Interview with Man Man: Habit Forming

—by , April 9, 2008

Man ManI’ll be entirely honest—mostly because it’s more convenient at this moment than lying—I’ve been writing this feature since the first time I put on Rabbit Habits, Man Man’s third full-length CD and first for new label Anti- Records. Actually, I was probably writing this feature before I even got the record (which came out yesterday). It’s probably been since, well, last time.

Last time was Six Demon Bag, their semi- breakthrough sophomore outing for Ace Fu Records, and that was early 2006. My, what changes two years can bring. Now having toured with the likes of Modest Mouse and having a track featured in a Nike commercial, the Philadelphia band are, as I found out in the interview you’re about to read with sort-of frontman Honus Honus (he’s the one who does interviews), pretty much the same: Lovesick, Broke And Driftin’, as Hank Williams III once so aptly put it.

But Rabbit Habits, the record. Though I imagined the band leisurely putting the songs to tape in between sipping martinis and growing fat on the Anti- recording budget (not really), I was surprised to learn the process whereby the album was actually made. Recorded over a period of eight months, the Man Man men would spend all the money they had on studio time, then go back out into the wide world of touring to make more so the process could continue. Then more recording. Lather, rinse, repeat. Completely self-financed. Admirable impatience from a band who everyone knew was about to score at least a halfway decent label deal.

As for sound, Rabbit Habits builds on Six Demons Bag’s demonic cabaret with smoky-nightclub-in-an- alternate-dimension anthems of loneliness, relationships gone bad, the one that got away, the conversation that was perfectly planned out before it started and fell flat on its face as the words made their way out. “Oh, if only I’d said, ‘Woe is me, I’m a zombie’” (as Honus does on highlight track “Big Trouble”), and so forth. Running a gamut of horn-led free jazz, post-punk cacophonous soul, retro synth pop, their burgeoning trademark doo-wop influence and word-play brilliance, it’s easily their best work since the last one.

Ever humble, in our discussion, Honus made specific mention of the contributions of his bandmates to the band’s success and sound. Pow Pow, Alejandro “Cougar” Borg, Sergei Sogay and Chang Wang (we’ll dispense with listing real names in honor of preserving the mystique mentioned below) function with experimental, avant tenacity the likes of which are largely unseen in today’s easily categorized, single-based rockscape. The ending trio of “Top Drawer,” “Poor Jackie” and “Whalebones”— immediately preceded by the title track—speaks to the creative territory the band still has to explore and it’s clear that between those songs, the rest of the album, and the two-plus year touring cycle the band is about to undertake, that things are just beginning for Man Man.

Enough rambling. Honus Honus:

First question: Huge expanding of influences this time around, including Piston Honda with Soda Popinski.

Well yeah, TKO From Tokyo.

Will there be any Don Flamenco references next time around?

Nah…

The first album [2004’s The Man In The Blue Turban With A Face] was really chaotic and rough-sounding, the second album built on that, and Rabbit Habits builds on that. Do you feel, even having recorded it yourselves, that you’ve taken a step each time?

I feel like we’re working closer and closer and closer to writing those pop gems. The next record may be all milkshakes, you know. That would be amazing. Just so people know, I’m not rapping anytime soon. (laughs) Definitely not on the horizon.

I’m sure everyone will be much relieved.

Yeah. I’m much relieved.

About the Modest Mouse tour: Were you at all weirded out by doing something on that kind of scale? You guys are playing Coachella this year too. That’s pretty huge.

Coachella, that’s gonna be the biggest thing we’ve ever played. On paper it is, but when we play, there could be not that many people there. Maybe 1,000 people. Maybe 500 people. I have no idea. We’re playing on the Saturday, which is a pretty cool day to play. Hopefully we’re playing the afternoon so I will have recovered from the Jack Johnson show the night before. (laughs) I hope he plays the Curious George soundtrack. People will actually be surfing on the crowd. It’s gonna be amazing. But anyway… yeah, the Modest Mouse stuff was awesome. It was fun. How Not To Answer Your Question. (laughs) When you’re in the thick of it, you don’t really notice what’s going on. This last tour, we really noticed that something might be happening, just because—it was the whole tour down to South By [Southwest] and back—and we played a lot of cities we never played before, smaller towns you don’t really play your first couple times around or even the third or fourth time around, and kids were coming out in droves to these shows and it felt really good. We’re playing Ann Arbor and it’s a blizzard and there’s kids waiting in line to see us play. It’s pretty cool. It’s like word of mouth is getting out there finally after seven years.

About South By Southwest: You’ve played down there a couple times now. Have you seen any change in the way the band is received?

SXSW is a bit of a clusterfuck. You really have no idea. You could have only 20 people at your show, and have two really influential tastemaker music writers at your show and suddenly you’re the greatest thing at South By. Honestly, it didn’t feel like we were a hyped band or anything. It just felt like we were playing shows. I didn’t get a sense that there was any excitement that we were playing. It was just shows. I was also sick as hell. It’s a weird thing. Maybe. Maybe… yeah. I still don’t know. (Laughs) How To Be Inarticulate In An Interview, by Honus Honus: ‘Read the above and then the following.’

Did you feel any pressure over the grueling eight- month touring/recording process, especially since you were paying for it yourself, to follow up Six Demon Bag?

Six Demon Bag, that album’s kind of like a band imploding and then being reborn. The cool thing about the new record is that we’ve all been playing together for like three years, whereas with Six Demon Bag, it was one lineup taking off and then a new lineup reforming. We were comfortable with the songs. We’re the kind of band that we go into the studio and the song’s already written for the most part. The only thing that changes is we get more complicated with some different arrangements and noises and sounds. It wasn’t so calculated, but we just try to write, like I said before, we’re just trying to work towards that perfect pop song, and I don’t feel like we’ve written it yet. I feel like it’s somewhere in the ether and we’ve just got to snag it and pull it down.

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