June 23, 2015
Closing out CLTure Music Fest this Saturday will be the Philly based band Man Man. Over the last decade and five albums, the lead singer Ryan Kattner, who goes by the name Honus Honus, and his band have been mesmerizing audiences with their live shows. Hidden behind a cluttered, instrument littered stage, eyebrow-raising fashion choices. and a side-show-like atmosphere is a truly talented, brave band. The group plays multiple instruments from song to song with little time to reposition or take a breath. The energy and imagination behind their shows draws in new fans everywhere they play. The lyrics read alone on paper will only leave you guessing what direction the music will take. For those unfamiliar, go on, try it. Take the words to “Van Helsing Boombox” from 2006’s Six Demon Bag or “Pink Wonton” from their latest album On Oni Pond. Now try to picture where those words will take you paired with the music.
CLTure had a chance to chat with Ryan Kattner (Honus Honus) and get his take on the writing process, Man Man inspired tattoos, and how to make a “bitter pill” smile.
CLTure: From the earliest days of the band, your sound has been described, in one form or the other, as eccentric or experimental. Is that a description that you have ever, or still do, agree with? How do you describe your music?
Ryan Kattner (Honus Honus): I think we’re actually very accessible and those descriptions probably have kept more people away than attracted. We write pop songs, albeit slightly skewed ones. I’d like to believe we’re more honey than vinegar. I think Ms. [Taylor] Swift would absolutely destroy “Head On” if she covered it.
CLTure: Your lyrics often contain some absurd, surreal imagery, but never seem to be forced on the song or contrived. The lyrics and music always complement each other well. How are the two generally written? Together or does one come before the other?
RK: Thanks for noticing. Means a lot. Usually they’re written together via keyboard/guitar and vocals which is nightmarish and slow going for me. Honestly, it’s a lot harder to try and contextualize a song if I have to work with the music first, though I know a ton of musicians who excel at that process. I’ve never viewed lyrics as just “another part” of a song that needs to be just be thrown out there. In my eyes, the storytelling should be the glue that holds the skeleton together so that all the other arranged parts/melodies can really shine. In closing, it takes me forever to write a song.
CLTure: I’ve heard that writing lyrics is not exactly your favorite part of the process. You’ve actually said that you hate that part. The latest album, “On Oni Pond”, is actually the first time the lyrics have been published. Are there any lyrics you’ve written that stand out above others as a proud moment? Any that when you play live you really want the crowd to prick up their ears and listen?
RK: With a few spotty exceptions, I don’t usually have very many throw away lines because I tend to work them over the coals until they’re “perfect” in my mind. I wasn’t crazy about printing the lyrics for “On Oni Pond” because I like when a listener interprets their own meanings and understandings of what a song is about. It tends to make tunes more personal. When we started seeing more and more lyrics tattooed on people, I realized that maybe having the correct words available would be helpful. It blows me away every time I’m greeted with a Man Man inspired tattoo. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it and it’s the most incredible honor. I’d like to release a book of lyrics someday. Someday.
CLTure: The current lineup of the band has been touring in support of “On Oni Pond”, on and off, for the last year and a half. Are you happy with how the new songs are coming across live?
RK: Totally. The fellas shred. I’ve been very fortunate to surround myself with exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalists. We’re also starting to road test some new material to gauge what adjustments can be made to increase their kill factor.
CLTure: What about songs from earlier records? Are there any that you’re playing that this lineup has breathed new life into that has surprised you?
RK: Yes. It’s fun whipping out the oldies for the young whippersnappers, who then in turn think we’re playing some newbies because they’re tracks that originally came out on an antiquated specimen called a Compact Disc. The added bonus of busting out some first album stuff is that the few remaining bitter heads, who wished we never evolved past screaming, loosen up a bit and a collective sense of joyous wonder fills the room. When a bitter pill smiles, it’s like releasing fireflies from a jar or unsalting a slug.
CLTure: You’ve said that after completing the latest record you were more anxious than usual to record a follow-up. The end of this summer will mark two years since its release. Are you getting the itch to get back into the studio?
RK: Someday. Hopefully we’ll have a new album before the apocalypse drops.
CLTure: Are there songs already written that you’re excited to record? Have you thought about a direction for the next album or does that happen more organically?
RK: My environment tends to dictate my songwriting since I’m inspired by the world around me. Go figure, right? Something other than music inspires a musician. I’ve been living in LA for the past couple years. LA is a weird, wonderful place. There’s a lot of great characters ripe for lassoing.