Last we heard from Philadelphia’s Ryan Kattner (otherwise known as Honus Honus) he was playing in a band called Mister Heavenly alongside Islands main man Nicholas Thorburn and Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer. Kattner’s chief creative outlet is actually the absurdist rock band Man Man, who return this week with their fifth LP, On Oni Pond. Despite dabbling in occasional side-streams, Kattner says the vast majority of his time and heart belongs to Man Man. “Man Man was the first band I ever had [and it’s] been kind of all-consuming with my life – now even more so with the new record coming out.”
Onstage, Man Man is a crew of five curiously named men playing a wide assortment of instruments and junkyard toys, but Kattner has always presided over the band’s compositions. He says the new record is the most collaborative of their career, although it was created by a downsized version of the band. “We boiled down the band to just me and my drummer Chris [Powell, AKA Pow Pow]. In the past some songs would come out of the group playing together, just basically musical structures, but never song songs. This time I only had Chris to bounce off and he brought some cool musical ideas to the table.”
The diminutive incarnation of the band proved a profitable experiment and as Kattner explains, studio productivity was far more immediate compared to the recording of 2011’s Life Fantastic. “Our last record, we were in the studio for almost three months. The whole process, from the songwriting to recording, was just an arduous process. This time we only had three weeks, so we had to be on point with everything. But it was fine because with just three of us really bouncing ideas we also didn’t have to feel like we were hamstringing the process.”
The third recording participant Kattner refers to is renowned Bright Eyes producer/collaborator Mike Mogis. Kattner reports that Mogis’ proven ability to magnify the band’s sonic vision (he also produced Life Fantastic) made him the obvious choice.
“There will be holes in songs where it’s like, ‘Mike, this song needs a 20-second bitching guitar solo, like something you’d hear on the Dune soundtrack. I can’t play that – I know you can.’ I can’t speak in musical terms, I have to describe everything in sort of cinematic ways. Because Mike’s worked with me before he understands that and he doesn’t just give me a weird look.”
Kattner evidently thrived collaborating with Powell and Mogis, however he indicates that the record is undeniably the product of his psyche. “My life and what’s going on in my life inform the music on every album. That might be an unhealthy confession but that’s just the way it is. I couldn’t have written a different record to Life Fantastic and the same goes for On Oni Pond.”
Looking at the album title and considering this confession raises some questions. Onis are demonic creatures found in Japanese folklore, notable for posing a perilous threat to humans – therefore finding oneself ‘On Oni Pond’ is not a pleasant predicament. Kattner explains the paradoxical scenario that inspired the title.
“I dialled out of living in Philadelphia city for about six months. I tried to go live in the woods. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Just because you change environment doesn’t mean that any problems or demons you have don’t follow you. I was fascinated by that concept – I go some place that I think is going to be a change of scenery, and it is, but it’s not like I changed in my brain. It was trying to find a balance between the two: ‘OK, so here I am and here are all these little Onis, let’s enjoy this.’”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
On Oni Pond out Friday September 13 through ANTI-.