Smaller Man Man keeps up Philly's devil-may-care spirit

Man Man singer Ryan Kattner (left), also known as Honus Honus, and drummer Chris "Pow Pow" Powell.
Man Man singer Ryan Kattner (left), also known as Honus Honus, and drummer Chris "Pow Pow" Powell.
Posted: October 26, 2013

'In a lot of ways, this band couldn't have been from anywhere else but Philly," says Ryan Kattner, also known as Honus Honus of Man Man.

"It's that attitude of 'I'm going to do what I want to do, and if you don't like it, the hell with you.' It's a real Philly mentality, and God bless it."

That attitude has guided Man Man since it formed a decade ago. Its boisterous mix of junkyard percussion, gypsy jazz, horn-fueled R&B, martial chants, and Beefheart blues has carried it through five albums and numerous personnel changes. For this fall's On Oni Pond, the band is down to the gravel-voiced Honus Honus and drummer Chris "Pow Pow" Powell, with help from producer Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes.

The band stripped away some of its eccentricities while maintaining its heavily rhythmic, eclectic range. "King Shiv" dabbles in dub reggae; "Pyramids" nods to new wave and INXS; "Head On" is a string-kissed ballad.

"If you want to reinvent yourself, you can't circumvent yourself," Kattner growls in the R&B rave-up "End Boss."

"You know, I've been trying to write the perfect pop song from day one," he says from the road in Buffalo with the rebooted band, heading into the homestretch of a seven-week tour that concludes with shows at Union Transfer on Mischief Night Wednesday and Halloween Thursday.

"I think, as a songwriter, I'm still learning the ropes. I think you have to continue to keep growing and learning and evolving; otherwise, you just get left behind," Kattner says. "I know we can do crazy; I know we can do chaotic; I know we can have frenetic changes, and we can have songs that are cluttered with parts. We've done that.

"Why keep doing that? I think it's more interesting to see what else you can do."

Kattner cites Outkast's "Hey Ya" as an example of a perfect pop song ("It's an odd song, but it's a great song"), and he likes the balance of accessibility and experimentalism that informs On Oni Pond.

"I don't think you can listen to these songs and think we sound like a generic band. There's a language that we've painstakingly created," he says. "If we have a song like 'Head On,' for example, that could be the worm on the hook that gets you into what we do, then more power to it; I think that's exciting. I'm pretty confident that if we can get you in the door and create awareness of who we are, then you'll stick around."

That's true especially when the door leads to seeing Man Man live, when their joyful noise, their instrument-trading musicianship, and their herky-jerky dance-party rhythms make sense on a visceral level.

"I like what this band has become," Kattner says. "It's nice to be the crazy, wild-card invitees to the party, and you don't know if they're going to behave themselves or they're going to drink too much and destroy things. It's good."


Man Man performs with Xenia Rubinos at 8 p.m. Wednesday and with King Khan & the Shrines, Melt-Banana, and Hellshovel at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. Tickets: $20. 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com.

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