Interview: Ryan Kattner of Man Man

Owl&Bear: Can you tell us a little bit about Man Man‘s musical beginnings? How’d you get into music in the first place?

Ryan Kattner: The band as a whole—everyone in the band has been playing music forever. They’re all really accomplished musicians. They have backgrounds in hardcore and punk rock and heavy metal and jazz. Me personally, it’s funny: I learned by banging my head on a keyboard and not touching a piano again until my twenties, and then, you know, banging my head on a keyboard (laughs).

Owl&Bear: Do you have any early influences that you might cite—either from your childhood or teenage years or anything that might have shaped the way you make music now?

Ryan Kattner: I was a military brat and I moved every three years, so I’m sure that programmed my brain improperly.

Owl&Bear: What about musically?

Ryan Kattner: I guess when most kids get into music, they’re influenced by what’s around them. I was living overseas and completely out of touch with a lot of 80s music.

Owl&Bear: That might’ve been to your benefit—

Ryan Kattner: Yeah (laughs)—but when I came back from overseas, it was pretty brutal because I had no concept of what was “cool,” which in hindsight is pretty cool. It’s funny— I remember my first two cassette tape purchases were the La Bamba soundtrack and Fat Boys.

Owl&Bear: That’s pretty awesome. So I guess you’d say that those are your two primary influences for Man Man, then, right?

Ryan Kattner: (Laughs) Maybe, maybe.

Owl&Bear: How did you get from point A to point B as far as becoming a touring band and having a good following? Was it a struggle to become found in Philadelphia?

Ryan Kattner: You’ve heard our music. It wasn’t easy—I feel like we’re a crew of guys that are down for the long haul right now—I feel like if we all hadn’t worked together these past three years and just busted our asses on the road, nobody would know about us. It was hard knowing that you’re going to have to eat it for years, and know that people might never get into what you’re doing—you just have to put all common sense out of your head.

Owl&Bear: It’s always a gamble especially if you’re going to put integrity first.

Ryan Kattner: It’s also hard when you’re opting to lug marimbas on the road as opposed to just a guitar. There’s many a night when we’re making our 20th or 30th trip, carrying some bizarre piece of equipment like a fire extinguisher or bags of Christmas lights, and I’m like “why don’t we just play guitars?” And then I realize that we wouldn’t be following our hearts.

Owl&Bear: As far as writing, do you guys usually work collaboratively or do single members bring songs to the group to work on?

Ryan Kattner: Uh, I feel like I kind of hold everyone back because I have a certain style of writing words, and it takes me a lot longer to put shit together than they do.

Owl&Bear: Going back to musical beginnings, do you think it’s harder than ever to work in the industry because of leaks and people who might call themselves fans but would put your album online for free?

Ryan Kattner: It’s a Catch 22. The Internet’s been good to us. We’re fortunate, too, because we’re not a blog band. People may write about us on blogs, but we also see the importance of having to tour, get out there, and convert people one on one. I don’t think that a lot of bands realize the importance of that. Nothing’s easy. I guess if it was, everyone would be doing it, that old adage. The cool thing about our fans is, whatever, they’ll get our records online, but most of the time they’ll come to our show and buy our records in person because they know that they’re directly supporting us.

Owl&Bear: Man Man has a bit of a reputation for putting on energetic, off-the-wall shows. Do you still have shows where the audience doesn’t seem to connect?

Ryan Kattner: Well, they connect differently and sometimes you play shows and we get really spoiled because people aren’t self-conscious and they let themselves go. Because we’re not self-conscious. If you look at any photographs from our live shows, none of the faces that we’re making in the moment are very flattering (laughs), so I mean it’s just different. We play some shows and people are just processing what’s going on—there’s a lot going on—and for people seeing us for the first time, it can be a sensory overload. The coolest thing, though—which I’m really glad that this band does and hopefully we can continue—is that we’re really good at polarizing an audience, especially when we open for people, it’s great. I want that polarization. I want people to either love or hate us, I don’t want any of that middle ground stuff.

Owl&Bear: So you’re making an impression no matter what.

Ryan Kattner: Yeah, I feel like most bands are content to dwell in that middle ground and God bless ’em, they can have it.

Owl&Bear: They’re just happy to not be horrible.

Ryan Kattner: (Laughs) Yeah. But I like being horrible to some people. I like people being like “this band fucking sucks!”

Owl&Bear: It makes people curious. What are some of the best shows you’ve ever seen, on or off tour?

Ryan Kattner: The Liars always put on a really good show. I saw them play at Pitchfork a couple years ago and it was awesome. I saw Black Dice a couple years ago and it was totally amazing.

Owl&Bear: You guys have gained a little more recognition from opening for Modest Mouse. Are there any other bands that you’d like to tour with?

Ryan Kattner: I think the Flaming Lips would be a lot of fun. I think Radiohead would be a lot of fun; I think we’d piss off a lot of people.

Owl&Bear: Have you ever thought about selling your album in a “pay what you can” format like Radiohead?

Ryan Kattner: There are a lot of angles on that one.

Owl&Bear: I guess as a smaller band it’s not as economical.

Ryan Kattner: Yeah, for a band like us, I don’t think it makes that much of a difference. For people who want to buy our album, we put a lot of thought into that. We put a lot of thought into the aesthetic of the artwork and the sequencing of the records, so it’s not thrown together slipshod or anything.

Owl&Bear: I kind of think that vinyl is a good alternative to MP3s because it gives you a more tangible product.

Ryan Kattner: The cool thing about [Anti- Records] is that they’re releasing our vinyl with a free digital download.

Owl&Bear: Exactly. A lot of labels are doing that now, and it seems to be a really effective way to do it. It feels like you’re actually getting something. Are there any Man Man vinyl aficionados?

Ryan Kattner: Yeah, there are some pretty serious collectors.

Owl&Bear: What do you think about licensing your music to corporations or commercials? Do you have any guilt about it, or do you think it’s just something that needs to be done if it can be done right, or if you can make a good choice about it.

Ryan Kattner: This could be just a way to go around it, but in this day and age, as long as you’re careful what you license to—I mean, I obviously don’t ever want to have one of our songs connected to a brutal rape scene in a detective movie or something. I find it a little bit subversive when one of our weird-ass songs can make it into some kind of mass media outlet.

Owl&Bear: You get a little satisfaction out of it?

Ryan Kattner: Yeah, for example, the Nike thing. Unless you’re a Man Man fan, you’re going to think “Oh, that’s weird.” We didn’t really get any backlash from people who like our band. They were just like “Oh, that’s so cool and strange.” If you have no idea who we are, and you see that commercial, you’re not going to think “What is this band with the clank and the clatter? Let me look it up on the Internet!” Just because you’re on a kick ass label, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re driving an Escalade.

Owl&Bear: I read an article a while back about people not wanting to use their music in Hummer commercials, despite offers for multiple thousands of dollars.

Ryan Kattner: Yeah, and we’ve gotten our offers for things. If it doesn’t appeal to me, I don’t want to be associated with that.

Owl&Bear: It must be kind of cool to just be getting offers in the first place, though—kind of flattering.

Ryan Kattner: Let me amend that statement. It’s not like we’re getting a lot of offers. We’re not talking about a lot of money, either.

Owl&Bear: How did Man Man get to using pseudonyms? Was it just a natural thing? It sounds like you’re using different ones on each album, et cetera.

Ryan Kattner: Yeah, it was just being playful with the bad conventions of rock music.

Owl&Bear: Did Chris Shar come up with his own pseudonym or did one of you guys give it to him?

Ryan Kattner: I gave it to him. Because Chris looks very Russian. I think there’s actually some Russian in his bloodstream and he’s very masculine (laughs), so I thought it would be fitting if he was Sergei Sogay. And it was great because, you know, he’s comfortable with his sexuality, and you can just look at him and know that he’s the full embodiment of man. It’s funny, too, because initially we were going to change our pseudonyms every album, but there was a mass exodus between the first and second album, so I felt like I had to keep some sense of continuity, so that’s why I kept Honus Honus.

Owl&Bear: It seems like you guys have managed to keep the same sound despite rotating band members. Is that a conscious effort or how did you guys—

Ryan Kattner: Well I guess as long as I’m still in the band weighing it down.

Owl&Bear: Holding them back.

Ryan Kattner: Holding them back (laughs).

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