But I just kinda accepted the fact that when this band started out, it kinda felt like the odd man out, but we were cool with it. Still kinda feel like we’re the odd man out, but I mean, I’m cool with it.

YANP: I dunno if you’ve ever looked into the crowd, but there’s a lot of “odd men out” out there [laughs]

Honus: Yeah, so it’s all good.

YANP: I guess one last question on the Man Man record. You said that sometimes whenever you finished like the skeleton of a song, whenever you’re ready to put everything together that you’ll come up with a tone that you want. Like for “Mr. Jung Stuffed” you said “an overworked ATM” was the feeling you were trying to capture…

Honus: Oh, I got one for you man. It’s one we were working on yesterday. And obviously once it comes out, you won’t be able to read into this at all. But that’s the thing. I will say honestly that it does drive everybody crazy.

YANP: When you do that?

Honus: Well, yeah…I don’t really know how to discuss things in musical terms with people, like “go back to this meter” or whatever. So I generally try to explain things in cinematic terms or just film references or whatever. Like “play this part like Alex Rogan in the Last Star fighter.” You know. But yeah, the song we were working on yesterday, the imagery that I was trying to give the guys– what I was thinking of was like, “ok, picture the Jersey shore. Like the summer Jersey shore and the reality show and picture Tiger Woods. Now picture a real tiger. Now put all of that within the context of this game that’s on Wii that’s called “Muscle Run” or something.” I dunno, it’s this Japanese game that’s on the Wii that’s just these muscular men running around crashing through walls. “Now, take all these elements and mix them in with like a Joe Meek song, but maybe also some sort of Indonesian sound. Ok, there’s your song.” [laughs]

“But also, we’re gonna open this song with the vibe being like Twin Peaks where you see Bob hiding behind the couch for the first time.” And that’s the song. “And don’t worry, I”m going to figure out how to put my own personal baggage within the context of this scene.”

You can imagine when you’re trying to explain that to people who are like kick-ass musicians, they’re like “What the fuck are you talking about?” But then sometimes like with Pow, it’s fun to see his face melt because he can’t stop laughing. Because he can see it and hear it immediately. It’s just like “Oh my god! You’re such an idiot, that’s so true!”

YANP: [laughs] That’s awesome.

Honus:But yeah, this song that we worked on yesterday that we’re trying to put together for this album, those were all the elements in what I saw and in what I was hearing.

YANP: Awesome. Can you– I don’t want to pressure you for a title or anything– but could you give me like a lyric or any hint so that later I can go back and be like “Oh, that was the thing?”

Honus: Uh, let’s see. There is a chorus mention that should click: “Girls just wanna have fun, at the Jersey shore in the sun.” That’s not gonna end up coming out, maybe the “girls just wanna have fun” part will. But there will be a couple of Tiger references in there…I’m sure the “lion catch the tiger by the toe” is gonna end up in the song.

YANP: Alright. Well good deal.

Honus: But, when you hear this song for the first time, just know that there’s a lot of unhealthy thinking going into it.

YANP: That was the “Jersey Shore, Twin Peaks” track?

Honus: Like there’s another song, which basically what I did is I have a couple of band members who are obsessed with 2012. And I have a humorous obsession with it. So I wanted to write a song that was like, really Prima-2012, that’s like “let’s mix in like Mayan 2012, with terrible nightclubbing, with Jimmy Durante, Louis Prima…” It’s funny, in a way it’s a Doom-Wop song and would’ve made since doing it with Nick, but this was before I started working with Nick…

YANP: Ah, you can cover it.

Honus: So, yeah we can cover it, that’s pretty good. Yeah its funny, you create this collage, this palate of ideas but then, you know you’re able to slip in your own terrible emotions in there and that just reads as part of the story. Which is is a story. And then I feel like when you read a novel or something, it by no means ends the novel. But it does take personal experience mixed with tweaked brain waves.

YANP: Awesome! Well, man I look forward to hearing both of them and it sounds like you’re doing well on both of them. And that’s all I’ve got unless you need to clear up any vicious rumors or add anything…

Honus: I wish there were vicious rumors.

YANP: This is how we start ’em! Well, thanks so much and best of luck on everything.

Honus: Thank you.

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