02 April 2008

Band of the Week: Man Man (Exclusive EF Interview)

Band: Man Man
From: Philadelphia, PA
Sound: Ramshackle pop songs and throaty sing-alongs coaxed from everything including the kitchen sink
Similar Artists: Captain Beefheart, Gogol Bordello, Ween, Sunset Rubdown
Listen Now: "Top Drawer"

Gypsies, pirates, road warriors, rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond, call them what you will, but please recognize that the gents in Man Man are in for a big 2008. After seven years spent playing, provoking, pranking, and playing some more, the Philly quintet is set to drop their third studio album (and first for ANTI- Records), Rabbit Habits, on April 8th with a massive headlining tour kicking off that same day.

EF was lucky enough to catch up with the man with the 10 lb. moustache himself, Honus Honus, while the rest of the Man Men - Sergei Sogay, Pow Pow, Critter Cat, and Chang Wang - were off relaxing and gearing up for the tour. What follows is a mostly unabridged conversation about hate mail, the new album, the regenerative power of moustaches, and how the songwriting process is like killing zombies...

EF: Where are you guys at right now? You’ve got a week off or so before the tour resumes, right?

HH: Yeah we have a couple weeks off so we kind of all went our separate ways when we got back from tour because we’re about to head out for two and a half months, so we kind of had to collect our head space before we crawl back into the van.

EF: I’m sure, cramming five of you into the van...

HH: There’s five in the van and we actually have the luxury of crew this time. We have a driver and a sound guy and a merch person; we kind of have to (have a crew) though because we’re playing Coachella so you have to have that stuff.

EF: You guys must be excited for Coachella

HH: Yeah very excited

EF: Well I don’t know if you remember this show but the first time I ever saw Man Man was back in 2005 at Webster Hall; you were opening up for Arcade Fire and they were super late because they were playing Conan that night. Do you remember that at all?

HH: Yeah of course.

EF: I remember leaving and thinking, “What did I just see?” and collecting my jaw off the floor.

HH: Well that’s awesome because we got hate mail from that show.

EF: Are you kidding me?

HH: Not at all. People were like, “you guys suck”. That was actually the original lineup too, those guys aren’t in the band anymore, but the guys in the band now have been dealing with me for the past three years and its been awesome.

EF: My first thought that night, because I’d never seen a stage setup quite like that and the amount of gear that was there, was how much shit you guys must have had to go through before you were headliners, lugging all that gear back and forth from show to show. Was it just a nightmare dealing with sound people and club people?

HH: Absolute nightmare (laughs). And this is one of the first times we’ve actually had our own sound person with us, and the band’s been together for seven years so its pretty amazing we’ve made it this far without a sound person. It was crazy being the first of four bands (on a bill), but those early days sort of honed our stage presentation. You’re the first of three or four bands, you have thirty minutes to make an impression so you're not gonna waste your time bantering because a) you don’t have time, better to punch someone in the face and then get off the stage and b) if you’re constantly playing, you don’t hear the heckling.

EF: I just find that interesting that you guys got hate mail and were heckled. I guess you make a strong impression one way or the other, but that’s got to be very tough when you’re first starting out and having to deal with that?

HH: Nooooo. You just said it perfectly, we make a strong impression one way or another; I feel that’s the blood of this band, that’s what keeps us going. It's diversifying an audience, it's great to get some sort of reaction, positive or negative, that’s what I love about this band.

EF: I guess that’s better than looking out and seeing a bunch of people standing there with their arms crossed.

HH: Much better. Its great to see someone totally enraptured and its great to see someone wincing because they’re annoyed. I actually love that look (laughs). We’ll play a song like "Van Helsing’s Boombox" and then a song like "Young Einstein" and the change is hilarious (laughs).

EF: Do you still live in Philly?

HH: The band’s from Philly. I kind of am in a weird situation of being free-floating, my stuff’s in storage in Philly. It's hard justifying paying rent somewhere where I’m never gonna be when we’re on the road.

EF: Speaking of that, how was your experience in SXSW this year?

HH: SXSW is weird. You can play what you think is a bobo show for 20 people and all it takes is one of those people to write or say something good; I really do enjoy playing SXSW though. As much of a clusterfuck as it is - you don’t have time to see bands you wanna see, you wanna play as many shows as possible to justify not making money at any of the shows, you don’t get paid for many of the shows – you at least know that people from little towns that may not otherwise get to see you play can go and see you play, its great. But it was hard for some of us. I would say half of the crew was really sick. Pow Pow and I had sinus infections; we had to go to the hospital there. We’ve only canceled a show once, and it was at SXSW because I personally couldn’t talk. Fortunately I don’t have a beautiful voice so if I’m sick I can kind of roll with it but it was hard. But whatever, I’d rather plow through it sick than work at a bar.

EF: Well, we were at the Cedar Street Courtyard show and it was fantastic, we kind of weaseled our way to the very front, and it was among the best of the entire week for us, we thought it ruled.

HH: Oh shit, right, I remember. You guys videotaped us at Bowery too.

EF: Yeah

HH: That was some of my favorite footage, you captured me playing with my butt (ed. note - watch at 2:18). Not me, but you know, my butt playing the keyboard.

EF: How is everything going with your new label, ANTI-?

HH: Oh its awesome, they’re such warm people. It doesn’t even feel like we’re on a label; it feels like we’ve been adopted by a family that understands. Its more that vibe than a label vibe, they’re such nice people willing to help out with every aspect. Its one of those things that people have the notion that it doesn’t matter what label you’re on or what size, that everything is provided for you and that’s not true; its still very DIY, you still have to do all the leg work yourself. A better label just means they have wider coverage and they’re more understanding.

EF: Did you ever feel like you were in a position before where people were trying to make artistic decisions for you guys?

HH: No. This band from its very conception has had strong aesthetics set in place. It started initially as a concept, like “Jeez we have no business making pop songs so let’s try.” It's just mutated into this other thing, but we still hold on to those feelings.

EF: Well you definitely have a pop aesthetic that comes through, amidst the chaos there are definitely strong songwriting chops that come through...

HH: We got chops?

EF: You got chops.

HH: I like pork chops. I like mutton chops. I wish I could grow them but I can't. Sergei, however, can grow some amazing mutton chops.

EF: Absolutely. Well, you rock the handlebar though.

HH: Yeah, but I shaved it off like a month and a half ago because I was curious, and it was like, “Oh yeah, that asshole” so its like 80 percent now.

EF: So, it’ll probably be perfect by the time you hit the road again, part of the whole regenerative process.

HH: Hopefully…like a starfish, you know?

EF: Totally. Have you gotten to know any of the other bands on ANTI-? You guys played with Islands in Austin...

HH: Yeah, I’m friends with Nick (Thorburn). We played a show with them a couple days after that in Columbia, it was a lot of fun. I like that they changed their steez to all black.

EF: Yeah right? Did you guys threaten them or what?

HH: Naw, its not like we were ever all white anyway. If you look closely its more beige, dirty white, off white...

EF: Stained white

HH: Yeah

EF: I’m loving the new album. It seems as though there’s more texture to this album, more layers, little sounds hidden here and there, pockets of noise, was that something that was a conscious decision?

HH: It was. We make ramshackle pop songs, I think that’s the best way to describe it. And what we tried to do with this record - more than previous records - is, those qualities that make us what they are, they’re still there, but they’re more subtle. I don’t think you can pick up on them unless you listen to them a bunch of times. My favorite records are ones that I had to give a chance to, after I heard the songs 15-16 times I start thinking, “Oh I never noticed that before.” It reveals itself more slowly than the other records. I think we’ll lose people, but I think we’ll gain people so its all good.

EF: You think you’ll lose people?

HH: I don’t know. It's nothing I’m really worried about. I think it could... You know, there are people out there that want us to make the same record. I think that’s boring. Like, you should hold on to the heart of what you’re about but you should be able to grow. That’s what ‘s great about the people that are in this band with me, they’re all extremely talented musicians, so it’s push and pull....

EF: Is it a collaborative process then? The writing process?

HH: To a certain extent, yeah. They collaborate to make everything more interesting (laughs)

EF: So you’ll bring in the bones to a song and they’ll flesh it out?

HH: Yeah, usually that’s how it works. Like for “The Ballad of Butter Beans”, Billy aka Chang Wang brought in this pretty awesome keyboard part and then we fleshed it out. Not all the songs work out the same, it’s an organic process for the most part. It's easy for me if I bring the bones and they throw the flesh on it, and then it rots (laughs), turns into a zombie, then you gotta put it down...

EF: Gotta take the head off

HH: Yeah, gotta take the head off

EF: Are you gonna play "Ice Dogs" on this tour?

HH: I dunno, maybe. There are some songs we’re trying to retire and some songs we’re trying to bring out of retirement. We’re playing songs that this lineup has never played before from earlier records. But there are some songs that are definitely retired.

EF: Now that you’re headlining, are you still going to do one continuous burst of music (rather than traditional breaks in between songs) and then get off the stage?

HH: No actually we’re going to do something more like VH1 Storytellers.

EF: I can't wait to see that.

HH: (adopts swaggering stage voice) This song’s about a girl...this song’s about...a girl...this song...is about a girl.

EF: That is going to be amazing.

HH: Yeah, god forbid.

EF: So I take it you guys are gonna jam on through like before?

HH: Cocaine jams, yeah. No, at some point we’d like to balance it out more, half cocaine jams and half guilt jams but I think that’s gonna require a more elaborate stage setups, bigger production values, unfortunately we’re not there yet.

EF: Maybe next tour then.

HH: Yeah maybe, one can always dream.

"Top Drawer"
"Mister Jung Stuffed" into "Hurly Burly" Live @ Cedar Street Courtyard, Austin, TX - 13 March 2008

See also:

  • Man Man @ Cedar Street Courtyard - 13 March 2008 (SXSW Day 2, pics, live video/mp3)
  • Man Man @ Bowery Ballroom - 5 January 2007 (pics, live video/mp3)
  • Man Man @ The Spiegel Tent, South Street Seaport, 16 September 2006 (pics)
  • Man Man @ Mercury Lounge - 2 March, 2006 (pics)
  • Man Man @ Cake Shop - 27 Jan, 2006 (pics)

  • See Man Man Live:
    08 April - Philadelphia, PA @ Starlight Ballroom (Album Release Show)
    10 April - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
    11 April - Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Masonic Temple
    12 April - Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
    13 April - Montreal, QC @ Le National
    14 April - Toronto, ON @ Lee's Palace
    15 April - Columbus, OH @ Wexner Center For The Arts
    16 April - Chicago, IL @ Logan Square Auditorium
    17 April - Madison, WI @ The Annex
    18 April - Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theatre
    19 April - Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
    20 April - Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
    21 April - Salt Lake City, UT @ In The Venue
    23 April - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
    24 April - Santa Barbara, CA @ Soho Restaurant & Music Club
    26 April - Indio, CA @ Coachella (Empire Polo Field)
    27 April - Phoenix, AZ @ The Brickhouse
    29 April - Dallas, TX @ The Loft
    30 April - Austin, TX @ Emo's
    02 May - Birmingham, AL @ WorkPlay Theatre
    03 May - Atlanta, GA @ Lenny's
    04 May - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
    05 May - Towson, MD @ Pearlstone Atrium At Goucher College
    10 May - Camber, UK @ ATP vs Pitchfork
    11 May - Dublin, Ireland @ Whelan's
    12 May - Glasgow. Scotland @ Stereo
    13 May - London, UK @ Cargo
    14 May - Manchester, UK @ The Phoenix
    15 May - Bristol, UK @ Start the Bus
    17 May - Brussels, Belgium @ La Nuit De Botanique Festival
    19 May - Aarhus, Denmark @ Voxhall
    20 May - Copenhagen, Denmark - Loppen
    21 May - Goteborg, Sweden @ Henriksgerg
    22 May - Oslo, Norway @ Garage
    23 May - Stockholm, Sweden @ Debaser
    24 May - Malmo, Sweden @ KB
    25 May - Berlin, Germany @ Knaack
    26 May - Dortmund, Germany @ FZW
    28 May - Milano, Italy @ La Casa 139
    30 May - Barcelona, Spain @ Primavera Festival
    31 May - Grenoble, France @ Le Ciel
    01 Jun - Macon, France @ La Cave A Musique
    02 Jun - Paris, France @ Nouveau Casino
    03 Jun - Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Paradiso
    04 Jun - Nijmegen, Netherlands @ Doornoosje
    05 June - Groningen, Netherlands @ Vera

    Visit Man Man on MySpace
    In the recent past, the following bands have been featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week:
    We Barbarians
    The Dodos
    Hey Hey My My
    Amy LaVere
    Beach House
    Computer Perfection
    Goes Cube
    Magic Arm

    See the entire list of bands featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week HERE.


    Stuttering Jimmy said...

    That's prolly the best Man Man interview I've read yet. Nice video work too.

    Alex said...

    I definitely feel like bands like Man Man give better interviews when they don't feel like the guys on the other end of the line are total douche bags. Fun interview. Love this band!

    Anonymous said...

    Man oh Man but this is a great interview.

    odette said...

    this was a really fun read. great interview. i'm looking forward to the new york shows!

    ARTIFACT said...

    Great Interview....Real!

    abbey said...

    amazing piece! the first time i saw them too was that arcade fire show, i swear i didn't blink during there set. so much fun. didn't final fantasy play after them, before the arcade fire came on?

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