Man Man to put spotlight on new songs at festival
TROY Ryan Kattner, aka Honus Honus, lead vocalist and pianist for Philadelphia indie rock group Man Man, was having a hard time restraining himself at the Los Angeles airport earlier this week.
“I have to tell you — it’s so hard to talk this quietly and not be animated in an airport, but if I were to talk on the phone like I normally would, it would probably arouse suspicion. It kind of sucks,” Kattner said, his voice barely above a whisper during a phone interview with the Gazette.
Still, the excitement was palpable in his voice. He had good reason to be excited — Man Man’s fifth album, “On Oni Pond,” which finds the group expanding on the hook-laden songwriting and unusual instrumentation found on previous albums such as 2011’s “Life Fantastic” and 2008’s “Rabbit Habits,” is due out next week.
Kattner was about to fly out to the band’s home base for some last-minute rehearsals with the rest of the group — Christopher “Pow Pow” Powell, Adam “Brown Sugar” Schatz, Jamey “T. Moth” Robinson and Bryan “Shono” Murphy. Man Man already played about three or four of the 13 tracks from “On Oni Pond” during its tour earlier this year; the rehearsals were so the band could learn the rest of the tracks for the upcoming U.S. tour, which kicks off Friday and runs through November.
“We’re excited to be playing some of this new material live,” Kattner said. “I just want people to give this record a chance. I think it kicks ass, and if people have any preconceived notions — ‘Oh, I know this band’ — there’s so much more to this band, and this record is so different.”
Man Man will headline the second day of the fourth annual Restoration Festival, which runs Friday and Saturday and is once again being put on by local musicians collective the B3nson Recording Co. After three years at St. Joseph’s Church in Albany, this year the festival is moving to the Contemporary Arts Center at Woodside. The decision to move the event was made when the Historic Albany Foundation handed ownership of St. Joseph’s back to the city of Albany this year.
The 20-band lineup features a who’s who of local music spread out on two stages, with Dust Bowl Faeries, Barons in the Attic, The Parlor, The Slaughterhouse Chorus, Bear Grass, Wild Adriatic, Matt Durfee & The Rattling Baddlies, The Lucky Jukebox Brigade and B3nson’s flagship band Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned all performing over the course of the weekend (see the full schedule in the sidebar). In keeping with past years, 25 percent of ticket sales will go to help restore the Contemporary Arts Center’s gallery space (previously the funds went to St. Joseph’s ongoing restoration).
Last June, Man Man performed at Valentine’s during its tour behind “Life Fantastic.” Kattner is looking forward to returning to the Capital Region.
“We had had a good experience last year at Valentine’s, so when the offer came along [for Rest Fest], we said, ‘Yeah, we’ll definitely play; thanks for having us,’ ” Kattner said. “And I think they lost a poker game — like, ‘Damn, they gotta bring Man Man back again.’ ”
Despite Kattner’s self-deprecating jokes, Man Man experienced one of the most fruitful periods of its 10-year existence during the writing and recording of “On Oni Pond,” which Kattner calls “maybe one of our best records.” Unlike previous albums, where main songwriter Kattner would bounce ideas off the entire band for input, “On Oni Pond” was a collaboration between Kattner and longtime drummer Powell.
“Chris took a more involved role in presenting musical ideas this time around than he ever has,” Kattner said. “It was a lot of fun and very refreshing.”
As with “Life Fantastic,” the band once again worked with producer and Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis in Omaha, tracking the album in three weeks. By contrast, “Life Fantastic” took three months to record.
“The last record was three months; it wasn’t a very fun experience,” Kattner said. “There was just like — I had a lot of personal stuff going on, and issues within the band itself. The environment wasn’t the best creatively; it wasn’t healthy. I mean, I’m very proud of that record, ‘Life Fantastic,’ but I didn’t want to re-create the environment in which that record was spawned, so I didn’t. I did the opposite.”
Any inner band turmoil seems to have been solved with the addition of Schatz and Murphy. Schatz in particular was brought on board during the making of “On Oni Pond” to add horns, which can be heard throughout the entire album.
“One of the new players — Brown Sugar as he’s called — we brought him in to do a lot of the horns on the record, but in the same breath, Chris and I also wrote horn parts on the record, but neither one of us play horns,” Kattner said.
“For example, we wrote horns in ‘End Boss,’ and you write them — in the case of that song, I wrote them with the really farty sounding synthetic horns on a keyboard, and they were masterfully transcribed by Brown Sugar.”
Although the band’s love of unusual instrumentation is present on the new songs — live, the band has been known to play everything from marimbas to Moog synthesizers to toy noisemakers — they made a conscious effort to create more space in the songs.
“The band — actually, Chris and myself — we’ve been saying this a lot, and it’s something we believe in. You should be able to distill any great song to just a voice and a beat — as far as a good rock song, a good pop song, a great song goes,” Kattner said.
“If you have those things covered, which we’re fairly confident that we do, everything else you put on top of it is just icing. We were very conscious about allowing the songs to breathe, to have space. There are interesting parts and really curious sounds occurring in there, but at the end of the day we didn’t want any of these things to obscure whatever is at the heart of the song, or what the hook of the song was. In the past, we did a lot of angling with maybe too many hooks — and you can have too many hooks in a song. They can start choking out each other, although that sounds kind of gross.”