Words by: Chris Pacifico :: Images by Christie Harrison
Some time ago somewhere in Great Britain, the phrase "Everything but the kitchen sink" was coined to depict a lengthy litany of disparate items or elements. Nowadays it's commonly used when someone packs a large bag of luggage on a short sabbatical, but as for pop music, it's been some time since the phrase was used for eccentric tunes, probably stretching back to the salad days of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. But whereas their music was probably the first to contain all but the said sink, Philadelphia's Man Man's music is the sink.
After having whipped audiences into frenzies at this summer's annual Siren Festival at Coney Island and adding some much-needed kookiness to the two-day outing in Chicago thrown by the Pitchfork mafia, Man Man is far and away the best live act worth every cent of the price of admission for the calendar year of 2006.
Among the bevy of instruments on the stages with this quintet, who play within close proximity of each other, one will see marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones, other a-phones, vintage organs, drums, melodicas, saxophones, trumpets, bass, guitars, and too many other to name, along with eyeball lights, penguin weebles, and some fans who even place cookies on their instruments before they go on.
Honus Honus :: Man Man
Led by the gravelly voice of singer/organist Ryan Kattner (a.k.a. Honus Honus), the band includes percussionist Pow Pow, who defines his instrumental duties as "playing sexual drums," alongside multi-instrumentalists Sergei Sogai, Cougar, and Chang Wang. Chang Wang, who spent most of the time at our interview backstage at Siren laughing like a wild caged chimpanzee pelting dung at a zookeeper, is the natural oddball whose mildly seedy disposition sums up Man Man's enigmatic sound. Sure, they look like the type of guys who you wouldn't let your daughter get within ten feet of, and their answers to some of the basic interview questions are at times short, sweet, and to the point, but once a listener becomes a seasoned Man Man fan, they know it's all about the music.
Their latest, highly-praised sophomore full-length Six Demon Bag is a punk-filled and jazzy rumpus-filled stew cut from the cloth of gypsy, klezmer, skewed cabaret, pop hooks, drinking ditties, and a curious assortment of other influences. The album can at times be redolent of the likes of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart, played by a crew of elves, gnomes, and ogres at a mushroom party in a setting penned by JRR Tolkien and composed by Bertolt Brecht on an absinthe binge and a side helping of hooting, whooping, clanking, and clattering.
But Man Man doesn't quite see things in that light. They firmly state that none of the above-mentioned genres or artists have had any creative influence on them as a band and resist any labeling or pigeonholes. "We play music and lots of it," notes Sergai. "I see it as family divorce court music," retorts Honus. "We're not really influenced by that much. We're just playing the kind of music that we play." As for trying to figure out Man Man's origins, they really won't elaborate except by saying that their formation was "accidental" and that they got the attention of their label, Ace Fu, merely by means of "fucking up."
One time while we were on the road, we stayed at the house of this kid who seemed to be a very sensitive and shy kid. The next thing you know, when we went to sleep, this kid had put his balls on Chang Wang's forehead.
Let it be acknowledged that Six Demon Bag is aptly sequenced for music that derives from Man Man's stylistic knack. "Sequencing is definitely an important thing," states Honus. "It took some planning, it was frustrating at times, but it came together and I'm glad that you're pleased," he tells me. "It was recorded in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia in an un-air-conditioned place with a sweatshop next door, above, and below, with a soundman who almost died halfway through it. We took him to the hospital, and then he helped us finish our record. Now he's a recluse who speaks with no one and is growing his nails as long as he can. That is a true story," he affirms.
The inspiration of the album's title is a mini-yarn as well. "Sergai had a nosebleed and woke up with the idea. He pitched it to us, and he thought it was a pretty good idea. Initially, we were going to name the record Mouth Wang, but it didn't fly with our label because they didn't like our cover shot, which was a close-up of an open mouth with Chang Wang shirtless and playing the saxophone on a cavity-ridden tooth." Cougar then reached into his book bag and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. "Oh shit, the Makers Mark has hit the table," Honus declares as our interview is interrupted for a few circle rounds of swigging.
Man Man - Whiskey in hand
With so many critics quick to point out the mild cabaret-sounding infusions in their sound, it comes natural to me to inquire whether any of the members have had any experiences in the performing arts at all in their lifetime to which Honus replies in a raised and stern tone, "Absolutely fucking not! We're called Man Man." It's at this juncture in our interview that I inquire as to the origin of their band name. "'Violated Old Woman at Home' was already taken," he shrugs.
Man Man began to raise more than a few eyebrows in 2004 upon the release of their debut album The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face. Early 2005 saw them touring with the likes of The Arcade Fire, whose fans Honus described as "very, uh... sensitive," as well as a round of dates this past spring with the Fiery Furnaces. "Their fans are very receptive. The Fiery Furnaces are very kindred spirits because they're fucking weird and they write very idiosyncratic songs. We have much respect for that band." Honus even shares an odd tour tale. "One time while we were on the road, we stayed at the house of this kid who seemed to be a very sensitive and shy kid. The next thing you know, when we went to sleep, this kid had put his balls on Chang Wang's forehead."
Cougar - Man Man
The three most noticeable facets of Man Man's energetic live shows are their all-white stage garb, mostly consisting of t-shirts and short shorts, the tribal battle paint on their faces, and their reluctance for banter amongst the crowd between songs. This November sees them taking their romping live shows on a tour of Europe where they feel like they have an audience waiting for them "in theory."
In the time between the two albums, Man Man went through a couple of lineup changes into which Honus won't delve, citing its lack of importance as well as having seen a shaman. "It was a bad idea all around. I regret it, and I take it back. It fucked me up. End of story. I saw him in the Philippines. That's a third-world country. I was misinformed. It ought to be a funny story, but it's not."
As for what's next on the horizon for Man Man aside from touring, a third album is in the works. With no ballpark figure yet as to when it's to be released, Honus assures that half of it is written and shares his vision of it. "We're a band of people who all stumbled into this accidentally. If anything, we've got no particular interest in becoming some fucking 'rock' band. But who knows? Maybe on our next record we will be a rock band."
MAN MAN TOUR DATES
10.06 | Casbah | San Diego, CA
10.07 | Modified | Phoenix, AZ
10.08 | The Launchpad | Albuquerque, NM
10.09 | Winchester Building | Lubbock, TX
10.10 | Opolis | Norman, OK
10.11 | Hailey's | Denton, TX
10.12 | Emo's Alternative Lounging | Austin, TX
10.13 | Spanish Moon | Baton Rouge, LA
10.14 | Club Downunder | Tallahassee, FL
10.15 | The Social | Orlando, FL
10.16 | Cafe Eleven | Saint Augustine, FL
10.17 | Common Grounds | Gainesville, FL
10.18 | BottleTree | Birmingham, AL
10.19 | Drunken Unicorn | Atlanta, GA
10.21 | Gspot | Baltimore, MD
10.27 | Vlissingen | De Piek, NL
10.28 | the Social | Nottingham, UK
10.29 | The Musician | Leicester, UK
10.30 | Night & Day | Manchester, UK
10.31 | Sammi Jo's | London, UK
11.01 | Club 3voor12 Radio | Amsterdam, NL
11.02 | Doornroosje | Nijmegen, NL
11.03 | W2 Den | Bosch, NL
11.04 | Tilburg 013 | Tilburg, NL
11.05 | Rotown | Rotterdam, NL
11.08 | Vera | Groningen, NL
11.10 | Ekko | Utrecht, NL
JamBase | Philadelphia
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