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Man Man crave respect on their own terms




Few bands can rightfully call themselves unique. Man Man is one of them.

Rooted in the twisted brain of founder Ryan Kattner, who goes by the stage name Honus Honus, the experimental outfit throws together a blend of rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, soul, psychedelia and anything else that sounds like it fits the song.

Live, the five-piece band delivers that musical amalgam on instruments that range from bass clarinet and sousaphone to Chinese funeral horns and baritone guitars. The group's wearing of face paint onstage also adds an unusual element to the shows.

"I feel like our live show, it's like when you watch those ghost hunter shows on TV and you see people running in the dark with goggles," says Kattner, who plays keyboards and sings. "Actually, it's not like that at all."

Kattner and Man Man created a unique sound and live show without any role models available for reference.

"When we started, we didn't have too many musical peers," Kattner says. "Five records later, we still don't. That's not a bad thing."

The start for Man Man was in Philadelphia in 2003, when Kattner formed an original edition of the band. The group's only other consistent member since then has been drummer Pow Pow (Christopher Powell, who also serves as Kattner's songwriting collaborator). But even with a shifting cast of musicians filling out the lineup since 2004's The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face — the group's first of five full-length albums — Man Man has developed a very sustainable career.

"It's been 10 years, but it really hasn't felt like that long — more like 25 to 30," Kattner jokes. "We didn't do ourselves any service by going with a name like Man Man. It's difficult to say. It's not Mad Man or Mad Men. It took 10 years for us to get it so people can find us on the Internet."

During those years, the band has inhabitied its own quirky corner of the indie music world, playing clubs and festivals like Coachella, while landing songs in TV shows as well as a series of Nike commercials starring Rainn Wilson.

The band's videos, meanwhile, have been widely praised, as befits the background of former film student Kattner.

While early Man Man records like Six Demon Bag and Rabbit Habits were exercises in wackiness, the most recent two albums — 2011's Life Fantastic and 2013's On Oni Pond — have been more serious affairs. Recorded and produced in Omaha by Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk, they find Kattner devoting attention to sharpening his songwriting skills.

The single "Head On," for example, is a lovely song about heartache, while "Steak Knives," which is about a failed relationship and the death of a friend, took Kattner a year to write.

"Ultimately, I want the legacy of the band to be, 'they wrote some great songs,' says the musician, who also wants Man Man to remain predictable. The songs, he says, may be confessional, but they also need to have a twist, lyrically or musically, that takes them into another realm.

"I want to say what I want to say, and we'll do it in the way that fits. I don't really care what anyone thinks about it. But we will say it the way we want."

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