LIKE BUTTA Man Man

They’re engaged in a conceptual
evolution.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Since 2001, Philadelphia’s Man Man have sung loudly and
often about devils, rice, mustaches, zebras and the mysteries of an unraveling universe
to the accompaniment of fractured Zappa-esque noise and melody. They’ve done it
on Nike commercials, Showtime’s Weeds,
on tour with Modest Mouse and—until 2008—on two scattered, elegant albums (Six Demon Bag, The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face) they insist that nobody but Nike,
Weeds’ producers and Modest Mouse heard.

 

Still when Man Man’s main man Honus Ryan leans in and says
“My concept of pop is different than most” in regard to the blunter sound of
their Anti- debut Rabbit Habits, it’s
more diabolical than it might appear. Because organizing chaos in the Man Man
sphere of thinking means mixing the space-surf pop of “Mister Jung Stuffed” and
the sharp funk of “Top Drawer” with crunching Waits-ian cabaret numbers such as
“Big Trouble” where melodicas blow like north winds. Or jazzy revenge songs
like “The Ballad of Butter Beans” where brushed drums and racing marimbas keep
pace with a background chorus singing “buttabuttabutta” while Honus groaningly
intones, “you’ll make a lovely headdress or a double-breasted suit” and “I’ve
seen her lipstick across you tailfin.”

 

This is how Honus’ head works, and it’s been a challenge for
his bandmates. “I started this as a conceptual thing since I didn’t know how to
write songs,” says Honus. “I don’t think any of the original members that came
and went realized how tough it would be—on the road, with me.”

 

Honus is a Texas-born Army brat who came to Philly as a
screenwriting major—“Great for breakup monologues. I know where all the beats
should be.”—only to wind up crafting bizarre arrangements with musicians that
double as sculptors and painters. This wealth of aesthetic diversity allowed
MM’s visceral gigs (ape costumes, members in a tight tribal circle) and
ferocious records to be more than your garden variety rock-out. How the lean,
meaner Rabbit Habits happened came
down to winnowing the more diffuse elements of Man Man’s complexities into
catchier melodies and somewhat-simpler rhythms. “It was a conscious decision to
hone,” says Honus, citing solid single-riff pop songs like James Brown’s “Please,
Please, Please.”

 

“I remember as a kid getting a collection of Raymond Carver
short stories from my dad. After just four pages—pow—my heart was torn out of my chest. That’s what I wanted to do:
something indirect that allowed people to feel connected.”

 

[Photo Credit: Michael
Persico
]

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