Do you feel like all the touring has made you more confident on vocals?
Do I sound more confident?
I think it’s just because my vocals are mixed louder.
Even that. You’re not trying to bury the vocals in the mix. That says something.
Yeah. It was interesting. I’m just trying to document my voice before it’s totally shot to hell. It’s cool that I actually have a voice talking to you right now because I didn’t have one for a while after that tour.
I noticed on your MySpace page that you seem kind of hesitant to publish your lyrics. For both of the first two records, they’re not in the album art and you seem like you don’t want them out there.
I feel like people’s interpretations of lyrics make it more personal and it kind of ruins the mystique when you publish the lyrics. I’ve heard people’s interpretations of the lyrics that are much better than what I wrote. Because lyrics aren’t poetry. They could be. I don’t view them like that. I spend a lot of time with them; they actually kick my ass. It takes me a long time to do it. But I feel like it’s more special when it’s not explained to you what’s going on. It’s an aesthetic choice, but in the same breath, we broke down and put some of them on the MySpace. Now, after this conversation, maybe I’ll take them down. (laughs) What’s your take on it? Do you like knowing the words?
I do, generally, but I understand what you’re saying about the mystique and people forming their own interpretations of things. I still think you can get some of that with the lyrics published, because people still put their own meaning to it or have their own context for a story you’re telling.
Well, here’s an example that I’m thinking of: There’s a [Stephen] Malkmus line, ‘Carry on, it’s what we all become,’ and I was like, ‘Ah man, that’s such a heavy line.’ Then I saw it written down and it was ‘Carrion,’ like rotting meat, which is cool too, but I liked the other context better. I liked the wordplay behind it. I don’t like printing lyrics. I don’t like putting lyrics in our album artwork the same way I don’t like putting our album title on our albums.
Why is that?
It’s just an aesthetic choice, really. Maintaining a mystique.
Do you think you could make an album of songs that weren’t necessarily about being heartbroken?
I probably could. I don’t know if it would be any good. I know I could. There is the theme of heartbreak, but there’s also the theme of having a sense of humor about how bad things can get. Life’s a bitch and if you don’t have a sense of humor about it, you’re kind of doomed.
Is there a certain mindset you have to put yourself in to write those lyrics? You said before, they kick your ass and it takes a long time. Is it because you need to be in a certain headspace for that?
Even if it’s a line like, ‘Butter Beans I’m gonna get you,’ I have to feel personally connected to it to sing it. I have to find some sort of connection to what I’m singing. For me, lyrics aren’t just another part. I think they’re one of the most important things. With these songs, too, it’s a process. It’s not all about me. In any given song, maybe there’s an abstract line, there’s a reference to this, there’s a line about a friend of mine, something that happened to them, then there’s maybe three lines of straight up confession, but it’s all this kind of gumbo that becomes this narrative. You don’t want to be too direct, but you don’t want to be too abstract. If it’s too direct, suddenly you’re in Bad Emo Land. And I’ve got no interest in living there. I don’t even want to rent a house in Bad Emo Land. I don’t want to drive through that neighborhood. I’m gonna come out wearing mascara, posing in front of brick walls.
Let me tell you, property is not cheap in Bad Emo Land. School system sucks.
School system sucks. You can’t find a good trenchcoat. All the mascara’s sold out. I wouldn’t even try walking by a church or anything like that. The voices of those boys’ singing is unbearable. But yeah, on this stuff especially, I tried some different things. ‘Poor Jackie,’ that’s kind of straightforward narrative. It’s kind of a funny thing, because it’s narrative and then there’s personal injections in there too.
The last three tracks on the record, ‘Top Drawer,’ ‘Poor Jackie’ and ‘Whalebones’—those are three really strong tracks that end the album. Is putting them together something you do on purpose to end the album on a memorable note?
This one was a bitch to sequence, let me tell you. And there were songs that were left off the record. There was just too much of that vibe present. We get questions as to why we buried ‘Top Drawer’ on the record, but I just felt with the flow of the album as a whole, it made more sense being where it is. Then you have these monsters, ‘Poor Jackie’ and ‘Whalebones,’ these long, epic songs, and where do you put those? They made the most sense complementing each other. One ends with no hope whatsoever, and the other is kind of bittersweet, so I felt they were the perfect complement being next to each other.
They give you a melancholy, ‘Side B’ effect. All the chaos is up-front on the record.
We wanted to open up and just grab hold of you, drag you into our world, but it just felt like, the trajectory of the record, we wanted it to be a nice ebb and flow. I feel like it’s a nice trip, but to other people it might seem really schizophrenic.
Was that one of the considerations in sequencing it? Keeping a cohesion to it all?
Definitely. For the other records as well. Just as much as we put into the recording, the sequencing is just as important to us as everything else. I mean, in this day and age, who actually listens to a whole record anymore? I do. And so, I wanted to construct this trip.
How do you feel it came out in the end? Not thinking about what other people will think, what do you think of it?
I like it a lot. I think there are one or two left-field kind of things on the record. There’s definitely one left-field song on the record, though—which I do like in the context of it.
‘El Azteca.’ But I like that aspect of the song. But I like the ‘Top Drawer,’ ‘Poor Jackie,’ ‘Whalebones’ ending. I feel like it’s a nice goodbye.
Obviously with the song ‘Doo Right’ there’s a doo- wop influence on the record. Can you give me a couple recommendations for the readers of stuff to check out?
People should look into Sun Ra’s doo-wop. Sun Ra did some amazing doo-wop stuff. I’m really into early James Brown—like ‘Please Please Please’ James Brown. ‘Try Me.’ Amazing. The Ronettes. Hell, if Brian Wilson can sit in his bed for a year and eat five steaks a day listening to ‘Be My Baby,’ so should everyone else. What a life. Midnight excursions for ping-pong tables and telescopes. If only I could have such luxury; live such a life of paranoid leisure. Instead I sleep in our practice space and couch surf. Which, you know, reads well. (laughs)
Rabbit Habits is available now via Anti-. Man Man hit NYC’s Bowery Ballroom in on April 10 and the Masonic Temple in Brooklyn on April 11. For more info check out wearemanman.com
Photo Credit: Sandlin Gaither