Saturday, April 08, 2006

Interview: Man Man

Calum Marsh

Sure, it's only April, but I think I've found my favourite album of 2006. There might be a new Radiohead album soon. There might be a new one from Sufjan, or Wolf Parade, or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, or Antony, but for now I could care less. Man Man's Six Demon Bag is one of the best records I've heard in a long while so, at least until those big boys crack out another LP, I'm sticking by my outrageous claim.

Mind you, I'm not the only person who adores Six Demon Bag this much. Man Man are all the rage right now, earning almost as much attention as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah did last summer. And, like Clap Your Hands, Man Man's hype is completely justified. I've said it once, I'll say it again: I love Man Man.

I was fortunate enough to have a little chat with the man (no pun intended) behind Man Man, a mysterious fellow known only as Honus Honus (double names are in this season, I guess). Honus talked to me about the making of Six Demon Bag, the sudden success, and the ghost of Frank Zappa.

Mocking Music: Your lineup dramatically changed from The Man In A Blue Turban With A Face to the recent Six Demon Bag. How did the turnover affect the way the album was created and how it ended up?

HONUS: It was stressful. Highly stressful. Not sleeping, not functioning like a sane human being. The recording days were long, the studio was unairconditioned, and the surrounding ambient noise was constantly infiltrating the whole process. The studio we used was in Mizzle's warehouse space and not very sound proofed at all. If you listen close enough you'll hear police sirens in the distance, water pipes humming, Chinese sweatshop workers listening to Chinese language radio programs and singing traditional Chinese sweatshop songs.

I'm not complaining exactly. I love hearing all that stuff. I love hearing my chair legs squeak when I'm done playing a keyboard part. I love hearing the bathroom door slam in the other room. Those sort of elements help fight against things sounding too sterile and produced. I mean, hell, that's why we kept the barking dog in the beginning section of Skin Tension. As far as the stress factor goes, we did develop a system to help combat the negative madness that was hanging in the air. Around the corner from the warehouse is an amazing Mexican bodega called Jose's Grocery. Between myself and the other members and guests who played on the record I think we paid off Jose's mortgage with all the shrimp burritos we ingested over the course of the recording process.

JOSE: I would appreciate it if you didn't speak of me in such a casual, friendly way.

HONUS: Jose?

JOSE: Mr. Jose.

MM: In terms of creative control, are you exclusively in charge or do the other band members have input?

HONUS: I do stuff. They do stuff. Stuff gets done.

MM: Critics often compare your sound to Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart, though it's almost always intended as a compliment more than a criticism. Where most other bands are attacked when they sound like anyone else, your similarities to Waits/Zappa/Beefheart are almost universally praised - Why do you think this is?

HONUS: Lazy rock journalism? We are flattered at the comparisons but we're talking about the holy trinity of idiosyncratic musicians. If it attracts potential fans to our music, awesome. Mr. Waits? Mr. Beefheart? The Ghost of Mr. Zappa? Please accept our apology. We are truly sorry your hallowed, wonderful, amazing talented names keep getting dragged through the mud on our behalf. (On a sidenote; I've read reviews of Deerhoof being compared to Beefheart. WTF!?)

MM: Your music balances abrasive and beautiful in a way that most artists just can't, when you set out to write a song, is creating this balance on your mind? Is your music abrasive but occasionally beautiful or beautiful but occasionally abrasive?

HONUS: Thank you. I'm glad you see it the way it needs to be seen. You are definitely one of the few. Why aren't there more of you? Can we feed you after midnight?

MM: Is 'Ice Dogs' a reference to Tom Waits's 'Rain Dogs'

HONUS: Is 'Hot Bat' a reference to 'Hot Rats'?

MM: Six Demon Bag is getting a lot of critical attention, particularly from big names like Pitchfork. In what way is this attention affecting your career?

HONUS: Let me put it this way . . . NONE OF US ARE QUITTING OUR DAYJOBS ANYTIME SOON. Trust me.

MM: The bizarre pseudonyms and wild stage shows give Man Man an interesting reputation. What kind of image is this building for the group and how does that affect your music itself?

HONUS: I'm not sure what having a wild stage show has to do with making our music but I do know that we try to bring all we can bring every time we play. There is nothing more rewarding than having kids come out and genuinely freak the fuck out and not be overly concerned with how they look while they're doing it. What's best about this phenomenon is that all types come out and all types turn rabid. There is nothing harder than having to play to a room of people with their arms crossed and faces drawn. If we're developing a reputation for an interesting live show all i can say to that is-- RIGHT. THE. FUCK. ON.

MM: Six Demon Bag seems to be more rich and emotional than its predecessor, and it's often touching or moving in ways that The Man In A Blue Turban was not. On top of that, Six Demon Bag seems more focused and cohesive, less frantic but just as unpredictable. What kind of changes, intentional or otherwise, led to the more mature sophomore record?

HONUS: I feel like the first album had a lot of the same emotions going on but the rough production value kind of obscured the sentiments. I can't even hear half the lyrics I'm singing on the first record. It's a bit of a charm but at the same time it makes for a difficult listening experience. I won't go into exact details but the period of my life in which Van Helsing Boombox was written is definitely not making any highlight reel. Dark days.

MM: What kind of direction do you think your music is going in? What can we expect to hear in Man Man's future?

HONUS: Pop punk.

MM: Thanks ever so much for doing the interview. I can't tell you how much I just love Six Demon Bag. It's the best album I've heard in years.

HONUS: Spread the word. We do need it. Believe it or not.

Download:
Man Man - Van Helsing Boombox
Man Man - Hot Bat
Man Man - I'd Rather Go Blind (Etta James - Non-album)
Man Man - I, Manface (From Debut)

Explore Man Man:
Official Website
Myspace

Buy:
Man Man - Six Demon Bag
Man Man - The Man In A Blue Turban With The Face

Related:
What's He Building In There?
Interview: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

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I'm going to see Man Man with Modest Mouse! I can't wait! Six Demon Bag is really, really good....can't wait!

 

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